Of the exotic places I’ve traveled to, India is by far my favorite destination. I have a deep attraction to the Indian culture because of its fascinating history, its ancient wisdom and alluring mysticism – all of which are tightly intertwined in the roots of this great civilization. I have been seduced by the country’s dramatic beauty, and deep, pervasive mystery.
India is not a destination for the faint in heart. Extreme poverty and dirt assault your sensitivity as soon as you get off the airplane. India will bombard your senses with its kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and smells. Everyone traveling to India must also be prepared to find one’s personal space seriously challenged. No doubt, India will shake you out of your comfort zone in every way. It is said that India changes lives because it is more than a country – it is a state of mind.
If I haven’t turned you off yet, I might have perked your interest… and so you might be ready to engage in a breathtaking adventure -whether you are a seasoned traveler, or an armchair explorer.
I recommend you start by watching the splendid documentary in our collection, produced by Michael Wood, The Story of India. Wood undertakes a very ambitious project (the only one of its kind) to present India in just six hours. The documentary provides the viewer with breathtaking images and an awe-inspiring, well-researched history.
India adores ornamentation and exuberant colors. Whether amidst the hustle and bustle of urban settings, or against a dusty rural landscape, the women of India are alluringly draped in beautiful garments, known as saris. Rich or poor, every woman wears a sari with grace and femininity. She also adorns herself with jewelry: bangles at the wrists and ankles, rings on toes, ears and nose, and necklaces of all kinds from plain gold to fancy, native gemstones – emeralds from the mines of Jaipur to diamonds from South Asia.
Seduced (Iman Bijleveld and Don Block) is a picture book to satisfy you with cultural insights and photographs, so be sure to also check it out.
The stunning color combination and and imaginative prints of the textiles in India offer an infinite selection, never replicated. The fabrics in India are to me, unsurpassed in beauty. I love shopping for a sari as much as I do wearing one, but be prepared to bargain when you hit that bazaar!! The task can be overwhelming if you are not used to this rapid and intense interaction. Bargaining is an integral part of the culture, expected, and done amicably. I have amusingly noticed that when I shop with my Indian friends, the shopkeepers lose significant interest in selling anything to me!
Each region produces its own silk, vastly different from one another, in texture and effect. Intricate patterns are usually printed with metal blocks and colored with vegetable dye and limestone – usually passed down through generations of villagers.
Enjoying India: The Essential Handbook is an excellent resource, beyond just describing the sights and rating them. It provides essential tips like how to bargain in India. The book dedicates a chapter to money, bargaining and shopping. It offers useful strategies that in my view, are a necessary education before embarking on a journey to India. The book also offers safety tips, travel recommendations, and interesting perspectives on the cultural differences between East and West.
A few words must be mentioned about the food in India. The flavors are as tasty and spicy as the sights diverse and vibrant. India is said to have the greatest variety of spices, thanks to its tropical climate, and uniquely rich soil. A mix of spices in a dish is called “masala,” which is what we refer to here as curry. Therefore, most dishes fall into the category of curry, though very distinctive from one another. I have been more fortunate than many in that I have been sick only once in the many times I have traveled there. It is common for many travelers to spend some vacation time in bed due to the presence of some bacteria in the food to which we are simply not accustomed.
The good news is that you can cook an Indian meal at home, and enjoy the bursting flavors without the nuisance of a stomach upset. Our library has quite a few fabulous Indian cookbooks in its collection – from vegan to non-vegetarian. Gourmet Indian In Minutes, Cuisines of India, and Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen are a few books that I strongly recommend to satisfy your palate.
What inspires me most about India is its dense spiritual history and religious diversity. Ancient temples are weaved in the country’s landscape like a tapestry, infusing its people with a quality of devotion and reverence for the divine that is unique to India.
The foreign traveler visiting India marvels at the country’s antiquity and enjoys the monuments and temples, but it is difficult to understand the complexities of India’s religious beliefs and traditions without doing some serious homework. Much of what’s beautiful about India lies therein. In India, one cannot dissociate religion from the culture. In every aspect of society, religion and spirituality find expression.
Portrait Of India (Ved Mehta) offers an eloquent and in-depth study of India and its culture. Mehta takes you into the heart of his homeland with a visible love for his country and provides a perspective of its depth.
Monsoon Wedding is a charming movie about a couple who gets married in the traditions of India, but have to resolve their personal dramas beforehand. The decorum mixed with the moral choices at hand are a delightful depiction of India’s moralities and dilemmas. There is also much humor in the movie, making it a favorite of mine.
The Namesake is an excellent novel, beautifully written by Lahiri Jhumpa. I found it to be very powerful as it relates to the Indian immigrant who struggles with the vast cultural differences and the challenges of raising the next generation of Indian-Americans.
In India Becoming, Akash Kapur writes about the rapid changes India is currently undergoing, and addresses some of the complexities, contradictions and struggles that face a nation and its people in this process of globalization. He follows several individuals and families as they maneuver within these changes and does so delicately and respectfully.
OWL has other novels to read and movies to watch – enjoy our selection!
Karen Pasternak, library assistant at the OWL