I know I said I'd post regularly but life gets in the way and I forget! But I thought, since it's India Independence Day, I'd write a little something about the country of my ancestors. Warning: there will be some old photos from before I knew how to use a camera (well even less than now) and also when I was overfed and fat!
Since we were tiny babies, my parents have taken both me and my brother to India to visit my grandmother. Despite our relatively frequent visits, I find myself in a weird limbo; India seems so familiar yet so alien all at the same time. I often find myself wondering where I really belong. I've been told (many times by people such as flatmates at university) that I'm not really British because I'm brown. When I go to India, I'm met by wonder and astonishment when I ask for directions in Hindi and even as I walk away, I can hear a little conversation to the person next to them about how they're surprised that more and more foreigners can speak Hindi.
I never understood identity confusions until I went to India by myself when I was 19. Before that, most of my friends were British Indians and every time we went to India, we spent most of the time in familiar places or with my family so I didn't really notice if people assumed we were foreign, or if they even did.
At 19, fresh out of school, I went off to India before university, wondering what on earth I was going to do at an ashram for 6 months. Turns out I never had nothing not to do. It was a very strange experience not having my parents there to just do everything and it was a real eye-opening experience to the real side of India.
To talk about everything that I did there, in what ended up being 8 months, would take a lifetime but it was most certainly a rollercoaster. I squeezed into a 5 seater car with 20 other people. I watched naked people smoke weed with some people I was with, whilst I sat drinking the chai they so kindly offered us. I 'couch-surfed' in random Himalayan villages and was force fed Buffalo yoghurt (the British in me was too polite to tell them that I didn't in fact like it). Our group had a close shave with a wild leopard in the mountains. I witnessed and was a part of the largest gathering of people on Earth and I made some of the most wonderful friends.
The family who let us stay in their house when the roads in the Himalayas were blocked by landslides. They were the ones who fed me buffalo yogurt and at night, when we were all asleep, we were visited by a leopard who tried to come in only to be chased away by the dogs.
But it wasn't all amazing and incredible and wow I'm on my gap yah. Sometimes I hated it and wanted, more than anything, just to come home. India's that kind of place where nothing is simple. Can you ever just have a good time? No because something will happen and unless you're the most relaxed person in the world, naïve, in denial or have enough money where you can avoid things, it will probably make you a little bit mad at least once.
I hate how people stare at you. I was followed once in Varanasi when Josh was a little bit ill. He stayed at the hotel whilst I went out just to take photos and I felt someone watching me. I noticed he was following me and I was scared. I ran and ran and ran all the way back. We've been left in the middle of Delhi by greedy Rickshaw-wallas who want to rip off foreigners. They will gang up on you until you just have to accept a ridiculous price because walking would take hours because they know they can make more in this one trip than they would by charging fair prices for a week and sleep the rest of the time. I can't stand the politics, how women are treated, how animals are treated, how the environment is treated and how it's everyone for themselves. Sometimes India can be the most infuriating place.
I think the thing I dislike the most is how I'm treated and how I feel. I find that people don't really know what to do with me because I look and sound foreign but then I also don't look foreign, as weird as that sounds. I'm also a woman so it, unfortunately, goes without saying that I'm not really taken that seriously and in some places (mainly Delhi) I don't feel safe. Luckily I haven't experienced anything too traumatic but it's the idea that something could happen and it wouldn't be so surprising that's scary.
But I think that's what makes me love India so much. It's an adventure. You never know whether you're going to meet someone nice or horrible, get to where you want on time, let alone at all and you honestly never know what's going to appear round the corner (literally and figuratively). I've had the best times of my life there and also the worst and I think it's the place where I really grew up. I was naïve before my trip in 2012 and during my 8 months there, I learnt a hell of a lot about people. My rose-tinted glasses became a little less rose-tinted but for the best.
However, no matter how much I complain, or how tempted I am to punch someone in the face, it will always be my favourite country. I have so many dreams of what I'd love to do there and what I'd love to see (and eat). It's an explorer's dream and, out of all the places I've been, the most exciting. You honestly never know what's going to happen next and I think that's mostly down to how hospitable and curious the people are.
All in all, I just a mixed bag of emotions and feelings about India; you can't love someone without occasionally hating them just that little bit! I can't wait to explore more, learn more and eat more. Most excitingly, I can't wait to get married there in a couple of years and share what I love about India and my culture with Josh's family.
I never want India's character and spirit to change. However, there are several things that I can't stand and that's mainly political and "cultural" (although it's debatable whether it is or not but that's for another day)
So here's to independence, growth and another 70 years of, hopefully, change and peace.