“From Cape Town, South-Africa” I say to probably the thousandth guy that asks me. With his head doing the Indian wobble he proclaims: “ AB De Villiers! Yes it is undeniable, from the top of your good head to the bottom of your brilliant toes; you absolutely look like AB my good sir. Totally true without a doubt in my mind.” I burst out laughing but feel honored nonetheless.
The skinny-legged Indian mans lenses, on his thick reading glasses, magnifies his eyes rationally way out of proportion to the rest of his face. You wont find those glasses in any shop – it has definitely been handed down by many a generation. “What is your good name my kind sir?” When I tell him he doesn’t seem to hear because he refers to me as AB for the duration of our conversation. I learn many things in India, first being that cricket, truly, is a religion here.
If you are open minded enough you have a whole country waiting to befriend you. Literally, every one of the odd billion or so folk is ready to step into a friendship, even if it lasts only for a minute or two. I have never made so many friends so quick in my life as on the streets of India. And it is not the fake kind of friendship where they befriend you to sell you something. I’ve had deeper conversations, with total strangers, about topics ranging from the caste system to the cautiously optimistic possibility of world peace than anywhere else in our travels.
Everything happens on the non-existing side pavements of the broken streets in India. The bustling activities situated around makeshift shops and stalls transports the mind farther than the Beatles’ Magical Mystery bus can on the way to Lucy in the Sky. I see a man on a stationary bicycle pedaling to make a grinder spin as he sharpens knives while a man with a red turban cleans wax out of a passer byes ear. A cow stops all traffic in the center of Mumbai and takes a steamy dump while a man scoops it up to add to a growing pile of manure fermenting on a sidewalk. The weird and eccentric is made so very normal here. I love it.
However, there is no way to sugar coat the fact that India – in some places – is pretty filthy. Delhi has one of the worlds highest air pollution rates and the Ganges has seen more corpses floating on it than fish swimming in it. With each step I take on her dirty, smelly, sticky wacky roads, I become immune to the millions of germs India has on offer. That said though, you see bright-eyed children in crisp school uniforms clutching books under arms, smiling and proud. You see woman in beautiful colorful saris selling vegetables and men riding tuk-tuks, waving, weaving traffic and nodding.
I see sad things too. Life passes by a beggar who’s given up on begging, today possibly his last, gauging by the amount of skin left on his thin rickety bones. Disabled men and woman with decades worth of dirt on their hard creased faces hold out empty hands. Most upsetting are the children begging in rags, smiling little by-products of a world that seemingly don’t care. The holy cows I see mowing on grass sprigs growing through cracked walls that rise out of littered roads, lead more fortunate lives than most people here. If ever there is a place where you want to count your blessings, then India is your go to place.
It is a mystical land where people walk around in loose fitting cloth and have third eyes painted on their foreheads. Pictures of Shiva and Ganesh adorn anything that has wheels and monkeys are considered Gods. It is loud and it is busy. It is by no means for everyone, but anyone is welcome.
The people – like with most other places we go to, is what makes this place special to me. The majority has so little, but they seem so content. Here, more than anywhere else in the world, I feel that people honestly don’t care what your skin color is or what your clothes look like. Humble is too noble a word to describe some of the folk here. Shanti Shanti is the pace. Namaste is the vibe. At one of the busiest train stations in the world I stand and watch how people come and go. To some of the passers by I am just a foreigner doing strange things with his camera, but to most I am a different face in the crowd to say a quick hello – where – are – you – from to.
We haven’t been all over the country, but we have seen more than some can say they have seen of India. Therefor I think it is fair to say that:
You don’t need to go to the Taj Mahal to experience the marvel that India both is and is not. You just need to get into a tuk-tuk and count how many near death experiences you encounter every kilometer to be reminded of the beauty of life.
You don’t need to go to some expensive yoga retreat in Jaipur to improve your flexibility, just catch an overcrowded train and see if you have enough space to stand on both legs.
India has many faces and facets and if you go with a candid heart and an unlatched mind
You will find it to be truly