Thursday, March 12, 2009

last thoughts on India (revised)

I should probably wait a week or so after arriving in Greece to write this...I'm getting sick, didn't sleep at all last night and in all honesty couldn't be more ready to leave this country. I'll try to keep these emotions in check though and reflect back on our time here without too much bias.

As you’ve probably surmised from my other blog entries India is a bit of an oxymoron in and of itself. Its beauty walks hand in hand with its vileness at all times. Its poverty and filth is never more than the turn of a head from its rich culture and splendor.

My perspective is of course completely influenced by the facts that I am American, I am a woman and I am gay…that said, I won’t attempt to sum up our time in India but instead will just list out some random and not so random thoughts, situations and topics that the Wife and I have witnessed and talked about over the last 7 weeks…

•“Tikka”-Tikka means “okay” in Hindi and is always said with a distinct head bop to the left or right. Most of the time tikka is not even uttered and only the head bob is done, over and over as you speak. Sometimes the head just bobs continuously as they speak. It is purely Indian and difficult to get used to when having conversations. I am sure you’ve seen parodies of this and believe me it is no exaggeration. Although very unnatural for us I think you would be hard pressed to find an Indian who doesn’t do it…I’ve yet to meet one.

•“Dressing up”- I’m not sure what Indian women would wear if told to “dress up”…they look stunning all the time. There is no such thing as too colorful or too embellished for any part of the day. Hot pink with sequins seem a bit too much for the grocery store at 10am? Not the case here. This goes for rich and poor, old and young…and on these women it doesn’t look out of place or overly done at all…it is truly gorgeous.

•“Line Jumpers”-I’ve almost witnessed out and out fights in America if someone should break into a line in front of others. We don’t mess around with “line jumping” and I seriously feel fear and guilt if I ever sneak into a line with someone I know that is up ahead. Here in India line jumping is just the way it is. They do not wait for anything and even if you have been standing in line for 15 minutes you better believe 20 people will waltz right up ahead of you. Actually they may even push you to get ahead. It wasn’t until the last few weeks that I started standing my ground against these offenders. It is dog eat dog in the line business around here. I’m not proud to say it but last weekend while attempting to exit the plane I had to physically hold an elderly lady back with one arm to get out of my seat. Then when I stopped to let the row out in front of me she seriously pushed me from behind with all her might until the people got out and I moved forward. Wow.

•“Respect thy mother and father”- Here in India that is not lip service…that is a fact of life for children. Although I have a hard time with thinking I’d still be obeying my parents’ wishes well into my 20’s and 30’s I do find it refreshing to see such respect and reverence.

•“Same, same but different”- Getting what you want here is not that easy and this cannot always be contributed to any sort of language barrier as Indians have a fairly good command of the English language, just not the pronunciation.
Typical conversation with waiter/salesperson/driver/hotel staff:
Me: “Can I please have the same so-and-so please?” (pointing at whatever it is I want)
Them (while head is bobbing): “Yes ma’am”
I wait, they bring it…
Me: “This is not the same, I wanted the same as this” (pointing at whatever it is I wanted)
Them (while head is bobbing): “Yes ma’am”
I wait some more, they bring it…
Me: “This is not the same, I want THE SAME as THIS” (pointing at whatever it is I wanted)
Them (while head is bobbing): “Yes ma’am”
I wait even longer, they bring it…
Me: “This is NOT the SAME, I want THE SAME AS THIS” (pointing at whatever it is I wanted)
Them (while head is bobbing): “Yes ma’am”
I wait, they never return.

•“Chivalry is DEAD”- Or maybe it never existed here. Outside of our hotel if you think a man is going to let you into an elevator, through a door or ahead of him in any way you’re crazy. My advice is stand back and let them through because you’re likely to be pushed down if you attempt to go first.

•“Modesty”-Although I have no idea how they survive the summers without shorts I do think the fact that young girls dress modestly and that both boys and girls are kept from seeing overtly sexual images is a good thing. It is nice to see children here being children.

•“Personal Space”- Forget it; it doesn’t live here in India.

•“The Past”- There is no forgetting when it is still alive and kicking.

•“Down with the 2 party system?”- Here in India they have over 50 political parties and through reading the papers, watching the news, talking to people and just seeing their infrastructure I can tell you not much gets accomplished. I think there is wisdom in both “too many cooks in the kitchen” and “too many chiefs and not enough Indians”…so keep this in mind when complaining about our government.

•“Religion”- Hinduism is not a religion as much as a way of life. There is no question of “are you religious?” To a Hindu it is who you are not what you do or don’t do. The amount of sects, stories and deities is mind-boggling and truly fascinating…especially for a religion that has no actual set of rules or a book to go by.

•“Veg or non-Veg?”- I love Indian food but I do think it is strange that veggies and meat never seem to converge in the same dish.

•“Out to pasture”- Cows are of course sacred in India. They are, in the eyes of Indians, the giver of life. Many people have cows and depend heavily on them for milk, fuel and sometimes even shelter. It is a crime to kill a cow but apparently not so much to treat them like crap. Cows are seriously let out in the morning “to graze” although there is no pasture in sight and very little grass anywhere in the cities. They literally eat garbage for nourishment and do so all day as they wander the streets until they meander back home at night.

•“English,Spenglish”- Although almost every single Indian at least knows some English words and the majority of educated know a good bit they are quite happy to make up new “English” words and adopt them as proper. Like “prepone”… as in they have “preponed your 2pm flight to 8am” so you missed it. Or they will just make up new definitions of using a word…like “hyper” which I argued with my trainer about for an hour as he vehemently says it means to get angry.

•“What do you mean? There are gays everywhere!"-This is an actual quote (said with a Brazilian accent) from one of the guys on the team when the Wife was talking about how difficult it was to be closeted in India. He was unaware of the cultural difference here with "male bonding". Traditionally Indian children are separated by sex when it comes to interaction. This has led to an intimacy between males that would make anybody from other countries believe they had landed in the land of homos. Men, young and old, can be seen arm in arm or holding hands while walking down the street, snuggled up on a bike or stoking each other as they converse. Coming from America where men have to have a "homo-seat" in-between them at the movies to reassure themselves of their masculinity I found this to be wonderful. I remember watching a great documentary on homosexuality years ago and they showed boys/men dancing at an Indian wedding bumping and griding on each other so much you'd think you were watching "Bollywood night" at a gay club. Seeing this, I was aware before arriving but I have to say as a Westerner, even a gay one, it was odd to see. In a good way though.

Please note, this did not make it any easier for us as a married lesbian couple though. I would have to say that living in the closet was the most unpleasant thing about India for us both...more than the poverty, the filth or fear of "Delhi Belly" and malaria. It really made me think about my gay friends in the US who live in the closet and I have a new found empathy for how difficult it must be and what strains it must put on their lives.

Again, I don't think there is a way to sum up all my thoughts on India...all I can say is that I feel really blessed to have seen what I have seen and been able to do what we've done.

No comments: