India is fascinating. I say that with equal parts hate and love for the country. I haven’t yet decided which one should weigh heavier, for it’s been only one month, though I do feel I’m beginning to lean toward the latter.
I think I’ve become comfortable with being uncomfortable – from the unequivocal staring and never-ending questions from men (one of which is always, “Are you married?” to which I’ve learned to answer yes, though it doesn’t necessarily prevent the follow-up reply of, “Well, I be your Indian boyfriend.”) and constant begging for business.
It’s not just the homeless and starving who hold their hands out, wanting your money. It’s the rickshaw drivers and hotel managers and shopkeepers with their clever sayings – “You want to spend your money today?” and “Come, come. Looking is free!” – to the more subtle waving of the hand toward the door as a sort of subliminal message to the passersby.
All of the attention, together with the begging and the scams can be downright exhausting, and it’s worse when I’m alone – a single female without the company of a man or a friend – but it’s rather entertaining in its own right as well.
I guess what I’m trying to say is what many others already have: India is a large land of contrasting ideas, behaviors, cultures, colors, etc., and it’s the many contrasts that make my own feelings fluctuate just as rapidly. I can now understand why the advice of so many friends who have been here before always ended with, “You’ll see what I mean once you get there.”
Some things are difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced India.
After just four weeks, I’ve already witnessed a change in myself. In the beginning, it broke my heart to see the sidewalks lined with families caked in dirt, their children running around without britches or shoes while I sat on the bus under two jackets and a scarf, still shaking from the cold. I wanted to give, give, give to every person who needed, though I knew I could never help them all. While my heart still aches for them, I’ve gone from giving 10 rupee notes to candy and fruit – and the foods are accepted with just as much vigor as the coins.
I’ve gone from walking one kilometer through the desert to a local village in search of a toilet without spectators (though the family had only a tree to offer, which they use as well, and I happily accepted), to squatting on the side of the road, not worrying about cars passing by. It’s just a bare ass, after all.
I’ve gone from answering every “How are you?” to walking past without reply. In the beginning, I wanted to trust every stranger who approached me with a question or an offer. I wanted to believe that he was genuinely curious without an ulterior motive, but more often than not in India, that is not the case.
And it has jaded me.
“Trust noone” said a fellow traveler, a Venezuelan girl living and studying in Delhi. The truth in her words saddened me, but hardening my heart, ignoring what seems like a friendly, “Namaste! Where are you from?” and learning not to take any first answer for truth has helped me to understand how best to travel in India. Since I’ve managed to leap from a bleeding heart falang (a term a critic of this blog once called me) to an ultra bitch who refuses to pay for absurd things or to move seats on the bus when asked, I’ve actually begun to enjoy my journey even more.
In fact, I’ve just extended my trip to accommodate a drastic change in plans after succumbing to the fact that it was overly ambitious of me to attempt a journey from north to south in just one five-week visit to India. Kumbh Mela, the largest religious festival in the world, which occurs at it’s best only every 12 years, is happening now, and it’s calling my name. So instead of venturing to the beaches below, I’m cutting across the large northern half of the country to join what’s estimated to be between 60 and 100 million pilgrims in Allahabad to bathe in the two holy rivers that converge there.
The event is supposed to be outrageous in every sense of the word, and I have no doubt it will be. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, India proves me wrong. Just when I have an unbeatable experience, a new one is created. And just when I may have seen the coolest/most beautiful/most surprising thing ever, this country shows me more.
“That’s why it’s Incredible India,” the locals continue to tell me whenever we talk about the country’s extreme things, good or bad. And they’re right. India is nothing short of incredible.
I want to share each and every detail with you, but you’ll have to be patient. I’ve started writing a book so, like many experiences from my previous travels, the best is yet to come. I do, however, have loads of photos, but those will also have to wait. Finding an internet connection that works well enough to do such a task has proved impossible (Hey, Google and Microsoft and all you other technology companies that call India home – what are you doing here if you’re not sharing?).
Coming soon, I promise.
How it feels to be a woman in India (CNN.com)