We have stayed in fabulous places, among them a guesthouse in Kerala, on a lake, surrounded by rice paddies, waterbuffalo with those white birds on their backs - the owner is a little younger than us = grew up in the tiny village there but has since worked in London and New York and knows our standards of cleanliness and service - In the midst of rural village life, it was an oasis of hygiene for us! He invited us to his brother's wedding - gorgeous sarees, lavish, sumptuous, bride dripping gold - the couple had only met for 10 minutes total - she looked happy at times and terrified at others.
We have stayed at an ashram that promoted/accepted people from all religions, and at an intentional community straight out of John Lennon's song,"Imagine", with no religion, just a focus on peace. We have visited ancient shrines, scaled crumbling walls and small mountains, been in temples, mosques, churches. We've seen monkeys, elephants, camels, peacocks, holy cows and otherwise, pigs, dogs, donkeys, parrots. We have eaten food that we have no clue what it is (although vegetarian only). We make a point of speaking with people from all over the world, from all walks of life. We have participated in religious and spiritual practices that are completely new to us. We have learned a smattering of words in tamil, mayalam, hindi and rajastani in order to say thank you and that we like or appreciate something - and just to feel what the words are like rolling off our tongues. We have avoided a cyclone and been caught in a monsoon flood. We have visited the desert and the tropics. We have read Rohinton Mistry, Dominique Lapierre and Rudyard Kipling, as well as newspapers and current political books..
The people who are not trying to sell us something are friendly and helpful. The women look like shining jewels in the dusty streets - they are spots of luscious colour in amongst the film of sand that covers most things. We are approached often by Indians asking to take our picture with them on their cameras. They especially like talking to Birch and Allegra. We are the curiosity for them!
That so many people don't use toilets is the thing that we are all struggling with - our first week here, (how do I put this delicately?) a man defecated 4 feet from me, then walked away. We were waiting for a bus, and were stuck there for 45 minutes... Although no one could stand the smell, I think John and the kids survived the time by laughing at me and my reactions..
And then there was the rat in our room at the Ashram- it dropped on Allegra as she was sitting on the toilet - she came out screaming, I started screaming, three people came running, two chasing it with brooms, and the third man threw Birch's shirt over it and took it away. At that point, Allegra did not like India very much. And yesterday Allegra was attacked by monkeys who ripped a bag of guavas out of her hands. Still, Allegra wants to return here as she sees India as a perfect backdrop for her fictional characters in the books she writes.
This morning, we woke up in a fun, funky clean hotel with crazy art and excellent food at the rooftop restaurant. The rooftop restaurants are literally on top of the roofs, and the views are fascinating. We participated in the annual kite-flying competition yesterday - like in The Kite-runner (book / movie) - got interviewed by an Indian news station - then hung out with our waiters on the roof, who were flying their kites in between serving Kingfisher beer and butter masala chicken. The day before we climbed to a 500 year-old marble palace, and John and Birch walked the surrounding 12 km. wall (think mini-mini-version of Great Wall of China). Today we caught a bus to Agra and the Taj Mahal.
I believe that we only grow when we are out of our comfort zone. I believe we are doing our children a huge service by taking them on this trip and exposing them to all kinds of different ways to live. And India is definitely out of our comfort zone! However, with each day, we are way more comfortable than the day the plane landed here...
So do I love India? Yes.