At the same time, I am absolutely captivated with the rawness of life here – the beauty and simplicity of the people and ever-present spiritual energy, which bring forth a myriad of emotions. Peaceful yet frenzied. Inspired yet hopeless. Disgusted yet enchanted. It’s brilliantly beautiful while desperately heartbreaking. It’s colorful and vibrant while mystifying and enlightening.
In all its chaotic glory, India is a puzzle, and I find myself pondering its extreme contradictions.
The smells: All at once, India smells horrific and delightful. Where litter and urine-stained sidewalks are plentiful so are the intoxicating aromas of cumin, turmeric and cardamom wafting from spice stands on every street. Where leaking sewage and pollution prevail so do the sweet scents of lime juice, cinnamon and jasmine. I can’t get enough.The mayhem: Home to a disorderly order, India is havoc like no other. It’s cities of 15 million people and 100,000 taxis embracing an absence of driving lanes and crosswalks. It’s mobs of people zig-zagging through the labyrinth of food stalls while tripping over beggars and mounds of litter. It’s rickshaw drivers dodging cows walking down the middle of the streets. Somehow, though, you never feel threatened in the harmonious chaos.
The food: India is the culinary trip of a lifetime. Food is fussy, complicated and delicious, and the variety of offerings is mind-boggling. Copious amounts of fresh, sumptuous spices ensure even the simplest meals will dance on your tongue and blow your mind. But where meals are an art form, Indians barbarically wolf it down, shoveling mouthfuls in with their hands.The poverty: People without hands banging on our taxi window. Men with mangled legs clamoring for small change. Children two and three running half naked through traffic and bathing in the leaking water coming out of sewers. Steps away luxury cars carry India’s elite to the palatial towers housing million dollar flats. These are the scenes of our days.
The melting pot: Religion plays a paramount role for the colorfully devout Indians. Vibrant Hindu temples pulsating with people in the same neighborhoods where Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and Christians abound. So different in their traditions and dress, yet united in a strong faith.
The colors: India is a symphony of colors. Women dress in vibrant shades of red, purple, blue, yellow and orange. Multi-colored saris blow in the wind, hanging from balconies. Drab, ramshackle buses painted brilliant colors while rickety old fences and dilapidated buildings are given new life with splashes of colorful paint.
The affection: Complete strangers put their arm around you as they give you directions. Store owners welcome you with pats on the back and a limp shake of the hand. Men express affectionate camaraderie walking hand and hand down the street. But between men and women? Hands off. Kissing and holding hands are considered sexual acts saved strictly for the bedroom.
India is, no doubt, a sensory extravaganza. Yes, it’s filthy, hectic, frustrating, smelly and always unpredictable, but give it enough time and it will capture your heart. It certainly has mine.