Namaste India! Did you know that India is the world’s 2nd largest country by population (1st being China), and 7th largest by land mass?
Last September, I finally visited India.
I say ‘finally’ because I’ve heard so much about India and the cultural explosion and the beauty amidst the chaos and the dust and the smoke
read about the history of South Asia in my module – before Pakistan and Bangladesh and the Gandhi Salt March
about the sacred cows, elephants, about the caste system
about global population and the rising megacities
about the call centres and the rising middle class in New Delhi
and speaking of Delhi, the glaring attention surrounding the violence against women
In light of the September holidays, I leapt on the chance of a flight promo to Amritsar and decided about a month before, my India holiday plans. It was a pretty intense and stressful period and I looked forward to venturing out by myself. I very much needed that time and space, that gap for myself. Stripped of all obligations to do anything. I could sit on a moving vehicle all day and read, while moving purposefully to another place
While I questioned myself slightly as usual before my trip, I was honestly not particularly nervous, because I knew that Amritsar was some distance from Delhi, had a different demographic, was in a Holy City (I was likely to sleep in the Golden Temple, the holiest place in Amritsar!), and I had hosts waiting for me. And Dharamsala was where the Dalai Lama resided, and known to be a really safe place from various hardcopy Lonely Planets and online sources. So I was pretty confident, and all went well indeed 🙂
i was slightly fascinated at the cultural integration into what i felt was western packaging (or maybe not, it’s a globalised world now)
Amritsar. A city in the Indian state of Punjab, it was less than 2 hours away from Pakistan, and I toyed with the idea of crossing over to Lahore, its nearest city. A brief Google search and the difficulty in visa (LOI, etc), articles on discomforting news and time constraints quickly erased the thought.
I learnt that the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in Sikhism, was one that many visitors from all other parts of India came to visit.
I was pleasantly surprised that many women and men were coming up to me requesting for selfies, handing me their babies to carry to take a picture with against the Golden Temple. Hahaha
But it was through these encounters that I learnt that for them it was such an honour to be here, and to make this visit from miles away, from all the other parts of India and even the Sikhs living in the rest of the world. And here I was, almost too easily. How lucky!
My dear hosts. Rakesh just texted me this morning, actually. Intelligent, wealthy family with a family business in the textile industry. And 2 servants who did not speak English, who helped to pick up my cups and served me my food. I use the word ‘serve’ because it does feel that way. Or at least that’s what Rakesh phrases it to me – ‘feel free to tell the servants what you need’. I remember the initial discomfort with the word ‘servant’, it is somewhat unfamiliar because we use the term ‘maid’, ‘domestic helper’ in Singapore. Perhaps it is because of the non-native tongue, the use of the word ‘servant’ does come with some (unintended) uncomfortable connotations (to me, a native speaker of English). ‘Servant’ sounds harsh, and belittling, but I suppose that’s just me (or realities).
It was interesting observing the dynamics between the servants and my host, because… in Singapore our domestic helpers are often of another nationality. I am just wondering – with no clear view in mind – would it be different if our domestic helpers / maids were Singaporeans?
How does it feel, to have a local be your servant? Does this distinction in nationality erect a comfortably alien barrier between us and our ‘domestic helpers’?
shopkeeper whom i bought punjabi pants from, who has visited Singapore twice
interesting modes of transportation
A (judgemental, privileged) thought:
I don’t know why it surprises me, but when I see how similar these shops look like compared to the ones I’ve seen in parts of rural Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and South America, I’m surprised. The structures are the same, the poor lighting, the style. Save for the language on the signs, they’re the same. I don’t know why it surprises me. I suppose I’m just wondering how these ideas translate miles and miles and continents away. The look of the Developing Countries. The Rural parts.
Thank you! धन्यवाद