Monday, October 4, 2010

"So, how's India?"

Anyone who has traveled outside of the country is familiar with the question, "How is [specific place]?" When I am asked this question, I sometimes respond truthfully, yet overly simply, "It's amazing," but most often I launch into a little speech about how I cannot honestly describe my experience in India in a few phrases, as India has 1.2+ billion people, and is westernizing and clutching onto tradition simultaneously. There's city life v. village life, upper caste v. lower caste, western values v. traditional values, women v. men, old v. young, North India v. South India, the Seven Sisters of the northeast, etc. Told you there are too many aspects of India to summarize quickly!

 To give you a more vibrant explanation of my time here so far, I'll show you some photos, and describe a little bit the circumstances which surrounded that which they capture.

These first three photos were taken this past weekend on my trip to Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the Vijayanagar Empire thrived from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The first photo shows my half-Mexican friend Ren in front of some ruins. Even though there was too much history to really absorb in a short time, we had buckets of fun jumping along the boulders that literally envelope the city. In Hampi, there were more Indian tourists than foreigners, and quite a few of the Indians wanted photos with us! I felt kind of special, actually, especially when they shook our hands and thanked us for the photo, as if we were actually doing something, rather than just standing there like one of the mammoth rocks. Especially precious in Hampi were the young kiddos we met down by the Tungabhadra River on the second day who would yell, "Foto! Foto!" before performing fancy circus-worthy jumps into the water in hopes they'd be captured on our cameras. Some of the boys were only wearing a thin red string around their hips when they swam, while the girls generally wore beautiful little dresses, even in the water! Nearby, their mothers were working hard to wash their clothes.

These two pictures were taken the weekend before last on our trip to Jog Falls and the coastal town of Gokarna. One thing I've noticed is that even the places that are supposedly huge tourist sites are actually not well organized; seriously, India could make a lot of money from tourists if it bothered to make some professional-looking signage and such. Here is a picture of one of the highest falls in India; there was no fencing or anything on top, so we were able to slide near the edge of the fall and feel the sheer height in our guts! Awesome, but frightening (what if someone decided to venture there at night?).

Gokarna was a much more enjoyable place than Pondicherry in terms of how comfortable I felt prancing around the beach in a bathing suit. After spending two nights and two days on the Arabian Sea (for $5 a night, mind you), taking midnight swims, meeting friendly Indians, Swedes, and Englishmen, and hiking along the cliffs with cows and silver crabs alongside us, we took the basic bus back to Bangalore. In the picture you can notice the rigid plastic seats which we sat in for nine hours. No biggy though: Becca and I met this young woman, Asfiyah, a 23-year-old married muslim mother of two, who conversed with us rather comfortably in English (she spoke only Urdu fluently) and even invited us back to her home! Her husband was very friendly, too. The last picture in the trio shows how despite having some of the finest technology, India is still pretty basic in terms of infrastructure in the rural areas. Our bus came upon a huge fallen tree in the road (no, the driver did have access to a radio in order to be pre-warned about the obstruction), and we found the local men with their machetes in hand, hoping to cut the tree apart (with little success, of course). No Lowe's for them, I reckon.

Oh gosh, now to to city, that machine that sleeps for about five hours every day in order to recoup just enough energy to power itself for the next day. Look at the trash right behind the bus stand I wait at to go to school every day? And this is not an anomaly, there are literally sewage canals and street corners piled with trash (I am likely using this as my research subject in my Population and Poverty course). The trash is mostly plastic and paper packaging, a recent addiction here in India. And then we have the local KFC, which is often filled with Indians eager for food that could not look more appetizing to me, even if it were served on a ruby-encrusted gold plate. I prefer the Indian fast food joints, the Sagars, where you can get a piping hot gourd of cashew tikka masala and fresh garlic-stuffed naan for less than $2. You might notice how most everyone eating there is standing, and that most of the customers are male. Where are the females, you ask? My guess is that they are in the home, or with children.

Yar, that's all for now. I hope this post satisfies your pesky question!
Love and masala!


Dad said...

This is a Pulitzer Prize winning blog! The seats make the T's seats look comfortable though.

Your pictures are coming out great too.

Miss you lots, kiddo.


Adam Brunelle said...

Your time in India seems entirely transformative - for you and maybe even for India!

I'm serious, but I'm kidding. You're going to transform ever time you see the same human dignity and reflected in so many different faces. It's just true.

And while you're not going to change the whole of India, I think you're the kind of "American," if I may use the term, who can go to India and appreciate them on a human level, as opposed to doing it out of academia or curiosity.

Keep having an awesome time out there. America and its silly values will be here when you decide to return!