My experience in India has really been the backdrop for this semester. Jordan Harris, Sheralee Kerr, and I went to Mumbai for almost our whole Christmas break. Every trip overseas is a life changing experience. Life changing in the fact that the world isn’t at all what you thought it was. You change your mind on what you believe. You find things important that weren’t important before. You become a different person. I don’t know if this is necessarily true of going to European countries or places that live in comfort, but in developing countries; I have never boarded a return flight without being a different person.
Before we left I had a couple of hours to hang out in Chicago. I went to the Chicago Art Institute and just happened to see a statue of Ganesha, one of the most worshipped Hindu gods in Mumbai.
We arrived in Mumbai, exhausted, without bags, and greeted by a sea of diversity.
“First day in India. . . When we were riding in the train back we actually got a seat which seems to be rare here. There was a random guy sitting across from me and we started talking. He was very friendly and welcoming, and he told me he was Buddhist. I asked him what he believed about God, and he said there was no God. He kept pointing at his eyes. He said the people that help him are his god. . .”
“Satsung: A Hindu teaching session. . . Craig told us these cultural rules about carrying oneself in this setting. You always take your shoes off before entering a room. You always sit cross-legged, you never show people the bottom of your feet, and you never touch your feet.”
“So Hindi/Marathi lesson was taught by an old woman, Chaia Gi. She was very serious about our lesson but we kept cracking jokes and making her laugh. . . We still learned alot through this lesson, but we also laughed alot. Chaia Gi said, “If you laugh too much it will make you fat.””
“I was just existing with the people. With this family. They made us food and ordered some more food. It was amazing and relaxing. I was holding my plate so they couldn’t give me too much, but Jordan’s plate was on the floor and they kept forcing more and more food on him. We stayed for a while drinking chai and loving life, and then we finally headed home.”
“I asked if we could go shopping since it doesn’t look like we’re getting our bags. We went to a very Western mall. . . One thing that took me off guard in the mall we were in was a section for Hindu gods. Literally go to the mall and buy your religion. Buy your god at the mall. . . The other day Craig told me a story that when the second McDonalds came to Mumbai they had a Ronald McDonald and the Hindus were coming out and worshipping it.”
“We went up to our flat that Lawrence is letting us use. It is 4 concrete boxes with some plastic chairs for furniture and chipped and pealing paint. It is a home that has cancer, and I love it.”
“. . . [I] made friends with two of the vendors there. I make friends with so many people just because of my camera. People love to have their picture taken here.”
“So me and Rajesh jumped in the van and went to the chemist. . . While I was sitting in the van waiting for Rajesh I heard lots of yelling and cheering, and then explosions, and people lighting stuffed dummies on fire in the streets–Happy New Year to me. . . We were driving fast on the road through the fields toward the high rises. The fireworks going off randomly over the city lit up the buildings.”
“I fell asleep on the landing. . . I was out and Rajesh woke me up and told me we were allowed to sleep in the men’s ward on the same floor.”
“We went to bed around 11 and woke up at 2 because the mosquitoes were so bad. It’s not like the bites are even that bad just the fact they keep buzzing in your ear. . .”
“Then we caught a cab to the gateway to catch our boat to Elephanta. . .”
“There were monkeys everywhere, along with signs that warned they could be dangerous. . . The caverns were unbelievable. It was a huge temple with stone depictions of Krishna carved into the walls.”
“It was a bumpy sleepy ride to Mangoun. It took about 4 hours. . . The objective for this area is to find out more about the demographics of the people here. . . [Mahesh] told me that any religion besides Hinduism was acceptable. Because Christianity, Buhdism, and Islam are all an escape from the caste system. Equality was a big thing for him he talked about a man named Mahtma, who created a school for women–the first in the country. And a school for the untouchables. It’s not like he even wanted Buhdism. Mahtma is Mahesh’s hero because of equality. Equality that equals freedom.”
“The conditions weren’t amazing but very livable. The small village was called Pana and it was an untouchable village. It was across the tracks from the upper caste villages. The people seemed kind of cold. Confused. Quiet. They stared. They didn’t speak back. They were poor. Defeated. . . We gave smiles and took pictures. Some of the blank stares turned into grins of enthusiasm.”
“We took a rickshaw to Prussant’s village. He took us to see his house, and then we toured the barns and farmlands for hours. We walked through fields and fields of rice, daal, beans, watermelon, and many other crops.”
“Time for the long long train ride to Agra. . . People were so chill in this train. It was kind of crappy. All metal. People were laying all over everything. Chai wallahs and coffee salespersons walked up and down the aisles saying, “chai, chai, chai.” People got in at almost every stop to sell trinkets, food, newspapers, or fruit.”
“An American gave us advice about the Taj and we hit the rickshaws. We entered through the South Gate and it was a pretty stunning building. The only thought I had was man most people get a box this was a lot of work for one person.”
“I can’t believe tomorrow is our last day in India. It always sneaks up.”
“Final day in India. . .”