Why is India loved or hated?
It took me 7 years to decide to travel to India.
The reason for this long wait is simple. From what I was told, or what I read, it did not represent the destination that was right for me .
His “tantitude” in particular terrified me. I suffer from panic attacks when compressed in the crowd and that I have stopped taking the subways at rush hour or I am unable to go to concerts or rallies in the squares, in my head I had assigned India the primacy of the country that I would never managed to cope.
Poverty, then, perhaps scared me even more than the crowd. Sometimes it’s easier to close your eyes and pretend that something doesn’t exist to feel like you have a clear conscience.
Or at least that’s what I believed and that’s what I did for a long time. Some things I preferred not to see. And in ignorance, sometimes, we live better.
I put off going to India for months, which then became years, to come. I push away the possibility of being able to travel there one day, forgetting it.
Meanwhile, years of travel separate us from the subcontinent which falls completely into oblivion.
I’m going to Africa instead.
Precisely in Africa it happens that I come face to face with my fears, those that I believed to be exquisitely Indian , or those that until that moment I had voluntarily kept well away from myself: crowds, poverty, too much of everything that I cannot bear or digest. At least for the first two weeks.
I had my first Indian experience in Addis Ababa , and I did it without knowing exactly what would happen. But now I was there and I couldn’t go back, and yet I wanted to escape.
So in Addis Ababa, exactly in October 2015, the possibility began to hover in my head that perhaps India could be, unlike what I had believed until then, a country of interest to me. What could possibly be worse than what I saw and experienced the day I set foot in Addis?
From the total refusal, which lasted 5 years, it took me another 2 to decide to come, and mindful of the impact with the
Ethiopia I knew that I should only make the decision when I was totally convinced. I knew very well that a trip to India is not one to be taken lightly.
6 years later….
Since 25 December 2016 I have been in this huge Asian country which welcomes me amidst thick fog and unexpected cold.
I feel at ease and I am happy to understand that what I thought would have contributed to making this trip a sort of nightmare or survival journey instead ended up becoming a pleasant and colourful, noisy and chaotic journey.
It is said of India that you hate it, or that you love it, or, what is quite common, that you hate it (usually while you are here) and then love it (when you leave) .
Not being able to feel hatred, given my rather low standards and not many expectations, I asked myself what this statement could derive from.
I opened my eyes and began to think like a person who has never really walked through mountains of rubbish or surrounded by people asking for money, who has never had to face such a rigid, if sometimes incomprehensible, culture.
There are reasons to hate her, but there are also reasons to love her.
Certainly, this country does not leave one indifferent, however it does arouse some feelings. We like it. Or not.
India is huge and thinking of summarizing it in this post is pretentious. Suffice it to say that once you leave the north, where other religions are more widespread, the animals on the streets decrease significantly, as does the dirt.
I therefore limit myself to talking about my experience, of about 3 months , on a broad spectrum without wanting to summarize a country as large as it is complex but I feel obliged to anticipate that not all of India is tired as instead, most likely, it does its part central, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh just to be clear, which in some way represent the most touristic India. I absolutely cannot say that what is mentioned in the I HATE YOU section can extend to every state in the country, which, by the way, I don’t know.
INDIA, I HATE YOU!
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a country as dirty as India. Everything is dirty, including me , despite frequent showers and laundry.
But let’s start with the ubiquitous garbage, which is on every corner, as often as there are: cows, wild boars, stray dogs. They are everywhere and slowly navigate the traffic that impassively characterizes all cities (large and not so large).
Things get worse when animals roam the streets and eat that same dirt , cows and pigs rummaging through piles of rubbish, smell of urine, it is not uncommon to spot children or adults engaged in acts of defecation on the roadside or along the drains in the city centre. You will get used to it, and even your sense of smell will then make unbearable odors almost acceptable.
Obviously in a country where almost 2 billion inhabitants live together and where motorbikes and tuk tuks don’t have mirrors, because they would have a short life anyway, the horn is THE TOOL of communication on the busiest roads on earth.
The trucks invite you to honk it before overtaking with a clear message that leaves no room for misunderstanding: HORN PLEASE (sound the horn please).
Once I even saw a scooter where, when the ignition key was turned, the horn started immediately, from a standstill.
It is therefore used to warn cars/tuktuks/rickshaws/cars/cows and various animals that are still in the middle of the road. They have their reason for existing and although I accepted it willingly the first month, by the second, despite recognizing its usefulness , the noise alone agitated me.
The positive note is that around 10pm the cities become quieter. Unless there is some wedding and then at that time the celebrations with a cart with DJ and loud music goes around the streets of the city until late at night.
The tuk tuk drivers and those inflated fares
In India everything is negotiated, but if there is an art that needs to be honed then it is that of patience first, of bargaining with tuk-tuk drivers second.
If a ride costs 70 rupees they will most likely ask for 150 or even 250.
If a shared tuk tuk costs 10, the tourist pays at least 20.
Now, this is not about exploiting a country that already has its problems and where it is difficult move forward, but it’s about paying the right price for a service that, in fact, has that price. It’s not about wanting to pay less than the right amount.
I have never complained about those 30 rupees more , but I have complained about those 200, or even 500 rupees asked more than I should have paid (and on which we had agreed. Always remember to agree before getting on the tuk -tuk ).
So this is how it works. You arrive in a place, bus and train stations represent the epic moments, you will be surrounded by dozens of people, there are those waiting for you at the carriages and will follow you to the square, making you become their tacit personal property, and will tell you how much it costs the tuk tuk.
Sometimes even before you know where you have to go.
How to overcome this, which happens especially when you arrive in a new place? Simply ask the reserved hotel (now in India you can reserve any type of accommodation online) how much you have to pay at most, and propose your price, which will almost certainly be at least half of what will be asked. If not accepted, you get up and leave. 3, 2 1. You are now on that tuk tuk towards your destination.
They are practically everywhere, in some cities for example Agra and Varanasi, they will pester you. “Boat? Boat?” or “tuk-tuk tuk-tuk” or “look at the silver shop” and then there is the clothes shop (which in the end are always the same) and so on.
How to avoid these unpleasant annoyances? By doing something that at first seems like a bad thing to do but that works, guaranteed. Don’t answer and keep going .
The total absence of privacy
Maybe it’s because there are two million people, maybe it’s because they’re used to living together and with noise, but what’s missing in India is the total absence of privacy , the eyes that investigate with an embarrassing curiosity, sometimes I thought insistent malice.
People surround you looking but without saying a word, eyes on you without understanding the meaning , noise regardless of the time.
I am also referring to those who work in hotels or Indian clients who, being used to noise, do not consider it a lack of kindness to make noise at 4 in the morning while preparing to go on a pilgrimage. In the long run this was probably what drained me of energy.
The queues, these strangers!
I have something about the English, the love for the ranks and the respect for them . I love them, I really do. Queuing represents an act of great respect and I have always suffered, even at the post office or when waiting for buses or trains (in Italy), when these are not respected. I feel cheated.
Friends, in India one becomes a warrior and fights to maintain one’s place. These don’t exist, we elbow each other, we push past each other, we sneak in to get a seat.
Do you know the Ryanair queue at Catania airport when everyone starts in line, just a few actually, and then when the gate opens they arrive from the right and left? In India it will be worse , with the aggravating circumstance that even if you call the person back the response will be a great laugh, which obviously won’t help patience.
INDIA, I LOVE YOU!
The people and the hospitality
There were many prejudices with which I approached India, I had been informed about what to do and what not to do and I knew very well that basically I had to work a lot on my way of approaching people. No more outbursts of affection but calm kindness, no more physical contact but respectful distance .
However, it didn’t take me long to create a surprising network of affections in almost every place I went. Even the much hated tuk tuk drivers have become friends , to the point of deciding to stay longer in the place to enjoy their company rather than for the place itself (in the photo my dear friends Sunil and Nandi who allowed me to drive their tuk tuk and with whom we gave free rides to anyone who needed them for an afternoon).
It wasn’t just about affection, but if it hadn’t been for this constellation of beautiful souls that fate wanted me to cross paths with, I probably would know even less about India today than I do, or maybe I would have left 30 days after my arrival. . These people opened their doors to me, cuddled me and fed me, taking care of me as if I were family .
They dressed me in beautiful Sarees , adorned and embellished me. They made sure that a Ganesh figurine always came with me and protected me.
Probably India, the one I like, is precisely due to these splendid people who have won my trust, despite my initial distrust, showing me even today, thousands of kilometers away, that there is always a thought for me.
There is something for everyone
I took the size of the country very lightly. I knew I wouldn’t have the chance to travel the entire country in 3 months but I believed I could do a lot of it without too many hassles. Neither of my two hypotheses turned out to be true.
A country that is a continent immediately emerged, in terms of size as well as variety of cultures and states.
