India Chooses You

The trash that lines the sides of the make-shift roads along with what can only be described as “scattered human debris” is almost unnoticeable when you’re caught up with the concentrated panning of your vision, left to right and back again. You search desperately for some sort of landmark, sign, or, in a perfect world, a person with a loudspeaker commanding you to enthusiastically “turn here.”

The heat is brutal in Mumbai. The heat’s pretty brutal in all of India. But then, that’s a huge generalization, almost as expansive in generality as this country and not mildly as diverse. But that’s obvious. So let’s settle for: The heat’s brutal in Mumbai. Your cotton clad body sticks to the sun like yellow. Anyway, it’s that close. And all you want to do is peel yourself from it. Quickly. Like a swift plaster removal. But you can’t. Because that would imply lowering yourself to the degradation of a first world misfit and hailing a cab. With air conditioning. Even if it is just for the sake of being able to tell the difference between attire and epidermis. This doesn’t seem reason enough. You walk.

Colonialism seeps through the soil of this city like a welcome worm. Pesty. But accommodated. But you don’t need a magnifying glass to observe the stark contrast of the monumental British architecture and the admirable, yet spewed up remains of Kolkata’s Untouchables. Perching and prowling languidly on the ground below. So black. So white. And then, enter the Indian banker, lawyer, all round business man, in their three piece suits and “made in china” belt buckles. Who stop to chat in English on the sides of the road while they dish out dirty Rupee’s to the chai-walla’s. So grey.

India leaves little room for in-betweens. No middle class. No maybe. And just like that, you either loathe it or love it. To hate it is easy. You choose it. Like anything else. You choose absolute repulsion. But even choices are difficult, if only consequentially. To love it is far easier. All that’s required is the slight dumbing down of the senses, (in some cases, you may have to dumb these down to a very large degree), an exaggerated sense of objectivity, (fake it till you make it), and an opening up of the self to such an extent that you seek less to understand and more to just accept (in a very Mahatma Ghandi sense, naturally). Which reminds me of something he said: happiness is when your thoughts, actions and words are all the same thing but I’m paraphrasing and could be wrong.

If you look carefully, you will notice the poetry of the city sweeping through the air. An energy that shuffles with a rhythm that matches the pace of your stride, totally malleable. You can test it by slowing down and picking up, it stays with you and the only certainty about it is that it’s always there. It will always find you. And even when the tempo changes, the timbre of it all never does. The texture remains thick and dense and sometimes even subtle, all at the same time. So impenetrable and undeniably present in fact that while you study the vendors on some side arcade of a bustling street you feel like if you stretch your arms out and keep your hands open long enough you might just be able to catch some of it in your palm and let it swim there a while. So you try. Just like that, and in the midst of your pseudo-meditation you’re pushed over by the drone of a stampeding crowd. Always a stampeding crowd. Groups, going somewhere, always.

As you steady your stance against the murky, stained glass of a corner store that sells dodgy electronics, fire-crackers, the odd cell phone charger (and possibly doll-house sized tubs of some or other menthol ointment), you notice the sari-clad woman sitting between the angle of your feet and displaced balance. Humming. Back and forth. Just humming. You straighten up and find your way forward in the momentum of some more stampeding.

This city is your iPod. With sounds that bellow from every corner. They all collect as a complete composition in the acoustic hollow of your virgin eardrums, the safety net of notes, the pitch collector of people, places and plants, rodents and things. Just things. Everywhere, things. The comfort of not having to wear earphones is twofold: The deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for functioning eardrums which have dodged the abuse of a pocket-sized sound system that’s turned up unhealthily loudly to drown out the outside sound, and the sheer comfort of knowing that you wont be run over by raging tuc-tuc driver because you didn’t hear his horn and incessant shouting.

Between the beeps and buzzes that rush in frequently, you skirt the outer borders of the hustle and bustle – all in the name of having the experience, any experience. And then all at once, while cooling down with a Mountain Dew, dirt clouding below at your feet, you are lost. You came here as a traveler of this land, in all your nomadic glory and now, without a street map or road sign in sight, with all the colors of this vibrant city bleeding into one, you are lost in the epitome of that very idea. Your wandering aimlessly has turned you into an aimless wanderer. With no recollection of how to get back “to there.”

You go with your gut. You follow the general direction of your mind’s-eye. Your mental cartographer. And head in the direction of your instinctive true north. “Whatever the hell that is,” you wonder. You’re not too perplexed. Still caught up in the momentary lapse of utter trust in the illusion of being so independent that you don’t have to ask for directions. Like all those times you misplaced something, left it behind somewhere, caught up in the moment of “it just happened,” and so sure that you would find it again by yourself somehow.

