This time my India trip was all about people. I had many discussions around religious beliefs, stayed in many homes, debated and discussed what needs fixing (and there is a lot and mostly I did not bring this up) and what works and why and of course enjoyed world’s most incredible diverse range of cuisine available; enjoyed gawking at incredible, ever evolving, new fashionable clothing like gowns, pant suits and palazzos, and breathtakingly gorgeous jewellery.
Kerala: Diversity of fruits, plants and foliage all growing together and jostling for space and thriving alongside each other in Kerala is just astounding... And amidst vast tea plantations, valleys full of cardamom trees, are bamboo, jackfruit, coffee, Cocoa, plantains, banana, cloves, tons of green peppercorns, cloves, supari, papaya, guava, sitafal, mango and more. And all these teaming with equally diverse animal life including taher mountain goats, elephants, possums and vast vast varieties of birds like maina, bluebirds etc. My friend who accompanied me was like a walking encyclopedia on all native plants and pointed out each variety as we passed them by. Enjoyed chilling in house boat at Alleppey and enjoyed touring amazing Thekkady, Munnar in “God’s own country”, Kerala.
God-crazy India – Slightly with a sense of alarm and slightly lovingly, I wonder if India has gone God crazy.. I found that there is a segment of Indian population that has clearly become more secular and refuse to partake in religion fueled divisiveness. Then there is a substantial segment that has become clearly much more religious. In the early morning of the day I landed and went to a small eatery, the waiter went and poured tea on a nearby tree and when questioned by me, explained that first tea has to go to the tree. Gods, rituals, and shrines keep multiplying in India and practically every Indian has a real ghost story. In one city, the government installed artistic statues of deities in the middle of four way streets to beautify the place. Very soon people began to go there and started praying there. I found catholics fiercely differentiating themselves from their closest siblings, the protestants. A Shiya Muslim cab driver was staunchly asserting that Hindus don’t understand the differences but all terrorist acts are always carried out by Sunnis and unequivocally stated there can never be peace between Shiyas and Sunnis. When my friend asked the cabbie to stop at a spirits store to purchase a bottle of alcohol, he said we should have said it earlier and then he would not have accepted us as passengers because it was against his religion to enable people to drink.
A Hindu woman protested the assertion by Jains and Buddhists to be counted as separate religions because according to her they are all offshoot of Hinduism. Jains fear being swallowed and losing their identity in the amorphous and boundaryless system of Hinduism and equally staunchly assert their identity. And finally, as a most interesting experience, a Jain woman asserted how important are the differences between two sects of Jainism. One of the outward difference between the two sects of Jainism is that God keeps eyes open in one and halfway closed in the other. When I said it was a superficial difference, she explained how significant it was that the God kept the eyes halfway closed (never mind, that the statues are made by people).
I came away feeling more like Ron Reagan Junior (an active atheist). One atheist famously has said, “most people are atheists anyway about most religions, I just go one religion too far”.
Clothes Crazy India: Somehow I came away feeling like all of India and not Paris should be dubbed the fashion capital of the world. Incredible innovation in clothing styles and jewellery has made every Indian woman a fashionista, be it a cleaning woman, a beggar on the street or one living in a big mansion. There are incredible styles of clothes available to suit every pocket, everyone’s choice of color, style and size. In amazement, I stared at billboards and loved gawking and people watching at airports, hotels and on streets.
Enormously hospitable and friendly India – During this trip to India, I stayed in many homes, connected with my cousins on mother’s side, father’s side, with friends and neighbors from early childhood and from school and college days and with friends visiting from California and their families and friends in India. My cousins, friends, neighbors, friends’ friends and families and strangers in whose orbit I came, accepted me as their own, and at the same time, gave me the best things, fed the best items. My heart was filled with love and gratitude in each home that I visited, and in each interaction. Even when people held different beliefs than mine, even when I questioned and debated, in the end, I was in their orbit and I was accepted based our similarity as humans. Over and over people told me that they loved to have me because I was so genuine and adaptable and I responded always that how can anyone not adapt when surrounded by such love and hospitality? I left eagerly for my homeland, but I left my motherland with a heavy heart. As I reminisce, I don’t miss the noise (it seems in India, there is a competition to rise above the din, bells in the temples are loudest, cars and scooters honk for no reason, people burst reams of firecrackers that last full 2-3 minutes when you cannot talk with the person sitting next to you inside a home, and even babies cry louder here). I don’t miss the air pollution (I yearned for a deep breath of fresh there). I don’t miss the dirt and grime (though there is considerable improvement in that). But I do deeply miss and remember people and their love, possibilities that exist, palazzos and pantsuits, gorgeous gowns, sarees and fashionable blouses that I wasn’t able to take my eyes off, the potential that India holds.