India, travel, Uncategorized

India Impressions

 

A man in Kolkata. Royal Enfield, making bikes since 1901

 

 

Looking out my window in Kolkata – a view that would’ve been shared by Nikita Khrushchev, Mark Twain, and Rudyard Kipling among others, from the Great Eastern Hotel, 175 years old, and the first in the country to be electrified.

 

I recently traveled through India for sixteen days, recruiting students for my employer, a university in the Midwest.

It was kind of a blur – – covering over 10,000 miles within the country – – thirteen flights, buses, taxis, 3-wheeled auto-rickshaws, and the occasional sidewalk sprint, to get to college fairs on time.

 

 

Very little free time for sightseeing, but I did have the very great pleasure of talking to hundreds of people.

Bangalore > Chandigarh > Ahmedabad  > Lucknow > Hubli > Kolkata > Jaipur.

One of the Kinks’ great songs –“This Time Tomorrow”. On the flight to India, I watched Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” and that was the opening song “This time tomorrow, what will we see?  Fields full of houses, endless rows of crowded streets…”

“Will we still be here watching an in-flight movie show?”

 

In my travel posts, I try to convey something unique I experienced, or showcase a particular element I encountered, that embodies a place for me.

 

India 2019 Ambassador cab (3)

Of the many forms of transportation I took, this was the most stylish, if not the most comfortable. Hindustan Ambassador. Like a Checker Taxicab, who could resist a face like this?

 

In India, that element is the hospitality of its people.

It’s hard to write a capsule summary that characterizes 1.5 billion people on a complex, continent-sized nation.  It’s hard to find words that can describe a place that’s both poor and yet one of the richest places on earth. In a sixteen-day blur, I sped across varied landscapes, from the garden city of Bangalore to a semi-arid city of Mughal palaces to a modern planned city, and many others in between. A nation rapidly modernizing while still entrenched in tradition. I flew over the Himalayan foothills and landed in an airport in Kashmir, where people, surprisingly, looked like me.

The trip was sometimes literally a blur, zooming out of focus as my cabs dodged through traffic, my life flashing before my eyes in some cases, rain streaming down and the windows fogging up.

 

Neighborliness.

Neighbors in India are sort of like native New Yorkers.  Stacked on top of each other, they’re in everyone’s business and everyone is in theirs, even while an innate sense of decency compels people to thoughtfully ignore each other.  Yet everyone shares and helps each other. They are almost an extension of family. The amount of mutual trust in India seems very high to me.  Even though there are scams and crime, just like in the U.S., there are also deep social connections, and overall it’s a safe, honest place.

 

It was like being in NYC and consulting native New Yorkers- my hosts would argue about how best to answer my questions regarding life in India.  Hand waving isn’t a big thing there, but hands do move. As do heads. The “Indian Wobble” is a phenomenon that many people have seen, heads moving back and forth, side to side, faster and faster when in agreement. So imagine a mix of Hindi, Gujarati, Assamese, Bengali, you  name it, with escalating voices accentuated by constantly moving hands and heads, as the topics would take a heated turn. Add to the dynamic, centuries of caste system, colonialism, rapid urbanization, and you’re in for a lot of mishegoss. Politics was a big source of contention, strong opinions about Modi, Gandhi, and Pakistan. In this sense, they really did remind me of New Yorkers. If cricket was less boring and more like baseball, they’d even be Yankee fans, they love “the cricket” and are even more fanatical about it than they are about politics.

For us, a society of people that values our privacy, this close-knit society, where so much of your life occurs in public, seems crazy. But in India, everything is crazy, everything seems to more-or-less function happily in the craziness — organized chaos & disorganized chaos, if you will, and amongst all that, there is some sort of serenity.

All of that also left me in sort of in a blur.

 

 

But I can state, with total clarity, that this was uniformly one of most warm and friendly places I’ve ever been. I was struck by how content people seemed, even the poor. And was amazed by the genuine, deeply-ingrained sense of hospitality. The kindness to complete strangers.

I will count the days until I can return there, and see the place at something less than warp speed!

