I was sitting at the local Starbucks located at the intersection of the Oak and Rush Street, an absolutely beautiful place near my room.
I frequent the place not for my caffeine demands but for witnessing civilization. As usually I was sitting on one of the couches in the corner with my feet on a foot rest, earphones plugged in soothing me with white noise which I prefer when I am working or reading. Few days ago when I was in New York and I was listening to it in office, my project manager and other people were making fun of me on hearing the sound and told me that I belong to the era of Doordarshan (National TV broadcast in India) . Anyway, So I was engrossed in my thoughts and in the text in front of me and few moments later a group of young people joined a table adjacent to me. Disheveled appearances and loud enough to penetrate the white noise barrier between me and them , they were giggling and pointing their fingers on their iPads ,phones and Macs .I was getting disturbed and I decided to move myself to other side of the cafe and started gathering my belongings. One of the guy apologized and told me that they just returned back to US after 5 month sabbatical from their work . I nodded and asked them which country did they travel to and the answer was “India” . I got interested. I asked them how did they find the country and the guy with whom I was talking to told me in subtle manner “Its a Pandora box , you have to open it and explore it. Anything can come out of it .” I said indeed it is and left for the other corner. Around half an hour later I got up to attend call of nature and on coming back I reached for the few paper towels kept near the open area of the floor. A girl from the group with sun tanned face was also standing there gulping water and startled me by asking ” Have you been to India by any chance , I see this red thread on your wrist” . I said “Yes, I have to India many times because I am from India” . She told me that they spent last 5 months in India and it was quite an experience. I asked her what part of India did they see. She said “New Delhi , Khajraho caves and mostly Southern India” I told her I am from New Delhi and asked her did she like it. She told me She went to Moti Mahal in Darya Ganj , the book market of Sunday , She couldn’t pronounce it but made references to the innards of Chandni Chowk where she had Stuffed breads and Chickpea chana masala, strolled on the lawns of India gate ,attended a play at NSD , enjoyed street food of Delhi and headed for Southern India. I was surprised and ecstatic because she was an unconventional traveler. Yes, Taj Mahal, CP, various historical buildings are important and tourists often carry the myopic vision about the things to do in New Delhi and here was a girl who was standing next to me telling me about the experiences which many of my Delhite friends have not bothered to seek as they also suffer from the myopic vision of fun being confined to the notions of malls and junk food.I told her that she was very selective in her choices and is actually the first person I have met who didn’t brag about the beauty of Taj Mahal and had planned her travel after a lot of research. She introduced me to the rest of her group and there began the storytelling session in which everyone participated with great enthusiasm ,alacrity and with childlike curiosity .
I meet a lot of people daily in trains, in restaurants , in buses , cafes and their experiences about life ,places, events add to my knowledge. Talking to people is easy unless one is totally reticent .Few days ago while I was cycling, one lady who was from Canada told me that I should wear a helmet and drive safely, we talked for half an hour on topics ranging from Mickey Mouse(because she bought a cute coffee mug featuring mickey mouse on it) to ISKCON and cult.
Or if I am dining and I see someone sitting alone , I would simply go and ask if I can join him or her and I cannot recollect if anyone ever denied. Such camaraderie has given me the opportunity to get a lot of views on myriad topics . Some people talk about India as some mystical land with sages and yogis who live for 200 years, some think of it as land of fever , to some its the land of voice support and customer care, some think of Indians as born geniuses and good at mathematics and others simply don’t care . Its very amusing to know that “slumdog millionaire” has left quite an impression on people’s mind .I still gauge the temperature in the metric system than the imperial system,during my apartment hunt I asked the agent what the temperature is .He told me its negative 5 , I quickly calculated (F-32) * (5/9) and told him ok, its around -20.5 Centigrade and he was impressed at my prowess with numbers. Are you kidding me? I consider myself below average when it comes to maths. Another incident worth mentioning is when the red line stopped abruptly and the middle aged lady sitting next to me started talking and asked me from which part of India I was . I told her that she should visit India once , its a beautiful country. She said “Do you actually think I want to get raped , may be I will go there in next birth. Shukriya” and then explained to me how she knows the word “shukriya”.
So, back at the Starbucks I was thinking of getting a balanced point of view about India and I wasn’t disappointed. All the people in the group were between 27 and 35(I got that from their passports that they were showing to me , flaunting the visa stamp . Ha ha !)
According to them hating India is the easiest thing to do while in India and you cannot actually gauge a culture and its people in a 10 day tourist package trip but in 5 months you can traverse a few parts of a country across their lengths and breadths and learn a big deal. So , if you leave this easiest thing aside i.e. hating India, you will soon realize that one emotion is not enough to describe India. The beauty when you look past chaos, public urination,trash, feeling of being cheated is beyond words.I was wondering here if they are sarcastic here or what 🙂 They were already missing the corner dosa shop, filter coffee,roaming in the New Delhi’s heat in flip flops, the meals near Hampi.They said “India is chaotic but its organized chaos”.How friendly and helpful few people were and how men stare at you turning their necks 180 degrees.Despite all this when they slept under the stars on the bank of Tungbhadra river they felt that they will never have this exotic experience in their lives again. How one of the guy who is a computer programmer at one of the major firms sat quietly for the first time in his life without doing anything in the inner sanctum of a Hindu temple in Thanjavur. But life is not all rosy , 2 people got their iPhones stolen while sleeping in the local bus , few got their stomach upset from the spicy food . Hot showers are a luxury to them now and they can manage without toilet papers shows their blending with India.One of the girl said in a teasing tone that its very selfish to have all the roads to yourself, we should share the roads with animals and she felt very lonely when she didn’t see any cows on the road one day in New Delhi. 😀 😀
The best insight was given by another guy named Mark. He said his grandmother had limited education but she was the most learned and cogent person he knew. She always asked him to travel ,see the world and come out of his cocoon shell.Traveling teaches and prepares you for some aspects of life which otherwise remain untouched or very raw.India taught him tolerance, the importance of perceiving things as they are not as they should be , patience(which he had none as a child ), difference between assertiveness and aggression and most importantly how to keep your chin up even when things are not going your way.
It was a group of enlightened and learned individuals and we exchanged contacts as one of them said “I Thank India !! ” at the end.
Delighted I was .