Thursday, February 17, 2011

First Impressions

India is a very interesting place.  It's colorful and chaotic, old world meets new, load, beautiful, dirty, crowded, and laid back.  I've been in India for a month and haven't written about it because it's so difficult to explain.  Like I can't quit figure it out or put my finger on it.  I think the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, said it best by describing India as 'a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads'.  It amazes me how progressive India is when at times it seems so backwards and inefficient. Religion, worship, and ritual is infused in almost every aspect of their lives here, yet the country is full of lying, cheating, and stealing.  I can't even begin to wrap my head around the history of India and all the phases of rule it has been through.  I think that contributes to why to culture is so complex.  I'm trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together or see the patterns of how it works here, but it's still a jumble of mystery.  India is so ancient in it's origin yet has no problems accepting and integrating the modern world.  There doesn't seem to be much order to the system, laws are difficult to enforce, and most of the government is extremely corrupt anyway.  Somehow the country manages to get by and rolls right along without missing a beat or have any trouble keeping up with the rest of the world.  The quality of the infrastructure isn't up to par by any means, but somehow it works for them, like the details will sort themselves out later. 

It can be very frustrating at times while orienting in India. Simple tasks can take so long to accomplish due to the inefficient nature of the country.  The mannerisms are very different and take some getting used to.  Tourists are easy targets and it feels like many interactions are just scams for money.  It seems being ripped off and lied to is all part of the learning process of how to navigate in India.  It took a couple weeks for me to feel comfortable.  I felt very apprehensive at first about offending a culture that was new to me and took some experience to learn the protocol, which is often that there's not one.  I'm beginning to see India as the perfect place to come for yoga, not only because it originated here thousands of years ago, but because the practice of yoga is constantly being put to the test.  If yoga is about finding our center, and remaining authentically true to that center in the midst of chaos and confusion, then there is no better place for that than India.  I've learned a new level of protecting, respecting, and speaking up for myself that's not necessary in the States, or any other place I've been to in the world.

Now that the initial culture shock has worn off, I'm growing quit fond of India.  The culture is very accepting, non confrontational, and peaceful.  They don't get upset if they don't get their way or what they want.  For instance when it comes to money, they seem very pushy at first but after firmly saying No, they shrug it off like it makes no difference to them anyway.  They have so much patience and tolerance of others and don't seem judgemental or critical.  They don't stress much about things that are our of their control, like it will all work out as it's meant to be.  At first I interpreted the vibe here as every man for himself, which is somewhat true, but now I see it more as a respect for other individuals and their life's path.  Even within the Hindu religion which predominates in India, there are many Gods to choose from for worship.  I think some of this individual nature of the people contributes to the chaos and lack of orderly systems in this country.  Although there isn't as much opportunity in India as other countries for choosing their life path, there is no worry or time wasted in trying to figure out which path to take.

The caste system is slowly dissolving with the influx of the Western world, but there is still a residual emphasis that you are born into your life's work and most marriages are arranged.  Although that may sound like a death sentence in the U.S., the land of the free, in India they don't seem to mind, like their life is easier without the dilemma of choice.  I guess it could be categorized as laziness or contentment, depending on the viewpoint.  Maybe it makes life easier by placing less expectations on oneself to achieve a certain status in life and helps to cultivate more of an attitude of acceptance and gratitude for what's been given.  In a conference Sharath gave at the Yoga Shala, he poised the question to the 200+ students attending why we were all from countries other than India.  Besides the fact that it's really expensive and most Indians couldn't afford it, he said yoga is a part of the lifestyle and outlook in India.  They don't need to be there to practice it; they are raised with it in their family.  We are here because we are searching-- searching for that path that is handed to those in India.  

India is definitely a place that has to be experienced for yourself as I'm sure everyone has a different experience.  India as a country is very adaptable, and has been through so much throughout it's history there is this sense that nothing will bring it down and everything will work out, so no worries.  I can see this country has many lessons to teach me.  I've learned to accept and tolerate their time frame and have even grown to appreciate their relaxed yet steady work rhythm.  I must say as my patience and fondness for India grows, so does my appreciation for being born in America. 

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