And while you run through the mental catalog of these all too often incidences you find yourself at a crossroads. Literally. It’s like a painting. A bad one. Everything about the visual impact is cliché in it’s purest form. You’re shaken, gratefully, out of the kitsch that’s flirting with your cornea by a sudden hum. It’s duller than it seems. But the murmer’s comfort screams at you.

She’s old and disheveled. If you had enough time you would listen to the stories of all the crevices on her face. Sure that they would enlighten you with the purity of something real and stir you out of the comfort of your sheltered life. But there isn’t enough time. You could begin it, but the cadence would be left incomplete. Because you know that each narrative is not as shallow as your own and there would not be enough time left to continue.

The people still flood in and out of the arcade you’ve found your way back to. And with the humiliation of dropping ten Rupee’s into the ribbed and worn out silk that fashions her sari and rests in her lap, you sigh your conclusion. There is no grey. No love. No hate. It doesn’t matter. India chooses you. TC mark

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  • Wally_y27

    I leave mumbai tonight to fly back home to the philippines. Thank you for writing this piece and basically sunmarizing everything I have felt and experienced in this country. Its been very humbling.

  • CarsonL

    I visited India for about a month in the winter and this was so beautifully written than it took me back to the country I fell in love with. I really appreciate it and also you’re a fucking great writer. 

  • JEReich

    This piece is reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s “Arcade Project”.  Fulfilling and vivid.  

  • Bro

    Incredible.  Thank you.

  • Molly

    When I left India I hated it. I hated it from month three to month 10, then for five months afterwards. I don’t anymore because it takes too much energy.

  • Richardbobby89

    What? 

  • http://twitter.com/joshuanassiri Joshua

    You’re right about either loving or hating it. India is overwhelming for better of worse. 

  • cocola chulisnaqui

    You misspelled “Gandhi.” (sorry, I’m gonna be *that* asshole.) But it was overall well written. I studied abroad there about 3 years ago, and certainly saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. Somehow I managed to fall in love with it anyways. :)

  • Guest

    the amazing thing about india – and i can say this after living here for almost a year – is that after a while, the novelty of all of this wears off and the cogs in india’s works begin to make complete sense.

    and correction: india has an INCREDIBLY rapidly growing middle class.

  • Gimme Novocaine

    I don’t agree completely with this article. But it is well-written

  • Anonymous

    i am an indian… and lived in Mumbai for a year… and i can still identify with this!! to anyone outside of Mumbai, it feels like this… it’s vast, it’s huge, it’s all encompassing… blah blah…. but it jealously guards it’s individuality!!! and most of the time, you love it and hate it simultaneously… the congruence of love and hate, idolization and berating the city! :)

     

  • guest

    applause for another exotic India piece. This was such an annoying piece of writing that I had to force myself to get to the end. If you must bring up things closely associated with India, please get them right: Gandhi not Ghandi, not ‘no middle class’ but actually ‘the middle class is India’s fastest growing population’.

    Well, you are writing to cater to a western audience so I guess it would make sense to write this in a ‘look! such a different world! I’m going to say things no one has ever said before: India is a land of contrasts!’

    Yawn.

    • Nishant

      I agree.

  • guest

    I couldn’t finish this piece. I spent a month in the south of India of that time my first day was spent in Mumbai. I don’t think you either love or hate India, most people I have talked have a love/hate relationship with the country. Its hard to live there not matter what class (there is a large middle class as others have pointed out) so naturally its hard to be a tourist there. I think you should critically reflect on this piece and look at some of the assumptions you made when writing this and your experience of the incredible country. I definitely agree that you accept everything when your there simply because you have to. But calling the rubbish ‘human debris’ I don’t agree with that…wait till you actually watch a dead girl be discovered at a train station,whoever she was she shouldn’t be associated with rubbish.

  • Tyler Wilbourne

    There exists no reason to hate this sort of florid narrative about India; everyone and their mother has these well-entrenched “Ideas” about India and none-and-all of them come close. The truth is that the truth is loose, and this is nowhere more true than in India. A land of burgeoning bourgeoisie, of crippling poverty, of this supposed accelerated middle class… Sat sri akal, and there is no truth greater than the contradictions — the nakedness — of India. Leave your judgements aside as you bask or stew in the confluence of everything that once was and all that will soon come to be. There is no India… that is, there is nothing to speak of but a fullness of humanity so very crudely geographized by those of us who can only ever understand in awe or in pain or in languished narrative a place which merely exists. To our profound, intoxicating confusion. 

    • Nishant

      I like your comment FAR MORE than this post. Yes!

  • Yashley Trivedi

    I understand that you’re catering to a global readership but it wouldn’t hurt to get some of the facts right ( denying the existence of the thriving middle class,for instance, is very uncool).

    That being said, your style is delightfully vivid! I’ve lived in India all my life & it was such a surprise to find an article about my homeland on TC :)

    • kook

      The middle class bit really got me. Wtf? There is no middle class? That’s completely unfounded. I’ve grown up here and now live in the US and that’s far from the truth. 

