By Nishma Jethwa
“When you travel, you find yourself alone in a different way, More attentive now to the self you bring along…” – ‘When you travel, you travel alone’, John O’Donohue.
The last few times I visited India, I had felt a simmering connection to her. Being the country of my parent’s origin, she pulled me back several times already, so I committed to spending six months in this beautifully complicated country. I was not new to India or to travelling, but this journey was subtly dramatic and quietly life changing for me.
I decided to come to India for many reasons – one of which was to learn more about myself. While I had been grappling with the idea of connecting with my roots for a while now, I had never really spent a significant amount of time living in India, discovering her, learning from her. I knew that travelling there alone as an Indian girl would challenge me in ways that I would not appreciate beforehand. I knew that my parents would not fully grasp why I wanted to return to a country that they had spent so long trying to escape, but I decided to go anyway. I decided to see where India could take me.
This time, I fell in love with India. It is a difficult love to describe or explain, as it doesn’t relate to anyone or anything in particular but to the experience in its entirety. I felt like my experience had a purpose; a purpose to connect me with people who were different to me in so many ways (and yet so similar), to connect me with the natural world, which I had so easily forgotten about in England. Somehow my relationships went beyond language, class, gender and culture; they went to the core, a more raw human connection. The people I met were like mirrors to myself, questioning and challenging me. The environment was a place of peace and reflection.
I worked at a human rights NGO in Delhi at the beginning of the trip. I was lucky enough to be working under one of the foremost human rights lawyers in India – a man who had been fighting for the underdog since he was fifteen, a man who had been arrested and tortured for his beliefs, a man who would relentlessly fight for India, a nation he knows that can and will be better for its people. Working with such passionate, incredible individuals (who could long ago have abandoned India had they wished) was an inspiration to a young British Indian girl trying to understand the worth in coming back to her roots.
After my internship, I travelled around India on a spiritual, historical trip. I watched the sunset behind the Taj and sat in awe of the Golden Temple by night. I floated on the lakes of Udaipur and did yoga with the yogis of Rishikesh. I bathed in the Ganges and sat on the beaches of Goa. I meditated on the Himalayan mountains and was inspired by the Dalai Lama’s teachings. I had chai with a street kid and conversed with a politician. And yet India remains an enigma. India is a never ending story, a growing phenomenon and an obsession for me. I have discovered that if one claims to understand India, they simply haven’t experienced enough of her. The truth about India is that there is no ONE India, there is no one way to comprehend it all. There is just your relationship to her.
I hope I can take my newly learned Indian habits – the over-friendliness, the inquisitiveness, the need to share, the keenness to help, the ability to cook (ok, maybe not that one), a spiritual connection, an openness to love, a deep connection to the natural world, family loyalty and yes, even that weird head shake thing – and somehow smudge them with my old London loves to create some modern mix of what it means to be Indian.
I know I will miss India desperately and longingly. Why? There is life there; a form of life that doesn’t touch us in London. It’s in everything; the family who’ll invite you into their home and offer you some tea when they don’t even know if they have enough food for dinner, the children who run up screaming didi (sister) and latch on to your hands, the auto driver trying his best to rip you off to make a quick buck, the old man crouching in the corner of the street assuring you his directions are quite accurate, the baby silently but knowingly jingling her head as you speak to her, the smell of Indian food dominating the streets at dusk, the midday nap, the deep concern in people’s voices when they hear you’re not married, the smile/nod/Namaste that strangers greet you with, the cheeky boy working for a living hoping to make a better life for himself, the thousands of hard working people who gracefully push on, the patriotism, the colourful dancer and spirited singer performing in a street theatre, the smell of sweets around every corner, the distant but constant sound of drums and wedding music, the housewife who selflessly and lovingly serves her family, the joint families who argue daily, who love daily, the teenager who still doesn’t know how lucky he is to be born in such a fascinating diversity of commotion! There is no silence here – there is peace, but no silence. The heart of the world resides here and it beats loudly.
Nishma Jethwa completed her BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Warwick and is currently undertaking the Legal Practice Course before she starts her training contract with Linklaters in London. She volunteers with a Diaspora NGO in the UK called Connect India and coordinates a project at a women’s rights organisation, Femin Ijtihad. She is also a keen photographer in her spare time.
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Photography by Nishma Jethwa
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