Today marks the halfway point for my time in northern India. I’m currently in Bundi, of which I won’t see much more than my hotel room. Despite there being a town tour, which seemed interesting, paired with a market walk I’m finding I can’t bring myself to muster up enough energy to go walking for three hours in near triple digit heat. A downside of being on the move (sometimes as much as 5 hours a day) is not having much option to spend a day doing essentially nothing. So while I’m disappointed I’ll miss the tour, I’m happily devoting today to my day of nothingness.
The Tiger safari yesterday resulted in a bumpy ride in which we didn’t see tigers. Evidentially, the zone in which to see them is very expensive and Intrepid clearly didn’t shell out for it. A minor disappointment for sure, but a nice drive anyway.
On the ride here Ravi, our guide, talked a bit about India and its cultures. The conversation reminded me I had yet to really reflect on my impressions of India thus far. And what better way to spend the afternoon then by writing and reflecting over cups of masala tea? It feels like an absurd luxury to do nothing at all, blissfully alone with my thoughts for an afternoon.
My thoughts on India are very different than what I had expected, which to be totally honest, was that I wouldn’t much like it, the north that is. Though I know to take traveler’s tales with a grain of salt I had heard so many negative stories I was admittedly apprehensive about the whole thing. But, clearly, I was still intrigued enough to come. And as I’ve mentioned before, everything has been fine. Yes, there are stares and comments from men, everything feels a bit hectic, and the smells can be…otherworldly, but overall I haven’t felt the least bit overwhelmed. I thought India would be so different, not in any particular way, but just different. And it is, to some extent, incredibly unique. But at the core it is the same as anywhere else. The more I travel the less exotic the world becomes, people are essentially the same from country to country, and India is no exception. The differences in culture are minor to the shared existence as humans.
I have found, thus far in my views towards these minor culture differences to again, be much more different than I had initially imagined. Arranged marriage is an easy example. Though I could never imagine it for myself, it is not this awful thing I probably would have thought it was years ago. Instead, it’s a fascinating lens in which to view both Indian culture as well as my own. First, I must say I don’t pretend to even begin to grasp the complexities and deeply rooted ideologies, which contrast severely across the sub-continent, nor do I suggest any of what I view as typically western to be all encompassing. Simply, these are observations I have made in specific reference to my own life.
What I find fascinating about arranged marriage, as explained by Ravi, is the idea of giving of yourself, compromise and acceptance. To him, it is not simply a marriage between two people, but more a union of two families. It is more than yourself, you must compromise and understand your way isn’t an absolute, which sounds similar to many western ideas on marriage. But on the last bit, on acceptance he notes, you just accept that she is the one for you, and you to her. There is nothing else. For many westerners, we couldn’t do that. Not easily anyway. In the west we relish our freedoms and choices, but the opportunity for choice presents pitfalls I hadn’t really considered. Though perhaps a relationship is fantastic, it is normal to wonder what else is out there, what other options are, and the moment something less than perfect occurs, many jump ship in search for something new. Perhaps they will find it, perhaps not. And while many relationships are certainly not worth saving I do wonder if there was a stronger emphasis on acceptance and of course, compromise (namely, keeping egos in check) if western relationships would have higher success rates (not to say a divorce must mean failure either). In my own life I find inner conflict related to too many choices, too many paths to a future self. I am conflicted mostly because I want to choose well, I don’t want regrets, or to wonder “what if”. So instead, I find myself in a bit of a standstill always with options, but struggling to commit lest the path I choose be less than optimal. I deeply appreciate my ability to have opportunity and choice, but it wasn’t until recently I understood the down side of such a privilege. Of course, I wouldn’t give it up, but it helps me feel more comfortable in that whatever choices I do make, ultimately there’s no reason not to be happy-the choice is mine.
I have found, through travel that happiness is generally sourced in giving. When we are part of something greater than ourselves, when we wish happiness onto others, when we give freely, that is when we are happy. India, like many other cultures has a high emphasis on outward focus, marriage is just an example. Overall, the focus isn’t on self improvement for the sake of ego or advancement, but for the betterment of your family’s security. The focus is not on yourself, but those you care for. In the west we are the opposite, we strongly believe we alone are responsible for our own happiness, but that the only way to make ourselves happy is by inner gains, instead of outward focus. I certainly believe that we must all care for ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually so that we can adequately function happily in society. But, such an inward focus, specifically when that focus disregards other’s well being in the name of selfish gains can only bring unhappiness and destruction, ultimately. There is a reason the US is known for its rich unhappy population. Obviously, corruption exists everywhere, and India is in no way different in that regard. But these fundamental believes hold true for many. The more I travel to the developing world, to places I grew up thinking were somewhat “backward” have continually impressed me with their wisdom, and have often made me think perhaps we’re pretty “backward” too, and such a skewed view can be quite dangerous, both for the self and society.
Perhaps this is in part what drives me to a simple, minimalist, wayward style of life. I can avoid the dangerous deterrents of western culture and be happy with less by needing less and focus my energy on greater things. India has helped to remind me that really, the way we live in the west is the anomaly, not the other way around.