Saturday, April 03, 2010

Back Home Again

Indian PeopleThis is my last post about our trip—we made it home safely and are walking around feeling very tired and very quiet after all we’ve seen and done—and while I could probably write for another month about everything we’ve seen and touched and smelled I won’t subject you to it, I promise. Instead I'll leave with just one more post and some of my favorite pictures that my father took.

My parents wisely told me it is easy for Americans to be consumed with the shocking things about India—trash in cities, pollution in the rivers, smells of agriculture and beggars in the streets—and miss the beauty. So I came with an open mind, aware that India might be the exact opposite of the life I’ve been used to but looking for whatever it was that made her unique.

I'm probably biased after such a trip but I think India is the most exciting place in the world. If there is a spot on the earth that is the exact opposite of Alaska it must be India and nowhere is the parallel of old and new so apparent and so hopeful. If India were a person, she would be a young girl in that preteen era before she becomes self-conscious—finding joy in everything and smiling with ease for the camera but she could also be an old woman who, while full of history, is still healthy and agile enough to be convinced that her best years are ahead of her.

Indian People
The sounds of India are of cars constantly honking and motors revving. Everything is under construction—partly from original shoddy workmanship that now requires repairs and partly from a constant stream of government projects waiting to be completed. Everywhere you hear hammers driving nails and jack hammers breaking up concrete and brooms sweeping.

Indian People
The languages are full of melody and cadence, rolling the Rs’ and clipping the D’s as if they were weaving some lacy pattern in and out with their words and while they sound foreign there is also this underlying familiarity that reminds that we came from the same roots, English and Hindu.

Indian People
But my favorite sound in all our time there was the Muslim call to prayer at morning, noon and evening when the mosques would send voices floating on the breezes over the traffic and smog of the city, calling the people to remember God.

Indian People
The colors of India are startling and bold, with flowers, silks and fruits. With statues draped in flower garlands and foreheads dotted by jewels and red powders. You see beauty in laundry fluttering on clotheslines, in blue houses with orange trim and green doors and even in the patchwork color of scattered trash in alleyways and vacant lots and blue tarps set up as permanent bivouacs in crowded campgrounds throughout the city.

Indian People
India is the world’s largest consumer of gold and women wear their jewelry as their dowry and the only possession that is completely theirs. They love the yellowest tones of the 23 carat gold and the voluptuous contrast of a round golden earring dangling seductively from a woman’s ear against the warm brown richness of her neck has no equal in the west.

Indian People
You could focus on the smell of decay that haunts any area lucky enough to have water or the sewers running under the sidewalks where the cracked granite slabs have broken up in places, allowing the reek to float up from beneath your feet but if so you’ll miss the strands of tiny white jasmine hanging from the women’s hair. You'd miss the spices and herbs piled on trays in the marketplaces, the smell of red clay bricks baking in the sun or livestock wandering through the city to nibble on garbage and stray blades of grass pushing up through cracks in the cement.

Indian PeopleYou might see the beggars wandering through traffic standing at stop lights, tapping on car windows and asking for money while holding up a baby they probably borrowed as a prop but then you’d miss the curving, twisting spires of temples rising on every city block and the cubist glass compounds of the tech trade where new jobs are sending more and more people to universities and toward life in the middle class.

There is no cigarette smoke but the smoke of outdoor cooking fires throughout the city takes the place of modern ovens. As a solution to trash removal you'll see piles of burning garbage here and there throughout the city--some with flames leaping waist high and some that are now smoldering. You’d think that in such a dry heat all of India would catch fire but the cities are made of so much brick and cement that no one worries about the danger and everywhere you'll see charred and blackened sections of soil bordered by cement.

Indian PeopleAfter all this America seems very boring to me. I will miss the way Indians bobble their heads in a gesture that can mean “yes,” “no,” “maybe” or “I don’t know” depending on context and mood. Mom says to do it you draw a figure eight with your nose and it’s such a joyful little move it makes me smile every time.

