When I think of India, numerous images and emotions come to mind. Instantly, I picture the red and yellow colors of the festivals with thousands of lights flickering as women dance in their saris. I taste the flavors of curry and saffron in my favorite Indian dishes. I remember the instructions my friend gave me on how to make a mango lassi. I think of the Hindu temple down the street. I envision all of the stories from the books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched and collage them together, but there are pieces of the puzzle missing. I simply fill in the empty gaps with what the media has fed me: poverty, prostitution, colonization, religious unrest, pollution.
As with every culture, there are both wonderful and horrifying elements that construct the entire society. So many people think of India as a poor, dangerous country and leave it at that. I, no doubt, acknowledge this fact, but I argue that India has more to offer.
People ask me how I will handle the culture shock; I know they mean the poverty. To tell you the truth, I have no idea. I don’t know if guilt will hit me like a truck or if I’ll try to ignore the fact that people ask me for money.
I don’t know how I will react, but I do know how I hope to. My goal is to find a happy medium, to know both sides of the story: good and bad, the truth. That has always been a theme in my life– being in the middle. Some have diagnosed it as chronic indecisiveness, and maybe they’re right, but I think it is a positive problem to have. I try to know all there is to know about something before making a decision about how I feel towards it. I like knowing all the facts. I think I’ve learned to do this the hard way. You see, I’m terrible at judging character. Some people have that sixth sense where they can sense things about people or situations. Let me tell you, I do not have this sense. Due to this deficiency, I try to block out the assumptions I construct in my head and instead gather better information and judge accordingly.
So many times I have been wrong about people and experiences and cultures. I stereotype and judge too quickly. I take part of someone or something and mistake it for the whole. I take one person and assume that every one of that age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, social class, or whatever are exactly like them.
We are in the age of “tolerance,” yet so many people are single-minded. They only seek tolerance for their own agenda, which leads to extremism. Look at what happened with the white supremacists in Charlottesville. There is still racism and intolerance from many different groups today no matter what group you are part of. If all we do is hate, we miss the opportunity to learn from our enemies. You might find that you are more similar to them than you think. I am not saying that I condone any form of prejudice, but I do try to learn about people who are different than me, good or bad. I want to know why people are the way they are. I want to know the whole story. My trip to Ghana taught me that there is so much that I do not know.
Instead of hearing about the KKK or serial killers and immediately rejecting the notion that I could learn something from them, I try to read about them and understand their logic no matter how morally repugnant it might be. On the obverse, I also try to get to know amazing people of different races, religions, sexualities, etc. I think relationships and exposure increase understanding and empathy.
Pushing myself to befriend different people is how I decided to go to India. I got to know so many incredible friends that are from there. I was surrounded by their food, traditions, and customs. I loved all of it- the curry, the Holi celebrations, the clothes, etc. My friends showed me new glimpses of India.
Instead of assuming India is only poor and dangerous, I’m hoping to find a middle ground. My goal is to not exaggerate the disparities or romanticize the wonders. I want to find the happy medium, the whole story, the true India.
This is why I love to travel; I love finding the truth about people.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”
No book or movie or story can prepare me for what lies ahead, and I do not know what I will encounter or learn. I only journey to seek the truth and whatever else I find along the way.