Dancing Through Varanasi

Written by Carmen Nogueron, (Kalamazoo College) Student Correspondent UW in India, Fall 2016

As the final days of my program approach and go by, I cannot help but feel completely overwhelmed. I honestly don’t try to think about it too much. I have gone through the lows and the highs and the in-betweens and at this point I feel like I should have known these things when I was going through the rough funks. When people tell you that your time in India is a complete rollercoaster they are not kidding. It is exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally. Through it all it is the little things that keep you going in Varanasi: the dopey water buffalo, the lovely samosa wala at the corner of your house, the program’s house spicy poha, my list goes on but what I am trying to say is that by the end of the program you will come to realize your list of small things combined is what held you together this whole time.

diwalifireworks_carmennogueronNext is music but we have to split this one up a bit. First there’s your classic good mood music. You know what I’m talking about, the music you blast after you ace a paper and run two miles in nine minutes (ok maybe that’s just me) but the music that keeps your good mood going. Blasting this music through my headphones when I feel lonely or frustrated always got me through it. On good days the Punjabi hits made them super special, laugh at me now but speed records youtube channel is has the best music videos to get ready to, check out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BgrJ4k5FtE).

Not only the music online but Varanasi becomes a music hub in November! There were at least three music festivals while we were here. All of them Hindustani Classical music, but I have fallen for the tabla — guys it’s honestly so hard to not strum your fingers along with its rhythm. Go to all the music festivals you can! Wear tons of bug spray and just find a good spot to sit down, buy some chai, maybe some roasted peanuts. Just being in that environment is so much fun everyone in the audience is so into it you can’t help but enjoy it.

banethiinstructor_carmennogueronThe next thing to go into is that, yes, you’re going to feel like an intrusive foreigner, a lot of times, but I promise it just takes time to learn how to navigate within the spaces you’re in.  Go with your gut and if you feel like you’re are not supposed to be there, then you’re probably not, it’s okay to politely excuse yourself. The only sure way you know you’re not intruding, through my experience, is whether or not you’re invited to participate, and from experience locals are always excited for foreigners to participate. If you are comfortable with the situation go for it! I was so scared when the Banethi instructors invited us to try it with the lit fire poles, but once I did it I was so glad I did it was so cool. Especially since we had been given historical context of the sport and what it meant to the instructor and his students. It was great to experience this little part of the city’s history. Just learning about Varanasi and engaging with the people around you helps so much with your alienating feelings.

But remember, take every moment as it comes and as hard as is it can be sometimes you know that at the end it is an experience you look back at and are so grateful for. I know I am and it is thanks to the amazing support system I have not only at home but within the program. My peers have made this an incredible experience… Maria, Harini Ji, Sundar, Nitish, Pundit Ji… the list goes on. Thank you for welcoming into this little world that is Varanasi and guiding us through it all the program is nothing without you all.