Monday, June 30, 2008

India at the far end of both spectrums

My fetish for Indian arts & culture started to develop when I graduated from university. I began to believe that I was an Indian in my previous life. Somehow, I'm attracted to the colorful vibrancy of saris, the hint of flirtatiousness in miniature paintings, the love-it-or-hate-it Indian food, the I-don't-know-why-I-can't-stop-watching-it Bollywood films.So when the opportunity to visit India presented itself, I was ecstatic. I was more than ready. I was determined to go in with an open mind, open heart, and frankly open nose.In my opinion, India is a world of extremes. It's where both ends of every spectrum co-exists in one country. I've seen hell and heaven, good and bad, clean and dirty, beautiful and ugly, the best and the worst.Several cases in point. When I visited the Humayun's tomb, the first thing that came into my head was...'wow this beautiful and huge place is all just for the dead?' I know it's for the king and all...BUT... the condition of the living that I'd just seen while walking around old Delhi was so poor!

Here I was in a beautiful serene place with the dead laying peacefully, a few miles away, the living were buzzing through small, foul-smelling streets making way for their sacred cows, taking a bath in front of their houses, sipping tea while watching flies flocking over the dead lamb's head from the vendor across the street..... just living their regular Sunday morning lives.

Traveling between the states in India was quite an experience. You never knew what was going to happen or what you were going to see. In other countries, you would usually see big empty fields. In India, you would see people everywhere, jam-packed vehicles, the vivid color from saris and small houses or even the beautiful gold color of the sun touching the hays that fell from the truck ahead of us. All of these with a soundtrack of constant horn blowing.

India even brought me to tears once in Agra. I'd never expected the Taj to be so beautiful. I've seen several pictures of the place. But to see the presence of the real thing in front of us made me speechless. I don't know if it's the story behind it or the magnificence of the architecture, but I felt overwhelmed with its beauty and its being. No pictures of the Taj Mahal I saw ever did justice to the place.

It's in India where you see the biggest places for the dead sitting along side the smallest houses for the living, where you taste consistently delicious food as well as the consistently blandest coffee, where you see men living along side animals, where you encounter the good and the bad, where you make friends with the rich as well as the poor.I found these contrasts both astonishing and sad. But it does show a lot of strengths and the resilience of the people who have to live with it. And that was very admirable and positive.

I think I know India a little better now. I began to understand the drive of those hard sell vendors and why they didn't stop following us, I began to realize why Ghandi formed his non-violent belief, I began to accept that sometimes life isn't exactly fair and to survive, especially in a place like this, takes a lot of tolerances.

I left India very happy, very surprised, in fact I was even shocked to the core. Traveling usually expands your perspective of the world. But India might very well be the place where your view is broadened the furthest.

P.S. Thanks to Sonia from Connecting Asia for another wonderful trip, to Vijay our kind driver who always looked out for us and our thoughts and prayers go out to the bombing victims and the beautiful people of Jaipur.

Nusara (O) & Derrek Clarke
Traveled to Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, India in April 2008