Gratitude, Lost in Translation by Joelle Bohringer

When eating a meal at my house in the United States, the words “please “and “thank you” are said every few seconds. These words are not only commonplace, they are expected. From the age at which American children start talking, their family and friends repeatedly have them practice the “magic words”- please and thank you. It becomes expected that you tell your sister, “please pass the bread” when at the dinner table, or your ask your mom, “May I please go to my friend’s house?” The “magic words” become the simplest way for you to show your appreciation to others, and, to me, they are a particularly important part of being a kind and pleasant person.

Before I traveled to India, I assumed that showing gratitude would be similar. I assumed that the first words I would learn in Hindi would be please and thank you. In my head, I imagined myself perfecting the pronunciation and expressing my gratitude to everyone that I met. However, I realized that my idea of Indian gratitude wasn’t reality when I asked my Resident Director, Lauren, to teach me the Hindi “magic words”. While she was able to teach me the words “Danyivad” and “Shukreya” as ways to say thank you, she explained to me that there is no word in the Hindi language that means please, at least in the informal way we use it. At first, I was baffled. How could a language that has been in existence for thousands of years not have a word for please?

My second idea of gratitude in India was shattered when I first entered my new family’s home.  My host sister opened the door and I responded with a smiling, “thank you”. She replied with, “Welcome, and just so you know, Indian families don’t say thank you to each other.” Again, I was baffled. In my head I thought, “They don’t say thank you to each other?  How do I show that I am appreciative?” 

Throughout the first few weeks, I struggled with expressing gratitude. How could I show my family that I was grateful for everything that they did for me? I used thank you my whole life. While eating dinner with my new family in India, I would often say thank you. However, my family would kindly remind me that because I was family now and there was no need to say thank you. My sister would explain to me that no one in the family used please (because there literally is no word for it in this context), and thank you, and I really didn’t understand.   

As time went on, I soon began to realize that family bonds in India are so close that there is no need for the “magic words”.  The” magic”  is in the bonds within a family , not in the words. The culture itself places such huge importance on love and respect for family that there is no need to express gratitude over the small things in life. In an Indian home, family always comes first, and your family will do anything to help you. Saying please and thank you is unnecessary, because your family already knows that everyone appreciates each other.

After I realized that, I began to change my attitude. It was no longer strange to not say please and thank you, but beautiful. My family knows that I appreciate them, and I know they appreciate me.  While I do still catch myself saying “Dhanyavad” on a pretty regular basis, I try to express my gratitude in other ways: complementing my host mother on her delicious food, having great discussions with my host father, or hanging out with my beautiful host sisters, and I try to focus less on using words to express my gratitude, and more on making memories with meri naya parivar (My new family).

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Hinduism in Context by Nathan Strom

When initially arriving to India I was so shocked by the environment. The cars, the traffic, the structure of cities and basically everything in my site were completely new. After a few short weeks, I have become accustomed too much of this. I started to notice aspects deeper than just the physical surroundings of India. One of these aspects is India’s relationship with religion. Religion is a huge part of India. With a population of over 1 billion, there is an endless variety of religious practices and beliefs.  However, Hinduism is dominant by number. Coming from the US, I am very familiar with Christianity being the major religion, and here it is Hindusim. This well-known fact makes sense, considering India is the birthplace of Hinduism. What I found very intriguing was the way religion is ingrained into the society. I have never been surrounded so greatly by another religion other than Christianity. Just as every American town has several churches, India has temples. I realize the influence of Hinduism more and more the longer I experience the Indian culture. Many Hindu aspects and practices are unheard of in the US. Therefore being able to come to a new country observing these new characteristics of religion have been extremely eye opening. Below are some examples of what I have observed:

Hinduism in Indian society-

Bindi. If you ever take a stroll down the roads of Pune (or sometimes even in the US) you might notice a very common trend on many Indians. Many women will be wearing a dot on their forehead. Often times they are worn in red but now days can be black, green or various other colors.  This mark/dot is placed between the eyebrows (Bhrumadhya) an area also known as the third eye. The placement is significant because it is where one centers their vision and focus in meditation. A bindi has many religious purposes and meanings. One is that it is used to remind others and self of prayer and life purpose throughout their daily routine. Traditionally a bindi is the mark of a Hindu woman. However in today’s society it has become an Indian fashion as well. Men may also have a mark on their forehead that looks like a bindi. This is called a tilak, which serves for many purposes similar to a bindi.

