Wednesday, October 27, 2021

India Will Impress

There was something about this particular Kolkata window that seemed absolutely transcendent to me. The exposed brick, open shutter, the sheet, the bars. Every element in the image added up to something I could not explain, but could feel connecting deep within me. Perhaps the ten weeks of travelling around India by that point had something to do with it, as well as the way were travelling around India. We were embedding ourselves into society in a fundamental fashion, but from a perspective that allowed us the freedom to exit at any point should things go awry. That freedom allowed me to examine society with a micro lens while forever keeping a distance between us. I struggle to explain the way that distance impacted my feelings about India, or perhaps whether that distance means that I could never have a true understanding of India. If we can leave at any time, can our immersion be that complete?
Regardless, this window made me understand how India is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Learning how to pilot a running rickshaw in Kolkata.

Up close and personal with the scent of spices in a Kolkata alley.

If you had asked me which country I enjoyed the most on our round-the-world trip, while I was still actually in and experiencing a particular country, India would have been the last on that list on many occasions. It isn't that there is anything especially bad about India; it's more that there are so many tiny things that can be irritating, and more importantly, accumulative. Accretive. India is about managing how you respond to the little things. Not being able to let some things go can potentially obscure your enjoyment of the true wonder of India. It's kind of like in the hockey playoffs, all those seven-game series, and the commentators forever calling it a battle of attrition. But the rewards?

Leaving your backpack unattended at Kudle Beach has its consequences.

At first you're thinking, "What the heck?" After a while, it's, "Dammit! Not cows again!" and eventually, "Huh, India."

Going to visit the Taj Mahal. Wandering the fort in Jaisalmer. Exploring the markets in Kolkata. Hiking around Hampi. Sailing around the backwaters in Alleppey. Watching the sun set while your kids play in the Arabian Sea. These things are spellbinding, both in their sheer visual beauty as well as how the moment sits within the language of your family history.

Exploring between Kudle Beach and Gokarna's town beach.

That first look is without a word of exaggeration, breathtaking.

It's casual moments like this that catch you off guard. Your kids are listening to the audio guide at Mehrangarh Fort and you think, "Gosh, that's cute." Sometimes the magnitude of what's happening is lost on you. Sometimes it takes years to recognize the truth, and sometimes it hits you in the face when you frame it in the camera's viewfinder. What a day we had there.

What is less magnificent is some of that day to day stuff that you would not be used to dealing with at home. Rickshaw drivers hounding you for a fare. Touts wanting to guide you through a tourist attraction. Shopkeepers who are relentless in their efforts to lure you into a shop. Kids who are relentless in their efforts to lure you into a shop that will pay them commissions. Men who urinate somewhat openly in the streets. I could go on, but you get the idea. As long as you can learn to deal with that, India will quickly rise to the top of your favourite country list. The majority of kids, shopkeepers, rickshaw drivers, and urinating men are not remotely irritating. Well, the urinating men are, but most do their business in more appropriate settings. Or at least, discretely. Rickshaw drivers are trying to earn a living, and when they see a tourist, particularly a family of four, they see their earning potential rise dramatically. And that's what it boils down to - people just trying to earning a living. Yes, the one-hundredth call of, "Hello? Rickshaw?" in a single afternoon may occasionally force some regrettable comment out of your mouth, this is true. And yes, some people (including tired tourists...ahem) are just jerks, that's true everywhere, but most people are just trying to get by. 

My drawings of everyday people in India, and a couple of abstracts thrown in because it was part of a montage.

More often than not, you'll have someone curious about where you are from, what it's like where you live, and how do you like India? When you carry on a conversation, and really engage, it will be a rewarding experience that will provide a mental shield from the next, "Hello! One photo!"*

There is incredible life in India, incredible colour, and some truly incredible people. The distances within are vast, but with India's decent train system and your strong stomach, you can see a lot of the country. Push yourself beyond the Golden Triangle, and you will be rewarded with memories unlike any other.

The south is green, its air thick and warm. Rajasthan the land is the colour of straw, full of castles that hug the sky. Varanasi lives and breathes along the Ganges. Temples abound in the 14th century empire of Hampi. India is an experience like no other, and is worth any amount of time you can give it. 

A tower at Chittorgarh Fort in Chittorgarh, Rajasthan.
Outside the walls at Chittorgarh Fort.

A photogenic monkey at Chittorgarh.

Yes, the Taj Mahal is really something, but there's a lot more to India than this.

For instance, the Taj's poor cousin in Aurangabad.

By the end of our time in India, nearly three months, my mind was a little clouded by some of the negative experiences. But almost immediately after taking off from Kolkata on our way to Bangkok, the moments of pure joy rose to the surface, and I found myself longing to be back in the sweaty embrace of anywhere that was India. The food is a wonder, with restaurants, and hotels too throughout the country, serving up a fabulous array of dishes. The shops are full of colourful textiles and exceptional artisanal work. The history of India is on full display nearly everywhere you look. And the people. Give them a chance, and the good people will find you, and make you feel at ease.

Spice vendor and his son posing with us in Kolkata.

Learn to let the inconsequential go, and hold fast to the wonders. Incredible India will reveal itself all over.

*At first, the idea that someone would want a photo of themselves with us seemed funny and cute. But when you're going to be late for your bus, and the 47th person is saying, "One photo!" it can be a little much. Fun, for sure, but exhausting.

So many photos taken with so many Indian folks.

India's doors will impress.

My book chronicling our time in India.

Interior spread from The Happy Accident.

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