"I am not the same having seen the sun shine on the other side of the world."
From the beginning of December to the end of January, I spent a blissful two months in a place like no other, one that you really have to see to believe. From east to west, north to south, every nook and cranny of this country is an overwhelming assault on all five senses. To some that may sound terrifying but for this girl, it sounded like a challenge.
I went from Kolkata to Surat to Mumbai on the duration of this trip. It's astonishing how different each city is from each other, from language to culture to fashion--each region has its own way of life when dissected, adding to the charm and fascination. I've already visited India a handful of times and have probably only seen one percent of it. There's a reason it's called a sub-continent! It's so tempting to try and pack it all in one visit but as India is still very much developing, you'll be seeing the inside of planes and trains more than you'd like to.
On my previous visits, I've fit as many as 3-4 cities in a two week time period, a quick in and out. And with it's one billion and growing population, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I've heard from many "India is great, but too much." I think we Americans are going about it all wrong. I stayed put in Kolkata primarily. Guess what? I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Many friends have stared in disbelief when I tell them. Kolkata is a major hub in India, making it one hell of a bustling city. Between the population and pollution, it's inconceivable amount of chaos should have sent me running the other direction. But I promise you, I woke up every morning to the chirping birds and the gentle sway of palm trees.
The Bengali's of Kolkata sure know how to slow down amidst the chaos. While New York City is all about the hustle and bustle, you generally don't see people standing around chatting. Instead they're trying to get to their destination as quickly as possible while making as little eye contact as possible. I know because I am that person. In Kolkata, people are unapologetic about leading daily activities in the public eye. I once watched a man who seemed to be taking a leisurely stroll...while brushing his teeth--as if that was the perfect opportunity to see what was going on in his neighborhood. They wake up slowly and start their days later than Americans. And after work, they don't simply rush home. That is the time for 'adda'--a Bengali word that has no exact English counterpart but can be loosely translated to "hanging out." You'll see everyone flock to tea stands after their shift, to meet with friends, catch up on the latest gossip or simply people-watch. Each person has their own spot and their own gang of friends. My cousin shares the stoop across from a local tea stand with a group of elderly men. They occupy the steps until around seven in the evening, by which time my cousin and her friends will have arrived and the gentlemen will be ready to head on home. It's an unspoken agreement and the perfect example of harmony in an otherwise hectic rush hour.
Indians are a passionate group of people, whether it be in religion or cricket (particularly if it's India vs. Pakistan) or Bollywood (kind of a religion in its own right). They will bend over backwards for any guest and their hospitality is unparalleled. I dare you to leave a house without being properly fed and taken care of. Food and family are everything. A lot of these values have been drilled into me by my own second generation upbringing. I think that's why it's near and dear to my heart--that a place so unlike my version of "normal" could feel like home.
Because, friends, home is what I'll be calling India in a little while. I'm buying a one-way ticket and following a life-long dream of exploring, living, blogging, loving and eating my way through India. This means that I don't have to fit anything into a time limit so the memories I make won't be a hazy recollection of a jam packed trip but instead be filled with encounters with locals at lazy tea shops or meandering through busy marketplaces. I'm in the process of making an epic India bucket list--it includes (but is not limited to) mountains in the Himachal Pradesh, a houseboat in Kerala, and elephants in Rajasthan. I still have about four months to go until this becomes reality, but I couldn't be more excited and optimistic. I hope you'll continue to follow along.