If I could sum up India in a word, it would be ‘variety.’ A country long known for its spices, India has proved to the world that variety actually is the spice of life there. The interplay of motley colors, the art, the sights, the music, the visage and the landscape, has intrigued me all of my life, as well as awed millions over centuries before me. India has blended, accepted and absorbed cultures other than its own. The result – a culture that is exotic, complex, and rich in traditions and customs. How could a country with such an open embrace to other races and cultures be plagued with so much poverty, gender discrimination, and social injustice?
In my perception, India is a paradisal paradox. Shining glass multiplexes stand out in their surrounding posh urban hubs, juxtaposed with the meager huts and slums in the rather cut-off interiors of India. In the metropolis you see Mercedes Benz on the tarmac roads, while carts pulled by oxen still ply on the muddy pathways of villages. Hip men clothed in the latest fashion styles hit the dance floor at the uptown clubs, as the humble dhoti is still worn by the men of the village. One place reels under drought, at the same time another place is inundated by the running monsoon waters. The past and the present intermingle; both existing in a delicate yet constant harmony. This balance of old and new is unique to India. To even get a glimpse of this is a life-altering learning experience.
Art is a passion for me, and the art created by the civilizations that have thrived in India is one of the most unique, ancient, and beautiful on Earth. Art often reflects priorities in a culture, and India has proven to be an excellent example of this tendency. The architecture, sculpture, painting and fabric work created in India, are sights I have wished to see for a long time.
Attempting to decipher a people’s art is only the beginning. To really arrive at an understanding of the mentality of any culture, one must first look at the condition of its women. Being a woman myself of a culture in which women have made tremendous advances toward equality, India presents a painful reality.
The prevailing patriarchal traditions set thousands of years before impede social and economic advancement today. India is one of many unfortunate countries in the developing world where women are immensely oppressed. Malnutrition, lack of education, overwork, mistreatment, and powerlessness plague the woman of India. The Indian culture has been around longer than my own, its continuity intrigues me, but I understand it very little. It is hard to completely accept a people when one does not understand them, and perhaps only through direct interaction can one begin to.
Furthermore, I believe that awareness is the most powerful tool against injustice. Experiencing something has a larger impact than simply reading about it. I want to walk down the same paths thousands of Indian women walk, see myself in them, and return with a purpose to be a catalyst for change. Until every woman has seen justice and fairness, none of us should feel like we have.
In the Indian peninsula, the Himalayas guard the north, while the deep blue waves of the Indian Ocean flank the shores to the south. In all this, what strings together the entire bundle of contradictions is the warmth with which the country welcomes one and all. So much can be said about India, but the best way discover India is to explore it firsthand. I wish to immerse myself in the monumental potpourri of culture that is India, broaden my horizons, and grow from the experience. I welcome you to as well.
This is an excerpt from my pre-trip journal on the Why – needless to say that having returned my life has been forever changed, having fallen in love with the country and its people during my trip. Read stories from India and other corners of the world in our special series here.