This year we had to renew our ten year visas and, like most things Indian, dealing with the Embassy’s service bureau ‘Cocks and Kings’, was not straight forward. Discussing the frustrating process of completing the online application with a friend who will join us this year, she said, “If you can’t navigate Cocks and Kings’ lack of a straight line from A to B, then it’s better that you don’t go at all.”
Just before we left, a friend from Boston attended her daughter’s wedding in India. On her return, she asked us how we could tolerate all the dirt, crowds and noise. Gerard gave an answer but didn’t give it a lot of thought. On our flight over, he tried to go into it more deeply, asking my thoughts. We agreed: the country is overcrowded, the air can be terribly polluted and trash is a constant problem, but still we’re drawn here.
A couple of days later in India, we passed a woman sitting on her bed looking out of the doorway from her very basic adobe, tiled-roof house. She gave us a warm smile as we passed. Not knowing what was behind the smile, we felt her readiness to greet strangers so warmly was due to a lack of fear. The less one has that can be stolen, the less there is to fear? Her smiling face brought into focus some of the less obvious reasons why we are still coming back to India.
Gerard commented, even though the subcontinent is racing headlong toward modernity, the old ways can still be seen and inspire, if one looks for them.”
Do we want to change places with the woman? Not really. Yet, her smile helps to explain what has been lost in our modern society and makes us want to reach back and catch hold of what might be worth saving of those old ways. Certainly, the big cities of India have become not so different from their western counterparts. But out in the country, along our way, we can still see the old ways intact. And this is one of the reasons why we return: to witness our lost history still alive to be seen, here and there, in India.
I asked Gerard for an example of these ‘old ways’? He replied, “Certainly one is, human contact. There’s a constant interplay with people even if it’s as simple as buying a cup of chai, soap to wash clothes, or negotiating with the rickshaw driver. Whole Foods decision to install self check-out, further emphasizes the depersonalization of our Western society. With most of India carrying smartphones, means it is happening here as well. Still, there is plenty of social activity on the street, in the market and in the chai shop.”
On the plane over, I saw a short video advertising ‘Exotic India’. And of course it is — the Rajput palaces, the camel fair in Pushkar, the Taj Mahal–but for me it’s more about Endearing than Exotic.