  • beatrice

    The fact is that not everybody accepts India’s invitation of choosing you. Basically, you either accept and love India for what it is or loathe every morsel of it. In this case, on thought catalog where a vast majority of the readers are westerners, it’s pretty darn easy for them to be sensationalized by India. But hurhurhur not in the same case for the chinese and vice versa. So no, India many a times does not choose you.

    I personally love India and its many little nuances that just resound with corruption. However, I do believe that the future of India is on tenterhooks. The westerners believe that in 2050 India is gonna be the epicenter of our economy, perhaps indians but god no, not india.  

  • Nishant

    I’m sorry, but this is very poorly written. Clearly, you chose made-up grammatical rules and vague sounding sentences instead of articulating what you want to say.

    And please, could you explain what you mean by “dumbing down of the senses”? If anything, India demands that you feel and experience with all your senses open to the chaos around you.

    • Danaynay

      The thing about creative writing is that it’s creative.

      • Nishant

        Okay. I agree. Will concede that point. The thing about creativity is, it also needs to good. In my opinion, this wasn’t. This seemed a concentrated effort to avoid describing things vividly. I could be wrong.

        Either way, “dumbing down of the senses”? DO NOT AGREE.

    • Shiv

      As long as you’re being the self-designated grammar Nazi, you forgot to hyphenate “vague-sounding.” 

      The piece is beautifully written. You should listen to what foreigners have to say instead of being so typically over-sensitive about anything negative said about India.  It’s like you all work for GOI Ministry of Tourism the way you get on your high horses and flog them regardless of whether it is warranted.  You need to understand that for foreigners, India is the most exotic place in the world, reality turned upside down. Your the one with his senses closed, mainly common sense.

      • Nishant

        I’m sorry I don’t agree. I am abroad right now, and I hear stories from European friends visiting India all the time. A lot of them are overwhelmed and unable to appreciate India, and some find it an amazing place. I have heard all kinds of experiences, from being robbed, to being harassed, to being awe-struck. My reaction has nothing against the content of this article or the feelings of the writer, as you seem to interpret. My issue was with the way he had written it.

        That’s all. I’m going to let this go now.

      • Anonymous

        *You’re

  • jp

    I think your “senses” are “dumbed down” enough already, considering you cannot open yourself up and fully experience a place different to what you’re used to with an open mind and heart and by stepping out of your comfort zone.
    Reading this makes me feel you are ignorant. I found nothing deep or profound or sensitive in this article. To me, content matters more than stylishly spinning a few sentences.
    And yes, I am an Indian and live here, and I have lived in other “first world” countries too. And I do not agree.

    • Nishant

      Amen.

  • Danaynay

    I really enjoyed this piece – beautiful descriptions. 

  • http://twitter.com/syst3m_32 Navjot Dhillon

    Next time do visit Punjab, I’d love to read your views :) 

  • CA

    Dear xyz,
    I choose to give you only as much respect as you gave to my beautiful country. Its pointless to argue with you dear sir because your narrow-mindedness clearly proves to me that you’re one of the many people who concentrate on little things than the over arching ideologies. Yes, its crowded, hot, poverty-struck, corrupted, basically in a bad shape but remember that its not these details of economic, political or social structure that matters, its the belief of progression that matters. Clearly, as I said, little things seem to matter to you, its easy to sit in front of your computer and post a value judgment on what you “saw” but a lot tougher to work as hard as an Indian and make a difference. We may have a lot lesser than the first world but its honestly, enough for us to be happy, enough to inspire us, enough for us to take pride in and of course its a lot more than what many other nations have. And oh, most importantly, leave all this alone, guess what? India did NOT choose you! Your pocket tried hard to choose India though. ;) 
    Happy rejection dear sir.

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  • http://gravatar.com/danielmcbane Daniel McBane

    To me, Mumbai was actually my least favorite place in all of India–it epitomizes all that is wrong with the country and almost seems to hide all that is good from us. I felt the good things about India were much more apparent everywhere else I went in the country.

  • http://breathedreamgo.com/2013/08/tale-two-countries-india/ A Tale of Two Countries: 5 Reasons I Love IndiaBreathedreamgo

    […] India leaves little room for in-betweens. No middle class. No maybe. And just like that, you either loathe it or love it. To hate it is easy. You choose it. Like anything else. You choose absolute repulsion. But even choices are difficult, if only consequentially. To love it is far easier. All that’s required is the slight dumbing down of the senses, (in some cases, you may have to dumb these down to a very large degree), an exaggerated sense of objectivity, (fake it till you make it), and an opening up of the self to such an extent that you seek less to understand and more to just accept (in a very Mahatma Ghandi sense, naturally). India Chooses You […]

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