Returning home, by foot, through a close neighborhood of joint family homes at dusk, I was, as usual, a point of intense interest by those around me.
As I passed one such home, a man leaning over the banister of the balcony he stood on, his face shadowed by the light behind him, called out to me, “Hare Krishna!” It was neither shouted nor muttered, but was clear and genuine — the way a priest might address his congregation.
India, to Americans, often connotes spirituality and enlightenment, and is thought of as an ancient bastion of mysticism that thrived long before it was recognized by American pop culture in the 1960s. Going to India then was usually a journey -— rarely a vacation. Of course, as distance can distort perception, America’s new image of India was and still is a little different from the way things work here. Nonetheless, with storybooks, films, and growing up with parents who came from “those days,” my early idea of India was attractive, then, in a very different way than it is now.
With the light of day comes the realization of reality. The shadows of sanctity melt away to reveal the dirty street, soon crowding with the people on their way to work, pray, or beg. Life, always taking a similar form in every region of the world, is striking to observe in its pushing and shoving, its tears and laughter, its truth laid bare. It is striking, now, to think of how I had perceived it beforehand, and how much like any average city and country it really is. Recalling my friends’ predictions during and expectations after my time in India (chiefly based in the American impression I mentioned earlier) is still entertaining, but not to be taken without a grain of salt.