Wherever You Go Becomes a Part of You Somehow

I can’t believe I’ve never written about India before. I love India. From the bottom of my heart. I’ve visited it three times and every time I’ve been fortunate to stay with locals and visit many fascinating places.

My first visit to India was in 2009. There was an international youth summit that would take place partly in the jungle in Goa and partly in the tableland and valleys of Panchgani region in western India. I took three students with me to meet students from Peru and India and to write their Declaration of Sustainable Living in the hope of giving as many young people as possible experiences that would shape their view of life.

I regret not bringing a decent camera with me back then. However, I made a video and fell in love with the country and the people for good. It took ten years until I had a chance to go back in 2019 and again in 2020.

What I most love about India is the people. Indians are unbelievably friendly and generous, but also humble and open to philosophical conversations at any time. Their desire to understand different points of view, give room for everyone and stand by them even if they are different or have opinions that differ from their own moves me every time. To be proud but tolerant and friendly, and go out of your way to make others enjoy themselves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all were like that?

When you visit remote places in India, most people there have never seen a white person before, except in the smartphones which everyone seems to have by now. They all want to take a selfie with you. It is endearing but can become a bit annoying after a dozen poses. However, you just don’t want to spoil their fun. They are just being genuine. When you can see it in the person’s eyes that they are not faking anything. Not playing any role or trying to impress anyone. They are just experiencing that moment and enjoying it. The smiles and the curious gazes. Two people meet, they look into each other’s eyes and in that moment they understand each other and want to understand each other. No fear, no hatred, no prejudice.

Imagine a student that only wants to understand why another student is crying. She is homesick and overwhelmed by all the new things that she doesn’t understand. But he won’t budge before he understands and learns how to make her more comfortable. Imagine a mother or a father of a toddler who takes a long trip to meet her guests during the night between two workdays. And never stops smiling. Imagine a campsite on a hilltop in a jungle on one of the largest plateaus in Asia where there is only nature and the human. I love that place. After an hour or two none of us westerners or Indians remember where our smartphones are or if we have mud on our faces or not. We’re back to basics, sleeping on the ground, cooking on a fire, talking about life and running around barefoot.

The industriousness of the Indians is another thing that never seizes to impress me. Many houses have rainwater harvesting pools or tanks where they collect rainwater during the rainy season. I visited many organic farms where they grow their laundry nuts and make gas for cooking out of the methane that is formed when they burn the droppings of their cows. Cow dung is also the main building material in their houses. It does not rust.

When I’m in India I feel like a student of life. To see all that variety and so many different ways to live this life when given so little and yet be so grateful for it. It really touches my heart. It also makes me sad to see how India is drowning in pollution. I hope they will soon build an infrastructure that would deal with the issues concerning waste management and transportation effectively. They have the brains, it is just such a huge country that still needs to build roads to some of the villages.

I also hope that they would preserve the uniqueness of the Indian mentality and culture. Every year I see fewer saris and hear how western music is replacing Indian music in the loudspeakers. Us all becoming members of the American pop culture is not the answer, but I can see how enticing it is. Finland has sometimes been called Mini-America and I do enjoy my coke and my rap every now and then. But it is a good reminder for us too, to keep the balance between what is worth saving in your own culture and what can be adopted from other cultures to enrich what you already have.

My dear old Indian friend Peter used to say that global issues must be addressed globally. It is true, but each corner of the globe has its unique features. What works in Finland, won’t most probably work in India. There are thousands of stories that could be told about the cross-cultural encounters. You just have to be ready to listen and learn.

Rajan, our guide in the jungle once said that human being is the most dangerous animal on Earth and I couldn’t agree more. The problem with the human mind is that it always goes to the easy corner. There are huge issues to solve for sustainable living, but it is too easy to turn the blind eye.

After the Mumbai attacks in 2008, I wrote to Peter and told him I was sorry for what they had been through, hoping all his closed ones were safe. Peter thanked me for thinking about them, but he also explained that the difference between western people and Indian people is that western people often seem to think that they own the world. Indians are here only for a visit. I love this humble thought and having experienced this personally during my three visits, it has made a lasting impact on my view of life and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

“We can’t change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” – Indian proverb.

The title of this post is a quote from an Indian novelist Anita Desai.

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