Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vanakkam: Welcome to India

I'm a first generation Indian. Growing up my family would go to India every other summer, but without the flexibility we once had due to current work and school schedules, these days our family trips don't occur quite as often. In fact, in the past eight years I've only been back to India twice.

During my gap year in 2012, I was able to go to India for my cousin's wedding and even squeeze in a stopover to the UAE. The trip was great to see family I don't often have the chance to spend time with, but was definitely short. It was really my trip to India during my senior year of college in 2011 that I was able to explore more of the country and experience the culture, past wedding festivities. We mostly spent time in Chennai, as we always do, but we also rented a beach house in Mahabalipuram with extended family on my dad's side.

When people ask me what India is like, few adjectives immediately come to mind to accurately capture the hustle and bustle of the city, the vibrant colors of the country, or the congestion of well, everywhere, other than: dusty and hot. There is dust literally, everywhere, from the dirt roads of small streets and paved highways alike, to the thatched roofs of the poorer resident's makeshift homes, to what seeps into my grandmother's house through the mosquito netting and wrought iron grills covering the windows and needs to be swept off the floors twice daily at minimum. And the heat is sweltering, always. I know I'm in India after a 16 hour flight when the humidity covers me like a thick blanket immediately upon disembarking the cool confines of the air conditioned plane.

 Goats only are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to animals you will find on the streets of India

India is dusty and hot. But it is also noisy, busy, full, colorful, lively, and well, I don't think my words will do it justice as much as the pictures will. What India lacks in refined architectural beauty it more than abounds with cultural energy and beauty. As James Michener said, "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” Yes, you can go to Agra and see the Taj Mahal or go to New Delhi and see the India Gate, but you can also take a look outside and do just that: look. This is to say nothing against visiting landmarks (I've seen both the Taj Mahal and the India Gate and only recommend doing so), but experiencing a country past the tourist destinations will let you experience so much more.

 Cows are a sacred animal and many people have their own to take on literal milk routes from house to house

Look outside and yes, feel that dust and soak in that heat. But also look outside and see the traditional clothing, the animals nonchalantly meandering the streets, the clutter of bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and pedestrians, the line of local shops, the street vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables, and the schoolchildren dressed in uniforms and plaits. Smell the aromatic wafts of spicy curry from within restaurants, the strong scent of snacks freshly fried on the street, and the fragrance from the flowers adorning the hair of women and girls. Listen to the native languages spoken in its many dialects, the honking from the crowded streets, and the cows mooing from their tethered posts.

Local children leaving school on bike and foot at the end of the day

So, when I'm asked how to describe India, "dusty and hot" may be the first adjectives to come to my mind, but they only begin to scratch the surface. It is easy to disregard a place for its skyline marked with concrete and brick rather than sleek skyscrapers, its customary etiquette to eat with the hand rather than a fork and knife, or its multitude of mother tongues rather than one cohesive, streamlined language. But in these differences lie many beauties.

Motorcycles lined along a quieter street

The richness of culture, the buzzing energy omnipresent, and the centuries of a country steeped with tradition are beautiful. The words of Yann Martel in Life of Pi ring through, "My fingers, which a second before had been taste buds savoring the food a little ahead of my mouth, became dirty under his [a Canadian waiter's] gaze. They froze like criminals caught in the act. I didn't dare lick them. I wiped them guiltily on my napkin. I picked up the knife and fork. I had hardly ever used such instruments. My hands trembled. My sambar lost its taste." Yes, India is dusty and hot, but it is also so much more. India is beautiful.

Fresh snacks and fried goods sold by a street vendor

Getting a temporary henna design drawn onto my arm by a local

Indulging in my favorite Indian breakfast: fried pooris served with potato curry

All photos taken with Canon PowerShot ELPH300HS 

1 comment:

Friday Five

A sweet bar gift from Caroline From 50 and pouring last weekend at my brothers graduation (hello Nor'easter in May) to 90 and scor...