India motorbike

Our fearless rickshaw driver challenged this man to a hell-for-leather drag race!  (just kidding)

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42 thoughts on “India Impressions

    • There’s so many parts of India I’d love to both visit and re-vist. But I definitely would love to do a wildlife tour. I was pretty near to the Gir National Park where the last remaining Asiatic lions live. That would be cool!

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the hospitality you experienced in India, Robert! have following arv! and his blog at https://jaipurthrumylens.com/, which I find very interesting, as it gives me cultural and historical information on this wonderful city. Perhaps you would like to take a look at his great site, Robert. Just a suggestion …

  2. I’ve never been, but I would like to go, especially based on your post. I’ve heard time and time again that the people in India are lovely, warm, and welcoming. Cheers!

  3. This is a wonderful essay which I found myself reading with more than just passing interest as the Seattle metro area’s growing cosmopolitanism over the past decade can be attributed in no small part to the unusually accelerated, increasing number of Indian expatriates who’ve migrated to the region (along with other groups) ostensibly many of them to fill computer and technology-related jobs requiring advanced skills. Always appreciate a bit more cultural understanding and perspective……particularly through your reasonable, smart observations.

    • Thanks Jason! I read an interesting article in the Indian equivalent of the Wall Street Journal that cited their “diaspora” as being the biggest of any group in the world, 18 million expats. The runner up (Mexico-which surprised me) was at least four million less.

      At the university I work at we have had a huge surge in computer science and health care informatics applicants from India (100 out of 101 applicants)

  4. Glad you enjoyed it, Robert. It’s such a great place. I’ll second Peter in that Arv’s blog is a great source of pictures and information on Jaipur. And The Darjeeling Limited is a super film – I love Wes Anderson. Only one thing I have to take issue with – if baseball were less boring and more like cricket, I’d be a baseball fan!

    • Hi Mick. Indeed it is, I wish I had more time to spend there but isn’t that always the case? I did take a look, some excellent photos. This weekend a local gallery is showcasing photos from Rajasthan so I’m going to pop by that as well.
      Wes Anderson is great and I thought it was a fitting selection considering where I was headed!
      I’ll concede that baseball can be pretty boring too, a bit like watching grass grow, though luckily the baseball stadiums tend to have lovely grass which makes it less difficult to watch.

  5. pinklightsabre says:

    Great vignette there, summary if you will. I can sense both your passion to convey it and at the same time, the difficulty condensing it all down: but you did it! My friend visited Hyderabad in January for 10 days and felt similar, about the controlled chaos especially traveling on the roads…what he called a kind of pervasive spirituality there that kept everything in balance somehow. Like flocks of migrating birds or animals, the people moved similarly there.

    • Hey Bill, thank you!
      I was really in awe of the flow of traffic, how it would bob and weave almost effortlessly. I definitely think that there is some peace amidst the chaos and my overall impression in watching people move is that it reminded me a bit of schools of fish. In the IMAX movies I would see as a kid,about oceans and such, they seemed to all move as if they had one shared mind and I felt that seemed true on the roadways in India too. Though I did learn that the occasional motorcyclist will kick out with a leg to indicate merging, and I witnessed this a few times. Seemed to work.

  6. George says:

    Love this post. It reads exactly as I imagine your trip felt—fast, fleeting and vibrant. It conveys the bustle and the buzz, and most of all, the warmth. My Dad and my wife, Sandy, have both been, but I never have. The way they talk about it, echoes your sentiments entirely. Sandy was on an organised trip, but she and her friend routinely skipped the guided excursions and went of to explore by themselves. They had a much more rewarding trip as a result.

    I hope you kept the idea that cricket is boring to yourself though. If the Indians I know are representative, such an attitude might be regarded as heresy!

    • Hi George, thank you!
      It is definitely more fun to take a self-guided tour, and leads to far more interesting experiences. Or to lead your own tour and make things up as you go along, as I’m prone to do on occasion.
      India is such a fascinating place, you really need to meet some locals and get the inside scoop. There is so much to see, it’s easy to miss things.

