Without wanting to sound too cliched (or like I’m channeling Sarah MacDonald in Holy Cow – which does happen to be one of my favourite books, and is still #1 on the bestseller stand at Delhi’s airport bookstores!) I didn’t really love India the first time I visited. The touts, the beggars, the crowds, the constant haggling and the non-stop staring all ate away at me until I had to hightail it back to my beloved Koh Chang for blissed out beach time (after turning into a crazed, bitter, jaded and slightly screamy version of me, complete with raging fever, churning insides and rider of hellish bus journeys while so ill I was bordering on hallucinatory). But that was a decade ago and some things have changed.
I’m so pleased to report that this time around I’m feeling a whole lot more love for India! The chaos and the sensory assault of all things India don’t seem as intense as they did before. It’s somehow not as intimidating. I don’t feel like I’m being stared at or harassed as much as I was previously. I see past the decay, the mess, the crowds – I see colour and life and beauty.
I’m loving genuine smiles, cute kids, stunning saris, intoxicating colours, wafts of incense, mutual smartphone photo-fests, where it’s hard to tell who is more curious about who, faded, crumbling buildings full of charm and potential, religious icons – everywhere, stalls laden with colourful garlands brightening dusty streets, schoolgirls in immaculate white uniforms weaving their way through chaos on their bicycles, sugarcane stands, chai wallahs, religious and historical monuments on a grand, mindblowing scale. Mosques and churches and Hindu temples and minarets and the call to prayer and Hindu chants and blessings and offerings. Sandalwood oil massaged into my hair and charcoal mixed with ghee pressed into my forehead by a Hindu priest. I’m seeing India with my eyes, head and heart wide open.