I was surrounded by a perpetual state of immediate chaos — “ — “people talking, children playing, and everything moving. Colors surrounded me everywhere; it was as if the world I had known before was in black and white. In the air, there was a constant blaring of car horns that created a sound completely unfamiliar to me.
As I entered the hectic airport, it even smelled different; the smells of spices, food, and chai mixed together to form an entirely new smell of its own. At that moment, I knew that nothing compared to this; I was in India.As I entered my grandparents’ house, the smell of spices and food overwhelmed me. In almost an instant, I had what seemed like dozens of relatives greeting me and my family.
My mother has five sisters and my father has two sisters and a brother; I think it is safe to say that I have a large family. Although I knew how to speak Gujarati, which was language we spoke, it was a serious culture shock. During my freshmen winter break, my family took a trip to India in an attempt to learn the culture my sister and I knew so little about.Since I was only twelve when I went to India for the first time, the only worry I had was how many games we could play in an hour.
We spent the entire day playing ‘lock and key’ (which was similar to freeze-tag,) ‘andheri disco,’ which is like ‘Marco Polo,’ and countless Indian card games. Though it may seem that these were simply pastimes, many were integrated into Indian culture. Before going to India, I had no idea that there were so many card games to play; amazingly, these simple pastimes bridged any language or culture barrier we faced.
Although we spent most of our days playing, my family and I also spent some time traveling around the city.In order to transport from one place to another, we had to use taxi-like cars that are called ‘rickshaws,’ which have no windows or doors. Since the rickshaw was open, we were vulnerable to anything, and more importantly, anyone. Every day, while sitting in the rickshaw, numerous impoverished people came to beg for money and food.
Little children in worn, dirty clothes tugged on my shirt and mumbled the hardships they faced. Overwhelmed by the face of poverty itself, I quickly gave the young boy the rest of my packet of crackers. It was on the streets of India I witnessed what it truly meant to be poor and underprivileged.As we passed slums that bordered some of the streets, I saw a young girl.
She was as young as I and had her baby sister in her arms. Our eyes connected for only a moment; yet, I could feel her suffering and pain through her eyes. I glanced around her and saw her other siblings playing near the tiny shack that was supposed to be her home.
It was no longer an Oprah special where audiences gasp at the poverty people faced. This was her life. I immediately felt guilty for the life in the United States I had taken granted of; I had grown up without having to worry about receiving an education or having enough food for the next day.Of all the memories I have of India, two dramatically changed my life.
After being a part of ‘Indian everyday life,’ it was apparent that I had underappreciated my culture. From that moment on, I embraced my culture and the fact that it was different. After seeing true poverty, I realized that I had taken too many things for granted and that I needed to value the small things in life. Despite the short time I stayed in India, I was a changed person when I came back.It’s not accurate to say I came back an entirely new person. However, I can say that falling back into my privileged lifestyle was not as easy as I expected. The images of rural and urban India will always stick with me. After leaving India, I experienced a sense of dissatisfaction with the way I lived my life. Driving in the United States left me longing for the overcrowded, noisy streets of India. Smelling in the U.S. is lackluster compared to the new aromas and odors I encountered during my trip. In the end, I hope to return to the place that I have become a part of.
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