Sunday, August 16, 2009

Some Final Thoughts On India

I had a nondescript day of hanging around a tourism office with a bunch of Kashmiri men. What can I say....I ate an uttapam and paneer tikka, I had a lot of tea, and I got flirted on by a bunch of Indian men who seemed quite taken by me. I was offered a tourism job with the whole lot of these men when I'm done with my studies, and I danced to a bunch of Bollywood songs before a Muslim "baba" came into the office and I was swept away by a friendly driver to the airport.
I am waiting in the airport for my plane back to the US, and I've decided this is the best time probably to try to put a few reflections together from my 6 weeks in this massive India. I do not say that I will be making any revolutionary discoveries, or anything completely unique, but for myself I feel the need to express my impressions of India.

According to my incredibly brief trip, what is India? A lot of things; every region, every state you cross here is like going to a completely different country in itself. How can I package this place into a simple blog post? By my favorite things: lists... India, to me, is:
  • Inconsistent - People will tell you one thing, and do something else. People here are so determined to please (and appease) everyone else, that they'll tell you "yes, of course" or give you an answer to a question that, though pleasing, is never going to happen or not true.
  • Extreme - How was this place not extreme? Extreme rain, extreme heat, extreme noise, extreme meals... things are done here in such a way that it's typically blown up. Highly charged, even. Take, for example, our village meetings; men were yelling and shouting at each other across the room while we were reassured that it was as normal conversation. Everyone wants to be married off (or marry YOU off) as soon as the age 20 is hit.
  • Contrary - Similar to inconsistent, only worth being iterated independently. You've got so many people doing so many different things that matters are bound to be clashing with each other. And people will tell you when they do not agree with you, in conversation at least.
  • Not concerned with perfection, or details - Signs with names of villages or titles of shops will never be 100% the same across the board. For example, there are probably 5 different ways to spell half of the villages we worked with in Orissa; and each time we were working on organizational spreadsheets, we would have to look for all of the diverse names and piece-by-piece discern village names and numbers. Also, most English signs were incorrectly spelled, or said things that made no grammatical sense. On trucks, "We are, too" was spelled "We our two" and one sign explained that "Tyres will be flattered".
  • Racially sensitive - I have never been so aware of my skin color than I was here. People stared at me because I'm white. People gave me royal services because I'm white. People charged me triple because I'm white. Even Indians discriminate among Indians because of what tint of brown they are. Skin-bleaching lotions are top beauty products around here, apparently; it seems no one wants to be brown anymore.
  • Hyper-religious - There are so many temples and mosques in this country that it could make your head spin. I wouldn't necessarily say spiritual... there are many, many religions working around these areas: Sikh, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha'i, Christianity, etc. But as most people talk the talk here, I would not claim that people here all walk the walk. There is a lot of materialism oozing into cultural values here nowadays, which makes many of these temples seem more commercialized than they should be.
  • Colorful - What can I say? Bollywood exaggerates none of the colors of India. There are more vibrant colors here than I can count.
  • Funny - People here are funny. English attempts by most are funny. Situations are always slightly odd, awkward, or even "off". The hilarity of India and the strange instances that everyone accepts and writes off as "understandable" makes me still cock my head in amused bewilderment.
  • New in sanitation - This is, after all, the core reason for my coming to India, isn't it? I've seen people defecate, urinate, bathe, and wash clothing in places that seem way more than precarious...
  • Uncomfortable - Squat toilets are still hard for me. The temperature is sweltering. In monsoon season, either you are water logged by the rain, or constantly dripping with sweat. Mosquitos and flies are taking over the country, and your skin. Men in shops will never stop tugging at your attention with consumables. And the abject poor will tear at your heartstrings while walking down any road.
  • Magnificent - Because it just is.
  • Highly charged - The energy here is dynamic and intense.
  • Complicated - I will let my previous blog posts speak for themselves. That, and the processes needed to get anything done is comparable to the French system.
  • Huge - Both in size, heart, population, poverty, and culture.
I'm still digesting most of what happened to me on this trip. Even without the reflection I know that a whole lot happened to me in a very short time span. I have learned a lot of lessons about myself, and the world.
I know now that I truly want to work in the developing world, at least for an indefinite period of time. I really have enjoyed the people, the foods, the experiences... everything here. And I know now that I feel a much larger sense of need - and accomplishment - while working with these people. Even doing the fieldwork made me feel more accomplished than 6 months at an office job. That said, I don't believe a career in pushing papers is up my alley; in fact, I think I will try my hardest to avoid these type of career moves like the plague, at least for a while. I'm young, and I can handle the extremities of fieldwork and development.

Would I live in India? Yes. Probably not Delhi, and probably NOT EVER Bhubaneswar. But I do like the rural areas, and I have made a lot of nice friends in my travels here. Maybe Himachal Pradesh. Maybe rural Orissa. Maybe Rajasthan. Maybe even Punjab (though it's really dry and hot...). I feel like I would be able to handle the heat, the humidity, and the people. Everyone kept on asking me when I'd come back, and I kept on answering, truthfully, that I might try to work here after my studies.

See you in America...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very useful read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did you know that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.