I’ll miss the modesty of Indian women. We saw no more than twenty western faces the whole vacation and I grew used to how elegant and feminine Indian women looked in their saris. When we arrived back at the airport to see mini skirts and tank tops once again I couldn’t help feeling how vulgarly the European and American women displayed themselves in what was essentially someone else’s home. I was embarrassed for them and understood a little better how the western values of promiscuity and immodesty can offend other cultures.

Indian PeopleBut it's strange that even with discovering this new love for a land so far away I still feel a thrill when I once again touched down on American soil. It may not be as colorful--Alaska has two colors: green and white--or as much of a feast for the senses but it’s a good place. Reliable, solid and strong and I love it because it’s my home. America will always be my native place but there will also always be a special place in my memories for India and someday I hope to go back.

Sponsored by Annette Lyon, whose new novel Band of Sisters is now in print.

30 comments:

Stephanie said...

Michelle,
Just wanted to thank you for these posts. They have been wonderful, and have been quite the social studies lesson for our 11 year old. :)

Lucy said...

You could go on with these posts for a lot longer and I'd be mesmerized with them. So very interesting and so much about India I never knew.

owlfan said...

I have really enjoyed these also. I understand not drawing them out forever, but feel free to pull out some more of India if you are ever in need of a post (not that you ever seem to be). I could happily read about your trip for quite a bit longer.

Patricia L said...

Quick question about India: did you find that there is an "upper class" and "lower class" but not really a middle class? I watched a documentary a couple of years ago that touched on the growing problem in India of the huge gap between the "haves" and "have-nots". Just wondering what your perspective was on that.

Peach Rainbow said...

You beautifully wound up your trip update, We are gonna miss these.

Thank You so much for sharing with us.

Glad that you love the Muslim Call to prayer, which, for some is a
'noise pollution'!

Becky said...

Ah, I loved this post, Michelle. Beautiful. Thank you for taking me on your journey- I wish I was able to travel like this- instead I live vicariously through the travel channel and you!

Connie R. said...

Michelle,
I know I am being redundant, but I just keep saying to myself as I read your evocative words, "Lovely -- just lovely" . . . and I refer both to the India you have captured, and the stunning words and images in which you've done so. Along with the others, I want to thank you for this thought-provoking and gorgeous series, and for taking us with you. I won't forget this trip either!

Allysha said...

What a wonderful and lovely farewell to India. You have some beautiful lines in here. Thanks for sharing! I'm so glad you got to have such an amazing experience! Welcome home.

Suzi Dow said...

I live in Arizona were the mountains surrounding my home are a dull brown or black from last year's wildfire. Over there is a bright blue house with fire engine red trim and next to it is a sage green home with ocher roof and there is a blushing pink structure. My hometown is filled with unique, wonderful and sometimes annoying people and love coming home each time I must go away. However, I so enjoyed your land of green and white. Even after you fabulous blogs, I have no interest in visiting India but hope to return to Alaska someday.

I'm glad you are back home, safe and sound, and look forward to reading more about a land I find so interesting and exotic and a family that feel like I belong to.

Miriam said...

I haven't commented before but I have read every post you've written about India almost in a breathless fashion! It's like a modern version of those travelogues I used to see when I was a little girl! I actually felt like I was journeying alongside you and your family, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Thanks so much for sharing your exquisite photos, your ponderings and your unique experiences, Michelle!

BONNIE K said...

I'm with the other commenters here - you did such a beautiful job of describing your travels.

cndymkr / jean said...

Well, I'm glad to have you home again however I'm going to miss all the India posts. I really enjoyed them. I think you did an excellent job reporting and documenting all that you experienced. Thanks again!

Suzie B. said...

THE END?! It was a wonderful trip! Thank you for taking us along. I'm sure you'll intrigue us in other ways, as you always seem to do!

