Week 5: Farewell, Dear India
As I sit here writing on my last full weekend in Bangalore, I distractedly flip through photo albums and try to soak in the fact that my time in India is coming to an end. I’ve just returned from Sukh Sagar, where we are now well-known by all the waiters as regulars. My travel buddy and I met up with our friend from Harvard—an experienced Bangalorian who first showed us around the city at the beginning of the summer. We sat drinking masala chai and lemon soda slowly as we recounted all the stories we had accumulated in our two months here. I vividly recall our first week, when our friend was showing us around the
city: I was homesick, disoriented, and happy to see a familiar face. And now here I sat, after having thoroughly traveled and experienced India, talking about all the places I had been. Who knew that so much could happen in eight weeks?
Just the other night, my colleague and I thought we were about to enjoy a nice, quiet dinner with a professor and his wife at their lovely home on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science. Instead, we walked into a party for socialites featuring a former TIME magazine writer who is now writing a book on Ahmedabad in the northern state of Gujarat, a prominent economist and author who worked under the current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and professors from Ireland, Italy, and even the more familiar North Carolina. Be it a room full of seemingly unrelated guests, one ransacked by monkeys, an unusually calm French city like Pondicherry or yes, a car whose driver you don’t realize doesn’t know how to get to your destination in another state ten hours (or in our case, 18) away…you never know what you might walk into in India. The surprises (good or bad) never cease.
Through my day-to-day work and weekend travel marathons, I’ve been fortunate to see how another part of the world lives. After being born and raised in the U.S., my imagination about life outside of it could only stretch so far. Sure, I knew countries existed beyond our seas. I had read the striking numbers about impoverished populations around the world. I had seen pictures of beautiful scenery and historic buildings in classes, on the Internet, in books. But I still felt as if I were seeing everything through someone else’s eyes, and my imagination could only realistically envisage so much before I just couldn’t fathom the existence of a world outside of where I lived. Only after talking to fellow Indian colleagues about their lives, walking through the slums of Mumbai, experiencing the aura of the Taj Mahal, or traveling on a non-AC overnight bus could I really understand India. This sounds simple and obvious, but I realize now that in spite of elaborate descriptions, no one else can really understand this shared experience like my colleagues and I can.
When I first arrived in India, I was bothered by the amount of stares I got on the street for looking different. And at first, I too felt starkly different. Though my features were vaguely Indian, my dress was obviously American, and my broken Hindi certainly gave me away as a foreigner. But as the summer progressed, I became comfortable in Bangalore and didn’t feel so
different anymore. I could now hold a conversation in Hindi with a local street seller about my family origins or the fineness of their colorful shawls.
India, like many other experiences in life, is what you make of it. Nothing could have mentally prepared me for my adventures in India; they were unlike anything I have ever experienced and probably will ever experience again. My best pieces of equipment were an open mind, a bit of humor, and a great group of friends.
About the Blogger
Shaira Bhanji is a Economics major with a secondary in Global Health/Health Policy at Harvard, where she is the Scientista Foundation Harvard Chapter Director. Her science experience includes research internships at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as well as at City of Hope National Medical Center. In addition to her studies, Shaira enjoys playing soccer, taking walks along the Charles, and making frequent visits to Boston Tea Stop. This summer, she is pursuing a research fellowship in malnutrition at St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore, India.