Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Surrendering to India

Surrender. It’s an interesting concept, and one that most often has connotations of giving in to an enemy or having to do something you don’t want to do. But it can also mean giving yourself up, completely and utterly, for better or worse. And it doesn’t always have bad results.

I’m in the middle of reading the novel Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s incredibly rich and beautiful and Roberts is able to capture just how I feel about India. Anyways, the main character (based at least partly on Roberts’ real experiences), finds himself in India, most specifically Bombay (now Mumbai, but this was before the name was changed). He talks about his transition into Indian society, and how the advice he was given was to surrender, to whatever came and in whatever form.

It sounds silly, but I feel like he has a point. We, as American students, are never going to be able to assimilate into Indian culture. However, we can experience it, but it requires some loss of control; you have to let yourself be swept along with it. And, eventually, India will assimilate you instead of the other way around—the country has a way of taking everything inside of itself and making it especially Indian, no matter what the origins. Only here could centuries old temples exist side by side with buildings built by the British Empire and modern high rises that could compete with any buildings in the U.S. stand next to slums, where the standard of living has been the same for hundreds of years.

So that’s what I’ve tried to do—let myself be swept along with the tide of Indian life. However, I’ve found that this mindset conflicts with other people’s idea of what travel, or life should be. Take our trip to Hampi for example. The trip was amazing, and Hampi was beautiful, but I got tired of being surrounded by Americans all the time. How can we really learn or experience India if we stay in our little western bubble, even while traveling?

OK, so I did some things that the other people in my group probably thought was stupid. But I had more fun than I’ve had all semester. And I feel like I’ve learned more about the “real” India. Which is something that you won’t get if you don’t take chances and go out of your comfort zone. (And by going out of your comfort zone, I don’t mean doing anything extremely dangerous like wandering around a city late at night by yourself…I mean eating unfamiliar foods that may or may not make you sick, or starting a conversation with the homeless man who lives in the abandoned temple, or making friends with people in the train station by all taking pictures of each other with your camera, or wandering down a path until you reach one of the most breathtaking views you’ve ever seen.) I had more adventures than the rest of the group did…and better stories to tell.


  1. yes.

    surrender has its power in America too. I'm thankful for the reminder.

  2. You expressed that very well, and I agree.

    In Bali, the two guys on our trip were always the first to try street food or to go exploring. At first, it made me worried, but as time went on, I realized that doing something that is against your own cultural conventions will make you experience the world more fully.

  3. I'm proud of you. I'd like to say, "You're my daughter"--but that implies that I take credit in some way for all that you're learning. So I'll just say, "I'm your mother," and I'm glad.