Today is our last day in India. I hope by writing some of my thoughts and impressions I will be able to process some of the experiences of the past 2 weeks.
The joy and colour of John and Shruti’s wedding will stay with me for ever. It was a beautiful introduction to Indian culture and I really appreciated the value of spreading the ceremonies over a number of days so that we could spend time getting to know other guests from both families. I learned about some of the food, some of the different ways saris are worn in different states, and enjoyed participating in the various wedding ceremonies. We have seen many wedding ceremonies in our travels across India and it has been good to understand which part is happening. The henna which decorated my palms at the Mehndi ceremony has been a good conversation starter with many locals as they recognise where I have been.
Other parts of the journey have been more confronting and less attractive. India is dusty, dirty, and dishevelled. The poverty is apparent in the cities and in the country. I have been tearful at the sight of children begging. On a few occasions I have given small amounts of money and fruit. On most occasions I have walked by. These moments have made me feel completely ashamed and worthless as a human being.
The history and mythology associated with India and Hinduism are interesting, intriguing and confusing. The traditional beliefs have been practised for thousands of years and it had been interesting to hear how many of the stories and practices fit well with modern scientific knowledge. We have heard many reasons why cows are sacred. It seems that anyone you ask has a different explanation. There is no doubt though, cows rule! I will miss seeing them wandering down the street, eating from any garbage pile they find, crossing the busy freeway. The cow dung is carefully collected, shaped into neat pats, then dried to be used as fuel for their fires.
We have been welcomed by many people who have cheerfully engaged in conversation, even when their English had been limited and our Hindi has been non-existent. I will remember fondly the Muslim man I met at the mosque in Delhi who was so impressed that I had met Ricky Ponting; the young woman there who shared the photos of the outfit she was planning to wear to her wedding in a couple of years time; the young woman at the station who had just successfully applied for a government job as a library assistant; the girl at a tiny village near Orchha who spent some time chatting with me, then took my camera, told me I should be focussing in closer to get a better view of the potter, flipped it into selfie mode and snapped a photo of the two of us together. I thank them all for their openness and generosity to me.
The necessity to be vigilant about personal health and hygiene has been tiring. We are using insect repellent, taking anti malaria medication, being wary of animals because of fleas and ticks, using filtered water, taking advice on what foods are safe to eat, and regularly washing hands and using sanitiser. Despite these precautions, Peter and I have both been quite ill, as have most members of our group. Fortunately, the medications we brought with us have done their job and we have been able to recover quickly and well.
The most memorable part of the trip I think will be the traffic. We have travelled on foot, on pushbikes, been pedalled on a trishaw, ridden in dozens of tuk tuks, been in cars, open jeeps, minibuses, and large buses. We’ve not been on motorcycles, which I think would be a whole new level of adventure. I reread one of Peter’s earlier blogs and we laughed when we read that we had not been able to get through across a passageway because of the crush of tuk tuks. They would present no such barrier to us now. The traffic is completely chaotic, lawless, and unruly. Some roads are one way, except if you want to go the other way. Lanes are marked but completely optional. Traffic lights are for decoration only. Yet, we have not seen any accidents, or road rage, or shouting. There may have been shouting but how could you hear for all the honking!!? The honking is not aggressive, it is for communication. The drivers are skilled, daring, and patient.
Do I love India? I don’t think so. Still working that out.
Could I drive here? No way in the world!
Am I glad I came? Yes, absolutely.
The most difficult part of the journey so far has been the train ride. As I lay sandwiched on my tiny shelf in a carriage shared with about 70 other people, my main thought was with the travellers in the carriages behind who had to sit or stand for the 14 hour journey, without air conditioning, and sharing with more than 90 others. Has India changed me? Yes I think so.