I have been wanting to visit India for almost 15 years, long before I met my wonderful Canadian-Indian husband. When we were sophomores at Tufts, my friend Shelley invited me to visit her family in Delhi over winter break. I made photocopies all summer at a horribly boring architect’s office to make money for the plane ticket and got all my vaccinations. Alas, our plans changed and we headed off instead to London to visit Anita studying abroad, but the dream did not die.
And yet once Mohit and I booked our travels and India finally became a reality, I started to get scared. All of my Indian friends and my new Punjabi family have told me over and over again that India is crowded and overwhelming, that the poverty is devastating and the air is thick and polluted. As Mohit and I explored Asia together on a previous trip, I freaked out one day in Saigon. Overwhelmed by the rain and mud and crowds and assault of motorbikes, I cried with homesickness. He told me India would be worse. When I complained about the trash on the beaches in Kuta, Bali, Mohit told me to expect more garbage in India. When I begged to find another hotel room after a sleepless night on mildewy sheets in a cheap room in Guatemala, Mohit sighed and said I’d never survive India. I've read other traveller's blogs and am terrified that some have given up on India and split for calmer days in Thailand.
Our few lazy, relaxing days in Pondicherry went by in a blur. I sat on a third-floor wrought iron balcony looking out over the pretty beach as my dish of decadent chocolate kulfi melted before I could finish it. I watched a family pause below to take a photograph. Mother and daughter wore saris in matching shades of emerald green with gold borders that blew in the wind. Dad, thin as a rail, wore tight bell-bottomed white pants, a slim-fit shirt, and sported a straight-from-the-70s mustache and poufy combed hairdo.
At dusk, we watched the entire town come down to the beach to stroll back and forth along the water. Women walked with their daughters and men walked with their male friends and relatives- only rarely did we see young couples walking or sitting together. Beautiful garlands of white jasmine flowers adorned all the women's oiled braids. I was surprised to see women wearing gorgeous sequined georgette saris and salwars even on a weeknight on the beach. Vendors sold ice cream, sliced pineapple, and bags of hot pink cotton candy. Little girls wore lacy tiered chiffon dresses and kids everywhere are clearly adored.
Everywhere, girls swept the sidewalks with tied bunches of branches. Rivulets of soapy water emptied from houses onto the street. Women crouched at doorways filling in chalk-drawn flowers with colored powder. In front of one doorway, a large bowl of water was filled with floating flowers.