It’s been 2 ½ weeks since we came back from India this time around. The India fever has been running high ever since I came back home, been binge-watching Hindi films during these past few weeks to try to grasp for the last few straws of India that I had left in me from the trip. Why do I feel this way these days? Am I making up for all those years when I didn’t feel that I belonged neither here or there? Am I getting more sentimental with time, more than I already am? I don’t have an answer to all these questions, all I know is that writing has been my only saviour; it helps me cope with my complicated and scattered emotions about belonging.
I just started reading the book The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and have also watched the film by Mira Nair based on the same novel. That film hit a spot in my heart and I can’t help but to cry tears of recognition and melancholy. The pain and the suffering is too close to heart. Writing these words after watching the film, aren’t written without a tear in my eyes. At least they clean the vision and hopefully I can see clearly now what I have long wanted to see. Me and who I truly am. There’s never been a need to pretend but I didn’t realise that when I was younger. You don’t have to try to fit in when you know you don’t. Being unique is what is best.
Ever since the second day of visiting Mumbai in November, I knew that I had found my missing piece of inspiration. My long lost inspiration for writing my story, my book. I found it again, in the heart of Mumbai. I could see the waves coming into the shore and we were driving by the south side of Mumbai, feeling the breeze from the opened window. My hair was getting messy in the wind, but I didn’t mind at all, I felt at peace. I knew I had found my way back, to my core. I think that’s why I have had my “identity crisis” with the endless watching of Hindi films, trying to see if I can relate to any of it. I don’t feel the need to relate anymore, I already know what was missing all along. My acceptance.
Goa. Candolim. Sunny endless beaches with sand dunes that feel amazing. There’s India and there’s Goa; the Indian paradise and the go-to tourist place in India. During winter-time it never gets cold, it’s a never-ending summer time in Goa. The beaches are probably like no other beach in the world; where animals such as cows and stray-dogs can wander freely and openly without anyone bothering or judging. It’s the type of beaches where everyone is welcome and that’s the beauty with it. People can bathe in bathing suit, full clothes on or even bikinis – nothing is considered strange here. I love Goa for what it is – India’s beauty. With all its flaws and wonders.
We were in Candolim, Goa for 4 nights during the end of December 2016 and it was the best time of the year to be there. The weather is always nice and sunny with a temperature that is bearable and comfortable – 34 degrees Celsius during the day and 25 during the evening. You can wear long dresses that are airy and free and just put on a cardigan when it’s evening time – I haven’t had that type of freedom in the choice of clothing in a long time. The weather in Sweden isn’t allowing that type of clothes even during summer; one must always bring a thin jacket for evening times in Scandinavia – it always requires planning. That’s something that doesn’t work in India, nevertheless in Goa, planning can be done but it won’t really last throughout the trip. Things will change from one day to another. That’s also one of the great beauties of India, you never know what is expecting around the corner – so don’t plan too much in detail. Be spontaneous and free. Be open-minded and things will resolve and open up to new possibilities themselves.
I will be posting a clip on my Youtube channel in the coming day or two where I’ve gathered some footage and images from the whole India trip. So stay tuned for that! Meanwhile, you can enjoy a few of my favourite images in the below gallery.
Bombay. Mumbai. Whatever you’d like to call it, this great urban city of India that Bollywood calls its home. So much diversity and so many nationalities in the same city, living under the same rules – freedom. There’s a sense of freedom in India which cannot be found elsewhere, you can do as you please, come as you go and just mind your own business – there’s no problem. Anything is do-able in India. If you have plenty of time and patience. Don’t rush it and things will fall into place – eventually.
I will be travelling down to Bombay by air from North India, and it’s amazing how you only get to half of the country in 2½ hours with flight. It’s the same distance as Stockholm to London, it’s incredible how large this country is. When we get to Bombay (which is what I still call the city most of the times despite the name change back to Mumbai) we’re checking into a hotel near the airport to freshen up and get some rest. We’ll be doing some shopping in the city the first evening in Bombay and then just take it easy because of all the travelling. The next day is planned for sightseeing and local shopping, and hopefully to meet a dear friend of mine.
I want to capture and take in the whole experience of being in Bombay for the first time. Travelling with someone who’s never been to India is also very special, you get to show what you’ve been accustomed to since childhood and also see it through their eyes. How do they look at the surroundings? What do they think of the mad traffic and driving on the “other side”? What are their first impressions when coming out of the airport? The smell, the people and the rush. Either you love it or you dislike it, that’s what I believe. Either you’ll love India and it’s randomness and the need of being present all the time, or you’ll be fed up in no time if you haven’t got the patience. If you remain open throughout the whole experience you will probably love it.
What would you think when you see the huge gaps between the rich and the poor? How do you react to the people begging openly in the streets? This is the whole experience and not just go to the tourist places and turn back to Europe after the vacation is finished. When you’re here, you need to see the whole 360 of what India has to offer you. From the 5 star hotel restaurants to the roadside dhaba’s, from the fancy and exclusive shopping malls to the local crowded markets, from a private taxi to a rickshaw or a 3-wheeler. Then you’re able to judge it with real open eyes, without judgement and without fear.
