In love with India & Hinduism

The first instinct of many a foreign visitor to any large Indian city is to head straight back to the airport.

There’s something special about India that draws foreigners to its shores, time and again. It may be Hinduism, various other philosophies, the many extremities and incongruities, or a million other things. Whatever the reason be, there’s no denying the fact that they all feel a palpable ‘essence’ of India.Colin todhunter attempts to decipher the great Indian connect.

The first instinct of many a foreign visitor to any large Indian city is to head straight back to the airport.

The sub-continental chaos and apparent incongruities can be too much.

For many foreign visitors, however, the extremities and apparent anarchy are part of India’s charm and invite never-ending curiosity about the place.

Visit a temple and soak up thousands of years of tradition, then enter a cathedral of consumerism, the latest gleaming shopping mall to have sprung up.

Rub shoulders with impeccably dressed tech-savvy young men, then glance across the road to see generations of the same family living on the street.

Notice the subtle shades of the night, then be dazzled by garish billboards advertising the latest movie blockbuster. Modernity and tradition, order and chaos, they sit side by side.

And in India, you are never alone. People from other places cannot fail to be astonished by the crowds.

Chennai has more people than Denmark, Delhi more than Sweden, and Mumbai more than Holland.

When arriving in India for the first time, some people are overwhelmed by such crowds as well as the chaos.

The barriers are put up.

As they begin to engage with India, they might even end up mocking what they regard as the follies of a culture that is shockingly different to their own.

Some may endlessly criticise what they see before them because they want everything in India to be like things are back home.

Call it the result of ethnocentricity, a symptom of culture shock, or the unwillingness to accept difference.

Their trip will be a dead-end journey.

They may never return. India is not to everyone’s liking.

For those who embrace the culture, things will be different.

Their open mindedness will allow them to psychologically move towards somewhere completely different from where they started out.

Usually, that new state of mind is a better place compared to where they began and much closer to the mindset of the people of India.

India will draw them back time and again.

A recent encounter in Chennai with a US citizen inspired me to write this article.

Mike, from California, has made India his home. He is married to a Tamil woman and lives in her village.

He feels it’s a privilege to live in India and discussed the openness and the humanity he encounters on a daily basis.

Mike feels a comradeship among people here and an indefatigable spirit of life and living which he feels doesn’t exist in the United States.

What Mike articulated is a commonplace feeling among many foreigners who repeatedly visit India or who have made it home. Some of us feel what he feels every day when here.

It’s a feeling that derives from the inter-connectedness between people, between people and nature, between people, nature and the cosmos, and between life and death. It’s palpable everywhere.

It doesn’t really exist in our own countries. And that’s why you hear wise thoughts expressed here on a daily basis. Indian people know something.

Their culture gives them a certain insight.

The following people in this article all feel something special about India.

They all come for different reasons perhaps, but on some level they feel a palpable ‘essence’ of India.

That essence may be due to Hinduism, various other philosophies, the many extremities and incongruities, or a million other things.

But whatever it comes down to, that ‘essence’ is why so many foreigners keep coming back. And it makes this place like no other on Earth.

As foreigners, we (I include myself here) can and do try to describe what we think about India through words or images.

But, ultimately, what we experience is a feeling.

And you either feel it or you don’t. And although words and images often come close to conveying aspects of that feeling, they ultimately fail. You have to be in India.

You have to live it.

Amel Nouar has her roots in France and Algeria and works from season to season in vineyards and orchards. When she is not doing this, Amel is wandering the planet.

She is a young mother and aims to turn her daughter into a globetrotter with short pants!
What makes India so special for Amel?

She says that Mother India adopts us all from the very first glance, the very first vibration.

For Amel, India is a vision in itself, but also provides a perspective on the world and a look into oneself: “The people of India stare with emphasis into our eyes, never blinking, proud and fatalistic. A gaze that pierces by its sheer existence, through our upset souls of Western Judeo-Christians or Arabo-Muslims, disillusioned by the Manichaean vision that our culture and our world of today proposes.”

Amel says in India, there are no blinkers, there is no pretence, no interpretation, and one is observed in the rawest of manners.

At first, she says that foreigners see too many contradictions, too much poverty, too much wealth, too many extremes and we fall back into our own illusions of what the world and India are in order to prevent ourselves from becoming overwhelmed: “But the Indian fellow who is sitting in front of us on that bus looks straight into our eyes during the full three hours of the journey, without ever wavering his attention.

We are questioned, we are uncomfortable. Why does he look at us with such insistence? Eventually, we drop our masks”

And when we do drop the mask, we expose ourselves and finally see the world in its essence. Amel says, “We can then watch what we were hiding from ourselves, the complexity of humanity. The Truth! India shouts it into our faces.”

She says that Indian people do not ask for forgiveness, but it is given, and India is a place where everything is explained, but nothing is coherent: “The contradiction in the absolute. The humaneness, the cohabitation of the worst with the best, the absolute with the void. It is the poetry of evidence, both in its dramatic dimension, in its tragedy and in its magic.”

Amel says that she will return to India with her child so that she too can learn to look at the world without batting an eyelid, to face its reality.

India will offer her daughter the opportunity to experience her own nature, her ‘self’, without judgment because India teaches us acceptance, openness of mind and tolerance.

Danielle is an artist who had always dreamt of freedom, without really fully appreciating what the concept even meant.

