On the last page of the diary that I kept throughout the project, there’s two lists that I must have written whilst feeling immediately nostalgic on the plane: Things I will not miss about India, and Things that I will miss. It feels like quite a fitting way to end.
Things I will not miss about India
- The stares and the comments – frequent and slightly unnerving; the general feeling of standing out in a way that couldn’t be assuaged no matter how long we stayed or how at home we may have felt.
- The litter: the sight of it and the smell; the people throwing their waste onto the nearest heap or just out of the nearest window and the stench wafting from piles of it burning on the roadside.
- The transparent poverty and the knowledge that nothing one person could do would be enough to make it better; the powerlessness of walking past a temporary slum and not being able to help.
- The spitting and the people brazenly peeing in the streets – pretty self explanatory
Things I will miss about India
- The people – welcoming us into their houses, offering us chai, making us food and inviting us to eat with them even in the slum where they had so little themselves; the way people would sometimes just come up to us and give us advice just because we looked lost or in need of a bit of help.
- The autos: crammed full of people, jolting along, held together by bits of string and glue.
- The food – fresh chapattis, aloo gobi, parathas, all kinds of daal, kachoris and samosas, biryani and puris, barfi and jalebi, dosas and utthapam, and – of course – chai.
- The markets – both local and those in the city – all the shopkeepers that came to know us and smile when they saw us; haggling and all the fun it brought, the wall hangings and the funky trousers and the many many varieties of tat for tourists that could all be bought for minimal prices.
- The sun – despite its disappearance by December.
- The public transport – defying the laws of physics in the sheer volume of people that could be squeezed in and around one vehicle, and the total lack of selfishness on the part of the passengers – always room for one more.
- The animals: elephants wandering down the road coming back from Amber Fort or commandeered into wedding work; crazily-shaven camels; hundreds of dogs, pigs, cows and goats milling about or recumbent on the roadside, eating anything in their paths.
- The girls in the community, naturally; their enthusiasm and ambition, and the feeling of knowing that they were pleased to see us when we came to do a session in the community.
- The traffic: the way the lanes are only there as a sort of vague guideline, and the attitude that each driver has only to look after the front of his vehicle, by which logic the back will look after itself.
- Hazy mornings giving way to sunny days.
- Streed food and street stalls: completely hit and miss, but amazingly cheap and deliciously unhealthy.
- The variety of clothes worn by people; anything from traditional salwaar kameez or kurtas with leggings to terrible slogan tshirts, flared trousers on the men, and socks and sandals in all weathers.
- The ugly, ugly winter clothes that began to go on sale mid-November: hideous hairy jumpers in garish patterns and colours.
- Everything. Pretty much everything