Saturday, October 3, 2009

Prelude to India


Why would anyone want to go to India?

This is the question people ask me, in various forms, when I tell them about all the preparations I have had to make to go to India—including bracing myself for inevitable stomach upsets. I been vaccinated for Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Diptheria. I have bottles of Cipro and Metronidazole for bacterial infections and the giardia parasite respectively. I have Deet to ward of mosquitos carrying malaria or the West Nile virus, and iodine tablets to purify the water – partially. Iodine doesn’t catch everything. So why, my friends ask, am I going to a place where I can’t brush my teeth with the tap water? Where beggar women with shriveled babies and empty milk bottles will tug at my clothes on the street? Why would anyone want to go to India?

I honestly can’t explain all my reasons, and I certainly can’t claim they make sense or are based on logic. I’m not going to India with any other purpose than just being there and seeing it for myself. I’m not going seeking enlightenment, or charitable works, or shopping, or even food (and food is my primary motivation for everything).

I think that maybe the appeal is in my blood, ingrained in my mostly British genetics. The British have always loved India, so much that they wanted it and took it for themselves. I can’t help but think of this act of imperialism as a dysfunctional love story. The allure of the orient was irresistible to the stodgy and overdressed Brits. Was it the tea that drew the English to the perilous shores of India? Was it the spicy food that made them brave dysentery and the hostile populous? What made them stay so long in a country where the mindset, culture, and hygiene of the natives were so different and contrary to their own? As in any relationship, the Brits wanted to change what they saw as the bad habits of their beloved, and as in any relationship, that backfired. But they still stayed and tried to make it work long after they knew it was over. Even though the breakup between the two nations was ugly and fraught with bad feelings, I think that infatuation is still there for the English. I know it is there for me.

But why?

When I think of India, never having been there, I see colors. Saffron, the burnt orange soil, lime green jungle growth, women in saris dyed like sherbet ice cream. I smell dust, nag champa incense, patchouli and body odor – hey, if the mind can have an eye, it can have a nose also. I hear the pitches of the women’s voices trickle up and down the vocal scale sounding so beautiful and appealing – I heard some Indian women on my old commuter train and they spoke like this; their speech was music and men were captivated. In India, there are monkeys, cows and elephants, even camels. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that exciting?

Really, if you think of India in those terms, who wouldn’t want to go?

4 comments:

Pocketmouse said...

LV, good luck and enjoy every moment.

I hope you have a pleasant experience with India, i really do.

aliteralgirl said...

It's interesting, the way we can be drawn to certain places, in spite of logic, in spite of distance, in spite of practicalities (including teethbrushing!). Am very excited to read about your journey--and of course to see you (in a few hours!) in my neck of the woods...

Cynthia said...

This is a terrific piece, Lauren. I love your writing.

lightlover said...

Just for your information. It was the British who learned from the "natives" of India about personal hygiene including the idea of a daily bath which goes back thousands of years in India. In fact this bath is often two or three times a day traditionally in India for certain castes. The current India who describe is a sad reflection of its original nature due to rapid, industrialization, dissolution of self regulating villages, the population explosion. Unfortunately Indians are in this "poor state" also due to decreased self -esteem from being ruled by foreign powers over a few hundred years for many complicated reasons(which is very brief compared to its history of thousands of years of autocracy). Remember that India was in fact one of the richest and most advanced nation materially, scientifically, and spiritually/philosophically in the ancient world. This was infact why so many other countries wished to "own" it as you say.