India is an ironic contradiction.
Attempting to describe a country as diverse and intense as this one is attempting to do the impossible, yet everywhere you go within it, on every winding Himalayan trail and polluted Delhi side street, the impossible becomes the expected.
Cows and monkeys roam the roads as if nature’s hierarchy has been turned upon its head and little boys, barefoot and grinning, throw fireworks outside a hidden Jainist temple, unexplainably and charmingly content. An old man with a glass eye who wears a coat of dirt and scars, sits on the pavement, praying, oblivious to the chaos that surrounds him and a small girl with mismatched socks sits on the doorstep of her isolated mountain home, her baby brother asleep in her arms.
It shouldn’t work. It couldn’t and wouldn’t anywhere else, but for whatever reason, in India, these elements don’t just ‘work’ or merely ‘exist’, they thrive. Each and every part of this complex and confusing country has a purpose, even if this is simply to contribute, however insignificantly, to making it what it is. The discarded shoe in an unmarked alleyway, the gold toothed rickshaw driver putting his four children through school and the stall selling fruit crawling with insects and coated in dust, none of these things should be overlooked or disregarded due to their seeming lack of importance. A puzzle with only one piece doesn’t really make a picture, does it?
I’ve always found exaggerated descriptions somewhat difficult to take seriously, yet I cannot seem to ignore the fact that India is special. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is about the country that leaves such a lasting impression on it’s visitors but I’m fairly certain it has something to do with the specific kind of atmosphere over there. An atmosphere I believe can only accurately be described as alive. The people, the places, the music, the food, it’s all just a little brighter and a little sharper than the quaint, quiet English village I call home.
India demands to be noticed, and notice it I have.
Lengthy, emotional declarations of how a place like India changes someone are to be expected and descriptive tales of how lives of visitors have been influenced by their experiences there are naturally going to follow. Be that as it may, I’m not entirely sure India did change me, at least not in a manner so drastic it is noticeable. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced I agree with this sentiment at all. I don’t think a place changes you, it’s everything and more importantly, everyone within it that can influence who you are. I don’t want to be misinterpreted, my Asian adventure was breathtaking, nonsensical and unforgettable all at the same time and was, undeniably, a trip of a life time, but did it alter who I was, who I am?
I’m not so sure.
India did not make me look at myself or review the life I live in any extreme fashion, instead, it sparked my interest in others.
As the trip went on, I became more and more interested in the people we met, from those we passed on the Delhi streets to others we shared a train with in the early hours of the morning. For us, a group of forty teenage girls travelling on a school trip for just two weeks, we experienced only a snapshot of India, just enough to leave us wanting more. However, for those we met along the way, it is more than just a destination, it is a home.
It’s incredible when you think of just how vast India is, both in geographical size and population but in it’s culture and diversity too. Everyone living there has a story to tell and each and every one is as interesting and contrasting as the next, but together, side by side, these people and their stories create a country utterly unique in nature.
I was privy to only a few tales on my travels but even the small amount I learnt was incredible. The elder of a remote, Himalayan village told us a tale of his one on one battle with a leopard in which he lost his eye, our guide who led us through her crazy country spoke passionately of her childhood spent skiing across the world and the business man with which we shared a sunrise on a train informed us carefully of his love for dogs and boasted proudly of his daughter’s education. These were just those we were lucky enough to speak to, there were, there are so many more, each making their own memories and writing their own stories on one of our world’s greatest stages, India.
A man I know once said something rather insightful. Before we departed our teacher made sure we wrote a little quote of his down ‘behind very closed door, there is a story.’ It seems in India, within every person there’s an entire wealth of them.
For an insight into my recent return to India, click here!