Tuesday, November 12, 2013

India: Part 1

I dedicate the following India entries to celebrating 20,000+ hits to my blog. Thank you for reading what I love to write.

Tara, architect, designer, art historian, chef, world traveler, and dear friend invited us to visit her in India. She and I met at culinary school in Paris and instantly became kindred spirits. Neither of us consider ourselves religious, but we find our spirituality in the passion and appreciation we have for travel, food, tigers (more on tigers later), and all things beautiful. 

My husband and I decided India would be the perfect destination to celebrate his 40th birthday. It's an important moment to remember in someone's life, and India's history, food, colors, adventures, and magic seemed to offer the memorable experience we were looking for. We were right.
Ranthambore women
We arrived in Delhi after a 30+-hour trip from Panama City, and were instantly treated like a king and queen even though we looked like creepy zombies with bloodshot eyes from the 15-hour plane ride we'd just taken. A chofer took us to Tara's home, which is where good taste, globe-trotter design, and comfort come together. 
Living room

Delhi beyond the balcony
Before I tell you about our trip, however, I'd like to talk about what happened before we left Panama. I thought long and hard about how I would prepare for a trip to India. As a student of anthropology at the London School of Economics I studied under many professors who were experts on India. In fact, social anthropology has its roots in London, where the British sent ethnographers to India way back when in order to study Indian society *and therefore be able to take better control of it. Because I've read many ethnographies about the caste system and religions of India, I had an image in my mind about what the country was all about. I envisioned utter luxury as well as dire misery. I prepared myself psychologically for these extremes, and for sensory overload. Even though I knew I'd see tough things, I was convinced that I would also see wonderful things. 
Weaver at Ramthambore women's cooperative
Others didn't share that view. In fact, plenty of Panamanians, and people from other Latin American countries, looked at me like I was insane for wanting to go to India. Many were confused, or perhaps simply ignorant about where and what India was, and told me to be careful, as if I were about to enter a war zone. You'd be surprised by how many people in the Americas lump all of the Middle East, South Asia, and a lot of Asia, into one and the same. All of it dark and dangerous. That's what they think.

A few days before leaving, my husband was having a conversation with two women about our upcoming trip. One of them said, "have a great time and bring me something nice!" and the other responded, "what would he bring back? There's nothing there to bring."

Instead of allowing this point of view to pollute my dreams of India, I felt sorry for this woman and instead envisioned myself in textile markets buying block print and cut-work treasures to bring back to Panama. 

The entries to come will tell you about the trip. I'll finish this first entry by explaining that our experience was magical. Mostly because India's colorful chaos is intoxicating in positive and negative ways, but our trip was particularly special because of our hostess. A lovely, strong, and brilliant Indian woman who has the sophistication that comes with seeing the magic that the world has to offer.

Mark Twain once said that "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I am thankful that I do not suffer from vegetating in my corner of the earth, and I know when I need my travel fix. I needed an escape from Panama's concrete jungle, our routine, and prejudice (mine and everyone else's). This adventure confirmed my belief that escape is what feeds my intellect and my spirituality.