Returning to India

11/18/2015

I am Indian.  I am currently 15 and have visited India four times.  At my stage in life, we become different people every year.  Between my most recent trip to India in December 2014, my freshman year of high school, and the time before that, over four years had passed, so in 2014 I was ready to experience India in a way I never had before, through a new set of eyes.

I made tens of thousands of words of notes during the trip, but the following entries include a few that discuss only the more subtle aspects of returning to India, rather than the actual occurrences of the trip.

December 2014

Ever since I’ve been here, I have been feeling an odd thrill.  Is it because I have Indian blood, or because I have childhood memories here?  Or because I have a new perspective?  Or because I am enjoying time spent with family?

Mumbai is a beautiful and rich city, but do we say that just because it’s different than the US?  Also, it’s a city we foreigners don’t get even close to experiencing, save for Eastern toilets and bucket showers.  Although Nani’s (my maternal grandmother’s) condo is old, it may well be in the top 1% of Indian living conditions.  We only observe India from our bubble, from a sheltered distance.

In this country, with such an abundance of population, people find their niches in unexpected places.  There are thousands of street vendors, rickshaw drivers, tiffin carriers, etc., and there are just so many people that someone is always somewhere, at any given obscure place.

There is a sense of Indian companionship and trust, as there doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit of suspicion as men in sari shops have to tighten saris for display on women and for taking measurements, or as barbers on the streets use large knives to shave random men.

In America, everything is an enclosed environment with virtually no smells or intimacy; in India, everyone is open to each other, with walkers in the streets, people all up in each other’s space in driving, people’s open clotheslines, people sitting in each other’s laps in rickshaws, the smells of people’s feces, the scents of all of the vendors’ products.

As I purposely didn’t use a seatbelt in the car, a thought came to mind.  It feels like I’m here for the first time, but at the same time I’m not.  I’ve seen everything before, but I saw it from my own bubble like my baby cousin once removed: ‘I’m hungry now,’ ‘I want mommy now.’  Now that I’m old and mature enough, I can get the experience of being here and actually observe things–but at the same time, I’ve already observed this city before.  I feel like a foreigner experiencing the nuances of the city as opposed to those of my own homeland, but experiencing it with background knowledge of the city as if from another person: my former self.  It’s a weird balance.

In India, with this lifestyle, because everyone has to be active and simple tasks require much vigilance and energy, there is simply no room, no time, for trashcans (let alone recycling), suburbs, exercise, nutritional restraint, seatbelts, easy ways to wash your hands, mere handsoap, public services, fine arts, foreign language and electives, manners (i.e. polite ways to belch, fart, grunt, etc.–although that’s also cultural), etc.

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