The rancid odor of pollution and cow dung penetrated my lungs as we emerged from the doors of the Delhi international airport, and the usual a crowd of luggage carriers and taxi cab drivers began their routine attempts to steal us for their services and fending off other competitors. Finally managing to enter a cramped cab with my parents and little sister and having attached our luggage to every nook and cranny of the car available, we set off to our pre-booked hotel. The vehicle smelled vaguely of cigarette smoke and petroleum fumes, propelling me to roll down the window with the old-fashioned turning lever. Tentatively poking my head out, I enjoyed the rush of air caressing my face, weaving through my hair and shooting through my nostrils. The taxi driver ranted on angrily to my father, who sat in the passenger seat up front, about the new political party which had taken over Delhi, and their plans for limiting automobile transport to reduce pollution. I turned my attention again to the street, bustling with the cacophony of other cars and pedestrians. My ears filled up with the annoying blares of constant honking and people casting unending aspersions at each other for reckless driving. Occasionally, we would pass by a stray dog, weakened by starvation and subject to the aggressive whims of a passing individual or the beatings of the watchman stationed outside an apartment complex. Around every corner sat another mendicant, who had been banished to a lower level of humanity and was forced to renounce every shred of dignity and self-respect to earn his daily food. My mind wandered to all the filth which pervaded every street, every edifice, every person in my country. But then I noticed some hollers from the other side of the street, and watched fondly as we drove by a community park. Some vivacious young boys had left the solitude of their houses to come out and partake in their everyday rounds of playing cricket. Sweating profusely, clothes covered in dirt and eyes squinting in the sweltering sun, their faces only radiated pure joy and contentment, oblivious to all troubles and shortcomings in their lives, happy to be exactly where they were. Their infectious laughter brought a smile to my lips and reminded me of the true beauty of India. Of a street-side vendor roasting the sweetest and juiciest corn cobs while fanning the burning ashes of old newspapers. Of the tiny restaurant around the corner emanating mouth-watering aromas of homemade cuisines. Of hearty neighbors who never let you feel shy to knock on their door. Of the sense of mirth which united all hearts and illuminated the atmosphere in every celebration. Of the palpable kinship which existed between every person who roamed the streets, and the reassuring realization that your community was your support group and always eager to help. Helen Keller once said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” The truth behind these words hits me whenever I think of India. No physical sense will ever prove enough to understand the depth of the love and hospitality India holds for every individual, the unwavering loyalty and the strong hand of support, always ready to help and provide solace in times of need. I closed my eyes and opened my heart, filling myself with the great spirit of my country. And I knew I was home.
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