When I tell people that I'm going to India I invariably encounter three different responses:
1. Oh, My, God, I LOVE India. YOU are gonna LOVE it.
2. I have ALWAYS wanted to go to India, that is so cool.
3. Huh. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in going to India. None, zilch, nada.
I haven't met anyone yet who is luke warm on the idea of going to India.
Since I have always wanted to go, I figure I've got a pretty good handle on why people in category one or two say what they say...though I suspect there are almost as many reasons, really, for going to India as there are people who go....but lets not get too existential about it.
I can even wrap my brain around many of the reason people might be hesitant to go to India: the poverty, the over population, the dysentery....even, as one person said, "the smells".
But I have really been baffled by what some people have said about why they don't want to go to India. Before I tell you what that is, let me say first that these people in question are compassionate, warm, smart, caring, socially involved and evolved human beings...which is why their viewpoint startles me so. They say, "Why would you want to go somewhere so different, so foreign. I have no interest in being somewhere like that. I would feel too uncomfortable, it would just be too weird."
Because they are friends of mine, I feel comfortable asking, "Let me get this straight, you have no interest in seeing a land that old, getting an opportunity to learn something about a culture that has survived for so very long? You have no curiosity about life in a place that is, exactly as you said, so different from our own?"
And always, ALWAYS, they reply with complete confidence, "Nope, no interest what so ever."
I have to say, "that takes guts to me". I admire the chutzpah it takes to admit to such a glaring lack of curiosity about one of the oldest and most fascinating countries on the planet. I know, I know how judgmental I sound....and I suppose it would be untrue to say I'm not feeling at all judgmental....but, it is mostly awe and a strange kind of respect and mostly bewilderment.
Look, there's a lot of people I don't have much desire to know better or have much curiosity about...most of them fall to the far far right of the American political spectrum. So, I get it. We all have our boundaries, the places we feel uncomfortable or uninterested in exploring.
But for me it is exactly the foreignness of India that makes it imperative that I go. And since our world is getting smaller in so many ways, we can travel more easily, we can be on the other side of the globe in a matter of hours, we can video chat with loved ones on the flip side of the planet to let us know how we are doing. We have an unparalleled opportunity here in the 21st century to meet people who think and feel and live and pray differently than us and to understand them.
I'm as guilty as anyone else, even more guilty than some, of relying on facebook and technology to keep me connected to my friends and world events. There are times when I feel rather isolated, or I should say, I cherish my alone time and online networking keeps my world a little more open. But I also feel like so much of our world view is shrinking to the size of our computer screens. And just at the moment in history when we have the opportunity to see so much of the world with relative ease and speed, we have been seduced into being afraid (or is it apathetic?) of it.
Hey, I know not everyone has the time or money to go to India. There are so many people who would love to go, but have families to raise and to get through college. So, it's not the lack of leaving for India that baffles me, it is lack of curiosity about seeing such a place.
We must just be wired differently. I need to see the poverty, to know the colors and smells, the dirt, the dust, the mosquitoes, the toilets without seats, to see how billions of people experience the world around them when it is so different than my own. I have been incredibly privileged in my upbringing, as have many Indians. In having a roof over my head for all the days of my life. Food, clothes, clean water. Who knows...maybe it's guilt that makes me yearn to see a country that may very well shatter my perceptions of my very comfortable life. Maybe there is something in me that needs to awaken from the complacency of living, even in these dark economic times, in this very affluent first world country where, in theory anyway, we all have the chance to live with clean water, food on the table, roofs over our heads. I don't know....but I do know that I just cannot conceive of not wanting to see India at all.
I mean, putting the economic disparity of and in India aside, there's all of this to experience:
But if you fall into category three and I still can't arouse your curiosity...rest assured, you don't have to go....I, however, seem to have no other choice.
As a footnote...to those people whose response to my leaving for India has been something like this, "Who do you think you are: Elizabeth Gilbert?" I say, as much as I admire Elizabeth Gilbert and loved her book Eat, Pray, Love, there were independent women who traveled solo to far off places long before she came on the scene. My desire to go to India lived in me long before she was even married, divorced and traveling to Italy, India and Bali. But, to be fair, I think she gave many of us the little extra push we needed to step out of our comfort zones and to say, "What the hell. Life's too short. I'm gonna buy that ticket and see what happens next."