India – Love it and hate it!

India itself is a contraction, you cannot define the country with a single description.  There are parts of India I absolutely love and adore and then there are things about India that I cannot digest at all.  India is dirty but have you ever looked inside an Indian home – it’s absolutely spotless!  The country is corrupt but you will also find the most honest and trustworthy people in India. 

Each region and State is quite different and it’s unfair to categorize Karnataka with Bihar.  Bihar is a state that has high crime rate including rape and the lowest education level, Karnataka is a highly educated population with women taking equal part in the workforce.  Even though 70% of India is still rural, the cities are rapidly changing.  Western ways are creeping into the Indian society; women are choosing to wear jeans instead of a traditional saree or kurta as daily wear.  I’ve seen male and females being friends without any stigma attached to it.

Arranged marriages still exists but so do Indians deciding to date and then get married.  I met a Bengali woman in her 30s who lives in Bangalore by herself who has no pressure from her family to get married.  I also met a Bengali man in his late 20’s who is being forced into a marriage with a girl who fits the right caste and family background.  I met a 40-year-old single woman from Tamil Nadu who speaks 7 languages, has travelled around the world and has a successful career – she isn’t seen as an outcast by her community or family.  I was fortunate to meet many young females on this trip who are educated and not pressured into marriage.  You can’t say India doesn’t let women progress but there is a flip side where certain areas in North India women are considered property and are not allowed to leave the house.

There’s the chaos of Varanasi, where in the name of Hindu religion anything goes and on the flip side is the calm and peaceful backwaters of Kerala.  Growing up reading the Hindu scriptures never led me to believe Hinduism was chaotic or filthy – but go to any Hindu temple in India and it’s dirty and no sense of peace.  On the other hand, go to a Sikh, Jain or Buddhist temple or a Mosque and you will find it spotlessly clean, welcoming and a place where you can sit peacefully for any length of time. 

This is India, a place where a taxi driver is charging you five times the amount but a local artist will give you a shawl for free because she wants you to have fond memories of India.  A salesperson working for a weapon manufacturer telling me a story of how it’s not his concern if the arms fall into terrorist’s hands but a local street food vendor spending all morning at the fruit market to ensure he has the best quality fruit to make his 10 rupee kulfi – he cannot sell sub-par kulfi to his customers! 

I also noticed what you see on the surface is not always true, we cannot apply our western concepts to an overpopulated country.  The population needs jobs, not technology to reduce FTE.  My cousin was temporarily living in Delhi, she asked me to remember to take the trash out when we were leaving the apartment.  I stood outside her apartment building looking for a dumpster, there are no dumpsters – this would eliminate the job for the street sweepers!  I threw the bag of garbage on the street, later that afternoon when we returned home the street was swept clean and the street sweeper was sorting the recycling.  This man gets paid to sweep the streets and then makes a bit extra by recycling plastic, aluminum and paper.

People often walk away from India with “every Indian is out to rip you off”.  I have a few stories from my recent visit to India and also from my 5 months travelling there in 2010. 

  •  I was pretty sick in Bodhgaya, a local gave my hydration tablets to ensure I wouldn't get worse with dehydration.
  • In 2010, for Diwali I was in Chandighar dining by myself at a roadside stall (it was the only place open for dinner), a young couple came to join me and ended up paying for my dinner. 
  •  I met a family on a train from Ahmedabad to Bhuj, they refuse to let me buy train food and shared their homemade food with me and in Bhuj for two days they let me use their car/driver for anywhere I wanted to travel.
  •  There’s an amazing restaurant call Dal-Roti in Kochi, I talked to the owner’s wife about how much I love mango but I can’t come to India during mango season because it’s too hot.  The next time I visited the restaurant the wife went home to get me some mango juice she froze a few months ago when it was mango season.
  •  In 2010 I took a cooking class in Kolkata, the instructor and I are still friends on FB.  When she saw I was in Kolkata again, she helped me get a saree for my mom and then took me home for an amazing home-cooked Bengali meal. 
  •  I used the same rickshaw driver in Mysore for a week, on the 3rd day he said that his wife doesn’t think it’s a good idea I eat restaurant food all the time because you don’t know if the ingredients are fresh.  The rest of the week, I went to the rickshaw drivers home (an aluminum shack) for a home cooked lunch every day.

I have several more stories like this from India, I try to remember them when it becomes difficult to travel in India.  My biggest problem with India is the sexual harassment in certain parts of North India, it’s hard to travel with your guard down because of the comments and groping. 

I love India and I hate India all at once!  People often ask me what I think of India and it’s hard to give a concise answer.  The country is filled with contractions and it’s pretty impressive to see the progress it’s making as a regional superpower.  We like to put things in nice boxes and categories, unfortunately India will not be pigeon-holed into any category!