India indisputably has an abundance of culture. And while it can be fun observing the people, the chaotic streets, the bartering market salesmen and the bustling environment, you will miss out on so much if you refuse to engage with it.
The streets are relentlessly congested with cars, bicycles, motorcycles, *tuk-tuks, retro 50’s style taxis and rickshaws. The constant honking is almost deafening. Drivers are urged to honk a few times to inform surrounding vehicles that they are there because mirrors, of course, aren’t necessary.
*Tuk-tuk’s are a common automobile in India with three wheels.
Driving in India is scary as it is, but imagine yourself in a large tricycle, half of your body is hanging out of the vehicle and cars are chaotically maneuvering around you.
Today I ventured out in to Kolkata on my own, to see what I could experience, who I could meet, and how far I could get without a translator. It wasn’t long until I literally almost got hit by a motorcycle. With my experience within downtown Boston, I figured I would be alright in India’s streets. One bad decision and lack of attention almost cost me a trip to the emergency room. I don’t think I will ever tell my mom this story.
I took every chance I had to engage with the locals, to experience what life there is truly like, and to make new friends with people who lived half-way across the earth from me. The people there are truly so welcoming, loving and inviting. Several times I got to play pick-up football and the nation’s favorite sport: Cricket. It’s amazing how sports can bring people from different cultures, and who speak different languages together.
The Ganges River is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is home to over 400 million people as it serves to be a lifeline to locals for daily necessities like baths, a place to wash their clothes, drinking water, food source and it is also used as a burial ground.
It is also a place of worship where Hindus float away statues of gods and goddesses in hope for blessings.
বন্ধু (Bondhu): Friend
My favorite memory was made at a business called, Sari Bari. The business sells bags made from recycled *Sari’s and they offer alternate employment for women stuck in sex trafficking. One of the women motioned for me to come sit next to her. So of course, I did.
Her name was Gita and she had started tying a red string around my wrist with a smile on her face and started speaking Bengali. I found out from my Indian friend, Sukla, that the bracelet signified two things. The first being that Gita and I were now brother and sister, it was a symbol that she saw me as family. The second meaning can be found in the Bible story of Rahab, who was a prostitute that protected the Israelite nation in her home by letting down a scarlet rope as a symbol. Gita wanted me to know that she was in a safe house.
*Sari's are a common women's dress.