I have been living in India for more than two months, and I am pleased to report that life here is not without its American qualities. While everything, however international, has an Indian touch to it, I was very much taken by surprise upon seeing just how Western some things are in my city of Vadodara.
One would not have to look very far to see what I am talking about. The advertisements often feature fair-skinned Indians, if not outright foreigners. The Bollywood films, though purely Indian, have characteristics about them that emulate the culture of the west. The more modern restaurants would fit in well next to those of New York City. And the clothes! If I truly wanted to dress like an Indian man, I would forgo my kurtas and pajamas for tees and polos, many of which sport American designs. I even saw someone wearing a Yankee baseball cap — good choice.
At home, I dine at a table instead of on the floor. Although everyone is provided with utensils for meals, I do sometimes try to eat the Indian way, without. For breakfast, I eat cereal and bread with butter. My bathroom, bedroom and other accommodations are all westernized, though, as I said before, with an Indian touch to them.
This is, of course, coming from an individual who resides in a populated and thriving city. Were I to travel to a village area, not half-an-hour’s drive in any direction, I would soon be confronted with the original culture of India. Villagers are often very conservative with their customs, slower to adjust and progress to the changing times, and, for those reasons, are considered to be generally more traditional. The same could be said for some parts of America, but in reality, an Indian village is so utterly different. You can imagine, then, how much explaining I have to do when I inform people that I come from a village in America.
Do not get me wrong, it is still India that I am living in. In spite of the enormous shopping centers, one must still watch out for passing cows when exiting to the parking lot. In spite of the quiet parks filled with people reading or exercising, it is entirely possible that one’s peace could be disturbed by a passing float with an extravagantly decorated statue of Lord Ganesha (a deity with many arms, many colors, the head of a crowned elephant and the body of a human), surrounded by a crowd of dancing people, banging on all forms of percussion as they continue down the street. The last scenario only happens during the current festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, but still, there are many ways in which India’s true colors come to be exhibited.
Living as a part of it all, I feel that I have become very well adjusted to it, and am quite at home with whichever form it ends up taking. All of its qualities, young and old, rich and poor, and dark and bright are what make India what it is. A country may be able to change its façade, but it can never change its spirit. And for that, I am glad.
Sam Aldridge is a Rotary Exchange student from Milford. To read more from him, visit thebarodasagas.