Western Gaze: Mementos Of The Heart

first_imgShen Seneca said, “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind,” he wasn’t speaking of India. But he may as well have been.From a Westerner’s perspective, everything India offers is remarkable. India invites its guests, to a personal introduction to the culture, hospitality, sounds, delicious food and norms of daily life of over 1 billion people. But the emotional punch India carries is beyond words. At every street corner, a white-skinned visitor can quickly move through a vortex of feelings. Experiences such as these prove to be more valuable than any piece of trinkets, memorabilia or pictures one carries home.In advance of my first trip to India, I looked up web sites and consulted with Indian immigrants in the United States. But India turned out to be well beyond anything one could prepare for. Many cautioned me that the experience would forever change me, of which I was very skeptical. Hey, it is only a trip, right? How much could I change in the nine days I spent in the country with eight other students.It began soon after landing in Delhi. From the first minute after exiting the airplane to the last glimpse of the Mumbai soil as the plane lifted off the tarmac, India captured our senses in a way that the sights and sounds of the United States cannot quite match. We were filled with a new sense of curiosity with every passing moment. Each meal, each cab ride, each adventurous trip on a rickshaw, and every glance on the street was rich and varied. The culture and life was far too exciting and complex to be contained in words or pictures. Every moment was filled with surprises. After a while, everything strange became commonplace and that was the magic of being in India. JoLynne HollomanThe traffic patterns, if there were any, defied our perceptions of the rigidity of rules. The entire travel seemed exciting and dangerous, but incredibly wondrous all the same. The variety and the diversity in every pulse challenged the monotony of life we have come to know in America.In addition to the constant excitement that held a world of meaning in every moment, perhaps the most memorable was the kindness of the people we encountered. Coming from a culture with an emphasis upon the individual, it was refreshing to be met by friendly faces always willing to return a smile or a small nod of greeting. Although my Hindi skills didn’t improve in my short time there, I found myself holding small conversations with anyone who inquired, “English, no?” as I walked down the street. Never tiring of talking to someone new, I often found myself indulging details of how and why we were traveling to anyone who would listen. While the stories may have been a bit lost in translation, the glisten in the eyes of people I was speaking with told me that somehow, they knew exactly what I was saying. Who needs translation and language skills when you can connect with glances and gestures.The kindness and honest curiosity about our trip was most evident when interacting with people as we worked our cameras. We were absolutely adamant about filming and photographing nearly everything and everyone we came into contact with. Families were excited to pose for a picture at the temples on a warm March evening and an elderly man quickly struck a pose in front of the Matangeshwara Temple, displaying a prestige and authority that could not be staged. Many who became the subjects of our camera’s gaze were curious to see their images on our digital displays. They would either nod in approval or smile, begging for just one more photograph. Sometimes we became the photo subjects for the memory house of photographs for the natives.My trip to India, venturing from my suburban Philadelphia apartment was transformative. As with most trips, you return with postcards, trinkets, perhaps even sunburn, but this excursion was different from anything I have experienced in my 19 years. It provided an opportunity to completely remove myself from a society in which I had grown so comfortable. Our eyes were quickly ripped open to the reality that lavish lifestyles were no match for the true joy that comes from the relationships you create and the actions you take to better yourself, other people and the world around you.For an American used to hearing complaints of people who felt “impoverished” by their inability to afford the latest automobile, it was striking to see smiling faces in the midst of unimaginable poverty.I made sure to pack an extra bag for the souvenirs – it was India after all! But I know that notwithstanding the volume of mementos I brought home, they are no match for what I carry of India in my heart, my mind, and my life.   Related Itemslast_img read more

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