Friday, 3 June 2011

“So what did you like about India, anyway?”

            I was really surprised when my Dad asked me this last night- I thought I made it clear that I enjoyed this country immensely despite being somewhat overwhelmed, most of the time.  Since I’ve been back, multiple people have commented “I didn’t understand why you wanted to go there in the first place” and another person said “now you learned your lesson.  Stay away from dirty countries”.  I stand by the fact that this trip was an amazing, life-changing experience and here’s my attempt to defend India as an extraordinary place.
            In the Mark Tully book I referred to earlier, he said it was the beauty and the people that made him fall in love and stay in love with this country.  I could try to come up with unique reasons but I’m pretty sure that’s what it comes down to for me too.  
            I found the beauty of India (and this is without me having been able to visit inside many of Delhi and Agra’s most famous sites) in all the colors and exquisite clothing of the women, in the temples and in the historic buildings.  I mentioned how women are dressed in beautiful saris, even when helping on dirty construction sites.  There’s bright colors everywhere, excessive gold jewelry, intricate henna designs on hands and feet and a general grace with which they hold themselves, as they sit side-saddle on a motorcycle or carry a huge bucket on their heads.  These colors carry through to their artwork and the temples I have seen.  I love how lively Hindu temples are- there’s little kids running around, a clanging of bells each time someone enters, people circulating in the same general direction but everyone has a slightly different way of making offerings.  I always get a little uncomfortable during mass when everyone sounds like mechanized robots repeating the same prayers week after week.  I’m not saying I’m going to convert to Hinduism anytime soon but this somewhat individualized and very personal faith made me feel more connected to my God than being in an impersonal Catholic church. 
And, finally, the monuments I did get to see (Red Fort, Qutab Minar, the Akshardham templ, etc.) took my breath away.  The sheer size (Red Fort, in particular) instantly humbles visitors, the opulence of temples overwhelms the senses with the gold gilding and with thousands of deities carved into the walls.  The Red Fort and the Minar stand testimony to the resilience of this nation, which has preserved through countless violent takeovers and maintained some sense of identity throughout.  Even Dr. Jolly says its remarkable that the country “hasn’t blown itself up” when you think about the enormous land mass which joined together under democracy despite having a history of fragmented feudal states. 
I think this final testament will come in two parts and later I’ll write a second post about the people.  But the previous paragraph makes me hope the India will maintain its uniqueness as the country continues to transform by the day.  Even though the Western influence is impossible to ignore when you look at the newspapers and when you visit the malls and see the changing attire of the citizenry, I think India’s pride in its past with preserve and maintain its unique cultural identity.
I’ll finish this later but it’s nice to be waking from “zombie mode”.  I’m still having trouble with solid foods but I think after a week, my fever is finally gone.  Hurray for small victories.