Thoughts on India

In the weeks before going to India a couple words kept coming up in conversations related to our trip. The first, echoed most commonly among our American friends, was “colorful.” As in “Oh my word India! All the colorful saris and spices and flowers, be sure to take lots of pictures!” or “India! I love Bollywood, such a colorful culture!”  The second word, more frequently employed by family and friends from India was “uncomfortable.” As in “Why are you taking her to India now when it’s the middle of summer? The poor girl is going to be terribly uncomfortable!” or “Be sure to bring toilet paper with you everywhere, lest you get into an uncomfortable bathroom situation.” and “You must take your malaria medication. It will make you very uncomfortable, but the alternative is even worse!”

As the conversations started piling up, my mind compiled a sort of rough sketch of what I ought to expect from my trip. I tried to wrap my head around what all this color and discomfort would be like, and every so often I’d catch a brief vision of Technicolor mosquitos and gorgeous women dressed in saris dancing around a primitive bathroom.

So, here I am, two weeks, four (Indian) states, seven cities, thousands of miles and one elephant ride later, and what have I learned? I know it sounds basic, but I’ve realized that asking someone to describe India as a whole is an even more cumbersome task than whittling down our own US of A to a unified notion. You see, in the States we at least have the luxury of a common tongue and a more or less agreed upon national narrative going back a couple centuries. India however, combines similar geographic diversity, with countless dialects, distinct governing bodies, and millennia of foreign occupation. Attempting to package it neatly into an idea that can be communicated in a couple of sentences is enough to make anyone’s head spin, I might even go so far as to say it’s impossible (baring testament to this is the 700-page history of India Premal picked up—my husband and his “light” reading—with graphs that cross this researcher’s eyes).  

And now, as I’ve worked—and failed—at writing a post that is comprehensive and compelling and pays appropriate tribute to each station we stopped at along our way, it has finally dawned on me why these words kept cropping up in conversation. The labels given to the nation by people I love were less about the country itself, and more about their hopes and dreams for my adventure.  They were little blessings, put out into the world as vague ideas and loving caution. And it seems they worked. The prayers for beauty and color delivered abundantly. And somehow all that talk of discomfort must have hardened me for the adventure. And  Premal and I had a magical time.

Premal's parents' old clinic
Ahmadabad night market
a beach near Mumbai

vegetable market in Mumbai 
the Tata tea gardens

walking into Tamil Nandu

lake punnamada
the gates of the old synagogue in Cochin