IN MY OPINION
My Discoveries in Distant India
A land of hospitality, community and true devotion
RECENTLY, MY FAMILY AND I REVISITED India after six years. Based on our previous journey to the land of my ancestral origin—when I was eleven—my brother Mayuresh and I were disenchanted at spending our cherished three-week vacation in a place where pollution and poverty were hard to miss. Anticipating a repeat of prior experiences, we embarked on this journey rather disinterested. Little did I realize that the enigmatic charm of India—often described by visitors to this holy land—was something I was about to experience. A strong sense of community, genuine hospitality and the loving expressions of devotion among local residents are what stood out to me most during this memorable visit.
In Mumbai and Chennai, I was amazed and amused at how lively these cities are, even late into the night. They rightly befit their “hustle and bustle” description, especially when the unmarked vehicle-lanes on the road are often left to each driver’s wild imagination and the seemingly reckless driving starts to feel like a spontaneous dance, set to the tune of the constant honking of cars and ringing of bicycle bells with an occasional accompaniment of a “moo” from the honorable gomata (cow). Within minutes of stepping onto these streets, there is a lot to take in: from the colorful produce and aromatic grab-n-go foods sold by street vendors, to the multitude of little shops, buzzing with customers trying to get a good bargain; from people trying to cross the busy street whilst cars, buses, bicycles and auto rickshaws zoom by, to the cows and stray dogs relaxing on the pavement. Amidst the locals so actively engrossed in their work was an empowering sense of community spirit. One evening during peak traffic hours, we came to a lengthy, full halt at an intersection. When the traffic finally began to clear up, we saw that it was thanks to the efforts of three professionally dressed onlookers who had voluntarily stepped in to help direct traffic. It was remarkable how these men, who were clearly not part of the police force, joined to help their community.
Another enthralling sight to behold in India is its Hindu temples, showcasing exquisite architecture, eye-capturing sculptures and grand ceremonies to honor their Deities. I was deeply touched by the pious expression of love I witnessed when attending arati to Lord Ganesha at the famous Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai. This was the first arati of the day, before sunrise. I had thought few would wake up to attend. We were proven wrong when countless devotees of all ages eagerly stood in line to enter before the doors closed for the duration of the arati. Despite being conducted daily, the arati was a grand event; the beat of the drums vibrated throughout the sanctum, while the rhythmic clapping of devotees accompanied the priest’s chanting, all enhancing the beauty of the Deity dressed in the most glittering jewels and ornate robes.
While in South India I was overwhelmed by the heart-warming hospitality, so generously dispensed. On one occasion a priest invited us to his home for a freshly prepared meal after having just met us. Another instance was our encounter with a street-side coconut stand run by an elderly couple. Despite their humble circumstances, they had warm and loving personalities and took it upon themselves to ensure that we truly enjoyed the tender coconuts and palm fruits. Such boundless hospitality was refreshing and instantly created a family bond. A strong community spirit combined with devotion to God brings about a genuine sense of hospitality that’s rooted in our Hindu belief that the guest is God. Although I am happy to be back home in America, I readily await to be welcomed into India’s open arms again.
AARTI VISSWANATHAN, 17, is an 11th grader at San Marcos High School, California, US