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Around the World in 210 Days

Final Thoughts on India

INDIA | Wednesday, 5 March 2008 | Views [1127] | Comments [9]

Well we are writing this blog a good three weeks after we have been in India, so the senses have been dulled a bit, and none too soon.  Rather than writing a funny list of the things we have learned in India, we wanted to give a sense of what it meant to us.  To start with, it is probably first best to have the caveat...it is impossible to describe the place.  Rather, this is a compilation of our impressions and the effect it had on us.  From the moment we stepped out of the airport in Jaipur, at 4:30 in the morning, we were surrounded by people.  Some people waiting to greet passengers from our flight, others hoping to give a ride to any unlucky enough to be alone, and the majority a mostly silent morass of people who have no place else to go.  There were fires burning in various places, comprised of refuse of colorful paper and who knows what else.  Everyone seemed to be wrapped in a blanket colored brown or grey, draped casually over their heads.  There was no age that wasn't represented. There were kids whose age could have been 7 or 13.  There was a uniformity to the way the people looked though...tired and dirty.  We were initially approached by rickshaw drivers, but for the most part, at least that morning, we were simply observed as we observed. 

People say you either love India or you hate it.  For us it wasn't that simple.  We didn't love it, it is too much to love.  There are too many sad sights, too much poverty, too many children with no clothes, too much dust, too many starving animals, too many mothers pulling on your sleeve as they hold a wailing infant.  To many kids gathered around us asking for a sweet or a pen or a rupee.  It is not a place we could love.  Similarly we didn't hate it....for the same reasons we just described, but also because the nicest people en masse we have met were  in India.  People that would welcome you to their home, people that get so uptight if you try to pay with a bill that has a slight tear, despite the fact that the bills were so worn at times as to be almost transparent. They would rather you not pay at all than have a bill with a tear in it.  They get offended if you don't eat all the food they provide, they are worried that you don't like it.   The same people that were in a seeming rush to get everywhere....there is nowhere we went that you didn't hear the ceaseless honking of horns on the rickshaws, yet as a train pulled into a town, you saw sooo many people doing nothing.  Men sitting back on their heels in a posture that seems to defy gravity and joints, , some smoking cigarettes, some just observing, many drinking Chai, an intoxicating drink that we grew addicted to.  The women worked that is certain, sweeping steps, cooking, always on the move, never sitting still.  If we came to a festival in a street, we would see men milling about, holding hands, walking slowly, but we didn't see any groupings of women.  You would see men more likely to hold and play with a child than you see in the US.  Walking into a shop was a commitment.  These people turn out the shop lights to save energy but as you walk in, the lights are flicked on, and their wares are displayed.  Thirty pashminas are unfurled and dance around you before being thrown to the floor as another is reached for.  Walking out of a store feels like an insult, the sad eyes of the merchant follows you.  Soon we tried to avoid going in any stores.  The electricity goes out often enough that candles became a mainstay at meals.  The spicy food so amazing that it didn't seem to matter what you ordered so long as you ordered Indian food, it was going to be delicious.  Cookies that sold at 5 rupees were delicious treats to go along with our 50 cent mountain dews.  And always everywhere...dirt.  Hotel rooms were assessed for less dirt, food places were assessed for more cleanliness, but even with all the dirt and all the trash that was everywhere, it wasn't a disgusting sort of dirt.  It was more an inevitable dirt that exists because there are soo many people, sooo many animals.  As you laid down in a bed at night, knowing that the sheet under you probably hadn't been cleaned in the last month, you didn't feel disgusting, you just felt as though it was too be expected.  If you needed a shower, a bucket would be brought with steaming water, and you would mix it with cold water and you would remove whatever dirt you could reach and you would start over.  It was just different. 
 

At the same time, some days, as the sun came through the open windowless windows, we would just look at one another and dread stepping foot outside.  We didn't want to have to tell the 400 rickshaw drivers where we were going, we didn't want to have to bargain for a better fair.  We didn't want to worry about stopping to buy some crackers, because as soon as we did fifteen children would gather.  We didn't want to see the dogs that limped around and nosed at the trash. We didn't want to see the children dressed in gray as they carried their burlap sacks to pick up the trash.  We didn't want to be asked where we are from, and we didn't want to hear people say America is a good country.  We wanted to sink into oblivion.  We wanted to order food into our room, we wanted to turn on our TV and pretend that we were in the US.  We wanted to ignore the fact that life isn't fair and that for many life will never be fair, and that we have been graced by having been born into a country where our life would not be like the majority of people from this country.  We didn't want to hear one more Bollywood song, or see one more commercial which was incongruous with the life we were seeing each day.  We didn't want to see that, but at the same time, our step lightened and we smiled as we saw a holy man who slept beside the road emerge from his sleeping bag and sit blinking sleepily beside his puppy and our hearts lightened as we saw him feed it a saucer of chai.  We laughed as annoying school children engaged us in a conversation and it became apparent that they thought "Your name" meant "my name" or "his name" or "her name", and we saw the same 12 year old girls struggling with their english, rolling their eyes at the same antics of 12 year old boys.

