If you thought America was diverse, I invite you to India to reconsider.

I recently returned from nearly a month of travel in southern India, on one vacation with my Indian family, and on one tour with the other exchange students in my district. Each trip was fascinating, and let me glimpse a very different part of India. I am living in the industrial, flat and relatively urban state of Gujarat, in northwestern India, and the trips to the more agricultural, rural, green and mountainous  south of India gaveme a different set of ideas about this country.

One hill city in the southern state of Kerala demonstrated the contrasts.

This city, known as Munnar,  is flanked by three hills: Onone hill sits a mosque, on another a Hindu temple and on another a Catholic church. Throughout the south, I saw a much stronger influence of Christianity and Islam, and to my happy surprise, these three different systems functioned in harmony. Events of religious extremism and violence (particularly between Hindus and Muslims), tend to occur in the north, where the religions exist in less even proportions and with a history of antagonism.

Beyond the different ratios of religions in the south, differences of traditions, dress and languages also highlight the diversity.

Nearly every state in India has a different language, so as I traveled through the south, I listened to varying sets of sounds and voices. I heard, and attempted to at least greet people in, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Konkani and Hindi. It is for this reason that English is becoming such a powerful force in India: there is no single “Indian” language that unites the country. I am reading a history text titled “India after Gandhi.” It begins with the question of how India exists at all.

One of the reasons given by the British for not granting independence was that the diverse and distinct states would fail to work together without the British control.

The more I travel in India, the more I too marvel at the fact that India continues to endure. State by state, city by city, the cultures, languages, traditions and religions vary, and it is hard, if not impossible, to pinpoint what is “Indian.” Somehow, however; it works. There is some underlying force, something that is “Indian,” which manages to unify this enormous subcontinent of 1.2 billion people. What is it? I suspect it has less to do with being “Indian,” and more to do with being human.

ANNA KRAMER is a Cooperstown Rotary Youth Exchange student in India.

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