For those who asked, a bit of descriptive prose about my India experience, round two.
For anyone who has never been here, the best way I can describe India is “in your face”. It is radically different from western life in so many ways. Sights, sounds, and smells come at you full force, non-stop. By the time your mind has processed whatever oddity you have just seen, something else is zooming nearer.
-A rikshaw carrying 16 people.
-An ancient Hindu temple lit with multi-colored neon lights.
-Chai wallas and roadside vendors of every imaginable variety.
-A drunk falling down crossing six lanes of traffic, being helped to safety, and immediately getting up to do it again.
-Donkey carts and horses jostling with motorbikes, taxis and vividly decorated long haul trucks.
-A dead rat belly up in the middle of the sidewalk.
-Cows sleeping on the edges of a busy highway.
-Rubbish of all types strewn on the streets, in the fields and in the rivers.
-Electrical wiring hanging in knotted bundles on the outside of buildings.
-Monkeys stealing fresh fruits and vegs from the dusty street where it’s being displayed for sale.
-Women in dirty ragged saris carrying babies beating on your car window at every stop.
India is a place you will either hate because of its unkempt nature, or a place you will learn to love because life thrives despite that nature. Some of my Indian friends have called it “organized chaos”. I don’t know about “organized”, but there is a sort of system, once you come to recognize it.
There is a beauty here that defies explanation.
India is ALIVE with music, prayer, joking, arguing, singing and dancing. It took me more than 3 and a half months on my first visit (in 2009-10) to come to terms with the experience. By the time I left, a month after that, I had come to think of it as home.
Yes, I still find it difficult and exhausting more often than not. Many things still make me sad and angry, but nothing shocks me, anymore. I have come to expect the unexpected and to not judge what is. It’s not my place to judge. It is my duty to accept that this chaos is a way of life and way of thinking that I, the foreigner, must learn to live with in order to get to India’s blessings.
I have called India my second home for 16 of the past 24 months and consider myself a much better person for it. Extreme challenges create the opportunity for immense growth. Without the negative aspects of India, I’d have never been led into the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his exile home on a ridge in the Himalayan foothills.
When I am in India, I long for nothing more than a hot bath, a juicy piece of steak, indoor heating, and a washer and dryer. At those times, I am an ugly spoiled American. Inevitably, within weeks of returning to my cozy life in the USA, I realize how much I miss the rituals and rhythm of India, and know I cannot stay away long.
Writing today, on the evening of New Years Eve 2011, from central Florida, I happily report that I recently began planning my 2012 return to the Tibetan exile communities of northern India & Nepal. And I can’t wait to face the insanity!
Tammy Winand Photography & Photojournalism
**PHOTOS COPYRIGHT PROTECTED by Tammy Winand Photography**
Everyday Exile Project