The colours, the noise, the hot amazing food, the street bustle, the seemingly total invasion of personal space, life revolving around the Hindi religion, the heat, the dust, the stares, the touts, all the state red tape that makes life for Indians a pain…I could go on and on but it is so hard to blog about India or capture what is going on here. I mean Alanis Morisette had a pretty good shot at it in the Thank You India video, but I am drifting here a bit.
I have been going to India every year since 2005. It is mainly to visit my cousins and extended family who all live there. It also reminds me of the 4 years I did spend in India growing up as a child. Every trip is different and totally unique. And the 2010 one has been quite incredible and exceptional for many reasons.
This year I went to rural India for about 5 days, which is a pretty long period given that we normally only go for 2 or 3 days. I also saw my cousins in Delhi as I do every year and of course I celebrated the huge Hindu festival, Diwali!
When are you getting married?
The biggest question I get asked in India is when am I getting married? Almost all marriages are still arranged marriages in India. It is very natural for people to not have known each other and then become life partners and eventually parents. My own parents got arranged married.
My answer to this question is “..when I have a girlfriend and we have decided to marry”. I am not entirely sure how acceptable that answer is here but that’s the truth. This big marriage issue shows the incredible difference in culture between the culture of my birthplace and the culture of my home in the UK.
When I come to India I try and respect the culture and traditions of my family so I put on a role that is slightly different and tweaked to match the local conditions. It is a duality that can be quite stressful for me. Since I still speak fluent Hindi it is impossible for my family in India to appreciate the life I lead in the UK, my value system, the cultural differences and what life for me is like in London. I can describe things to no end, show pictures and videos but that can never give anyone a real taste of life in the West. Thankfully this duality was somewhat broken on this occassion as for the first time ever we had a Western guest accompanying us, my brother’s ex-work friend and fellow Londoner. She lived with us for two weeks, we showed her our family lives in India and also took her on a brave and ardous journey to rural India. Well away from the tourist trail and more on the authentic life of Indians around our family class and circle.
In showing her and constantly translating interactions (she had with my Indian family) for her we ourselves got a new perspective on Indian life and culture.
And on the other side my family in India got to appreciate that me and my siblings in the UK have friends of different races and that this is the norm when you are an “NRI” (Non Resident Indian, a term given to Indians living away from India).
Do foreigners understand Hindi?
Most of my extended family, at least the older generation can still be classed in the poorer class. They have a basic secondary school education and that’s where it ends. So it is still incredible to think that my father actually broke out of poverty and got us to the UK where I am settled today. Thankfully the children of my family are the first generation going to University. It was really cool to speak to one of my nieces in fluent English, she is a new generation of people in our family circle that will be more educated and Independent.
“Do foreigners understand Hindi? (or will this girl understand Hindi)” was a question asked more than any when we showed our guest around. This question seems silly to me because 50% of India itself does not understand Hindi, let alone others outside India! But their innoncence in this question comes simply from the fact that Western people speak Hindi in Bollywood films (they have a voice over). So it was refreshing for my family to appreciate that Hindi is certainly not at the centre of the world and there are many other worlds out there, there is a lot, lot more to life than the life they see in India. I really hope my family will be able to travel outside India soon. It will be a very enlightening experience.
As I fly back home myself now, I realise the most important thing about travel. It is to see and appreciate the beautiful and unique things in every culture, try and judge what are the good things and then incorporate them into your own being and personality. Slowly, as you travel more and mingle with people you become more and more of a mix of the best things of many cultures.