I have been here in India for five months now. I am amazed at the changes in perspective that come with such a short period of time. Last night I was in a taxi being driven home from an outing and realized that I was no longer shocked by the noise, smells, chaos, and grinding poverty that is everywhere in this city of Kolkata (Calcutta).
I suppose it works both ways. When I am in Canada I get used to the cleanness, roominess, majesty of the mountains, and relative wealth of the nation and find myself no longer thankful for these things. Eventually I simply stop looking at the beauty. One cannot seem to maintain an awareness of surroundings without a concerted effort.
The last two months have been busy with teaching and class preparation. I spent one week traveling to the south of India to speak at a convention in Kerala, near where I taught in October. It was fun but I needed to keep up a grueling pace lecturing for a number of sessions over a period of three days. On top of that I was convocation speaker at the graduation ceremonies for the college that was hosting the conference. It all went well. It was only the heat and humidity that wore me out.
While I was in the south I was taken out to eat at a beach resort near the city of Kollum. There is an area that is developed for tourism and so I ran into many westerners there. It was a bit of a shock to see them. I simply do not see many white people here in India.
Caucasians in India tend to be of three sorts. The least of these groups are the ones that are obvious tourists. They are relaxed world travelers who kind of take on a lounging aura wherever they go. They walk slowly and have no agenda and sample the sights and products like people who are bored and have seen it all.
Then there are the ones who seem to be here on business or mission work. It is a guess, because I never talked with them, but they seem to be like me. They are with Indians and have a purposeful demeanor. They talk with a sense of urgency and walk quickly and are focused more on the people they are with than with the sights and sounds of the beach.
The last group of people, and in some areas the largest, are the ones who are trying desperately to be drinking deeply of the Indian ethos. Burned out hippies and searchers of meaning. They have come seeking spiritual knowledge in Hinduism and Tantric Yoga and drugs.
It would appear that in gaining this knowledge they have lost whatever fashion sense they had when they left the west. Shirts are hand spun jute and dirty canvas pants with sandals made out of used tire treads or wicker. They generally have long unwashed hair or dreads and a gaunt expression on their faces. They are almost all skinny (an attribute I am jealous of).
I always find it funny to see westerners wearing eastern clothing while all the Indians are wearing Levis and polo shirts. I have noted the same phenomenon in Calgary during the stampede when all the Japanese tourists walk around the rodeo with snap button shirts, belt buckles the size of dinner plates, and white ten gallon hats. Their efforts to fit in make them look silly (in my humble opinion).
I will be making one more trip to the east of India to speak at a college in a city called Visakhapatnam. It is on the coast and seems to have beautiful beaches (snuck a peek on Google maps) so I am looking forward to that and the train trip there and back. After that, graduation and my return to the land of my youth.
Bruce Spinney is a local pastor, haul truck driver and teacher. He is in India for another month, teaching at some of the Christian colleges there.