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The land of extremes: भारत गणराज्य

Frankly, I do not even know where to begin… I do know that opening an article with that statement doesn’t make it sound promising but bare with me! I will focus on the things that struck me the most.

Three words come to my mind when I think of India - colours, flavours and people (1.3 billion). Contrasts. Lots of contrasts. Opulence and poverty. Abundance and scarcity. The most delicious and rich in flavour food your mouth has ever experienced on one corner and yet people are starving on the other. Ridiculous honking and noise everywhere on the streets and the most beautiful silence on top of the most spectacular mountains. Opposites. All in one place. This land of extremes certainly makes you more appreciative. It insists in every area of life that you need to know what cold is to experience the comfort of warmth.

What struck my European eyes?

  • Neutral shoes - you buy a pair of shoes that fit either foot and they form to your foot shape once you put them on. Wow.

  • You would probably expect to see a random holy cow in the way here and there but you wouldn’t expect one to walk into a restaurant. All I can say is that the cow was kindly asked to leave.

  • Being a vegetarian is as normal as eating meat in Europe - since being a vegetarian for 7 years and having visited 18 countries in that time, Indian cuisine is heaven! Burning heaven to be fair but I don’t mind a bit of heat. Vegetarianism is very popular there and not one person questioned why I don’t eat meat and not one restaurant was short of veggie options. It was almost surreal.

  • People pray to the moon. How amazing! Well that depends on their religion but with Hinduism being the most prevalent one most people do pray to the lunar deity.

  • Men hold hands and no one thinks anything of, just like girls do in my neighbourhood.

  • Indian weddings - are crazy! Good kinda crazy. I think they should be called wedding festivals considering that on the last day there are approximately a thousand of people attending because… literally everyone is invited and those invited can invite others… They can last for days (between 3 to 7). Providing you are not an organiser (which I wasn’t) you will absolutely love it!

  • Trans communities, the so called Hijra, have been around for a long time. Since 2005, passports officially have third gender option. They are also invited to weddings to give blessings.

  • Skin bleaching is still a thing - how fucking sad! The beauty industry in India is making way too much money on this. It’s unbelievable. You desperately want to stop this and immediately ban all of those companies feeding people lies about what’s attractive and what isn’t! The issue is much more complex when you read into India’s history and see how the caste system fed and revolved around this. Also how much Brits (or as Indian people say “Britishers”) and their colonial regime contributed to this. Now, the Constitution of India prohibits discrimination based on caste but as with anything, it will take time before theory becomes practice. Generally, the lighter your skin, the richer you are and so you probably won’t a white/light skinned beggar on the street. I always look for answers in history which never fails to provide a background into current issues.

  • Indian hospitality has no boundaries. Having friends from all over the world you notice that hospitality customs differ and what’s seen as polite in one place might be seen as too intrusive in another, but as a total outsider I have to say that Indian hospitality is on another scale (thank you again Sriz and Loki!).

  • Everyone seems forthcoming but sales people certainly don’t waste their time! If like me you are a person who just wants to be left alone when shopping, you will have a hard time!

  • Hindu culture being the most prevalent shapes the general attitudes to life. You meet extremely spiritual people who are not necessarily religious.

  • The Indian highway code is like being in a Bollywood action movie. The more rules you follow the more likely you will cause an accident. Just honk! Or better don’t drive, let the locals do it.

  • A strong sense of family unity - I really admired that and I think it teaches you a lot about managing relationships in the long run as well as respecting and understanding intergenerational differences.

And I have only seen the North. I need to go again.

Wrona

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