discovering delhi

One summer in high school I convinced my parents to let me travel to India on a “student experience adventure” for two weeks. We went to the Taj Mahal and then up north, to the small town of Dharmsala located at the base of the Himalayas. I fell in love with chai tea and even more so talking with individuals in town, as well as the program facilitators.

Sakshee's mom with homemade chai
Sakshee’s mom with homemade Chai

I am currently back in India, this time rooted in Delhi with a friend from college, Sakshee and her family. It’s been challenging to refine my memory of India. Each trip has been very different, even from their beginnings. Instead of arriving in India and being immediately crammed into a van and driven to Agra, I was allowed to sleep off the jet lag for a solid fifteen hours. Understandably, each trip has had its own motive. The first time I came to India for educational exposure and now I am visiting a friend’s hometown (home country) to experience “her world”.

I am having fun, exploring local markets, trying out various types of food and experiencing daily life activities of Sakshee’s family. Viewing the everyday normalcy here is not much different than tasks I would be doing if I was back in Minnesota. It’s the little things that have sparked my interests and questioning of traditions and lifestyles.

Dharmsala verus Delhi:

Despite the similarities including similarly constructed monuments, the difference in the way my friend’s family lives to the lives of individuals I met in Dharmsala is surprising. It shouldn’t be so shocking, but it is. I am having a hard time adjusting to living with a middle to upper class family in Delhi. Also, I have been able to travel with my friend to Jaipur and Udaipur which again, very different from the traveling with the student group in the northern part of India. I feel very isolated from all poverty and when I was here before I was only exposed to that demographic. Instead, I feel as though I am being constantly waited on by one person or another.

My memories of my first journey left me with a cozy image of giant pots of chai and helping mop a woman’s floor with indigo soaked towels. This second experience of India feels more related to life in any large city, in any country in the world rather then specifically India– except for the street views.

Mehndi Ceremony for a relative of Sakshee’s family;;  Left to Right: (Sakshee’s Mom, me, Sakshee, Isabella (also visiting from school) and Sakshee’s sister Ananya)

I used to idolize India. Beautiful palaces and monuments scattered across the country, and tuk-tuks* weaving through traffic on the streets, being mysterious, but comforting and beautiful. I guess I was expecting a similar experience to the memory I have of my last trip.

This latest experience, and the feelings I have felt, have left me wondering how I see my own daily surroundings. Do I take enough time to look, and ponder the everyday events and views, or am I always looking down? I justify my own daily actions but I can’t help question if the way I act and hold myself because of my status in a middle class family. This really isn’t something I should need to question, its something that I should just be aware of, but somehow its not and this trip made me re-focus on how I need to be more aware.

I feel as though I have this romanticized image of India, not only from my Dharmsala trip but also based on the films Slumdog Millionaire and Lion. While I thought I wasn’t going into this trip with any expectations or list of must-dos, I realize that internally I did have a “list”.

*tuk-tuks are green & yellow “taxis” found all over India.