Written by Alicia Crone, (Texas Christian University) Student Correspondent UW in India: Delhi Intensive Language Summer 2018
Adab everyone! My name is Alicia Crone, and I am a rising sophomore at Texas Christian University from Chicago, Illinois. I’m majoring in International Relations and minoring in Asian Studies and French, and am proud to be a cadet in Air Force ROTC, through which I earned a scholarship to study beginning Urdu here in India for 2 months, hence the respectful Urdu greeting I began with. I can’t wait for you all to walk a little bit of my journey with me through reading this.
I am living in India. And I live in India. Let me explain…
India is pure sensation. Life laid bare for all to see. Unadulterated sight, sound, smell, texture, taste, and interaction. And oh, is it glorious. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “live in the moment”. For some it’s a new-age saying, for some it’s an impossible task, and for some it is a kind of state of enlightenment that one only rarely reaches. In America, be it Chicago or Fort Worth, I find it difficult to live in the moment. I do yoga, I meditate, I get out of my comfort zone. But
I still find myself worrying about the future and planning my every move. In India, I am living in the moment all the time. Everything is rich and interesting and new and historical and dangerous and sad and beautiful and and and. There are so many things here that demand your attention, and eluding them is simply not an option.
First, you are always conscious of the sounds. At the moment in my hotel, the music from the rooftop bar is thumping, and melodic (really, Indian truck horns are almost whimsical in their sound) horns are beeping their annoyance from the still-bustling street below. As you stroll through monuments and bazaars, shop-owners and peddlers and fruit-sellers proclaim the price and quality of their goods, and call you by name: “Yes madam”, “Hello sister”, “What country?”, “Please welcome here”, “We have been waiting for you!”
Intermixed with the cacophony of human noise, honking, and animal noise, it is quite overwhelming. You can walk with your headphones in all you want, but you’ll still (thankfully) hear it when the auto barreling up behind you honks its horn at the last second to remind you not to stray into its path. Unsurprisingly, you can get fairly used to it – but you’ll still jump when you hear a haunting peacock’s cry or when an ambitious street salesman sneaks up on you.
Then, you’ll try to discern the different smells in the air. Or you’ll cover your nose and mouth. Especially in Delhi, the air is extremely polluted (most polluted city in the world, actually) and sandstorms from the desert are frequent. Bad infrastructure, street food, spices, and animals all further contribute to a decidedly interesting aroma. But everyone in India breathes the same air – rich or poor, lower caste or Brahmin, Hindu or Muslim or Parsi or Sikh or Jain or Christian. You can’t escape it, or the heat and humidity it contains during the summer monsoon. Oftentimes it smells like flowers, or something delicious. We all take the good with the bad here.
Mostly, you’ll be awestruck or visually accosted by the variety of sights. A good word to describe India is detailed, and a keen observer in the back of an uber will be able to notice things ranging from the unmistakable camel pulling a cart on the left to the group of boys playing cricket on the right and the motorcycle carrying 4 men weaving through tuk-tuks, buses, and trucks alike straight ahead. Unless you’re asleep, you’ll notice when the man peddling coconut meat or the children offering flowers and balloons knock persistently at the window before moving on.
On the other hand, you won’t be able to look away from the poverty that inevitably enters your line of sight. No one forgets the hungry eyes of hungrier street kids, nor the visuals of people digging for trash in landfills between skyscrapers. It’s hard to unsee open defecation and babies in slums along railway tracks. You can’t withdraw, you can’t pretend you’re somewhere or someone else. You’re forced to process it.
It’s also hard to process the contrasting majesty of every monument, ruin, fort, and palace we enter. Ancient India was the land of lavish extravagance like the world has never seen, and it shows. Each place is somehow exponentially more jaw-dropping than the next; there are scores of buildings decorated with real gold, silver, and gemstones and covered in hand-worked marble and mirrors. Everything is photogenic and time-intensive and costly and done by hand hundreds or thousands of years ago for rulers we’ve studied, and even ceremonial rulers still living. You’re definitely not thinking of home or studying or whatever you’re stressed about when you’re gazing upon one of these architectural masterpieces. Attached to this post are a few photos – look and see for yourself.
Almost every morning, I awake to my alarm from a deep sleep, forgetting where I am in the suddenness. And then they come – the sensations. The feel of the ultra-thin 110 degree heat-style blanket on my skin, the sound of tinny, laughable horns 3 stories below, the smell of the jasmine flowers draped over my headboard, my view of the marble-and-gold flooring in my home in South Delhi. And then I know – I’m in India. And I’m in the moment.
To read more from Alicia, see her personal blog at aliciaindia2018.tumblr.com