In a previous post I wrote about how much I loved India. That trip has left an indelible impression on me for many, many reasons. First, the extremes:
The vastness of the country and the staggering number of people who live there. The over-the-top opulence and the abject poverty. The sight of some people driving BMWs, while others are riding camels, on the same street. Sophisticated cities like Mumbai, with its glass and steel towers, compared to the backward villages in Rajasthan, where the tools and implements residents use every day look like they’ve come from an archaeological dig.
The overwhelming noise — an absolute cacophony of different sounds. Horns, voices, vendors hawking their wares, music, traffic, screaming, laughing, dogs barking. The mind blowing colour, everywhere you turn. Prints, stripes, checks, plaids in combinations you cannot believe. Bolts of fabric, saris, flowers, painted buildings, displays of every kind, stacked floor to ceiling. The smell of curry, mingling with the scent of flowers, mingling with the odour of cooking food, mingling with the stench of dung.
What most impressed me, though, what I will never forget, are the people. Whether they are wealthy or live in tents on the street, they are kind, generous, compassionate, sincere, warm, grateful, welcoming, inquisitive, understanding, wise, calm, well intentioned and very, very spiritual.
I was there for a month. We spent part of an afternoon (completely by chance) and then had drinks with two brothers, princes, whose family not only owned the heritage palace hotel where we were staying, but most of the town. They made us feel as if we were old family friends, they were so pleased to see. The wealthy owners of a company that manufactures carpets and pashminas and clothing for export all over the world, and who also have a store where we shopped, invited us to their family home for dinner. There must have been twenty-five or thirty members of their family there — the women cooked for days — and served us a feast that took several hours to consume. The impoverished family of a man who organized a camel safari for us invited us to their home — two rooms, shared by three generations — for tea. The farmer who, unbidden, offered to go home, get his tractor and take us, and our luggage, to our hotel when our van broke down near his farm. The Muslim woman, with tears in her eyes, who came up to me in a synagogue in Delhi to say she had come to express sympathy and, also, to pay her respects for all those who had been killed in a synagogue in Mumbai.
We arrived in India just a couple of weeks after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Needless to say, many tourists from all over the world, cancelled trips because they were afraid to go. Well, it wasn’t hard to spot our little group as tourists. Unbelievably, everywhere we went we had total strangers coming up to us, touching us on the arm or the back, smiling and thanking us for coming to India, for being there.
But for me, it can all be summed up in this photograph. Namaste. Which stands for much, much more than the simple greeting we sometimes mistake it for.
As found in Wikipedia, Namaste is derived from Sanskrit, and it’s a combination of two words. “Namah” and “te”. Namah means ‘bow’, ‘obeisance’, ‘reverential salutation’ or ‘adoration’. Te means ‘to you’. So quite literally, Namaste means, “I bow to you”.
And that tells you everything you need to know about India, and the people who live there.