On November 30th, just about a month ago, I cried like a baby. It was an ugly cry too (is there pretty crying?), one that I was supposed to save for behind closed doors when I didn't have copious amounts of makeup on from a dance program, but it happened. I held it together so well, but then I was suddenly in some sappy, emotional movie. I pressed "up" on an elevator control pad and started waving to people that I realized I wasn't sure I'd ever see again, even if I wanted to. I had said so many goodbyes that evening and I knew they were coming, but I was utterly unprepared. I wasn't alone. All of my friends were sad to leave India, sad to leave a place that truly became home for a while. However, my cry was also happy, even joyous, because of how lucky I am to have had the experience I did, to have the family and friends I do, and to just simply be alive.
Learning, discovering, and exploring at Manipal University and in India at large was, cumulatively, four of the best months of my life. At our closing ceremony, a night to reflect upon our experiences at Manipal, I was asked to make a speech as foreigner, or someone who had never really been exposed to Indian culture. Although what I said was meant to be spoken (and was), the words below, like this blog throughout the last 5 months, reflect my thoughts and feelings:
"If you would have told me two years ago that I was going to spend 4 months in India, I would have seriously doubted you. I am the first person in my entire family to come here, and so my parents were, understandably, quite uneasy with my selection. I think they would have reacted less if I had chosen a more common destination among U.S. students, but perhaps their hesitation was also due to the usually negative and unfair rhetoric of India that the media commonly shows…however, these views are very one-sided and it is imperative that fellow citizens of my country understand this because India matters…
Coming here was one of the best decisions I have made in my lifetime. I think the one of the most significant things I have cherished about this experience is how much learning I have done. For example, as you can see, I’ve been opened to the world of traditional South Indian culture through experiencing Bhartnatyam (I was still in my dance outfit), which has shown me the influence of dance in culture, and given me the courage to do something I feared before…I have learned about occupations that I never even realized existed; I remember when we were in Kollam (travel week) our tour guides informed us that the economy of the village we were in was sustained because of coir making from dried coconut shells. I had no idea that was what my doormat was made out of, and seeing this made me understand that almost everything in the world today has human effort behind it…I had never given a thought to such a job, and the encounter has made me appreciate humanity even more.
Here, I have been exposed to more religion than ever before. One of the most peaceful and reflective places I’ve been was the Kere Basadi in Varanga. I have actually been to more temples than churches in my lifetime and the high level of toleration between faiths in India is truly refreshing. Many nations could really learn from this habit of benevolence…I have had many immersive experiences in public health; I remember visiting the Udupi District Surveillance Office a few weeks back for one of our field visits and realizing the importance of conducting rigorous surveillance in order to keep the community as healthy and educated as possible…I’ve experienced cricket first hand in the field near the Geopolitics Department, and had fun participating in India’s favorite pastime with such good people…I’ve learned the art of not getting ripped off by a rickshaw driver, the nuances of pronouncing words in Hindi, and I will sorely miss butter chicken and nan…I could honestly take hours to tell you the things I will carry home in my head and heart, though I believe the most significant is the people I’ve met. What made my experience here so unique, so personal, and so real are the people who showed us the things I just mentioned, and so many more. It was the people who entered our lives that made India so easy for me to love and feel comfortable in.
The people who have made this difference in our experience here know whom they are, and almost all of them are sitting in this audience. I am so grateful to my professors for deepening my interest in public health and contemporary global issues, and especially to my research professor for not only ensuring my success in malaria research, but also inviting me over for tea. We feel lucky to have had an amazing dance teacher, and enthusiastic painting instructor, for going even beyond showing the importance of experiencing art in order to understand culture, but also warmly welcoming us into their homes and lives.
I know we all absolutely cherish the deep connection our batch has made with the students in the Geopolitics Department because, besides always keeping their doors figuratively and literally open to our questions, challenges, and would-have-been many boring nights, they have, most importantly, been loyal and trustworthy friends who share many similar dreams, fears, and aspirations as us. One of my favorite memories with them was going over to a friend’s house and celebrating Diwali. We lit diyas, wore sarees, and appreciated each other’s company. Who would have thought, from 10,000 kilometers away, we could meet such amazing people?! I would have never thought we would make these connections, but we did, and I am so happy for it.