Overall, when we meet travelers-- the kind of people that can work as mall kiosk salesmen for two years so that they can go travel the world for one year and then repeat, they are likely to say something like "you just have to go to India, it is so amazing." Well, we think it is amazing, but not in the same way Andrew would describe a good plate of curry. It is amazing in the way that it leaves you struck with such a mix of emotions you simply cannot make it clear how you feel. We think it is a place people should go, especially Americans, but not because the Taj Mahal is such an architectural feat (no, we didn't get around to seeing it, anyway). Because it changes you at least a little, and even though it may feel like a scar, it's a good change, and it allows a new perspective on life that may be hard to come by elsewhere.

Tags: Philosophy of travel

Comments

1

what can i say, this is one of the most descriptive you have shared. this made me cry and smile. i am glad you had the chance to see and experince this and am glad that it touched your heart and soul. i wish you were home also, and am happy that the time grows short until you are. i love you both, and my heart is with you. love mom

  mardi Mar 6, 2008 2:29 AM

2

This is one of the blessings of travel.
Even a trip to Matamoros Mexico will make you realize how good you have it. Everything is relative.

  Richard Mar 6, 2008 6:06 AM

3

Alex was too chicken to post this on her travel blog
(or maybe she wants it to be a secret family recipe)
but she sent it to me since I do love to cook.
It seemed too delicious to keep to myself.

Mardi might want to keep some on hand at the castle when Andrew and Alex (a.k.a. Shannon) return.
This is what she sent:

Boiled Sherpa Spinach

Go out to patch of dirt behind house.
Grab bunch of spinach
take inside, rinse off (although not much, you don't want to lose the nutrients.)
light some dung
bring rinse water to boil, drop in spinach.

  Rrrricardo Mar 6, 2008 11:58 AM

4

This was amazing. After teaching about India this kinda brings everything to life. It is one thing to read out of a book but it is completly different to hear it described in such ways. I believe that some how I will use this and turn it into a lesson that I can use in class, if yall approve. After reading of the dust it makes me appreciate the dirt just a little bit more.

  mr. nix Mar 6, 2008 2:18 PM

5

Hi kiddies. Just dropping by to check out the blog-o-licious world. I didn't expect to read such heavy material. My emotions went up and down with the animals. Starving animals... down. Dogs limping and nosing through trash... down. Puppy drinking chai... way up. I'm jealous of your newfound perspective, but mostly sad that the U.S. is still Andrew-and-Alex-Less.

BTW, Rrrricardo, I tried out your recipe. I won't explain where I got the material for lighting.

  Annie Mar 8, 2008 7:16 AM

6

Ahh Annie-belle.
I knew someone would fall for the old dung fire gag.
It'a a classic.
Only an overworked lawyer wouldn't know that.

It is good to hear that you are still down there somewhere where the short people dwell.

I figure the Travelocity Twins should be in Thailand by now. Eating pad thai and chillin' on the beach.
If you hear from them... mention me. They love that.
I can't imagine how much they must be missing me at this point. I bet you can't either.

  Richard Mar 9, 2008 3:45 AM

7

I will continue to post jokes like this for all the worlds travelers to see until I see a fresh posting on the dynamic duo's Thai experiences:


A guy is visiting San Francisco, and walks into a small store in
Chinatown.

He notices a small bronze statue of a rat.

He asks the owner "how much", and the owner replies "$50 for the bronze
rat, and $1000 for the story behind it".

The guy says, "forget the story", and buys the rat.

As he's walking down the street he notices two live rats following him.
As he continues to walk, more rats start following him.

He starts to get a little concerned, and heads for the waterfront. By
the time he gets there there are thousands and thousands of rats
following him.

He walks up to the end of the pier and throws the bronze rat into the
bay, and the rats all follow and leap off of the pier and drown.

The guy rushes back to the store and walks in. The owner says, "Ah!, so
your back for the story".

The guys says, "no, I was wondering if you have any bronze lawyers?"

  Richard Mar 11, 2008 10:06 AM

8

hi,
i am glad to read your experiences from India and I love to tell you that I am an Indian. The India you have seen is right but I guess you have not seen the other India which is as successful as US and UK. Ours is a agricultural based non-English country where education is not that important till recent years, so you may have seen people struggling with English. But I am sure you get surprise to know that 5 out of 10 people in India speaks more than 5 languages including English. We have hundreds of languages in India, wherein 16 are official languages. Again, if you see an Indian struggling with English, don't show sympathy against, but please be proud that he/she can very well soon going to compete with your English-speaking people. With regards to poverty, I can say, poverty was the gift we got from our invaders over the past including some of our greedy politians.

  Jyothi Mar 14, 2008 4:58 AM

9

what makes me wonder about India and it's (poor) people, is how they keep it all together despite all that!

I heard that even the most illiterate and destitute participates in the democratic process...no food to eat but will still vote someone in or out of power ;)
Among other things I saw there, worth appreciating, is a myriad of languages and religions all co-exist and practice freely, despite their contradictions, along with the common issues of heat-and-dust, and poverty.

While women, seem to be relegated to (a probable/likely second position in the family (power) structure), the general populace is comfortable and at-ease to electing a women in power in politics or for a prime minister(the most powerful office in Indian democracy)

I left with the impression, that contradictions exist and even grow despite the challenges. I will definitely visit again to understand better.
Alex - Thanks for sharing. Keep up the travelling, I envy you.

-AnotherWorldTraveller.

  Anotherworldtraveller Mar 24, 2008 2:18 AM

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