When many of us think of love, we picture picnics in front of the Eiffel Tower, Hollywood films or walks around the idyllic scenes of New Zealand forestry. However, I am under the impression that we have found the true foundation of love right here in India. Reimagining India 2019 is true to its name. I stepped on board the plane in Auckland with expectations of sleight-of-hand scam artists, poverty on my doorstep, and a country that may use the caste system to discard many of it’s most vulnerable. However, by my first night in Bangalore my eyes were opened to the incredible hospitality, kindness, open-mindedness and welcoming nature of India. While it may be true that there is nothing that cannot be proven wrong (or right) in India, our experience in India is a testament to the fact that the “guest is God” sentiment towards hospitality runs strongly throughout the country. This is a testament to the love that radiates every place we visit.
A trip to the Taj Mahal was a pivotal moment by which this understanding came to me. The first sight of the Taj brings a lump to most people’s throats. It was not until I took some time alone to marvel the outskirts of the Taj that it’s sheer size and gravity dawned on me. Many jokes were made that “she got a Taj Mahal built for her and I can’t even get a text back.” But this may be more than just a mere joke in the Western world, as love transitions further away from grand gestures and beautiful celebrations, into “u up?” texts. Sheer politeness becomes celebrated as special, rather than a normal part of our day to day life. While India may still be catching up to the West in regards to economic and social development, many Indians have held onto something that has been discarded in the West – Love, politeness, and acceptance of plurality.
Love is radiated also throughout the temples and places of worship we visit – whether that be the karma sutra poses carved into the walls of a 500-year-old temple, or the strangers who stood by us and welcomed us into their Sikh temple down the road from our hostel in Delhi. Religion, though for many perceived as a divider within society, can be a reasonable accepted point of difference in India. Plurality is a strong concept in many towns we visit, where Muslims, Hindu’s, Christians and the like stand as friends, neighbours and lovers. Even in Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, where there are separate Hindu and Muslim areas built during the riots 40-odd years ago, the community now lives as one, buying from communal stores and working side by side in the various factories within the commercial area.
Dharavi itself radiates love. As we walked down tiny alleyways, peered into factories and houses, and explored many of the industries and livelihoods within the slum, we were greeted with many smiles, waves and high fives. Not only were we greeted with these things, but we also had the pleasure of observing these between Dharavi’s residents. While a mere observer could look at their housing and amenities and pity them, it is important to look beyond the material. Kindness between friends and strangers is valued highly in India, perhaps higher than the monetary or material value in areas such as Dharavi. It is no surprise, therefore, that love is collectively stronger here than many places in the world. This is because love is not exchanged in return for business, money or product. Love is prevalent because it is the clearest form of communication across language, religious or ethnic barriers. With over 600 official languages in India, a smile or a hug are far easier understood than a Google translate search. I don’t think I speak for just myself when I say I have never felt as unconditionally loved as I have in India.
While India is so extravagant in size that truth in one area is a lie in another, I hope that the following reigns true;
India has long been victim to the rhetoric of ‘danger, deceit and poverty.’ Not often is the word of India’s commitment to love, being romantic or passer-by, proclaimed in the West. Regardless of the advertisement of such, India, while just like any other country, home to some cruel and unkind people (the population makes this hard to dispute), radiates love like nowhere else in the world.
It is my goal to encourage anyone seeking love within themselves, and from the kindness of strangers, to explore India. Whether that be by some sort of “Eat Pray Love” travel or sanctuary in a temple or meditation retreat, I can guarantee that it is difficult to leave India without a stronger connection to the self, and more importantly, to others.
So go ahead, book those flights. You won’t regret it.
By Ella Buchanan