She wished to explore “the landscape of consciousness” and scratched at that surface for years via astrology, music, clothes, books and yogic philosophy.

She landed in Bombay in 1995, and the subsequent six months changed her life. She has returned regularly for 19 years.

According to Danielle, a “divine grace” led her into the world she inhabits today, and India has helped transform life. This indescribably vivid country is made up of all things, all tastes, all sights and sounds, which she carries around with her no matter where she may be. Danielle says that living in this country for months at a time would seem like an indulgence if its teachings didn’t work outside India, but “of course, they do work — anywhere and everywhere.”

The lessons India teaches her are found inside ashrams, outside on local buses and from the most unlikely characters.

Danielle enthuses that there are “uncountable qualities of devotion and divinity expressed in everyday living across Mother India, so for someone who wants to know what that is like, India is home. India is life, unvarnished and available. India is that which is dying and that which is flowering a billion times a day.”

She says that her relationship with India never stales or tires and it is necessary to bring her honest self to India — “the one who wants to continually evolve, to be in dialogue with an essence that invites us to experience the wholeness of truth.”

However, this ‘truth’ can at times stink of rot, often reveal her worst tendencies, and can show to her that even her own perception of India isn’t always true.

Whatever India may or may not ultimately be, however, Danielle says that somehow joy arises and she feels happy when here.

She believes that India is that place on earth where the highest knowledge about existence continues to live and breathe — “She is the book of life, and each being here is a word on that page.”

Without Mother India, Danielle says she would shrivel up and die inside.

Here, she says, “Life collides like the cosmic big bang on a daily basis. India is the seamless merging of accordance and discord. It is here where my courage was coaxed out, where I was told to let my light shine.”

Although I first met Lou Wilson in Chennai in 2003, his relationship with India began way back in 1970 at age 21.

Disillusioned with the West, he packed everything up, put it in storage and travelled from Canada to England and then overland to India.

Since then, he has been back many times.

On arrival in London in September 1970, Lou had no idea where he would be going beyond London.

An Indian man approached him and implored him to go to India. Four months later, he was in India.

Each time Lou visits India, he feels it is an adventure.

Walk out of the hotel room in the morning into the busy markets around every corner and discover a new sight, a new smell, a new taste and, most important, a smile from a passerby.

While India has beautiful architectural sights and lovely vistas, it’s the people of India who keep drawing Lou back.

Lou is fascinated by India’s humanity.

He talks about getting on an overnight train to wake at dawn in a different state and a different culture, listening to different languages, eating different food and looking at different clothing.

But it is still India! And it is the people that Lou captures through his photography.

His first book of images was recently published and contains a healthy proportion of photos of the people of India, dating back to his first visit.

India has been life-changing for Lou — “On leaving India in 1971, a fellow bus passenger gave me two books by Ramana Maharshi. These two books changed my life as much as the experience of India itself. Through those writings I would actually discover that what I had been looking for had been inside of me all the time.”

What continues to attract Lou to India?

Something deep from within. Lou says that inner feeling is inexplicable, but there is the feeling of coming home whenever he sets foot on Indian soil.

Lou encapsulates the India ‘addiction’ that so many of us have.

He says that for different reasons, at some point in the middle or the completion of their India trip, whether it is the first time or the fourth time, many people just want to leave India and never come back — “But once back home, the dust settles and a new thinking arises. They can’t wait to go back. All reasons for leaving have vanished. The pull from India is amazing.”

Unlike most Kiwi kids of the 1970s, Dianne wasn’t so interested in the Antipodean rite of passage known as the Big OE (overseas experience).

Nothing really excited her about travelling in Europe, which is what most of her generation did as part of their overseas adventures.

No one came home with tales to fire her imagination.

For Dianne, travel was always about genuine adventure, something she set out to experience when she first left home at the tender age of seven.

She says: “I had no plan, except that I was going to hit the road.”

She didn’t get far.

India was planted in her mind when she met an Australian who had just returned from the sub-continent.

He talked for hours about India. Dianne recalls: “I don’t remember what he said, so much as the look in his eyes. The expression on his face was of someone who had fallen in love one thousand times. His eyes shone and his face glowed like crazy.”

She wanted that look on her face too. India seemed to Dianne to be one of the most crazy, funny, heart-rending places on the planet.

So, she went home and said to her kids: “When you are 18, you are going to have to leave home and get a place of your own because I am going to India.”

Her daughter was 10 months old at the time.

Looking back, India was always Dianne’s pole star, the light on the horizon and it has never disappointed.

She eventually visited India with no guide book, no idea of what to expect and no reservations. She fell totally and madly in love with the place and has spent the last 20 years bouncing between New Zealand and India.

Although I first met Dianne in Pushkar in 2002, she had by that stage already spent a long time in India, very often far from the usual tourist path and venturing into forests and back of beyond places.

At one stage, she had lived for a lengthy period as a wandering ascetic, coming face to face with an India seldom portrayed in the guide books or experienced by tourists and one that even the country’s urban dwellers would find culturally remote.

These days, however, she has a small travel business, designing and leading women-only tours in India.

As a writer as well, she feels that India is her never-ending story, her treasure chest of tall tales.

It’s a place where one can step into a story and begin to live it, a land of storytellers.

For Dianne, as with many foreigners who are hooked on the country, India is still crazy after all these years.

Source: Deccan Herald