The past week has been rather interesting and insightful. I have been in India, acting as a host and guide to my dear friend, Gina. This is her first time visiting India, even Asia. She is originally from US but currently living in Spain.
The first day we took a drive in Delhi, Gina pointed out the chaos and randomness of things that I was quite accustomed, and rather numb to having grown up here. “There’s a random cow in the middle of the street, a guy on a cycle with flowers in his carrier, a tea shack by the highway, stalls of groceries jutting out of run down structures, kids with goats” Gina exclaimed about hundreds of other things she saw in the most unexpected places. This pretty much defines the scene in India. There are auto-rickshaws, scooters, cycles, bullock carts, buses, cars and pedestrians on the same road without any rules, blaring horns randomly at each other, but still there is order in the chaos. Within that, the contrasts are even more spectacular. You will see million dollar homes next to slums, children begging for money knocking at the windows of Mercedes cars, women wearing saris covering their heads with modesty watching scantily dressed Bollywood actresses on their TV sets, five star hotels, Louis Vuitton showrooms and people earning less than $1 a day.
Orienting Gina with Indian culture and traditions has made me revisit it myself. I had been blindly following everything that was taught to me from a young age, but when someone else questions why things are a certain way, what do they mean, you need to think about it before being able to provide an explanation. India has a rich culture spanning thousands of years. It has over a billion people following several different religions. The society is somewhat tight, where family values, customs and people are given much importance. This means you can’t always do what you “feel like” as we often times take for granted living in the west. One thing Gina had a hard time with is when hosts would force her to eat even though she wasn’t hungry. Indians tend to show their love through food and it is considered rude if you refuse to eat what they offer when they are treating you.
Another thing she noticed is how we politely say “come” instead of “let’s go.” She thought it was a more gentle and inviting way of addressing each other.
I always knew that as a woman I had to dress conservatively in public places or men would ogle and I would draw unnecessary attention. Why is this the case and where does it stem from? Maybe the ancient believes of protecting women and hiding them behind veils in order to resist temptation. I don’t have the answer to that. All I know is some things you just don’t question and need to follow blindly.