I finally accepted the reality of travelling to India for exchange when I stepped onto the Air India plane (after losing my toothpaste for being 13g over the 100g limit at the second batch of security). The decision to go on exchange in India was incredibly short -taking about 5 weeks from deciding to go to getting on the plane.
Instead of Air Canada’s plain dark blue seats and carpet, Air India’s plane was decorated with red and orange and swirly designs. The smell was undefinable, but distinct -not bad, but …clearly present.
On my first 9 hours flight (of a 24 hour journey) via Air Canada I managed to procure a row to myself. Air India offered no such luxuries and there were no spare seats in sight. The man beside me coughed into his hand for the majority of the flight (about every 10-30 seconds).
Colours, smells, lots of people, sounds: welcome to India.
I did an internal happy dance when my (Indian) plane meal arrived (with the question “vegetarian or non-vegetarian” instead of a necessary special pre-ordering that was required by Air Canada to ensure a vegetarian meal).
I stepped out of the airport and found my host family waiting for me at 4am in the parkade. Then the heat hit.
It’s very true that there is a large divide between the rich and poor here. One of the first things I noticed driving from the airport at 4am is the large amount of people sleeping outside, the slums, and the tented sidewalks. In my air-conditioned car, I was apologized to for the smell of the polluted water. Before I leave, I’d like to see more of the contrasts. I’m starting to think about underprivileged groups and questioning my future choices related to what I’m going to do with my privilege (my host’s mom runs a school for underprivileged girls a couple hours away).
After a shower, I joined my host student in watching The Office in her bed and decided maybe India isn’t so different after all.
View in the morning from outside my window:
The next day I was taken shopping. It is impossible to describe the experience of standing in the streets of India. I keep coming back to the list of: sights, sounds, smells, people, and HEAT. More colours in one place than I have ever seen before, SO MUCH NOISE (cars here do not follow any kind of established rules, instead they find spaces and GO FOR IT, honking their horns the entire time), and so many people (I heard someone say there are 3o people for every 1 person in Canada). I don’t even understand how there can be so many smells. The best way I can describe the experience is to say that everything is so distinct. Each of your senses is put into overdrive.
Going shopping with locals meant watching bargaining happen at its finest. (Also, not dealing with the “tourists-price” that occurs as soon as we open our mouths to ask a question or the price).
People are kind. On the bus in London on the way to the next flight a woman asked me if I was going to India. She was surprised I’d never been there before (considering I look Indian) and she told me she had a niece that was just finished at FLAME (the exchange school) when I will arrive there. She told me her niece coordinated the stray dog program on campus (I didn’t even think that there would be stray dogs!) and said she would have gotten us in touch if she were staying. Instead when I ran into her later and told her about my toothpaste loss at security, she gave me the last few squeezes of her toothpaste bottle as consolation.
My host family has been incredibly welcoming. So far I’ve been to two markets and there is another one they will take me to tomorrow. They are not Hindu (instead are Christian) so do not celebrate the huge holiday currently occurring (Diwali). However, despite this, they are making arrangements for me to participate with their neighbours for the main prayer ceremony and explain as much as they are able to.
The grandfather of my host decided to create a Hindi lesson for me while I was away shopping:
I’m currently sitting in the living room listening to a cover of “Hey Soul Sister” by my host’s cousin, she is about to start watching The Office while her other cousin is about to start watching Friends. We haven’t left the house since this morning because it is so hot, but we made flower arrangements outside the apartment for Diwali and I just ate a meal of cavala, rita, subji, etc. with my hands.
I am still unsure of the cultural taboos as there has not been an easy “to do and not to do” list and I’m sure I’ve been given a lot of leeway for making mistakes (but then am not told that it is inappropriate). I am looking forward to discovering more about the ins and outs of this culture (and the similarities and differences from my own).
One of the prayer ceremonies for Diwali will occur tonight and will be my next update!