India truly has something to offer for everyone and it would be a shame to associate it with just Rajasthan or just Goa or just the Himalayas .
India is all this . India is the mess that I hated so much, and the dirt is epic, but it can also be immaculate nature, Kerala , or tribal areas (Chattisgard) . It can be snow-capped peaks and nature trails but also parties and psychedelic music. He knows how to be spiritual and venial. Fast yet incredibly slow.
I was in Chitrakoot when a couple asked me if I wanted to go to the temple with them, a little bored and with not much to do I agreed to accompany them, without knowing where I was going and above all without knowing that the visit to the temple also included a walk around the mountain, 6km, as a sign of devotion.
Considering that we were walking briskly and others were crawling on the ground, I took this moment with positivity.
At the end of the walk interspersed with some chai in one of the many cafés along the route, music calls my attention.
Percussion and singing worthy of a Buddha Bar in metropolitan and trendy destinations. Instead I find myself in a remote village and inside a Hindu temple where the gods are venerated. And yes, this really connects with any God possible and imaginable. Thanks India!
India is really crazy!
India is crazy, Indians are crazy. A country that destabilizes and makes you question all certainties, tests your nerves, your sense of smell, your sight and even your patience .
But the diversity of this subcontinent cannot disappoint, nor leave us indifferent.
It offers everything for everyone, tropical islands, lush and lush coastline, spirituality and cutting-edge contemporary world. It is a country that is growing at the speed of light where ancestral traditions meet contemporary needs.
It is perhaps not for everyone, it does not necessarily make you fall in love, but it is certainly one of those destinations to experience and travel at least once in your life.
Did I hate her? Did I love her? Or both?
I started writing this post a few days after my arrival. Writing down everything that struck me, I couldn’t find anything that could make me hate this country.
I began to write down the pros, which were easier especially in the first month, investigating with almost obsessive curiosity the cons (which then all arrived together in a particular moment of great tiredness).
As time passed, however, those cons that I was initially looking for arrived. I still don’t know if it’s because it contrasts with my culture, or because it’s really annoying.
I haven’t fallen in love with India , yet it has all the potential to be an excellent travel destination.
After 3 months of trying and all the good intentions to change my mind, unfortunately this did not happen. And I can only correlate the motivation to the feeling of having collided with a culture that was too complex and, perhaps, too much in general .
Too much noise, too many people, too much dirt, too much mess, too much haggling, too much care in everything I did or said. A sort of limit, probably self-imposed, to my freedom which, in respect of such deep-rooted traditions, it is right that I should adopt anyway.
So, did I love her or hate her?
India arrived at a crucial moment in my life, offering me food for thought on the meaning of life and a key to being able to think about it differently than I had before.
The encounters I had enlightened me in my least happy moments, and there were some, and in a sudden way. It gave me answers to questions I’ve had for a long time. Therefore I am very grateful to you . She offered me a new way of thinking that I like and that I have decided I want to deepen, adapt to myself and make mine.
Yet sometimes I still dream about the noise of the tuk tuks, if you could say writing them NIGHTMARE!
I stopped eating spicy as soon as it flew away. The dirt seems almost impossible to believe.
But those lessons that arrived in an almost divine way occupy a few minutes of my day every day, sweetened, I believe, by the messages of affection from all those people who crossed my path along the way and towards whom I felt deeply ungrateful.
In the end, as my friend Gennnaro says, India gives you what you are looking for when you least expect it .
In fact, when I stopped investigating, those answers all came at once. Maybe I don’t love her. I definitely don’t hate her. Without a shadow of a doubt I am grateful to her and I can say that she came exactly when I needed her and her wisdom.
Could this be the meaning of this intricate and ancient country?
Shantaram – 1000 pages of book, which if read on Kindle is not scary before starting. I admit that the second half becomes a little too imaginative and rambling, but what I liked about this read is the ability to also talk about the ugliness of India and manage to make you love them. A pleasant introduction to this country in a novel that is difficult to leave aside.
The smell of India – In 1961, in the company of Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante, Pasolini went to India for the first time. The emotions and sensations he felt were so intense that they pushed him to write these pages, a travel diary that has become a cult book. The enchantment of a bewitching land and the horror of the existence one leads there are brought back to us by his curiosity, sensitive to social conditions, but above all by the originality of his vision.
The White Tiger – A book that tells the story of contemporary India which is not only made up of spirituality but can be cynical and material. A book that helps to suspend judgement, perhaps understand that in the end trying to understand India and Indians is a losing battle because they can do both.