The India I Love

And it’s back. The India I reminisced of in the winter days of January. After returning from Spore the weather was palpably warmer than a fortnight before; t-shirts and flip flops, noisy fans and the vengeful return of mozzies and cockroaches. It was perfect for a while, clearer skies, bright warm mornings and long cool evenings. Then the temperature raced through the 30’s in a matter of days and now I’m recalling the sweat bath of August last year, before we’ve even got to April. The power cuts are back too, now Delhi is on AC and battling with its perpetual power deficit. But this is not the only revival of a reminiscent part of India. After three months of visa battling in Paris, Yasmine is back and the Kapoors are finally six again.

My reluctant return to Mother India after a fortnight away was met by the most incessant and vivid of a welcome home ceremony I could have imagined. I had underestimated the significance of Holi, the festival of colors that erupts on 1st March. For one day India explodes into a disarray of uninhibited celebration, partying in the street and painting the town in coloured powder. For one day India relinquishes her long held inhibitions and for one day India is one. Less than 12 hours in the country and I awake to the arrival of friends, coloured powder and beer in hand, water cannons to the ready. We march off to Delhi to a farmhouse party called “Holy Cow” for a crazy day of party and folly. This is India at its most forthright and unapologetic and its nice to be back in the malaise with the best from Gurgaon.

Holi Festival

Tuesday resumes the normal, back to work and the usual. Change again on Tuesday night as Bea readies to end her Indian experience. Dinner in Machan and we wave goodbye at the airport. Such is the roller-coaster fabric of life in expat India. Somehow we manage to trap ourselves in the airport by faking tickets for entry but omitting an exit plan. Some diplomatic negotiation and flattering sees us on our way, thanks only to Ira. Thursday night we make another visit to TLR in Hauz Khas and Saturday night a jazz concert in AI and a private party in City Walk.

The following weekend we pay a visit to the most popular Sikh pilgrimage site in India, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Alex, Mari, Kelly, Ira, Hafdis and I leave on Friday night, the usual rush to the station as Gurgaon traffic grinds to a halt, and take the overnight train to arrive first thing on Saturday morning. We hired a cab for the day and took breakfast at a greasy spoons before heading to the temple. Situated in the middle of a man-made lake known as the Amritsar, the temple is smaller than expected but impressive all the same, clothed in gold. In the heat Alex and I strip and take a dip in the holy water after a guard advises that Sikhism is all embracing of other religions.

Swim anyone?

The whole complex is strangely at peace, despite the fact it is bursting to life with Indian tourists and pilgrims. The sacred music in the background is soothing and there is a reverent aura to the place. Though the idea of worshiping an object as opulent and extravagant as a temple made of gold is foreign to my Christian roots, I feel like I am in a holy place. We have lunch at a mass-eatery where you are served food like a school canteen and told to sit on the carpet in single file lines. The meal is free, a sign of the overwhelming generosity of the Sikhs and the philosophy of helping others to help the collective.

In the afternoon our driver took us to nearby temple and the girls got a henna. Later, we drove out of Amritsar to Wagah, the only road border crossing between India and Pakistan. Tata trucks line the road waiting to take their freight across the border. There is a daily sunset ceremony of the “lowering of the flags” by the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistani Rangers, attracting hundreds of tourists mostly on the Indian side. Once a day they let spectators into a seated area, heavily guarded next to the ceremonial border. Hindi music plays and the BSF get the crowd rivaled up with patriotic chants and cries. Indians run up and down the street bearing the national flag and women burst out of their seats to dance to the Hindi tunes. Indian guards compete with the Pakistani guards to see how long they can shout in one breath and then there is the hilarious spectacle the guards marching furiously up and down in an attempt to intimidate their neighbors. A few times the gates open and the guards cross sides to shake hands aggressively before lowering the flags. All the while people are shouting and screaming support for their country in the face of their counterparts. According to Wikipedia, the happenings at this border post are a barometer of Indo-Pak relations and the ceremony has become a lot less aggressive than in previous decades on both sides. The entire spectacle is both ridiculous and hilarious.

Wagah Border

Later in the evening we head to the temple where there is a large courtyard that is opened up to visitors who can sleep on the floor free of charge. When we ask if there is a place we can stay we are shown to a series of rooms where only foreigners are permitted; beds, blankets and pillows provided. Again, the generosity of the Sikhs is noteworthy. Dinner in town and another peruse of the temple complex, the gold shimmering in the water with the echoing sound of the Guru reciting prayers from inside. We have a brief browse around the inside of the temple and chill by the side of the lake. When it gets late we prepare to shuffle up in whatever space is left in the beds provided whilst hundreds of Sikhs are already asleep in the courtyard outside. When I wake on Sunday morning the courtyard is empty, the floor has been washed down, the Sikhs have finished their morning prayers and are having breakfast at the mass-eatery. It is an incredible operation.

Sleeping Pilgrims

When we find our morning train delayed we jump on a rickshaw to grab a decent breakfast at a nearby restaurant and depart later in the morning. We return Sunday night to greet Mimine who is fresh back from Paris and everything is right with the world again. This week we were back at Urban Pind on Wednesday, the usual crowd and foray. On Saturday I went on a Delhi “food walk” with Alex, Mimi, Ale and Jacek, really an excuse to get into Delhi before meeting a friend for dinner in TLR and on to Capitol. Yesterday we chilled at Kapoors, leaving the house only for dinner in Ambi and a movie at home.

Now I know my weeks in India are numbered. Every day I am still overwhelmed by the frustrations and aggravations of life here. The taxi driver getting angry when we refuse to be ripped off, the power outage at the very time we need to pump water, the creepy guys who call the house just to hear a girl’s voice. But if every day wasn’t such a challenge then honestly I don’t know why I’d be here. This is the India I love.

Golden Temple by night


2 Responses to “The India I Love”

  1. 1 Sach! April 22, 2010 at 9:02 am

    You almost made me cry! This is THE INDIA WE LOVE !!!
    Very well feeling so lucky I read it..
    keep writing! would be back for more..


  2. 2 Simon April 22, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Thanks Sach. Not long left now for posts from India now I am leaving. But I am touched that you feel the love!

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