Greener on the other side

“So tell me, why should someone visit India?”

“Er—”

When my friend asked me what’s good about India, I couldn’t come up with anything.

The only reason anyone from the first world or a western country should visit India is to understand how much privilege they have over the people of developing countries.

It’s eye-opening. Even the smallest things like a proper footpath are non-existent. Things you’d take for granted, like safe neighbourhoods, pedestrian-accommodating road rules, recycling systems, garbage trucks are all still tucked away under a vague five-year economic plan that may never see the light.

But I know all that only because I’ve lived there. I’ve wallowed in that toxicity for so long that I’ve come to hate everything about it, no longer recognising, or even acknowledging, the good things.

I wanted to leave–for a better lifestyle, a better society, and better mental health.

And I’m fortunate that I could. But—ain’t the grass always greener on the other side.

India is a beautiful country—to visit. It plays host to 780 languages, the second largest number in the world. Thousands of cultures practice millions of traditions every day. Aside from their historical practices, each group that speaks a language has many religious beliefs as well. And so, every language, throughout the years, has served as primary communication among different religions and castes (family groups). Not only does this magnify the number of classifications amongst Indians, but it also depicts the diversity that thrives in India.

For me, that’s a whole lot of unnecessary complexities that lead to political and religious wars. And that disgusts me.

However, this diversity is also why India (most of it, anyway) has a rich heritage and open-mindedness in welcoming foreigners. People love to show off—whether it’s their customs, tales they grew up with, dances passed down over generations, food that’s comforted pained souls for ages, they enjoy sharing with anyone curious enough to ask and invested enough to respect.

That’s priceless when you’re a traveller.

Even though every corner of the country, every urine-smelling alleyway, every open garbage dump, and every infected street dog nauseates the average person, that’s also where you’ll find charming old ladies selling fresh flowers for your hair. You’ll see short-tempered fruit and vegetable stall holders bickering with each other who’s got better produce. You’ll run into juice vendors who’ll pour you a glass so full that you have to take a sip first before carrying it away. When you chat with them, you’ll learn their struggles to make ends meet, to pay their children’s school fees, to wake up every morning with only three hours of sleep. And yet, as you pass these everyday people on the street, you’ll realise that despite all the harsh realities of their lives, they still try to smile, share, and celebrate spreading joy around them.

India is a “developing” country—been that way for decades. And it’s hard to say when, if at all, it’ll offer its people the comfort and luxuries that’ve become a norm in other countries. Regardless, Indians try hard every day to make their lives a little better than it was the day before. And that’s worth a visit.

Oh, and the Himalayas probably makes it worthwhile too.

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What if—?

Institutions and rules keep us in check, and tell us what we should and shouldn’t do. Without a religious belief watching over us we’d run amok with madness.

But what if we wake up one day having no memory of a god or religion? What if they never existed?

Well, we won’t have violence in the name of god, for sure. People will be fighting because they’re hungry.

We won’t have loud bells claiming to wake the lord, and waking up the whole street instead.

Men won’t need wear saffron dhotis for three months in the year. Imagine not living in a neighbourhood where the men are all clad in eye-numbing orange every day.

And women won’t have to cover their heads every time they go out. Hats will become a lifestyle choice. And I can wear a scarf to without being called out.

Oh, and we won’t have discrimination in the name of godmen. Sadthus and gurus will be out of business. Holiness would mean… nothing.

Footwear will become comfort, and people won’t torture themselves in the name of devotion.

Flowers will bloom and fade away, intact in plants. Slaughtered meat and alcohol won’t be part of a traditional offering—just Thanksgiving dinners. Or brunch.

Piercings will be a hippie thing—not a god thing.

What if we told the whole world that god and religion don’t exist?

Well, people just might go crazy.

Because that’s how it’s always done

I’ve seen my share of dictionary definitions, but so far, I haven’t found a single resource that equates traditions with obsessive compulsiveness.

Let’s back up a little.

Today’s a special day where I live. It’s the first day of the Tamil new year, and this means people wake up at 4 am and make “pongal.” It’s a rice-based porridge made in two flavours: savoury and sweet.

Today’s better known as the rice farmer’s festival, because its purpose is to thank the sun god for their year-long kindness to the crops and to wish for the same goodness in the upcoming year.

Farmers and their families celebrate this day with abundant gusto, dedicating today, the first day of the new year, to the sun, and tomorrow, the second day, to the livestock that labour through the fields year round. They deep-clean and decorate their homes, and serve pongal to the gods and cattle as a sign of their appreciation. They then gather round as family, wishing each other a good year ahead, and gobble up pongal all day.

Now that’s a nice picture: Thanksgiving for farmers.

However, it evolved into a generic Tamil festival which led people to adopt the habit of porridge-making in their own homes. What happens when townsfolk and ultra-urban dwellers celebrate Pongal? Well, they wake up early and make both kinds of pongal, serve it to the gods that reside in the kennels they’d built in their houses, and then devour porridge all day.

You could say it’s not too different from what the farmers do—except the underline purpose and the divinity associated with thanking nature for a prosperous crop-yielding year has depreciated altogether.

And so now, every year on this day, we make a big deal of making pongal early in the morning. And if you’re in a village where everyone wakes up at 4 am every day, it’s rather a competition to see who serves porridge to the gods first. If the auspicious time begins at 10:30 am, they try and finish cooking well ahead so they can pray to the gods as soon the time’s right.

That’s just one aspect of the Pongal festival. Another is the custom of making pots-full of both flavours even if it’s too much for a family of three. Farmers live in extended families—they have children, nieces, nephews, and cows to feed.

In the city though, it’s just the parents and a child or two. Since everyone in the neighbourhood also prepares the same pongal, there’s often too much to give around to others.

Regardless of making this mistake every year, and feeling bloated, people repeat it again and again—just because making pongal on this day is a tradition you shouldn’t skip.

Now if that isn’t obsessive compulsiveness, I’m not sure what is.

Attention

“C’mon. You’ve got great figure. Flaunt yourself!”

“Yeah,” chorused her cheerleaders. She’d agreed to meet Jason, the new boy in school, to help him catch up with the curriculum. Julie’s friends were helping her get ready.

“For heaven’s sake! It’s not a date.”

“Oh, but what if?” wondered Katie.

Waving them goodbye an hour later, Julie sighed. They’d forced her into a little black dress and black heels, with her hair in a bun.

“Good luck!” Ruth yelled walking away.

As they disappeared, Julie ran upstairs. She pulled on a ragged t-shirt and shabby jeans.

She’d rather flaunt her mind.

Natural guidance

Ever flows the lake

reflecting light for the one

seeking a mentor