A picture is worth a thousand words, a wise fellow once said. I’m not sure why I love this particular photo I took so much, out of the several hundreds. Yet I think the colours, the movement in the photograph says something and I think it’s rather symbolic of Delhi. At Rajiv Chowk, the main station connecting all the metro lines, the volume of passengers transferring is like Toronto rush hour in the Subway multiplied by a thousand! So far I have taken a lot of photos of the city and the traffic. It’s partly because I take an auto or the metro + rickshaws/autos to and from work every day, but perhaps it’s the lessons of my geography and urban planning course surfacing! Professors, you know your students actually absorbed the course material when…
Palimpsest. That is one word the professor drilled into our heads. Palimpsest. According to the Merriam Webster it means: “something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface <Canada … is a palimpsest, an overlay of classes and generations — Margaret Atwood>”
Well done, Atwood! A country, a city has layers, it has depth. Before I hadn’t given much thought to it. Yet there is no question that how a place is built reflects it history and hence its culture and customs. Emperor Shahjahan made Delhi the Mughal capital in the late 1630s but it was conquered by the British in the 1800s. The British built an addition to the south of the city called “New Delhi” which was declared as the capital of India in 1947 after independence. The long period of British colonial rule is evident in the way the city is planned, the way the buildings are, and its culture. The drive on the right too! The city at the very center is a circle which radiates outwards like beams of sunlight. The infrastructure is amazing in some places, like the Delhi metro which I cannot say enough good things about.
On the other hand, history has also made India a place that has been conquered and ruled over by other great powers. There is this kind of awe when it comes to foreigners. At first I was incredibly uncomfortable when they stared at me, but I got used to it and now my ability to ignore is amazingly great! I haven’t received the worst end of the shock though. An American intern told me that a few red-haired Danish guys were volunteering in India two years ago when she was also volunteering here and everyone tried to touch their red hairy legs because they have never seen anything like it before. It’s strange and funny at the same time. However it’s unfortunate that some Indians we talked have this notion that foreigners are somehow superior to them; I don’t like this idea of subservience, but it appears that it’s built within the culture and evident throughout its history. Even when we have gone out to bars and clubs, foreigners get special treatment – free food, free drinks, no cover. I’ve found a lot of Indians to be party animals but drinking is looked down upon in the culture.
What really astounds me is how much religion plays a central part in their life. On street corners there a mini temples where people can pray and lay offerings for Krishna or Vishnu or other idols. In every auto rickshaw there are portraits of sacred idols. I have visited some Hindu and a Sikh temples so far and people believe very much in spirituality whether old or young. Unlike the Christian or Catholic church which a lot of in Canada, that has service usually on Sundays, the temples are much more free since they’re almost always open and you can always hear songs and chants. Recently I met some Sikhs and I think they are probably some of the most caring people, all they want to do is help you and make you feel welcome. The religious community is incredible diverse with Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus which make up a large part of the population. No wonder so many travel to India in search of something spiritual, something greater than ourselves.
I was talking with an Indian the other day, and we decided that the only correct word to describe all that I have seen: the poverty, the dirt, the modernity and wealth, the “Western” culture and thought versus tradition, and the natural beauty as well as long history of this country is “illogical”. But of course every country, every culture has aspects that are strange and contradictory. It’s always better though to focus on the positives anywhere you go. That way it doesn’t distort your vision of all the good things that are possible. I don’t know what to say about India at this point except that I think I’m really happy to be here through the good, the bad, and the ugly. I absolutely love that I’m meeting so many international interns who, like me, have had similar experiences. The expat community is quite strong here, and we all feel closely knit.
“I want to go someplace where I can marvel at something” Julia Roberts said in Eat Pray Love. I decided to do this trip not exactly for the cliché but to experience something so completely different than anything I know, something crazy, something amazing. Dear friends, I think I have come to the right place.