India is a place which can instil a love hate relationship in anyone and it does in me.
Of all the travellers I meet they either rave and adore the whole experience of India. Or they detest it for all the bad (numerous as they are) misgivings which make this such a complex nation.
I first came to India in August 2001 and have lost count of my visits since. The first time I found a place overrun with push bikes, dirt on the streets, cows wandering freely, often sat in the road as traffic worked their way around them. Some tell me the cows are sacred, others say not. They stroll all day then are rounded up at night.
Dogs roam freely, some are owned, many are not.
As I return now many of these sights and smells are familiar. The push bike is something which has given way to motorbikes and cars, as in many respects, this rising economic power develops a prosperous middle class. The contrast of cities such as Bangalore to the country dwellings are immense.
Yet still I find the variation in wealth phenomenal and also humbling. As I’m driving through country roads and see single shack rooms or should I even call them shelters I understand the abject poverty many here still know.
I see the little, hut style shops. Far from a developed nation’s complex commercial facility.
Yet in all this I see a developing nation growing at an outstanding pace. Infrastructure changes are noticeable on each visit I make. As I write this I am appreciating the benefit of the new domestic terminal at Chennai Airport. A far cry from the shambles and overcrowded mess of its predecessor. Here’s hoping for a quick change in the international terminal too.
I fly to Madurai which a few years ago transformed a shambolic collection of tiles into a modern airport facility.
Tarmac roads are springing up everywhere. Potholes still appear, bridges remain unfinished but a north to south national road has been completed. Such an age old concept for a Western nation is finally becoming a reality and opening up this immensely populous nation to a life of efficient commerce and true development.
Conglomerates such as the mighty Tata are, like the Chinese, buying up British and Western industry. Their wealth and potential knows no bounds.
Some things are however slow to change. Unacceptable pollution levels abound, corruption is rife (beyond belief). I fear the approach of any stranger attempting to be friendly, for experience develops scepticism in me that their motives may not be as they seem.
Global headlines highlight the periodic occasion of gang rape. Then there is what for us is an unbelievable concept of an “Honour Killing”. Yes, the family name is precious but it is not worth taking a life. More especially your own flesh and blood which you raised. Disown them, cut them out of your inheritance but please don’t enforce such violent and evil punishment for one who loved another or had the bravery to think and feel for themselves. India, we in the west will never understand your behaviour in this. Our standards differ from yours.
Arranged marriages have their values for Asian cultures. Yet in Britain it is against the law to force someone to marry against their will. Even more if they are under age.
Then there is the caste system, such a legacy of inequality. Now thankfully outlawed yet still present in the mindset of a generation.
India is a nation with a wealth of intellectuals. The UK is full of medical practitioners of Indian origin. It takes some brains to become a doctor.
Yet sometimes this wealth of intellect seems lacking or maybe applied differently amongst others. As a Brit I’ll never understand how during a long period of British rule the locals still can’t grasp the concept of forming a queue. Is this an anti-British legacy I wonder.
The love hate relationship with India stretches to an appreciation of the passion of the people.
Whilst I am far from a fan of the sport, the Indian fervour for cricket knows no bounds. The wealth the sport generates in this country far exceeds that of any western nation. The set up of the IPL has the finances to draw in the world’s very best for a quick pay day.
Bollywood far exceeds the production volume and the income of Hollywood. I marvel at the singing, choreographed dancing, wondrous costumes and beautiful girls. Even still I couldn’t feast all day on these. (Saying that I’m not a big fan of western musical productions either.)
India’s love hate relationship with politics is a troubled one. The Gandhi legacy lives on and is prevalent in circles of power. Yet a history of bloody differences makes any poll one of heightened security.
Once you are within respected and the expected company of the Indians the experience can be overwhelmingly pleasant. Service is cordial, over bearing at times. Some are just too happy to help.
On first arrival there is always initial confusion with the body language. Heads move almost constantly from side to side. A shake of the head is a frequent expression for many things, often “yes” but rarely “no”. This takes time to get used to, believe me.
Then the general manners are far from acceptable to someone from the UK. Loud snorting, throat clearing, spitting, openly nose picking without embarrassment. Being in a confined space reminds me that I need to work more on my tolerance.
The majesty of Delhi and Agra is inspiring. If the Taj Mahal is not on your bucket list, why not? Yet such amazing wonders are hampered by an intensity of begging it makes free movement impossible. Your car driver sits patiently as the vehicle is surrounded front to back, left to right by small children with hands outstretched. Yes there is abject poverty amongst many (this really humbles me beyond words) yet begging is condemned. It also makes a visitor highly uncomfortable when it is so intensely aggressive. Little wonder the Government advises not to give to them. If you do then you’ll be swarmed with many more. Stick to official charities is my advice.
The love hate relationship with India then comes to a culinary end. Famous in the UK as a national dish, the India curry is such a different experience in its homeland. Spices and flavours can be intense. Even asking for a very mild dish challenges my tolerance for heat.
Hygiene on food is always a suspicion. Falling ill abroad is never pleasant, no matter where you are. Yet somehow that trip in August 2001 punished me for following all the official guidance. Only eating in a 5 star hotel and eating cooked food subjected me to a week of immense and sudden whilst always excruciating, stomach cramps.
There is also the displeasure of that despicable taste that hits my tongue as I take my anti-malaria tablets for each trip to this fascinating land.
So India, the land of so much diversity, mystery and massive population you continue to intrigue me. Do I love you? Do I hate you? I honestly don’t know. My emotions for you change with every visit. I think I start to love you a little bit more with every visit. For now my love hate relationship with India continues.
(Apologies on the quality of some of the pictures. These were taken with a compact camera whilst in a moving vehicle.)