“Being part of a culture without living in it is like being in a long-distance relationship. You can make it work with grand displays of affection and splendid visits, but you don’t get to have coffee together on a Sunday morning—the little things, the stuff daily life is built on.”
I read this quote—in an NYT cooking recipe—and it deeply resonated with me. I’m often asked, “what is the absolute best part of living in India?” by family and friends back home. This quote tidily addresses my answer: the ability to no longer have to engage with my identity and heritage from afar. To be here, in person, and experience how it feels, tastes, sounds, and smells to be an Indian in India.
There are other wonderful things as well and I wanted to note them down-especially because I’m fast approaching my 7 month mark in India! I honestly can’t believe it–the time has sped by. Here are some of my other favorite things about living on the subcontinent:
- Courtyards: I love how outdoor space is used in India. At my grandparents’ home, we are outdoors almost as much as we are indoors! The dishes are scrubbed, the clothes washed and hung up–even our teeth are brushed outdoors. I love that every part of the home is used and especially that it’s so easy to interact with our neighbors from right in our yard.
- Sidewalks: Similar to my comment on courtyards, I love how sidewalks are completely utilized. (Sometimes this can be a hassle during festival times when there’s no space to walk between all the vendors and the crowd) Just being outside feels like a community event–and the best part is, you can walk down the lane to find delicious (and cheap!) street food at really any time of day.
- Fix-it culture: My purse strap was fraying so I took it to a cobbler and had it repaired for 30 rupees ($0.50). In a culture where labor is cheap, items get used and repaired and the lifetime of your possessions is substantially extended. This fix-it culture is not only wallet-friendly but sustainable! Shoes get resoled, clothes are refitted, patched up, and tailored, and even electronics are repaired rather than replaced.
- Chai: I have never been much of a tea (or coffee) drinker but the milky spiced chai found on the streets is to die for. (A recent Guardian article also proclaimed Kolkata the chai capital of India-I can attest to the fantastic chai quality)
- Kinship terminology: There is this famous quote by Sarada Devi, “Learn to make the world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; the whole world is your own.” When your auto driver is dada (elder brother) and the shopkeeper is didi (older sister), the world does feel a bit more welcoming and familiar.
- Santiniketan: Every day, I’m struck by what a special place I live in. I am able to cycle everywhere, be part of a university community, attend a plethora of talks and conferences, spend plenty of time outdoors, eat ice creams by some of my favorite monumental art pieces by Ramkinkar Baij (!), and learn from one of the kindest and most intelligent professors that I have ever met. Nowhere is perfect (and you should probably talk to me once summer begins in full force), but I feel very blessed to be based in Santiniketan.
Disclaimer: This is not at all to say that India doesn’t come with its fair share of challenges-the mosquitoes, heat, traffic and pollution are just a few of the issues one has to deal with on a daily basis! But most days-especially now that I’m realizing how quickly the time passes-I’m just thankful for the opportunity to have a Fulbright and to be here. It really is a privilege.