Des­ti­na­tions

Even with fam­ily ties in In­dia, try­ing to ’fit in’ was a chal­lenge but worth the ef­fort

Our Canada - - Contents - by Emil­iano Joanes, St. Hu­bert, Que.

Men­tion you are go­ing to In­dia, and chances are you will be told, “You must see the Taj Ma­hal.” This his­toric land­mark has been pho­tographed time and time again, but as I learned first­hand, In­dia has much more to of­fer. It’s a pho­tog­ra­pher’s par­adise!

The hus­tle and bus­tle of life on the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent caught my at­ten­tion when I first ar­rived. Life goes on at an alarm­ing, hec­tic pace on the densely pop­u­lated streets. Peo­ple rush around to make a liv­ing. Sur­vival is for the fittest and this is a place where even sea­soned pho­tog­ra­phers are chal­lenged to grab pic­tures on the run.

One scene that is al­ways vis­i­ble is a cow leisurely walk­ing among the peo­ple or rest­ing in the mid­dle of a busy street. Con­sid­ered sa­cred, cows have the right of way and no at­tempts will be made to shoo them off. In­stead, the cars, three-wheel­ers, scoot­ers and pedes­tri­ans will sim­ply by­pass the sa­cred cow, the lo­cal peo­ple not con­cerned in the least that the cow is caus­ing a traf­fic jam.

While in In­dia, I had to make a com­plete U-turn from my Catholic up­bring­ing to fol­low the Hindu way. Be­ing “west­ern­ized” by liv­ing in Canada, it was not easy to make the change, but I was de­ter­mined to adapt dur­ing my time in In­dia. Just in case you are won­der­ing about my ori­gins at this point, al­low me to put things in per­spec­tive. My par­ents im­mi­grated to Kenya from In­dia, specif­i­cally from Goa, south of Mum­bai. Goa was a Por­tuguese colony for more than 400 years, and my an­ces­tors were con­verted to Chris­tian­ity; as a re­sult, sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions lost their Hindu roots. The mi­gra­tion path con­tin­ued for my im­me­di­ate fam­ily, as my younger brother and I im­mi­grated to Canada, while one sis­ter and a brother went to the United States, and my youngest sis­ter moved to Eng­land.

The idea of vis­it­ing In­dia came about when Ra­man Khare, my son’s mother- in- law, a Hindu woman, con­vinced me to travel to In­dia with her. She said, “Since you don’t speak Hindi, you will be more com­fort­able with me. I will do all the talk­ing on your be­half. We will not be trav­el­ling of­ten in large cities, but in small towns and vil­lages where my rel­a­tives are.” She added, “You can take all the pic­tures you want to your heart’s con­tent. No one will ob­ject.”

One of my first chal­lenges in In­dia was to be­come a veg­e­tar­ian and to eat us­ing my right hand. At first the food stuck to my hand and al­though most of it landed in my mouth, some dripped on to my chin. No one at the ta­ble made funny re­marks, and I even­tu­ally mas­tered eat­ing with my right hand. Ac­tu­ally, I was re­spected all the way for mak­ing an ef­fort to re­cover my Hindu roots.

Ra­man told me that when­ever I wanted to talk to some­one in the street when she was not with me, I should in­tro­duce my­self by join­ing my hands and say­ing, “Om Shanti.” (Peace). She told me that most of the youth speak English, and that peo­ple in the streets would be help­ful af­ter they dis­cov­ered that I was a for­eigner—even though I look like a na­tive res­i­dent.

My favourite place was Ra­jasthan, sim­ply be­cause it was ablaze with colour. Women dressed in stun­ning saris and homes painted in vi­brant colours with themes re­lat­ing to the peo­ple’s faith, are a de­light for tourists, es­pe­cially those who like to take pho­tos.

Us­ing trans­porta­tion in In­dia was fright­en­ing. When you sit in a jam­packed three-wheeler, it’s best to say a prayer that you will ar­rive at your des­ti­na­tion in one piece. The first time I used a three- wheeler, my leg was pro­trud­ing out into the street. Us­ing im­pro­vised sign lan­guage, I man­aged to in­form the driver, who was al­ready rac­ing down the street, about my predica­ment. With­out the least con­cern, he said, “Chalta hai.” I as­sumed that meant, “God will take care.” Later, I learned he was say­ing, “Don’t worry. It’s okay.” In ad­di­tion to snap­ping pho­tos, one other thing I loved to do in In­dia was to drink chai. It is tea that is pre­pared by adding boil­ing milk and cer­tain spices, and is best when drunk hot. It is very sooth­ing and re­lax­ing, and is of­fered quite of­ten. If you are bar­gain­ing over the price of a sari or shirt in a shop, for ex­am­ple, chai will mys­te­ri­ously ar­rive to give the bar­gain­ing process a friendly touch. You don’t buy any item in In­dia with­out bar­gain­ing. Ra­man is an ex­pert in the art of bar­gain­ing. When she dis­cov­ered that I had pur­chased a shirt, she was up­set. She said that I had paid dou­ble the price be­cause the shop­keeper dis­cov­ered I was a for­eigner. Af­ter that, any­thing I needed to pur­chase, she bar­gained for it.

We trav­elled from New Delhi right across the land by train, stop­ping on the way to visit Ra­man’s rel­a­tives. The fi­nal stop was at the Thar Desert near the Pak­istan/in­dia bor­der,which of­fered a com­plete change of scenery. Peo­ple flock here to walk on the sand dunes and see the mag­nif­i­cent sun­sets.

My jour­ney to In­dia was an ex­pe­ri­ence I will never for­get. Ra­man stayed be­hind for a longer pe­riod, promis­ing me that she would teach me how to make chai on her re­turn. In­dia is a to­tally dif­fer­ent world far re­moved from the west. Be­fore board­ing the plane for Mon­treal, I turned round fac­ing the city, joined my hands and said, “Om Shanti,” to the peo­ple of In­dia.

Clock­wise from top: Hindu women in the city of Udaipur, wash­ing clothes in Lake Pi­chola; a sa­cred cow takes a rest in the mid­dle of a busy street; a wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion in New Delhi.

A sun­set over the Thar Desert, also known as the Great In­dian Desert.

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