Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Few Thoughts on India, So Far

Written from Cochin, Kerala, India
Posted from Delhi, India

We've been in India for over two weeks now, and I haven't really written anything substantive on our actual travels here. Sure, I've written about other backpackers, and Matt told you about our seaside and bus experiences, but I haven't written anything about what it's like to actually BE here in this place. And I'm not sure why I haven't written about it, because it's not like I'm not thinking about it. On the contrary, I'm thinking about it all the time. It's practically all I can think about. The very word "India" just rolls around in my head, over and over and over again. It's often coupled with images I expected to see here, images that collide with things that I am actually seeing here. And there are bits and pieces of stories that I've stolen from friends who have either visited India or still call India home. Those roll around in my head too. So although I'm sure that it won't be even a little bit eloquent, I want to try to get some of these thoughts down for you, just in case you're still bumbling along on this journey with us and you want to know.

From the stories I'd heard about Goa, I expected to land smack in the middle of an enormous beach rave. I expected something a la Phi Phi Island, Thailand, complete with hippie-like tourists and buckets filled to the brim with vodka and red bull. But because we stayed off the beaten track in a non-backpacker area, there were no buckets, no hippies to speak of, and certainly no raves. In the end, even though we thought we were looking for some way to inebriate ourselves in our early days in the subcontinent, it ended up being a good thing that Colva Beach wasn't the party mecca we were looking for. In its own quiet, ocean-observing way, Colva gave us the opportunity to settle in to India.

And as quickly as we could settle in to Goa, we were off for our whirlwind tour of Kerala. I expected things to be quiet here, quiet like the people who urged us to visit their home, who aren't really quiet at all, so I'm not sure why I thought that. I figured that the pace of Kerala would suit us, that we would move effortlessly from place to place and see what we could see. But I am now convinced that there is no such thing as effortless movement in India. Instead, we were bumped and hurried and hustled from place to place, over windy, vomit-inducing roads, and through dusty towns. We ate good food and we ate bad food. At first it seemed like everyone wanted to sell us something, something that looked a lot like something we didn't even think about wanting, but in the end it turned out that everyone just wanted us to love Kerala, to love this place, the way that they do.

And what a place it is. Goa, Kerala, India. It is an incredible, amazing place. Amazing in that it causes constant amazement, and amazes us, constantly. Before we came to India people told us that we would either love it or hate it. And we knew people who fell into both camps. Heather loves it. Her fiance Andrew (yay, Heather got engaged!) hates it. Jane loved it. Megan hated it. Nitin and Uma call it home, and tell us stories about India with the love of someone whose dreams still bring them back here. But then there were those kids from our first go-round at CMU who would ask us WHY we'd want to be a tourist in a place like India. But I've always wanted to visit India, always, for as long as I can remember, even way back in my youngest years on Copper Beech Drive when I'd spend my summer days playing hide-and-go-seek with Zarine and Kekki, and I'd walk into their house for lemonade and smell that unfamiliar and mezmorizing smell. (Incidentally, it's a smell I can now correctly identify as cooked basmati rice, ginger, and cardamom.)

So here we are now, day by day, moment by moment, trying to figure out which camp we fall into. Love it or hate it? And for some reason, I'm having a hard time coming up with a visceral reaction. I can't collect my thoughts around what I spend my day seeing, and certainly not in a way that's cogent enough to come to any conclusions. So I will give you things that I see, instead, so that you may draw your own: I see a truck full of cows, crammed head to head, riding on the windy roads of Perriyar; I see tea plantations as far as I could look, greener than any green I've ever seen; I see women washing clothes by beating them against washing stones; I see little children with kohl on their eyes like eyeliner; I see sarees and sarees and sarees; I see men fidgeting with the ends of their lungis, which basically look like a skirt; I see beautiful fruit and vegetable stands, the likes of which we don't have at home in the US; I see trash burning on the side of the road, on the side of the river, on the side of someone's house; I see tea stalls and tea stalls and tea stalls; I see brightly-colored fried desserts that make my eyes scrunch, they're so sweet; I see women and children who are hungry and begging. I see all of these things, and I don't have the slightest clue how I absorb them all, soak them into my mind and my skin so that they're part of me, part of what I'm doing in this place, after all.

We're ending our time in South India tomorrow and heading to Delhi. We'll be there for about three weeks before we head off again, this time to Nepal. And there isn't time, there just isn't enough time, to love or hate this place. So for now I will work on experiencing it and taking pictures with my camera and with my mind's eye, so that when I am home, and someone says the word "India" to me, I can see where my inner eye takes me and where my stomach pulls me and where my heart lies.


Cris said...

Oh, that was so nice to read. So, so nice.

Question mcgee: have you noticed a lasting british influence on India? I reading "The Great Game: right now, about the fight between Russia and Britain (including British India) over the land in Central Asia, so this question came to mind.

Lizzi said...

Oh those Brits. They find their way into everything! In short, yes, the British influence here is strong. You see it in big ways (the driving on the other side of the road and a general need to drink tea at four in the afternoon) but there are also subtle things too, like general British-seeming mannerisms and speech patterns. Indians seem to really love the Brits and generally talk of them with great affection, which I find interesting and strange.

Anonymous said...

Just continuing to relish your blog, kids! I'm now in Kansas, staying with the grandgirls while Scott and Andrea head to Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Such world travelers, my family..
Love to you both,

Jess said...

You must be so tired... all of this traveling and all of this thinking! sometimes, when I am a reading, i swear I feel your tiredness coming through but I know you will never stop mulling over something 100 times, your just Lizzi!