India / Living in India / Rambles & Reflections

India from the Outside In

I love watching and reading people’s reactions when I say that I am currently living in India. The word “India” evokes all kinds of responses from amazement to downright horror.

So exotic! So lucky!

I want to visit you. (For the records, no one has actually visited)

You must be careful – don’t go out alone. A lot of women get raped there.

Even if you gave me a free air ticket, I would not travel there.

It is common to imagine India as either exotic and charming or backward and dangerous. Much of what is out there is mostly half-truths and often decontextualised, resulting in a gross simplification of the many layers of cultural nuances.

I started this blog with the sole purpose of sharing a bit more on some of my experiences in India. I see it more as a record of observations, a form of sense-making and less as a travel blog. Hopefully you will enjoy reading these little narratives as much as I enjoy writing them and maybe this will inspire you to visit India and discover for yourself all that this country has to offer.

(On my part, I will try to be a little bit more diligent in writing these posts  – I realised the last time I wrote was almost 3 months ago.)

For a start, here are the things that I really like about India. I also have to confess that there are a lot of things I dislike but I will save that for another time.

What I Enjoy About India

Mayfair Bubaneswar

A bit of Disney in a hotel’s private garden in Bhubaneswar

  • Colourful and Unexpected.

I love admiring the saris with their intricate designs and colour combinations, taking photographs of the multi-coloured buildings that dot the roadsides, and gawking at the painted vehicles on the roads from trucks that say “please press horn” to scooters carrying whole families of fours and fives. Painting public property is a task that is often done with great vigor with fresh coats of paint applied every time an important visitor is in town. Sometimes the clash of colours is overwhelming but most of the time it is a refreshing change from your typical city infrastructure.

More than just colour, travelling in India is always full of surprises – you never actually know what you are going to see or experience. While this often translates into last minute changes to travel plans and delays, the uncertainty leaves plenty of room for you to be pleasantly surprised. From Disney statues in a colonial garden to hidden alleys full of artworks, the best experiences in India are often random and serendipitous. It is not hard to see why travellers love India so much – there is hardly ever a dull moment.

Jaipur Old Town

Colourful wares on display with street vendors in Jaipur Old Town

  • Expressive and Bold.

A related point to colour – India is loud and unafraid to tell you what she thinks and feels at any given point. City authorities have no qualms painting a whole city pink and locals often choose the brightest and most contrasting colours possible for signboards. Everyone has an opinion on everything (this can get annoying at times) and be prepared for a long defensive narrative if you try to criticise anything.

Personally I know the day has started when I hear the Indian palm squirrels chatting away while the temple priest (or devotee) shouts out his morning prayers for everyone in a two-block radius to hear. Vehicle horns with different tunes and the laughter of children from the adjacent slum punctuate moments in the day. The cacophonous sounds of daily life add to the vibrancy of a country thriving on hope. Sometimes I get a headache when I am in the thick of it–the confluence of colour, sound and smell–but I guess it could be said that it is all part of India’s charm.

Amer Fort Garden

Lush green palace garden in the Amer Fort

  • Hopeful.

This one is a little hard to explain but somewhere underneath many of the encounters is this intangible sliver of hope. I experience it in the smiles from locals, literature by Indian writers and in the limited Bollywood movies I watched. I see it in the architecture where profound beauty is pursued by those who can afford it and observed it when I see a whole family gathered around a new car, taking a thousand and one pictures before getting into the car for a spin. I was deeply moved when I found out that teenagers travel great distances just to see the authors in person at a literature festival. If you look carefully enough, you will see hope everywhere.

My guess is that the locals try not to let the small things get them down, choosing instead to focus on the things that make them happy. India is not an easy country to live in–it’s harsh–and maybe building resilience and striving for the divine is the only way to survive.

Perhaps that is why some people come to India to find themselves.

 

 

 

 

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