JanMary said...

I have looked forward to EVERY post - you should go travelling more often!!!

I love your eye for detail, and your ability to transport us all with you.

But as they say....there's no place quite like home - welcome home!

Headless Mom said...

What a beautiful love story to a country. Excellent post.

Karen B said...

Thank you for taking all of us on a wondrous journey.

CountessLaurie said...

thank you for sharing your adventure with us! i could read another month's worth of posts! they were so beautiful and this last one brought a bit of a tear to my eye.

thank you !!!

Janelle said...

Thank you so much for sharing these experiences with us. I can really tell that they meant a lot to you, and I really appreciate that you gave us a glimpse into such a special experience. Your writing has been different on this trip: I can tell that you are passionate about these things, because your writing is so beautiful and descriptive, more than usual. Thank you.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I am sorry to see it end. In a much smaller way, my own senses have been intoxicated by India because of your stories.

Welcome home. I know this trip will flavor your own life from this day forward.

bigguysmama said...

Thank you for sharing your trip with us! It's been a beautiful journey. Having been to Saudi Arabia, some of your posts reminded me of being there, such as the shops and calls to prayer. I loved all of your photos, too!

Blessings on your Easter,
Mimi

anwesha said...

This was one of the most stirring narratives about India ever! And this is my country,where I grew up and to me these everyday sights and sounds were no different,till I took a 2 year break from all this and got back and suddenly woke up.Suddenly discovered so many more senses in me.The ordinary seemed different and unusual.
I have also thought of India as a young girl,yet to find her best and someone who is still prancing and frolicking in her young-hood and growing up.
I loved your post Michelle.I am so so glad that you came here and won so many smiles and lovely pictures.Could I share the link of your blog on my fb wall,for my Indian friends and American friends?
And oh,thought I should tell you,I am going to marry an American in 2 months,and I cannot wait to go back to the states,but deep down I will always carry a part of the young girl,who is still finding her place in the world.
Anwesha

MoziEsmé said...

I think this is my favorite of all your India posts! There is so much beauty there... Jasmine remains my favorite flower/scent (with frangipani in close 2nd) after my trips to India - something about the intense fragrance in hot humid air brings back sweet memories every time.

niveditha said...

Very nicely summed up!Actually i used to look forward so eagerly to your each post about India, that now when you have gone, i will surely miss them.Good to hear that you have taken so many good memories with you, pls do come back to this wonderful land. You are always Welcome-Niveditha

Scribbit said...

Well thank you all so much--I wondered if I was boring you all to tears with my gushing about the trip. Reading about someone else's vacation can be tedious sometimes.

It's interesting to see my parents preparing to come home in a few months. They are so excited to be back but they are always going to miss India, I can just tell. I'm so grateful to the way they were able to show us things that few visitors get to see. It really was a once in a lifetime trip.

NorahS said...

This was a beautiful series. I enjoyed it very much.

GR said...

Many thanks for taking us along. I'm looking forward to the "how the kids fared while we were gone" stories.

Stephanie said...

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

Do you think you'll take your kids along next time? I'd love to hear your thoughts about that...

stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

daysease said...

OOh, I love how you compared India to a teen and then to an old woman. anther beautiful post. This series has been fabulous. Really.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

Beautiful post. Haven't been to India (YET), but did go to Pakistan. And yes, the call to prayer, the azaan, was one of the most beautiful things to hear. I had heard it for years inside American mosques, but to hear out in public, everywhere, was something else entirely! To this day, when I hear it on TV, it makes my heart crunch up a little remembering my trip so long ago..

the mad momma said...

thank you for this lovely post on my country. its lovely to see it through another's eyes. particularly when the eyes are so kind :)
the muslim call to prayer is something i grew up with and it takes me down memory lane even today.
and Patricia - there IS a middle class. i'm part of it :) although admittedly there is a growing gap between the haves and have nots

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com