Two years ago I wrote this, pretty much to the day. Go to India. Do it.
When people say India is in your face, they aren’t joking.
Wafts of pollution, rubbish, excrement and delicious spice get up your nose. Tooting, shouting, music, calls to prayer and constant chattering permeate your ear drums.
The extremes of poverty and wealth, colour, dirt and people spread as far as the eye can see; all combined to leave some of the best and worst tastes on the tip of your tongue.
I’ve been here for a month, and without a doubt it has been the best of my life.
I know the “best-however-long-period-time-of-my-life” is used a lot, and I’m well aware I’ve had some other great months, but this definitely tops them.
Every waking second I’ve been amazed, shocked, exhilarated, nervous, pitiful, frustrated, or overwhelmingly-happy, whilst also having this amazing feeling of freedom.
Nowhere else has my ego mattered so little, and my bravery so much.
Bravery, at first, just to step outside alone and feel eyes drilling into my pale skin and blonde hair. Bravery to argue with rickshaw drivers, to say no to “tour guides”, to try the street food, to step completely out of my comfort zone and to walk on the roads, not the shitty footpaths.
Often requiring the most bravery is crossing the roads. Lanes, traffic lights, and stop signs are void and pedestrian crossings non-existent. Most days there are reports in the newspaper about someone killed in the manic traffic of Bangalore. It’s not odd for it to be two or three people.
Putting my trust in the kindness of strangers, which there has been so much of, has also required bravery (some would say stupidity).
But it has led me to some beautiful places, be it a temple covered in monkeys, a shop full of the most amazing silks, an underground bar with live Hindi rock or restaurants serving the most tantalizing and addictive flavours.
I have made good friends with a bookshop owner, an IT professional, an architect-couple, an Amnesty International worker, an author, one of the security guards where I’m staying (I caught him playing with a kitten yesterday when he thought no-one was watching), and fellow journos at the Deccan Herald.
The people here are as diverse as the effects the country has on your senses. Each of them has a different story to tell about their country.
Each complain about something – say this should be better or this shouldn’t happen, and often I can’t disagree – but for each of them this is home and they have an immense love for it.
I’ve found it to be like a drug. I want more and I haven’t even left.
As Kiwis we often seek solace in the bush, the healthy green foliage and clean air lift the spirits and ground the soul. Often we like to be alone.
Here the constant busy-ness, human interaction, noise and chaotic routine are grounding. People find comfort in the community, the family, friends, neighbours, animals and of course, religion.
Hindu and Sikh temples, mosques, churches and religious symbols, songs and words permeate all areas and aspects of life in India.
It’s a secular democracy, but religion often defines life and purpose. At work I was asked what religion I was, when I said none I was then asked “well what do you believe in?”
When my colleagues (who are all friends) debate issues through their Hindu and Muslim fabric, I feel ignorant and like I should have a frame of reference for my points, rather than just my opinion. But I think my dad would look at me if I became religious like a Hindu would look at their child for marrying out of caste.
My views come from a secular but open-minded upbringing, with separated parents, as growing up in the diverse suburb of Newtown, Wellington.
I am shaped as much by experiences as anyone here. And although our experiences are often at odds, crossing paths with so many interesting individuals over the last month has left me and hopefully them richer, more understanding and importantly, more curious.
I have never felt like such a small, insignificant piece in such a large puzzle, but it’s not depressing or overwhelming – it’s inspiring and makes me want to do, see and achieve more.