India. I love her and I hate her. Her Schizophrenia both reflects and enables mine. Or at least this is how it can sometimes seem, but then in reality there is no such single body as India and therefore any notion of a chasm’d mindset is a flawed one. Rather, there are as many India’s are there are languages spoken within her and eyes to look upon her and yet despite all of this she does somehow unify herself holistically; existing and breathing as one entity.
She is chaos. Her epicentre an explosion of polarized concepts and her peripheries a collision of competing realities. In city streets, Bollywood glamour strides passed unwashed bodies caked in dirt and neither look back to offer so much as a second glance. She is a land of holy mountains laden with trash and sacred rivers awash with sewage. She gave the world Karma Sutra and yet makes sex into taboo.
India is much more than a paradox. India is a battleground where tradition collides with modernity and the the sacred collapses into the profane. Telecommunication companies erect their towers beside ancient temples and people them with the first child in a 1000 year dynasty to eschew the life of a simply Brahman because call centre work pays better.
A precursory glance down any city street will confirm this. Women (when there are women to be seen that is…) in traditional sarees stroll besides those in jeans not to mention the ones in pajamas or cloaked in the modesty of a Burka.
There is of course another deeper dimension to India’s diversity as all manner of faiths exist, thrive and were even born here. A Nepali achieved enlightenment under an Indian tree and became the Buddha, India then exported this to Tibet just as it continues to export Hindu chic to the West. Sikhism maintains a proud presence and the trade-off during the colonial era was Latin Catholicism which continues to thrive in the south. Then of course, despite post partition tensions, the country remains a hub of Islam.
Never better than here do we see India’s “schizophrenia” manifest for on the one hand, she is the very picture of tolerance and harmony (from which an increasingly xenophobic, paranoid western world could learn) and yet at a moments notice, unspoken tensions flare up into violence, bloodshed and assassination.
There are over 500 languages spoken in India and 28 of these are considered major dialects. Consider that, it is around the same number of major dialects spoken in all of Europe. This is why India is often referred to as a sub-continent because India is in so many ways 100 or so countries wedged into one.
India as a coherent, cogent, single unified nation has only really existed since the British colonised her. Whether this unity was borne of the application of a single, official language (English), the railways knitting her together, or simply the defiant rebellion against a common oppressor is debatable.
Perhaps it is because of all of this that travelers often find India to be a bi-polaronic experience. They have the best of times and the worst of times with very little in the middle.
When I first arrived in India I hated it. I counted the days until I could leave and even priced up flights to take me away to absolutely fucking anywhere. But then I fell for India and was deeply saddened when the time came to leave Dharamsala and make the border dash. Although the said border dash (with its sub-standard busses, useless staff and weird passengers) served to remind me exactly why I had hated the country so much in the first place.
India now seems to be emerging as an economic powerhouse, a centre of innovation and is rivalling China for domination and influence in Asia (India of course knows a thing or two about Imperialism haven’t learned from the best). From what I could see around me, this prosperity does not appear to have trickled very far down yet and there is evidence of massive inequality and punishing poverty all around. But then again there always was here and this is merely yet another example of her paradoxical nature, she is a beggar clothed in silk and an empress dressed in rags.
India will defy, reject and yet absorb and encompass any definition you try to impose on her. She will continue to intrigue, fascinate, divide and unite travellers for generations to come. She is nothing you expect and yet still everything you wanted her to be. She is simply India and I shall be sure to return.