Monday, March 10, 2008

Foreign visitor in India?

Heres the guide to a visiting foreign traveller in India. This is mostly a corporate and semi tourist reference and is not really a tourist or a backpacker reference guide.

So, if you end up thinking that we welcome every guest with a tilak and/or an aarti, we are to blame. And no, we rarely ever do that - it is mostly a tradition in certain communities and reserved for people you meet after a long time or on festive occassions like a wedding (and there too for privileged guests). And, yes, the elephant showering petals thing went out of fashion long ago with the Maharajas. We light a traditional oil lamps on many an occassion, but that rarely goes without a pooja, so all this is basically a show - a show created perhaps by some Rajasthani themed dhabas and 5 star hotels to create an exotic image of India that still continues.

Oh, did you attend a cultural training session? Well, beware of some of them - what they peddle went out of fashion centuries ago - when India was all about exotic stuff - nowadays most of it is really like any other urban civilization with its quirks. Want a cultural session? Visit a temple here. It will give you a great idea of the cultural aspect of this place, better than these sessions.

To see the one thing that we cannot improve, look at our traffic. We cannot put on a show on something like that, even if we wished. It is this bad, every day.

Expect your conversation to be around, "Is this your first visit to India." If it is, great, atleast for those who are entertaining you. If not, expect some level of disappointment among your hosts, but fear not. They will find some thing about your visit that makes it a first - like a first visit in winter or the first visit when it rains and take it forward from there. The conversation will then range from multiple levels of education on what India really is and is not and that is shaped as much by opinion as by circumstance.

The follow up question to this is usually, "Do you like India" and the politically correct answer is always, yes. You know that dont you? This can lead you into simple question and answer sessions like, Do you like Indian food? The correct answer is either that it is too spicy with a rolling of the eyes or that I love Indian food with all its spices. The latter will take you down paths of how the food you have tasted is not really spicy and how some cuisines are the spiciest and how you might want to try it sometime.

Traffic and driving is another of those questions for which the answer is really easy, unless you are really brave and venture out to try a drive in India.

From here, it might lead you into Indian customs, history, marriages, Bollywood and its many variants and cricket.

A word of advice here. Every Indian is an cricket player, statistician, opinionated journalist and selector rolled into one. If you really want to know about cricket, read wikipedia - dont ask, except for polite conversation. Or better still invite yourself to a game that they play - they will end up organizing one for you even if they dont play it regularly.

Bollywood? Dont bother with mainstream - and its a whole topic in itself, even for this blog. The opinions you get around this, is like a Bollywood movie in itself. Too many overlapping dialogues and lack of a single story line with multiple sub plots all of which dissolves when the boss speaks.

If you are white, expect people to think you are American and speak English. At worst, the hope is that you speak English and then all is forgiven regarding your country of origin. Anything less than that and you will cease to be the center of attention, though you will continue to be a topic of many.

Everybody wants to help you, assist you to make you feel at home in "their" country. And for the most part, everybody is quite proud of it too, though it may not appear at first sight. For many, including 5 star handicraft shops and beggars, you are just a chance to make some money.

And oh, the lonely planet guide is pretty good. So good, that many Indians themselves use it.


Beena said...

so true.. so real..
driving thru the traffic in a worls of our own rules might be a live or die situation for foreigners :)

Ritesh. P said...

Yeah Ramesh and Neelkantan, I agree with you. Cricket has got 1 billion opinions in India, God knows the incubus those 11 people on ground have to bear.

I am feeling it nice to read your blog guys, you've compiled one which contains many different topics, making it a place for everyone.

I too have taken interest in blogging recently, a month back. Blogging makes us be creative and look things from our own perspective.

mathew said...

i have had the chance to give opinions for foreigners here is germany who are planning to visit is sad that if they dont do the trip on their own or with a close friend , they are given a altogether different picture of our country..

And like you said evey indian..even about cricket..its like telling us about that famous fencing star and the nuances of it..its sad as well we dont have anything else to talk about.

gregory said...

having been here 12 years or more, i could write a book on this, but i wont... suffice it to say, i aint so easily fooled anymore, and anyway, india is disappearing, except in rural areas or small towns

i will say one thing, and stick by it... india's gift to the world will not be i.t. or whatever, it will be the idea of dharma, the reatest need of our (global) time