So I’ve spent less time in India than most Indians, nevertheless I claim the title and love to flaunt it. The country is an explosion of colour, an overload for the senses to anybody who has never been before. The culture is incredibly expansive, varying upon location and religion, each region has its own dialect, some have their own language. The clothes, the food, the smells change as you travel from the simple roads through to the bustling metropolis.
Indian food is every taste in the world put in one bite, the produce is freshly picked and the fruit and vegetable sellers drag a cart around the streets daily. The milk is received in canisters fresh every morning, the biggest problem is thus the empty canister before the next delivery of milk.
It’s not as simple as going to the Sainsbury’s and buying another bottle, but borrowing some from your neighbours. Everything is prepared from scratch and the yogurt is terrible, it’s the most watered down nonsense.
Animals roam freely alongside on the road, gigantic trucks painted with the brightest “horn please” signs. Honestly, you could go there just to see the trucks, each has its own unique horn, that you’ll hear much more than you are used to. People honk as often as they say hello, just a little greeting to the fellow drivers that will probably deafen you eventually. And the signs on the trucks are a work of art, nobody knows who paints them but each truck is a masterpiece. The driver is represented by what is essentially their livelihood and there’s an underlying competition to get the most vibrant and attention seeking truck.
If trucks don’t take your fancy, there’s a whole variety of transport; rickshaws, autos and motorcycles. Motorcycles are omnipresent, they are everywhere, each family has at least one, cars are rarer. Rickshaw drivers have incredible stamina, I’ve never met one that’s complained about the laborious job.
There’s not a proper sewer system because the country grew too quickly for that to evolve alongside it, instead there’s a “nali”, a gutter alongside houses, carrying the dirty water from houses, you can’t call yourself a proper Indian if you’ve never gotten your foot in there. This is all my personal experience though, I’m sure there’s places in India that are perfectly modern and clean, that’s where all the tourists go. My grandparents’ houses are so much different than anything here, a giant courtyard in the middle, than a veranda on the side with closed rooms coming off it. The roofs have access by stairs and are where all the children play in the evenings, along with kite flyers. On a breezy evening when you go on the roof, you’ll see a sea of kites from around the area, with people trying to “cut” other people’s kites, an idea that sounds rude and usually crushes the spirit of some teenage boy when it happens.
The movies are amazing, Bollywood is full of every genre, every story you’d want and no movie is shorter than three hours. Three hours seems like a lot, so that’s why there’s always an intermission in the middle, watching a film becomes a bigger experience. Every movie has at least one song, it could be the most serious movie ever and still have a song and dance number somehow. Dream sequences allow Indian actors to go to exotic locations around the world, even though it’s not needed for the plot. It’s the same with television, the over dramatisation is absurdly cringey at times. The world stops still, thunder claps and the character’s hair goes wild with a convenient burst of wind just because she found out about her husband’s unemployment. She weeps and falls all over the floor, you just don’t know what to expect, it’s hilarious.
My hometown is a 5 hours drive away from New Delhi, the contrast couldn’t be bigger, the closer you get, the worse the roads become and the greener the view out of the window. I haven’t wandered incredibly far from the area near my grandparents’ houses but I know everyone in those areas, and they know me. No one locks their door except at night, you can randomly stroll in to anyone’s house in broad daylight. The same people have lived in the same house for generations, no one suddenly moves out and gets another house in another area, families grow in one house. The house grows with them as well, throughout my life, the houses have gone through several coats of paint and expansions.
We stay in my grandparents’ house, my maternal grandparents’ house is a 5ish minutes walk away from my paternal’s. No, my parents are not related. I can go back and fro easily and get treated like a princess everywhere. I have to admit though, the population is ageing, most people have now begun to move away to get a successful career, building their family elsewhere. That’s basically the story of my family, my brother was born in India, so was I, he only stayed there for three months afterwards, so did I. But I came back and lived in India for 4 years, till I was almost six before moving to Belfast. My foundation years were in India, so I can speak Hindi with fluency, which surprises most people who meet me, I even went to school for two years in India. This kid thought he was really strong once and lifted a table, the corner grazed my chin and an amazing scar with a story was born. My mother was doing her PhD at this time, I used to saunter into her labs and all her colleagues would spoil me, those were the days.
This is the India I know, a country full of people I love, full of the most delicious food you will ever taste, full of concepts that would blow your mind, full of sights that you thought you’d never see, just brimming with life. To anyone who hasn’t gone, you need to, you really do. With a great tour guide (hint hint) you’ll come back a completely different person, don’t visit the usual touristy places, they’re an inaccurate representation. Sure, you’ll get stared at a lot for being a foreigner and coming to a little town in the middle of nowhere, but you need to get in the shoes of an Indian to actually experience India. I’ve rambled on so lovingly about a country, take it as an indicator, you need to go. Visit India.