And then there is Smriti. I think without her, our experience would have been entirely different. Smriti has gone above and beyond her title of “resident director”. She has put countless hours of overtime into making our journey here rich with food, culture, and experiences. She was open to any questions, even when the only appropriate reply was “Tum pagal ho” (You are crazy). Her willingness to help shape a safe and friendly environment for us is what enabled us to truly step out of our comfort zone, expand our capacity to learn and grow, and, ultimately, immerse ourselves into India. And I think that was the point of coming here.
My perspective of India, not to mention the world, has changed for the good. I wonder how I will view the United States with this new set of eyes. I am incredibly grateful and lucky for the opportunity to have lived here for the last four months. I now realize that India is a special country because of its unique history, customs, and people. I cannot wait to enlighten my family and friends about India, and relive all my experiences through showing pictures, telling stories, and sharing what I’ve learned. I’ve already started a list of things I want to do when I can hopefully come back. I can also confidently say that although I still look, and sometimes act, like a foreigner, I surely do not feel it anymore, and I know this is entirely due to the open arms of the people we have met. To them, and to my fellow American friends, I thank you!"
My thoughts from a month ago, put into the speech I wrote above, sum up most of the feelings I have towards my experience. However, this post is not complete without some photos! I also highly encourage you to watch the amazing video put together by Sarah-Anne that beautifully depicts our travel week throughout South India...see "Travel Week" in 'Useful Links'. Below are pictures of the people I--we--grew to love and who, I am pretty confident, grew to love us.
Although this picture is not from the closing ceremony, it is too awesome not to explain...this was right before the first of our two dance performances in Bhartnatyam
On the very left is our amazing guru, or teacher, Manasi...the girls in red took their whole day out to help dress us and prepare us for our performance at the home of Manasi's parents
It was such a privilege to perform at this party. We love you Manasi!
Group selfie at Malpe Beach on our last weekend in Manipal, and yes, that is ice cream in our hands (also not from the closing ceremony, but hey)
Smriti and Varun's dog, Disco, loving St. Mary's Island
St. Mary's Island, Karnataka, India.
With Manasi's daughter, Surabi, before the closing ceremony...I hope to post the video of our performance really soon (once it is released), so you can check back here for it, and I will also post it on Facebook
When Shreya and Namita take your phone, the selfies get wild
With Dr. Aarthy, a wonderful role model and mentor who I sincerely hope I cross paths with again...she was the most awesome guide for the malaria research I did
Sarah, Tanzeela, Manasi and I post performance at the closing ceremony!
With Gideon, an absolutely amazing singer, jazz fan (can you imagine how excited I was when I found this out?!), and friend
With Hamsini, one of the warmest, most kind people I have ever met...a true privilege to call her a friend
I think you all know how much Smriti means to me (and if not, read above, or any other blog post for that matter)
To the people that gave my experience so much more meaning, thank you!
Although it is personally sad that this may be my last blog post here, I am certain it will not be my last blog post indefinitely. I have genuinely loved writing the accounts of the experiences I had, and also discovered I like to write more than I thought (Crossing my fingers for another adventure soon). I learned so much during my time in India, and will talk to anyone who will listen. I have discovered more about the world and myself, and highly suggest that if presented the opportunity to live abroad, you take it.
Encountering kindness and learning are two things that I have been lucky enough to freely experience throughout my life, whether it is with my family and friends in my hometown of Crystal Lake, my roommates in Washington D.C., and now, the people I've met in India. My sincere hope is that I can pay it forward and give it back throughout my life.
To the people who have read my blog: I thank you so much. Your support and interest helped motivate me to improve my writing, photography, and blogging skills. Most importantly, I hope you had a good time reading it.
Please feel free to ask questions, post comments, and give me feedback. It is always welcome.
This is "Live, from India".
With all of my love,