I spent 17 days in India which is a remarkable country. Our trip was unusual in spending many hours driving on bad roads to see the “real” India & our efforts were well worth it! A young couple asked what I appreciated & I easily responded:
First of all it’s the vividness of color everywhere; not just in women’s sarees but even the green glass knobs on a chest or a startlingly blue glass door knob that takes me by surprise with its beauty. The color makes the thin layer of dust & dirt everywhere more bearable.
Second of all there is a powerful sense of spirituality, the red or yellow dot put on your forehead, or seen on others, is a constant reminder. Varanasi with the powerful Hindu ceremony of 7 priests on platforms every evening, swinging lamps of fire or the massive stacks & stacks of firewood to cremate the bodies,piled up by the Ganges river.
Third the strong sense of family, people living together over generations. Young adults of all different status all having arranged marriages & being very comfortable with how they evolve into love. Their divorce rate is 1.1% which is the lowest in the world (though it has begun to change & is slowly creeping up).
I think whether a relationship is built on the Western illusions of romance or family members looking out for their child’s interests; they both have to grow & build a concrete infrastructure of authentic dialogue & respect for differences.
We talked about arranged marriages to a lot of people, all of whom were satisfied with it. Falling in love with someone you don’t know may have less illusions to undermine the relationship. It may offer an opportunity for more authenticity & less false projections.
Of course, not everyone is happy in an arranged marriage but maybe, it’s not so strange as we Westerners might assume.
Even the arranged marriage of Russian spies depicted in The Americans on FX is about a marriage where they often have intense feelings of love.
The colorful weddings, elaborate costumes & celebrations are something to behold. We were lucky enough to be at a hotel where we peeked in at a wedding. In remote villages there are “wedding places” that stand out in bright colors waiting to be rented, as common as Mickey D’s in the rest of the world.
I love the interruptions to my ignorant assumptions that travel offers. One of our guides talked about how his two sisters spent 2 years talking to his wife before they decided she was right for him, he clearly felt trust in them and pride in the efforts they put into it.
In another remote village our guide described a unique process of problem solving that would do me out of a job. There are 5 different religions within his village & every night one wise man from each religion meets with villagers to solve problems.
Now, I’m certain that women are not represented fairly because it is composed only of men. There are certainly problems with arranged marriages. Sexual assault is a huge issue in all of India (Each of the 4 newspapers I read had sexual assaults to report). Does all of this mean India deserves to be a country where Americans think “Why would anybody go there?”. We seem lopsided in negative stereotypes about the poverty etc.
As depicted in Katherine Boo’s Pulitzer prize non fiction book Behind the Beautiful Forevers, there is a dignity & a system of paying attention to people within the poverty.
Spending time with people is one of the rewards of travel. I am lucky to have had an unusual visit to remote areas, including a festival of 100,000 (with only a handful of tourists), a children’s school & a village where we were proudly invited into a home of dirt floors to get beyond the stereotypes. We are shipping off a giant box of school supplies at the end of this month because we feel a connection with the children in the school that we met. Connections lead to a greater understanding & appreciation of other ways of living.