I know this is a little late, but here is my take on India! Enjoy!
India, with a population of 1.2 billion, is one of the most diverse countries in the world. There are 22 official languages and at least another 398 living languages. India is also the birthplace of some of the world’s major religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Furthermore, India has the third largest population of Muslims in the world. But what is India in a nutshell? Everyone wants to know. The thing is, India is too vast, too great to depict in words, paintings, or even stories. India doesn’t just fit into a nice neat box, it’s more along the lines of melted crayons on an already graffitied wall. Divine chaos is the closest I can come to an accurate summary, but even this fails to capture sounds, smells, stares, and the sheer number of people I encounter daily.
With my first steps out of the Chenni airport I was greeted with honking horns, smells of human feces, and debilitating smog. My first thoughts were how dirty the country was and how loud car horns were. Everywhere I looked there was dirt, mangy dogs, and homeless people. Driving though the slums took on a whole new meaning, thick tar-like waste stood stagnant just off of roads as nearby women were sweeping in front of their house doors. Images and smells like these are forever ingrained in my memory.
“Over in there they don’t eat cows, you know.” As an avid steak salad eater, that’s what I got a lot when people heard I was going to India. What I didn’t realize back then was it’s only the American ignorance. Ignorance on so many different levels, that India is dirty, that the WHOLE country doesn’t eat beef, and that India is the armpit of the world. India maybe a dirty developing country but almost half of all Indians actually do eat meat. After learning about yoga, That, enlightenment, and religion I have come to understand the importance of the cow. Cows provide so much for families living on nothing and it is out of respect that practicing Hindus don’t eat beef.
In the United States, cows are found in factory farms or in fields, not in India. I have seen more cows in the streets than you could ever imagine. Most of these cows cannot produce milk anymore and are therefore useless as dowry. They are then released instead of killed by the owners. Homeless cows prefer the busy smog filled streets to fields because the exhaust fumes discourage flies. These fumes also have been known to provide a slight high for the homeless animals. Weather it’s actually right or wrong to let the cows go as a means of disposal is another topic in itself but the respect people have for these animals is phenomenal.
Animals’ diets in this country largely consist of plastic garbage. More often then not I saw cows, goats, pigs, and chickens with plastic wrappers hanging out of their mouth. I later learned that the milk, eggs, and meat produced from these animals contain five parts per million plastic, far more then allowed by the USDA. While at Sadhana Forest I learned that there are enough grains to feed all of India but the government keeps them in storage and sells them to China for animal feed. On top of all this many people in India do not eat meat simply because they cannot afford it.
One of the hardest things I am still coming to terms with is seeing an older man walking down the street with a young girl, not knowing if that is his wife or child. Indian women are the hardest working people in the country and get absolutely none of the recognition. In fact, the get the exact opposite, they are abused and raped. In the rare event they choose to report the rape police officers often rape them again or tell them it was their fault and do not file a report. Women are seen as a burden on this society and cannot even go to the bathroom in public. They are so often aborted as fetuses a law was put in place, so parents cannot know the sex of their child before birth. Girl toddlers are fifty percent more likely to die due to “lackadaisical“ care by the parents and often do not receive the medical attention they need when sick. Females on the whole are also less educated or uneducated compared males. Given the choice to send a son or daughter to school families will always choose the son. The thought behind this is parents can ask for more dowry for marriage. Daughters are only seen as property, they go from being property of the parents to property of the husband.
It took me awhile to start noticing the westerners in India for “enlightenment.” These people chant, pray, meditate, and listen to holy men speak day after day. Eventually they start to think they are truly different. What these wanderers don’t realize is that as soon as they return to wherever it is they’re from, a cow will just be a cow, a beggar will just be a drunk, and honking horns will again be noted as an act of aggression rather than communication.
Then there are of course the very dark and deep sides of India. It’s sweltering heat, the bodies that are buried on the beaches because families cannot afford cremation ceremonies, and the rapes in Delhi which finally being brought into the light. It is the untouchables, the poverty, the absolute stench of the poor, grasping for life. The physically broke, the physically beaten, and the millions searching for food and shelter-only to fine there is not enough to go around. But like anything you get used to it. You start not to acknowledge the beggars and the filth of everything. The slums are gaining territory while India’s largest mall just opened in Kerala.
It’s the little things that I am just starting to realize, are why I think India is so wonderful. The dark eyes of a beautiful women, the way the elderly are so active in society, the sickening amount of chai that is offered—at least three times a day, the shop keepers who excitedly wave you to come into their musky incenses filled store, the shoe-maker working carefully with leather, yet barefoot himself, and yes, the smell of the market. I wouldn’t trade my experience here for anything in the world. I am a firm believer of the importance in seeing globalization first hand from all points of view. See how the other half of the world lives and how lucky you truly are. India fulfills my expectations in more and different ways than I could have ever imagined. This is India. Lessons that can’t come from book, it’s colored divine chaos.