I’ve made a new video on YouTube where I answer some questions about my ethnicity. The video is inspired by the tag that is circulating around on YouTube. It’s intended for you all to get to know my background a little bit more, at least my Indian side. Let’s connect over at YouTube if you haven’t already subscribed to my channel, the link is pasted below.
Questions answered in the video:
1. Where are you from?
2. When was the last time you visited your country?
3. What part of the country are you and your family from?
4. Name one ethnic food that you enjoy the most.
5. Name one household item that best represents your culture.
6. Do you speak your language?
My relationship with my native country India has been up and down throughout the years. Since I’m born and raised in one of the most opposite countries to India, culture wise, that is Sweden, one can say it’s been the major reason for my very mixed cultural experience. While sitting in the flight back home, via Turkey, I’ve had my fair amount of reflection time, as I usually do while travelling places. Growing up it was a natural milestone to travel to India every other year to visit family and relatives; my parents wanted us to get a glimpse of India and our heritage from an early age. When growing up and being a teenager I found it particularly hard to motivate myself to travel there again and again. Relatives moved far away from India and soon everything I had associated with the trips would no longer be awaiting us, and perhaps it was my way of not wanting to accept change, but I briefly lost interest in India overall throughout those years.
This summer I’ve had a rewarding and thought provoking trip to India where I’ve reached a whole new level of my relationship to India, in a very positive way. Of course these kind of thoughts don’t come over night, it’s been an ongoing process mentally over the past few years, embracing my heritage and being a Swede with Indian roots. I am more than ever interested in Indian languages and regret not going from learning Punjabi to knowing Hindi at a more earlier age, so that I could be fluent while travelling all over beautiful India. I’ve come to terms with accepting the country for what it truly is; a great independant nation with all kinds of people, religions and cultures gathered in a country as big and wide as a continent. I can see the beauty in what I see out in the streets of the captal, New Delhi, or just as well travelling between cities and seeing agriculture, old houses and slums being side by side with 5-star fancy exclusive hotel chains. Watching how people help out each other in the streets while parking your car in the most narrow street with all kinds of difficult obstacles you wouldn’t cope on your own, or just simply reaching out for each other despite being strangers. Walking side by side with the lowest ranked citizens of India’s caste system, while on the other side seeing people unbelievably wealthy. Everyone has a place in this giant naton called India, despite all injustices that exist. I just wish I could do more for the poor people, I want to save them all from this horrible poverty. By travelling to a country like India, you can’t help but to involve all your senses and emotions, even the ones you thought you have forgotten about in comfortable and safe Sweden/Scandinavia, they all become alive and floods through your system and it makes you more compassionate. You embrace the world with all its flaws and don’t just take your calm good life for granted when you get home. The important thing after all is that these emotions and thoughts don’t stop or shut down just because you travel home. I will forever be grateful to my family for introducing me to my heritage and home country so I can in turn make my future children know where they came from and also feel this sense of pride that I finally can say that I do.
I’m going to share a little piece of what my book is going to cover. This is something that I’ve been thinking about for the last few years and it’s a very personal topic, and I’ve been very unsure over those years whether or not to share it with the world.
The topic is: arranged relationships (or marriages) vs. love relationships and related stories. It’s going to be a very personal book, very close to my heart and it’s going to be about cultural differences between western and a mixed Indian culture.
I don’t personally have any experience in having to be in an arranged relationship (thank God!) but I am very interested in the subject and how it’s still a problem for some young people to get out of (if they wanted to). They are usually expected to follow the family traditions and they therefore agree to go through with it to avoid bringing family shame or damage the family honour.
Why would there be family shame if they choose their own partner? Why shouldn’t we be able to love whoever we want and choose to spend the life with that person be enough to please the family? Those are some very difficult questions to answer but I’m very eager to dig deeper into the whole concept and find out more about the pros and cons of such an arrangement. Isn’t the individual happiness what should be in focus, since we’re the only ones who are going to live our own life?
Another interesting observation is how girls and boys are treated differently and the expectations and pressure are also very diverse depending on if you’re a boy or a girl. A boy might be able to date more openly before a marriage in some families, while girls should not even talk to a boy before she gets married. I know I might take the most extreme examples, but they do exist, unfortunately.
From a Western perspective I have a hard time accepting or believing that one would ever want to marry a stranger and build a family with them, but somehow it’s not hard to accept for true followers of this tradition or culture.
What is interesting to know about Indian culture is that it’s very intertwined with religion; so there is really a fine line between the two. One can be non-religious but still follow all traditions and celebrate religious holidays, just because it’s natural to them. I compare it with celebrating Christmas for example, not many people in Sweden are religious but we still celebrate Christmas here. It’s fun to receive gifts and have the whole family gathered – but it’s more for the social aspect than it’s ever going to be religious. At least here in Sweden, which isn’t a very religious country.
I guess growing up in a very nonreligious country together with having a family which is Indian and having that Indian culture with me has made me question many things while growing up. These are just a very few of my thoughts that have triggered my need to write my story, as raw as it might be, because I believe that it’s necessary to shed some light on these topics in today’s modern society where we might think that everyone has a free will. At least here – in the West.