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India – Spring 2007

Journal 2 – January 22

 

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A visitor to India can learn a lot about Indian history by visiting monuments, palaces and tombs. Religious and cultural descriptions are readily available from any guidebook you happen to lay hands on. Not until you actually spend time talking with Indians, however, do you really begin to grasp what this overwhelmingly complex country is made of. This lesson is what I draw from our experiences yesterday, Sunday the 21 st of January.

A few days after leaving Agra, home to the Taj Mahal and the royal palaces of Agra Fort, we reached Ranthambhore National Park. We woke before dawn on Sunday to drive through the forest in search of India’s wildlife. The famous tigers remained elusive, but with an entire day to spend as we chose, the best was yet to come.

While standing outside a store that offered internet access, I began speaking with some local women and children. (Speaking is a relative term. In Hindi, I ask “What is your name?” but since that is the extent of my Hindi conversational skills, pantomime comes next, supplemented by some English words that the children have learned in school.) One little girl of about ten years old, Neha, knew a decent amount of English and, after talking for a while, invited me to her home across the street. Neha led us down a street and into a pleasant, walled courtyard where we were greeted by Neha’s mother, aunt, two older sisters, and a young family friend. The women seemed thrilled to meet us, invited us to sit down, showed us pictures, and asked about ourselves and our time in India.

Having my nose pierced seemed to form an instant bond between me and these hospitable women; an American girl with a nose-ring was quite a novelty to them! Although she spoke little English, Neha’s aunt communicated her desire to trade earrings with me, which I did, to be rewarded with her smiles.

Later that same evening, the guys from our group struck up a game of cricket with the local men. Our guys made a noble effort but, having only learned the game that day, they didn’t exactly emerge victorious. The mere fact that they played, however, was a big hit with the local community. A large group of American college students playing games with the locals is apparently not too common an occurrence, (hours down the road the next day, we were asked at a roadside restaurant if we’d won the game!)

At the cricket match, a thirteen year old boy sought me out to introduce himself as Neha’s older brother. In that way, I was introduced to almost the entire family in a single day’s time, (the father hadn’t yet returned home).

I was struck by how readily Neha brought me to her relatives. In a way, it seemed that Neha took me to her family in order to show me who she, herself, is. I often forget that when I only encounter individuals, I am missing out on the dynamics of the person within the family. I am only beginning to appreciate that one’s familial role in India is a much more central part of a person’s identity than is common in America. As I become more comfortable in my new surroundings, I am eager to delve deeper, meet more people, and get a better sense of what this place is all about.

- Michelle Kennel