Man, it sure is good to be back in my home country. Stuff smells, tastes, looks, sound, etc as I remember it, as it if it were some long ago dream of a place I used to live. It feels odd to be on the right side of the road, for example; it does feel like stepping into a daydream memory, as my thoughts of the US have become such since being in India for 3 months.
All that being said, I miss India - India possesses a sort of reckless freedom and general sense of community with strangers that is just different back here. Although here in the US, people tend to be pretty friendly with one another regardless, it's a different sort of rule in India. You might shuffle and shove the people you cue up with, step on toes and seem generally unaware and unconcerned with the goings on of the hundreds of people you interact with daily, but underneath it all there is a sense of connectedness that has the strangers around you looking out for your best interests.
Of course, this is coming from a US-born gringo, which, when I communicated my statehood, often solicited a big smile from most Indians I met. So I certainly have a bias I cannot shake or report from otherwise, it's just through my lens. And in no way do I feel a curt or unwelcoming feeling in my home country. It's not like that. As with most things, it's just a little different.
The little differences are what make the most impact for me. So many things on the surface I could tell you about India you would likely already know, like the population density, the tech boom, the state of the country's services, Bollywood, the mess and sprawl and other news headline-borne bits (though to really understand these things you must experience them, as they take no prisoners). But if I could come away with anything significant from this journey to tell you, I would, as usual, start with the people.
A young man approached me in the Mumbai airport with a government survey card and a smile as I waited for my flight back to the US. He asked if he could have a few minutes to ask me some questions about my trip through India from a foreigner's point of view; I said sure. He then went through a very calculated and methodical "choose from least to greatest" SAT-style dissection of my opinion of my time in India. At the end of the interview, he asked me if I had any comments, complaints or general statements to add at the end.
It was a space on the page with a couple lines; I was stumped as to how to sum up anything significant for this guy and the Incredible India campaign that might help them with only two lines. Anything you say will help, he said, urging me not to leave it blank. So I wrote what I had said to many other Indians who only had a minute to chat with me: nicest people in the world.
Broad statement perhaps? True, but if I only had a few words to sum it up, I have no bones about it. Best people, across the board; most gentle, generous, open, curious, kind and engaging people in the world. Not at all saying that other countries do not have ample supplies of great human beings; they most certainly do. But India works on a different sort of scale. It's just different.
So he smiled as I scribbled it down, maybe thinking I was placating him with pleasantries, but I smiled and said, "Look man, I could write a book about my time here, with good things and bad and so many bits somewhere in the middle. But if I gotta surrender just one line to you, that is it. Nicest people in the world." He smiled and shook my hand, thanked me in the way so many Indians had done for just a few minutes of conversation, and walked away to hunt down another foreign-looking person for more data. The people in India, whether they know it or not, possess a sort of warmth that is all their own.
I met rude, pushy, inconsiderate, bossy, obnoxious and brittle Indians along the way; one can scarcely expect not to meet folks of all sorts when being anywhere where people are found, especially in the numbers which exist in India. But even those characters, prickly as they may have been, more often than not would turn a smile by the time I was through knowing them, be it 3 minutes passed or 13 hours on the floor of a cattle car train rolling across a grassy range.
Being in company with Indians seemed like being part of a larger organism, where all the cells are working on their own agendas as cells do, but still all are connected in an unconscious manner. It's a funny feeling, and I miss it. Drew and I postulated that it comes from living in a society with so many people living so close to each other that it simply becomes practical to be part of the system. Almost as if the important role of family in the Indian life boils down underneath the entire society, binding them together as a sort of larger human family.
I could be rambling now, but you get the gist. It was pretty taxing at times to just exist on a daily basis in India, sometimes to the point where I wanted to pull out my hair. But just when the mercury was rising in my head to the breaking point, I would get a little blast of reminder that India flexes and curves with hardship and strife, and people, although it may not look like it in traffic, work together.
Drew and I often said to each other that Indians were "making it work." No, we don't watch a lot of Project Runway. What we meant by this was, although things would often seem hectic and chaotic and running off the rails, people there just know how to make it work, in their own way. One point three billion people had sure as hell better know how to make it work! They do, and I believe it comes back to the same sense of unconscious community awareness, where everyone is looked after if they return the favor, and help to make it work. Again, this is coming from a foreigner's perspective, but it felt that way nonetheless.
That's what I miss; that, and the roiling cities, soaring Himalayan foothills, flat red dirt desert sunsets, crystal turquoise waters, tropical byways, foggy mountains, steady rolling trains, flat blacktop curving through gentle foothills and masala dosas and constant cups of chai. But above all, the smiling people add the cream atop the cake, welcoming you in without reservation.
I do wish to return; would love to spend more time on a motorcycle over there, and visit all those places that time didn't permit. India is a complex, beautiful, devastating and challenging place to travel, but like so many things in life, it's what you make of it. As an American, it gives me perspective about humanity that is hard to describe. I feel extremely fortunate in so many ways and love where I come from, but I also have a yearning to again become engulfed in the kindness and intensity that India pours out for its visitors. Like I said, it's just different. And different is the whole point, right? Right.
Thanks very much to everyone that supported us in any way during our journey. It means a lot to have the help and wisdom of so many behind us. Let us know when we can return the favor.
Until next time,