“It’s India” – An Introduction

Birds hanging from a clothesline. Why not?

The input is constant: the smell of burning flesh; the smorgasbord of curries (heaven for your taste buds and hell for your stomach); buzzing street markets; starving street puppies; overpacked buses; and narrow mountain passes.

IndiaIntroFeatureAfter nearly four months, I’d learned that India both heightens senses and numbs them.

Visitors quickly realize that the tourist tables have turned. Here, they will be the observed, not the observers.

India is alive and wants to get to know you as much as you want to get to know it. It comes on strong, like an awkward love interest, none of the feigned apathy that one might find elsewhere (*cough*Paris). But soon you accept its quirks and start enjoying its company.

Every week brings new stories that, at the beginning, seem exciting and absurd, but by the end, hardly feel worth telling.

For example, once I was on a bus stuck in traffic, the source of which was a medium-sized elephant that couldn’t quite keep to the shoulder. Another time I was in a rickshaw in Delhi and a thief on a motorbike grabbed my purse and sped off. The only hitch was that the purse was hooked across my body, turning it into a ludicrous, high-speed tug-of-war. Regularly, I was asked to take photos with people or be photographed holding each of their children. Reading back through my diary I come across entries recording such stories using wide-eyed adjectives like bizarre and marvelous. I didn’t yet know how commonplace these encounters would become.

Dyed chicks. Don’t ask me why.

Any situation, no matter how outlandish generally concludes with a shrug and the reminder, “It’s India,” and it’s not just foreigners who use this phrase. Locals do too. Even those who have never left the country know that their homeland is somehow extreme. Perhaps this is evident in the tight-lipped look of shock plastered on the faces of overwhelmed new arrivals.

This self-awareness is something that repeatedly caught my attention, especially when I was travelling alone. Knowing that India is a lot to handle, it was as if the community made it their responsibility to protect me from itself.

For every heckler there was a cheerleader, leading me in the right direction and blocking the onslaught of stares. Whenever push came to shove and I felt overwhelmed, spontaneous aid was there, either in the form of a tiny toothless woman pulling me away from trouble to the correct bus stop, or a university student stepping in to see if I was alright.

Everyone I spoke with seemed to have an honest and accurate view of the strengths and weakness of the only country they’d ever known, including their image abroad.

I remember once hitchhiking with a girl I’d recently met. All buses and taxis were cancelled that day. After driving us for over an hour and dropping us off at our destination, I asked the two young men who’d driven us if I could give them anything in return. “No,” they answered. “Just tell people in your home that India is not a bad country.”

So for the record, India, with all it’s overstimulation and hardship, is far from a bad country. There’s no “light” version, no way to get acquainted with India in small doses. The only worthwhile option is to surrender all notions of personal space and get ready to fall in love.

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  • Reply
    Michele Lallatin
    September 22, 2015 at 5:29 am

    This is a little absurd in and of itself: What Wonderful observations from a little girl who was born right after her mom and dad moved into the house across the street from us! You were always a special little girl and we loved you and still love you, but you have become a fantastic woman! I’m looking forward to reading all about your world travels! Always your neighbor and friend, Michele

    • Reply
      September 23, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      Thanks for your support Michele. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ll keep sharing about life abroad as long as you keep sharing about Petaluma life on Facebook :-) See you in December!

  • Reply
    Jackie Hallerberg
    November 28, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Hi Natalia,
    I just sent this on to my friend, Loretta in SF, who is planning a trip to India in the summer. I am deciding if I will join her. I loved your post and your observation that: “Visitors quickly realize that the tourist tables have turned. Here, they will be the observed, not the observers.” Thank you for your pics and thoughts on India. Best, Jackie

    • Reply
      December 1, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      Exciting! Thanks for reading/forwarding. Let me know if you decide to go with her. It’s the kind of vacation where you’ll need a vacation when you get home, but you won’t regret it. I’ll see you soon.

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