A brief summary of India or the time I have lived here is absolutely impossible. In these five months I have eaten some of the best and worst food on the streets and in restaurants, I have seen some of the most beautiful spots on earth as well as some parts of the most devastating slums and on the way I have made some good friends and millions of “Hello my friend!”s.
India is a country full of contrasts and in this short time I have barely been able to scratch on its surface. If one thing is certain, it is that this has not been my last visit to this colourful, contradictory and fascinating place.
Thank you all for having accompanied me on this journey, I hope you have been able to see India through my eyes!
1) Establish the first contact by offering innocently your hand and say ‘Hello friend, how are you?’, as not responding to your greeting or rejecting the hand would be rude on side of the tourist.
2) Start a conversation typically by asking ‘Which country?’ and try to say some words in the foreigner’s language (‘Bonjour’,'Alles klar?’,…) to attract the victim’s attention.
3) Show your full variety of products by dragging the tourist into your shop, insisting that everything has been handmade by families in small villages.
4) Make the (now) customer feel guilty by taking all products out of its packaging and lay out as many shawls as you can on the counter, creating an obvious amount of work for yourself but insist that this is part of your job and that the foreigner has no obligations what so ever to purchase anything.
5) Start with a price ten times as high as the actual value of the good, so when you settle on a high price after bargaining, the tourist feels that he got himself a great deal (‘morning time price’,'specially for you’,…), so that he will even recommend you after having been ripped off!
I believe it is not so much the jewels, money or power, but rather the thousands of servants, which the small man envied of the great emperors in the ancient days. The service nation India makes it possible to live a little bit like one of these kings, even if you are only a poor student back in your country:
In your daily life it may be someone who washes and irons your cloths, cleans your shoes or brings you back home at any time from any place with a Rickshaw. But during holidays you can have even a whole team of horses who carry your tents and equipment and cooks and guides at your side who convert a trekking in the Himalayas into a perceived mobile 5-star adventure.
And when someone wakes you up with a milk tea in your tent in the morning or prepares the bonfire at night, the only question left is ‘How could I ever live without this?’
A face can tell you many things about a person once you have a closer look at it.
On one hand you can guess where this person is from, start to imagine what her daily life looks like and ask yourself how different your life would be today, if by the chance of the birth lottery you had been born into that person’s family.
On the other hand you can read from the look of this person’s eyes, what she may be thinking about you in this very instance. Are you an intruder to her world, is there curiosity in her eyes or can you even discover a glance of pride that someone takes an interest in her?
In India you may be looked at as a friend, as an alien, as a white tourist or as the ambassador of an other culture; so it is always worth to take your chances and take a long look into peoples’ eyes.
Einstein was right when he said “put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour; sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute; that’s relativity.”
And although it is a known concept to all of us, I have the impression that in India you can learn how much your attitude can influence how fast time is going by: When you’ve had several 20 hour train- and bus-rides you notice how close all the people you love live back at home, even if they live in other cities or even countries. How come that driving five hours to visit some friends or taking a short weekend trip to Prague or Venice sounds like an exhausting endeavour back there, while a two-day train journey is an adventure in India?
Note to myself – No it is not so complicated; do more road trips when you are back home, they are fun if you make them enjoyable!
Being curious, open-minded, adventurous and seeking new experiences is apparently only one part of the equation: Often enough it seems to be only human to look for something we know – something we are used to, such as our favourite food, our mother-language or people who share the same cultural memory.
It may be nothing new that we only sense the absence of something we take for granted, the moment it is missing, but while in the western world – thanks to globalization – the borders of our cultures and customs appear to be merging, India has the qualities of being a parallel universe; disconnected in so many ways from our known horizon of experience.
It is funny to reflect then on the (un-)concious choices we start making in this environment, such as who the people are we surround ourselves with, which restaurants we visit or which places we prefer to go to. It does not matter how adventurous you are in the first place; after some time you will find out that without being certain of the outcome of your choice, you will start choosing the Known Unknowns, where you expect at least some familiarity; and what we already know cannot be so bad, can it?
Sometimes the opposite of good is good intentions and when I observe some of the protectiveness in India I think that being too careful takes away a huge amount of life’s beautiful liberties.
On campus you have strictly separated girls- and boys-hostels, an alcohol and smoking ban (with hurtful fines) and lan-ban to prevent you from surfing the internet at late hours; but even outside of the universities, some Indian states have banned alcohol completely or implemented laws (like in Bangalore) to shut down all bars and clubs before midnight.
Does any dean really believe that if you block a student’s internet access at night he will study more and go to sleep earlier, instead of downloading movies during daytime and watch them at night? Are government officials truly surprised, when they find out that alcohol has been injected into tomatoes with syringes to smuggle it and that the quality of this home-brewed booze was so bad that it lead to the death of hundreds of citizens?
It may be difficult to draw the line, but when your laws start harming the ones you pretend to protect and when you limit people’s freedoms to an extend where they are not allowed to live the lives they wished for, how can you then still claim to be educating the future leaders of companies and your country, or insist that you have been elected by responsible (!) citizens?