Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why India Beth?

I find myself having to explain and justify this trip on a fairly regular basis. When someone asks me why I want to go to India, my knee jerk response is to ask them why they don't want to go. I had similar reactions when I traveled to Beijing in 2007 (although my answer then was easier, "for a conference") and again to Shanghai ("to visit a friend") and Hong Kong in 2009. However, no one has ever seemed interested in my reasons for going to Western Europe, perhaps because it is more familiar to most of us.

Traveling, in general, is a chance to step out of your shell and take a look at the world around you. There are so many of us on this planet, and so many different ways of living, that I would feel cheated if I didn't explore at least some of them. Of course I will only be able to scratch the surface in my lifetime because I also want to be rooted with a family and a career, but it is important for me to scratch nonetheless.

Specifically, India has been the love of my life since I was about 14 years old when I started discovering its ancient history while exploring Hinduism. Then, my first job as a reading tutor at Kumon provided further insight into the culture because my boss was born there and would tell me stories of her childhood. I learned to love Indian cinema, specifically Bollywood films, and the music that is so different from ours. Indian notes are divided into units called shruties (22 microtones), whereas Western music consist of 12 pitches per octave. The difference is easy to distinguish when you hear it, and I find myself getting lost in the emotion of Indian music regardless of whether or not I can understand the lyrics.

One of my more common answers to the question "Why India?", is that I love the culture. I like the vagueness of the answer until someone asks me to elaborate. So I try to keep it simple with something about loving the traditions of the many different people that live in the huge country, or the food, or their colorful and kind nature, but of course none of these singularly define India's "culture". The country is ancient and the history of it is as diverse as the people who live there today, all the way back to the Indus Valley Civilization. The Vedas, which are the sacred texts of Hinduism were written as early as 1500 BCE and remain relevant to many today. Over the years India has been under the rule of various rulers and kingdoms, most recently the U.K. until 1947 when India was declared independent and became the largest democracy in the world.

The Indian people are very proud of their culture and traditions, which I admire. They are able to persevere and survive in the harshest conditions and do so while offering their starving neighbor their last slice of bread, or more likely a chapatti. Unfortunately this pride can hinder progress. The darker side of India includes widespread political corruption, immense poverty, poor social welfare, and poor infrastructure. Yet with all of this the people continue to live and love.

So, why do I want to go to India? How could I possibly enjoy myself with all of the beggars and poverty? What would I even do there since it is so dirty?

I think my best answer so far was to my friend Nichole: "I am going to India so she can teach me things I never knew I needed to learn."


  1. So well and eloquently put. And she will teach you so much! I agree, why NOT india? Its definitely a place to EXPERIENCE and what you do there and feel there will be difficult to express to those who have not directly experienced it themselves. That's why it will remain a very visible but undiscovered gem for those who choose to look in places that the mainstream folks might ignore. Go you! Love you and hope your experience of India knocks your socks off!! ;)