Maybe this is because transitioning into life in India is anything but simple. I’ve run into many other foreigners during my time in India, and the most common answer I’ve found to, “So how do you like India?” is, “It’s crazy.”
And it is. I would not describe my time here as easy. I’m not sure how I’ll look back on my time in India in the context of this year—in many ways it feels much more complicated than the time I spent in Indonesia. I was almost constantly on the move here which at times made it hard to feel productive in terms of my research. I was on my own much more, catching trains and finding hotels and waiting in lines at monuments; forced to be my own navigator, my own sounding board, my own friend. I think my time in India has accounted for two of the most important months of my life. I’ve had to stand up for myself in ways that I haven’t had to before and I’ve realized that that’s something I can do. I’ve been exhaustedly on edge, perpetually bitter at the attention I receive because of my appearance and gender, and saddened by the staggering amount of desperation and poverty. It is overwhelming. But I’ve also been overwhelmed by the generosity of others, by the beauty of my surroundings, by how much, despite all of these difficulties, I’ve fallen in love with this place.
As Dan and I agreed in Delhi, Swarthmore seminars would not be able to survive in India because they’d want to stop and “unpack” everything they saw every couple feet. That’s how I feel too. Sights and signs run through my brain and I can’t stop thinking about them. Like a thirteen year-old Indian girl I saw wearing a t-shirt that read, only, “She has long hair and blue eyes. She is WESTERN.” (I thought the idea that she was advertising a definition of what “western” is, particularly a definition that she herself didn’t fit into was really fascinating).
Or this sign in Bangalore advertising a shop called “Feminist” that sells lingerie exclusively.
India takes all of those binaries that we’re taught to avoid thinking in, “east and west,” “developed and developing”, “traditional and modern”, and broadcasts them. There are signs in shopping malls with arrows pointing to “ethnic” clothing and arrows pointing to “western” clothing. And then there are advertisements for salwar kameezs worn by blonde models. There are people here who measure progress by the quality of the roads; there are people here who measure progress by how much dal they can convince their grandson to eat for lunch. When I visualize India, what comes to mind is a representation of the goddess Kali, with all of her many arms. If India were Kali, it would always be reaching for something. In one hand would be an oil lamp for prayers, in another an ipad, in another a dosa, in another a pair of blue jeans, a handful of flowers, a yoga mat, a slice of pizza, a cricket bat.
I’ve realized that in India, these binaries aren’t binaries. They’re all a part of it, and the “contradictions” that I’ve so enjoyed (sights of cows roaming outside of Pizza huts, or women in sarees riding motorcycles), aren’t contradictions at all. They are what make this place whole.
Perhaps because of this, recently I’ve had the strong desire bring everyone I know here. I think it’s an important place to visit. It holds 1/6th of the entire world population, and sometimes I feel that walking down an Indian street, you see everything that makes up the world.
The part that was challenging at times was figuring out exactly how I fit into this world. Or how others perceived my own role in it. But I’m realizing these are constant questions we should be asking ourselves anyway, being here just made them unavoidable. I had my eyes wide open and tried to take it all in. Its colors, its chaos, its unflinching honesty, its noise, its generosity, its lights and its traditions. I feel so lucky to have experienced this place. I feel so lucky to have met such wonderful people here who I know I will be in touch with in the future. I feel in my heart that I’ll be back one day.
Because you’re not experiencing this place with me right now, I wanted to share this little bit of India in motion. Because if there is anything that India isn’t, it’s still.
Thanks for the last seven weeks. Here we go again…