India is very different from anything I’ve ever known.
There are aspects of this country that remind me of Southeast Asia, but it’s different. It’s hard to believe a year has passed since that trip, and here I am exploring again. When I’m at home, I have a lot of great memories. While I’m here, I’m remembering how difficult it is to travel like this. Over a billion people live in this country — 13 million of them, here in Delhi. (The most populated city in the world, per capita.) There are so many people, and it’s amazing how they all live together.
Neena was explaining to me that her family is considered middle class here in India. They have a two-bedroom apartment with an outdoor porch. There’s a bathroom with a western toilet (very important) but they don’t have a shower. Baths are taken sponge-bath style. Tomorrow we’re going to visit another cousin of hers in Kolkata, who she tells me has a washing machine in her home (fancy!) so maybe she’ll have a shower, too (I hope!).
Neena tells me the average salery in this country is between one to two thousand dollars A YEAR. People get by on very little, but it doesn’t seem they need much, either. Obviously, everything here is very, very inexpensive.
There are lots of things here that are so foreign and strangely fascinating to me, like for example the way they regard animals here in India, especially cows. It’s against the law to harm the animals and the animals can do whatever they want. They wander the streets (and the markets!) freely.
While we were in the market today, Neena pointed out that there was a cow walking around. I quickly pulled out my camera; my first inclination was to film it. After my video, she told me there were a couple of women who said in Hindi, “where is she from? She’s not from around here.” Like my surprise over seeing a wild cow is crazy, as though I’m from Mars or something. I think that’s so funny.
Cows and other random animals add to the traffic problem around here. Neena warned me, it takes a very long time to get around. So I’m settling in and enjoying the ride. I’m keeping my camera handy in case I see some strange things — like a giant monument to Hanumman, the monkey god.
And like Southeast Asia, everyone rides a motorcycle — and carries everything and anything with them on it!
I’m also noticing random signs in English, the majority of which seem to be misspelled.
I’m getting the impression that India is a conservative country. Everyone is covered up and pretty modest. Some people wear American clothing like jeans, but it’s nothing like what you see all over tv. (Here at Neena’s family’s house, they leave the Hindi music video channel on and I’m absolutely mesmorized by it.) The advertising here doesn’t reflect what you see in the streets. There are signs everywhere for Bollywood movies and the stars are very “western.” That includes the way they dress in those Bollywood movie posters, so I sometimes wonder what impression they have of westerners (like myself). Obviously they think something, because when we were in the market, everyone was asking me to buy stuff, but for the most part, they seemed to leave Neena alone. Everyone’s been pretty nice though, and a polite “no” if you don’t want to buy something will do.
I’ve been told the country is trending towards a more western way of life and culture. Even seeing kissing in the music videos (a kiss on the cheek type of kissing) Neena says is a big deal and is a big difference from the last time she visited six years ago.
Also, another thing I noticed in the market is that in this part of the world, there are fruits and vegetables and grains and dishes I’ve never seen before, and some that I have but they’re different, here. for example, the carrots here aren’t orange, they’re more a reddish color.
Lastly, there are people cooking everything, everywhere. People in the street roasting nuts, frying dough, cooking curries. I think that’s all part of the culture, here.
Like southeast Asia, India is very colorful. There are wonderful sights and smells everywhere (and yes, some not so wonderful smells, too).
We have an early flight booked for Kolkata tomorrow… in the meanwhile, it’s time for another amazing homecooked Indian dinner! Yum!