India at the far end of both spectrums
I was recently in India for work for 3 weeks. It was a truly humbling experience both on a professional as well as a personal front. It’s also a chance to walk down memory lane. I searched through my old files and found the below piece I wrote 10 years ago after my first visit to India which is still very relevant.
I feel as if I know India better than before. But there’re still so much to discover. It’s a vast and ancient country filled with diverse cultures and people from different backgrounds speaking multiple dialects.
On the last night of my recent trip, I told my local colleagues ‘I think I only know 0.5% of India’. They all quickly corrected me. ‘No, you don’t know 0.5% of India. WE know 0.5% of India.'
It appears I still have so much to learn which can only mean one thing.
I will be going back.
My fetish for Indian arts & culture started to develop when I graduated from university. I began to believe that I was Indian in my previous life. Somehow, I'm attracted to the colorful vibrancy of saris, the hint of flirtatiousness in miniature paintings, the love-it-or-hate-it Indian food, the I-don't-know-why-I-can't-stop-watching-it Bollywood films.
So, when the opportunity to visit India presented itself, I was ecstatic. I was more than ready. I was determined to go in with an open mind and open heart.
In my opinion, India is a world of extremes and contrasts. It's where both ends of every spectrum co-exists. I've seen hell and heaven, good and bad, clean and dirty, beautiful and ugly, the best and the worst.
When I visited Humayun's tomb, the first thing that came to mind was ‘this beautiful and huge place is all just for the dead?'
Here I was in a massive environment with the dead laying peacefully, while only a few miles away, the living were buzzing through small, foul-smelling streets making way for their sacred cows, taking a bath in the streets, and sipping tea while watching flies buzz over the dead lamb's head from the vendor across the street.
Another example of opposites happened that evening when we took a cab to attend my friend's wedding ceremony. The ride was about 2 minutes but the cab driver ended up charging us 100 Rupee. Something obviously wasn't right here.
But on our way back, we asked a guy at the taxi stand how much he would charge to bring us back. He said "no problem" with the signature head and shoulder Indian head shake. "Free", he added.
We gave him 200 Rupee.
In India, you see the biggest places for the dead sitting alongside the smallest houses for the living, you see men living alongside animals, you encounter the good and the bad, and you make friends with the rich as well as the poor.
I found these contrasts astonishing. I began to think that sometimes life isn't exactly fair and to survive, especially in a place like this, requires a lot of tolerance.
I left India very happy and very surprised, in fact I was shocked to the core. Traveling usually expands your perspective of the world, but I think India might very well be the place where your world view is broadened the most.
o Delhi food walks. A must-do experience in old Delhi. Mr. Anubhav Sapra is a genuine food-lover. Whenever he talks about food, his eyes light up. If you are there during Winter, make sure you ask him about Daulat ki chaat
o Gulab Singh Johri Mal, oldest perfumery.
HAUZ KHAS VILLAGE. Explore the labyrinth-like streets of this happening hang-out spot
o Coast Café (on top of Ogaan)
o Nappa Dori
KHAN MARKET. Looks can be deceiving here. Khan Market may not look like much but it’s an expensive shopping centre that’s filled with cool shops. Make sure you also explore the second floor of the complex.
o Good Earth
o Forest Essentials, Ayurvedic bath and beauty products
o Faqirchand Book Store
o Town hall restaurant
SHAHPUR JAT MARKET. Old meets new in this eclectic shopping place.
o Second Floor Studio
o Samant Chauhan.
DILLI HAAT. Shop for local products in a chill area. There are also a lot of nice restaurants from various regions of India.
RAW MANGO. Drool over beautiful fabrics and clothing in a farm house. If you don’t want to make the journey all the way out to the shop, Good Earth in Khan Market also carries many items from Raw Mango.
CAFE DORI. Hip café that shares the space with Nappa Dori
SAKET. There are some great restaurant in this shopping complex:
o Pa Pa Ya
o Burma Burma
o Yum Yum Cha