When I first moved to India more than a year ago, a lot of friends and colleagues asked me how is it to live in India? Is it nice, they said? Earlier I used to say that nice is maybe not the right word, but that it is different. And I would make it clear that different does not mean the same as not nice. Now after having been here for even longer time, I have changed my perception, and don’t say that India is different anymore, but that it is complex or maybe rather compound.
I have heard so many people trying to find “the real India”. So here is my suggestion on what “the real India” might be.
I would like to start this story in Chennai. Actually at the lovely Marina beach in Chennai. Last year I visited this beach at Christmas day. I was there at about 5 am in the morning, and could see the sun come up in the horizon. At that time it was just me and a few fishermen at the beach. After the sun came up a few people showed up to do some yoga or to play cricket. It was really a nice, peaceful moment. After having been at the beach for some time, I moved on to see some temples. Breakfast was a nice biryani and cup of chai at a street restaurant just outside the cricket stadium. At 8 o’clock in the morning, it was really, really nice a peaceful. But is it the real India?
A huge contrast to Marina beach is Dadar railway station in Mumbai. This is the
junction between the eastern and western lines in Mumbai. Everyday millions and millions of people do go on and of a train at Dadar. When the train approaches Dadar, you can see people preparing to go off, and in some cases, you can even almost see the fear in the eyes of some of them. Will we manage to get off the train, or will we be pushed back into it? Maybe the chaotic Dadar is actually the real India?
Far away from Dadar is Rishikesh and Haridwar. Both of these places are in the northern, or at least northern central India. They are where Ganges comes down from the Himalayas. I was there in early January a few years ago. It was quite cold, and we had to wear jackets, glows, woolen underwear and other warm clothes that most people don’t think about when they think about India. Both these places are among the most Holy places for Hindus. I do remember very well when we visited the different temples of Haridwar. This was also the first time I ever saw a real Hindu monk. The same day we went to Rishikesh, which was the first time I could see people bathing from the ghats at there. Surely a really interesting sight. But is it the real India?
The nicest place I have ever been at in India might be the backwater in Kerala! For one who are grown up at the beach in south Norway this was just fantastic. The water
there is so clear. The atmosphere so relaxing. People so friendly. It is maybe not that strange that in India Kerala is called Goods own country. When I was there, I remember climbing up to the roof of the house boat that I used, and just sat there and smelled the fresh air. Some of the same feeling I got at Juhu beach. Lately I have tried to be there for sunset a couple of times. A friend of me who have joined for that say that I kind of change character when I get close to the sea. But is this the real India?
The opposite of Kerala is maybe Varanasi. It is a quite dirty, filthy and when Ganges reaches Varanasi it is anything else than clean. But when it comes to spirituality, Varanasi is maybe the most real India there is. This is the place where people would like to go to when they die. This is the place where people like their ash to be spread into after they have died. It is the most holy place for the Hindus, which is surely the main religion in India. I remember being there for the afternoon aarti (prayers). Even if I’m not religious myself, I could easily understand why people feel so much for this place. But, Varanasi is full of tourists, so can it really be the real India?
As you can understand from this article, I have really tried to describe some of the places that I have been to, in order to find the real. And I have not even mentioned some of the places that most people think about. What about Taj Mahal in Agra, forts in Rajasthan, the beaches at Goa, beggars at the streets of Mumbai? Or maybe rather the cows at the streets in Mumbai? Is it any of these that are actually the most real India? And for sure I have not mentioned places that I have not even been to. What about Kolkata, the mountains of Sikkim or the rain forest of Sunderbans? Would that be the real India?
I think that what I said on top, that India is complex or maybe rather compound is the right answer. To say that there is “no” real India will surely be wrong. But there might be many real India.
Talk to you soon!