Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
April 12th, 2004

Indian Summer

A young mid-westerner reflects on his summer in India

 
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Greetings… Thanks to those of you who have sent personal messages. I am sorry I cannot answer them personally. In my current situation, e-mail is hard to come by here and fairly undependable. So, this will have to suffice. In my first installment
I sent ten (of twenty total) loosely connected observations about this wonderful place, here
is the second batch…

11. When driving, it is necessary to honk your horn when rounding a curve because if you do not, the driver of an oncoming “public transport” rig will kill you when his mammoth, orange-colored truck, whose grill is painted with an gigantic fanged mouth representing a god (whose name I have yet to discover) inhales and devours your little tin jeep.


12. Six inches is more than enough room. It does not matter if you are driving down the road and that six inches represents the space between two vehicles OR if you are standing in line and that six (or less) inches is the distance between you and the wall, baggage claim conveyor belt, or another person…SIX INCHES = PLENTY OF ROOM. If you are not practically rubbing up on the vehicle/person in front of you, you are wasting space and that space will be filled.


13. Get used to being around people. For instance, there are six hundred thousand people in Guwahati and on any given day you will see half of them and they will stare at you. I should say, “they will stare at me.” Or, rather, everyone stares at me. Apparently my attempts to blend in have met with failure. I am not sure if it is my blonde hair “Oh…its so nice. So nice..!” or my skin “Would you mind if I touched it…oh its soft! Like…milk! He he he!” (By the way, that last line was said one of the students I am tutoring – a male teacher who teaches English at a local highschool).


14. Men in India are a little more free with one another than men in the US . There is absolutely nothing wrong with two men holding hands and taking a stroll. In fact, physical touch is a vital part of relating. This is startling at first, but after a while it is kind of cool. A man asking to touch my skin and telling me it feels like milk is AOK and, well, what can I say…it DOES!


15. Just because you can drape your arms around another man does not mean you can wear mendi on your hands or toes. Mendi is this dye used to adorn women who will be married. If you are to wear it, you should be a woman about to be married. If you are not, expect to be both stared and snickered at…mostly by women. Not that I have any experience with this, but I have heard all this to be the case.


16. When people tell you something is OK to do socially, make sure you double check with another person about the acceptability. For instance, if you have the desire to wear mendi but are not sure…and the person you asked did not really say yes or no (or even acted like they did not understand the question) but then totally threw off some non-verbal hints that you would have picked up on if you had not been such a sucker for a sweet smile…you should ask another person.


17. Have I mentioned that some of the people here are absolutely beautiful? It is so easy to be captivated by the different blends of features. The shades of skin are anywhere from extremely light to very, very dark brown. Some of the faces are “typically” Indian, but others look African, Chinese, Vietnamese, and European. The thing is, nothing seems to match. I mean, you will see people whose faces look African (very dark, glorious teeth), but they will have straight black hair and speak with an Indian accent. Or you will see people who are extremely dark, but have Caucasian features (I saw a woman who looks just like my friend Adrianne, but her skin is mahogany colored – I kept trying to look at her because I was absolutely fascinated by her features). Men, women, kids, old people…there are so many beautiful features I hardly know what to do. I keep staring at people. The land, also, is absolutely unbelievable. I have never seen this kind of contrast in color. The earth is burgundy (really), orange, red, and brown. The different shades of green are nearly impossible to describe, some are iridescent while others actually appear to absorb light. In still other shades, you can almost see both yellow and blue as distinct colors making up the leaf. Now this might not seem like a big deal, but when you match it with the various tones of earth, the blend can come off as shocking, soothing, or anywhere in between. In general, it is so easy to be mesmerized by things in this place. There is always something new, different, strange, beautiful, frightening, etc. taking place. It is difficult not to shut down from the sheer shock of the sensory overload.

18. The natural world is absolutely inescapable here. Whether it be the presence of the jungle or the overwhelming sense of humanity always present, I always have this awareness of the “muddiness” of our human existence. I have taken pictures. I am keeping a photo-journal. I will send some, if you like, at a later date. It is hard to capture the natural world, but I have some fairly successful shots.


19. Speaking of the natural world, Did I mention that there are cows everywhere? No. Really, EVERYWHERE! On the sidewalks, in the river, by the gutters, in the lane dividers, sprawled out on the street…the people just accept and move on. They are simply moving obstacles that are accepted as part nature…kind of like walking trees only there is an added value because they are sacred animals. On one hand, it is kind of nice because it makes me think that people here are somehow aware of the Eternal at all times. On the other hand, it is just bizarre to have to wait, without honking, for a cow to move. Livestock, in general, is very popular.


20. Finally, while in Langting I did something I never thought I would do. I built a piggery. Yes, I built a pig-pen for two little pigs named Queenie and Prince. Queenie is a brute who always beats on Prince. As Fr. Vally said, “she will be the mother of many.”


The mother of many is a good concept to stop on. The phrase itself pretty much describes India.


I love this place
…though I have been craving Pizza like a fool.
Alas, it will not be long before I return, so I best savor my experience of living here while I can. Pizza can wait.
I hope you are all well!


Prayers, love and much peace to you all.

Pages: 1 2 3

Pages: 1 2 3

 
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The Author : Paul Lickteig, SJ
Paul Lickteig, SJ currently lives in the Bronx.
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