      Yes, I mentioned in passing that cricket was not to my taste and faced a lot of outcry, luckily by then I had been traveling with a few locals long enough that they forgave me.

  7. This is fascinating, Robert – what a trip that was! I’m sure it made a very deep impression. India seems to do that to people. It’s interesting to see the comparisons to New York since that’s a very familiar place for me. That you emphasize the human element and deep social connections reiterates what I sense about you – that this is what’s important in your life. Welcome home! I hope your head isn’t still spinning! 😉

    • Hi Lynn, thank you for your lovely comment 🙂
      India did indeed make an impression. I sort of hoped it would when I left, I’ve heard of the many people who embark on a spiritual quest. I’m not particularly spiritual, so for me, as you very accurately noticed, it was the social connections that won me over. New York has changed in my rather short lifetime, but I remember going as a kid to visit family, and always had a wonderful impression of New Yorkers. India was the first place I’ve been where I left with that same feeling. Just as crazy but also so full of vibrancy, infectious humor, and wholesome weirdness!
      But absolutely that is what matters most to me!

      I think my head may still be spinning!

  8. A woman whose blog I follow recently spent seven weeks in India, visiting a new grandchild and his parents. She has a series of posts — twenty-seven, I think — that details everything from shopping and food, to the traffic, to the kind of social arrangements and agreements that are necessary when so many people are trying to make a society work. She talked a lot about the receptiveness of the people: their hospitality and kindness. I’m so glad that, even on your whirlwind visit, you were able to experience that, too.

    If you’d like to visit her blog, and those posts about India, you can find them here. But that’s probably better done a little farther down the road. Right now, it’s your experience that’s important, and the memories that will begin to solidify.

    I do hope you’ll have the chance to go back, and maybe even have time for a little travel on your own. After my years in Liberia, I wanted so badly to return. Finally I did, for a six-week visit. After spending years learning something about the country, its peoples, and its customs, it wasn’t a wholly different experience to go back, but it did allow me to meet people on a different level. No longer a representative of an organization, I was just a traveler, and I was able to enter rooms that had been closed to me before.

    Your first photo is perfect. There’s something about his expression that makes me think it might be akin to the expression you wore a time or two (or a dozen or more) while you were whirling about the country!

    • Hi Linda
      I was very happy that got to make the human connections, however briefly. I will definitely look into that blog once the memories settle or solidify, for now they are still a bit jumbled.

      It must have been so lovely to get back to Liberia after years, and yes, I agree that having that in-depth knowledge will help make that transition that will allow for one to make meaningful deep connections. I hope to do that too down the road, and would love to spend more time there-both the parts I was in on this trip, and particularly the mountains.

      Thank you! That was a very lucky shot, but I am happy with the result. I may still be wearing that expression!

  9. I’ve always been intimidated by India. So crowded, so many people – at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten. It’s nice to hear that rather than reacting to those crowded conditions by building surly walls they’ve built something warmer.

    • Hi Dave, I think many people are. I wasn’t sure how crowded or not it would be. And indeed, parts are very crowded and I never went to Delhi, which I understand is the most claustrophobic and dirty in parts. Though I’m sure many areas there are similar to the rest of India.
      It is crowded, chaotic, disorienting, loud. But the people are kind and helpful and sincere, and I think that makes it seem far less stressful. And there is a sort of serenity that is formed as a combination of excessive humidity and chaos, out of that is a sort of tranquil buzz. I liked it.

  10. I am delighted to read learn that you had such a wonderful time there. I have not been there, nor do I imagine I ever will, but my experience with Indian people is that they are just as you describe. My dad lived and worked in Bangalore for a time, and he loved it there, loved the people.

    • Thanks Melissa! That’s neat your dad was there, it’s a pretty interesting place.
      I had a wonderful time, and was just so pleased by the human kindness there. It’s not perfect but I was delighted by the whole thing.

  11. Athira says:

    Thank you for visiting India..I suggest to make a visit to kerala tooo…

    In the meanwhile, I would like to introduce my blog to you…Here is the link to my blog so if you are interested kindly do follow, comment and share with others too.

    http://crozwalk.wordpress.com

    Thank You!

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