The land of contrasts

The scent of cardamom and chilli in the air. Dogs sleeping on the streets and cows slowly strolling around. The smell of urine combined with perfumes and champa flowers delicate aroma. The poor and the rich. Hindus, muslims and christians all living together – holy tree next to the mosque and the church on the opposite site of the road. Bars in the train. Slums. Silver limousine speeding through Mumbai’s downtown streets.

It is so hard to describe India in words. It is even more harder as during my stay over there my feeling towards the countly were changing almost constantly. Firstly, I was a bit scared of India, then I just fell in love. It is impossible to describe what happened over there in one coherent story. There are many pictures of places and people’s faces in my head. There are many emotions and feelings. Let me then present you India in couple of short stories – short flashbacks of my recent memories. Enjoy!

1 – Hotel

I came out of the airport and instead of “Hello!” I heard “I have been waiting over an hour!”. My taxi driver was obviously not really pleased with me. I started explaining myself – the plane was late, it was not really my fault, but he just ignored my explanations and walked towards the taxi. To ease the tension I started to ask him questions about the life in Delhi, his work and soon I realized he was from Nepal. Couple of words in his native language and I had a friend! So easy! I was saved.

He started telling me the story of his whole life and while he was concentrated on his speech I got more and more fixed and preoccupied with the traffic and his manner of driving the car. Changing lanes every minute, speeding and especially going against the traffic direction were those tiny things that were unabling me to focus on his mother diabetes issues… He is just crazy – I thought, but once I was trying to find out how to cope with his craziness I noticed that actually the whole city drives like that!

Luckily we got safe and sound to my hotel. I was greeted by the young boy who offered me help and carried a bag upstairs. And that was when the new craziness started! He left my room only to be back in two minutes to check if I was fine. In next five minutes he was back with the bottle of water. I was really glad as my trip was long and I was tired. However, it was not our last meeting. After couple of minutes he returned with… his mobile! “Can a do a selfie with you?” – seriously, are you joking me? Welcome to India!

2 – We do not say anything

After a long walk in Mumbai we decided to have a rest and eat something. My friend chose a restaurant – it was packed with students and we had a trouble finding free space. Good I thought – my dad always told me that when it comes to food you should follow the locals and I was the only european in the bar!

It was my last evening in Mumbai and I was already becoming sad to leave…

“So, we should drink to you safe journey!” – Shel suggested

“Okey! How do you say “Cheers” in hindi?”

He went silent for a moment, frowned and finally answered: “Well, we do not say anything. We just drink and eat!”. So easy! And after being here for over two weeks now – so true!

3 – Ganga

Having been in Varanasi, I decided to wake up early and take part in morning hindu ceremonies on the bank of the Ganga river. To get there on time I had to hire a boat. The morning was chilly (for Indian standards of course) and once I got to the right place I felt quite cold. I decided to have warm masala chai while waiting for ceremonies to begin. It started from the girls choir singing nostalgic beautiful songs. ‘Not really a good wake up call’ – I thought. Some people were sleeping on the stairs or resting their heads on other people’s shoulders. Soon the celebrations begun!

I was touched and moved when I saw the priests coming to the bank of the river, blessing the fire and starting their rituals the same time as the sun was rising.

When I was coming back to the city center I notice the flames and the smoke – the burning cremation stakes could be easily seen on the horizon. Probably most sacred place in whole India.

Once we arrived at the river shore I notice that the local people started their morning ablutions – some people were having a bath, some where having a piss… Some were brushing the teeth and some where washing up their clothes. All in the same place and time. I will really remember Ganga!

4 – Birds

I have noticed his face from far away. I was having a stroll, when I was his smiling face. I approach with curiosity. He was selling something… Some seeds – white, brown and the tiny black ones. „What is that for?” – I asked. „These are the seeds we use to feed the birds. It’s for good luck!”. I wanted to help him and buy something at his stall, however I had only a couple of coins in my wallet… „It does not matter. The intentions are what matters!” – he smiled again and gave me some grains to feed the animals.

Pigeons seemed to be happy, almost as happy as my new friend!

„This shop once belonged to my father. Now I work here. Almost twenty years now”. Since that meeting almost every time I saw someone selling seeds I gave him some change.

Author: Joanna Zubkow

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