Puja. When my host family first greeted me at the door, I was presented with a special surprise. Upon arriving, my family preformed a ritual called “Puja” on me. Puja is a Hindu ritual done for special occasions and guests. During puja, camphors and ghee (clarified butter) is burnt along with other rituals to resemble welcome and hospitality. Following this, a Tilak (male Bindi) is placed on the forehead. I have seen puja done in many other places such as a Hindu baptism and even on Indian sitcoms! Even in TV shoes and advertisements, Hinduism is quite prevalent.

Devgarh. Within every Hindu household, you can almost always find a Devgarh. A Devgarh in other words is a Hindu shrine. Within a Devgarh there are several idols of gods and other religious icons. These shrines are often decorated with items such as flowers, paintings and rangoli (traditional Indian patterns made from colored powder). Twice a day, a family will gather at the Devgarh and give their offerings and prayers to the Hindu gods. Often incense will be burnt to offer a closer connection when praying. Devgarh’s are not just found in Indian households. They can be found almost anywhere from work places to grocery stores. Even at the gym I go to they have a Devgarh!

Prayer. Prayer is another religious aspect of society here. My driver may or may have not altered the route to pass by a Hindu temple. Every morning on our way to school, our driver makes a quick stop and says his prayers to the idol of Ganesh.  You will often see a variety of many other Indians stopping and saying their prayers on their way to work. Prayer is a huge characteristic of Hinduism just like any other religion. Every morning at school we sing a prayer to the Hindu Gods. The beginning goes “Guru Bramha, guru Vishnu….” which gives our praise to the gods for substantial learning. Prayer is a positive practice that doesn’t even have to be correlated to religion.

Religion has always been a special interest to me. No matter what religion it may be, I have always found it intriguing. So I am very pleased that I am abroad in the birthplace of Hinduism. Being able to observe the religions of India first hand has been exhilarating. Since there is around three hundred and thirty million gods (Don’t ask me how they got that number) there is always something new to learn about it. Whether it is the stories, morals or life principles, there are always positive components you can pick out of any religion.

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Meri Dil, Mera Ghar by Sophie Pauken

Home is where the heart is. That’s what I always tell myself when j go somewhere new. Having moved five times in seventeen years I’ve experienced this single handedly. Adjusting to a new lifestyle  is always hard. However, the memories you make always make the hardships worth it. This summer I’ve been able to spend six weeks in India. Although some parts have been challenging, India has become my new home and my heart is with my new family.

Indian culture is all about family. My host family is so lovable. They’re always there for me to talk to. They always greet me with smiles and love. My host sister has not only become a great friend, but a a true sister indeed. I’m going to miss getting Pani Puri (popular Indian street food) and riding a rickshaw with her. My host dad is one of the most intelligent people I know. I will miss staying up late talking to him about world issues and learning about the fascinating Indian culture. My host mom is such an inspiration to me. She is such a hardworking women and gives me great advice about life. Everyday I sit down with my family and enjoy a beautiful dinner filled with laughter and memories. Even days where we all just sit and drink chai together are so nice. It feels so normal to be with them, and I will truly miss their company.

I was so lucky to be paired with such an amazing family. It was tricky getting used to bucket baths, eating with your hands, and very spicy food. Yet visits to temples and palaces made it one hundred percent worth it. Every day is a new adventure in India. I have my ups and downs, but the positives are so great that the negatives are worth it. I’ll miss my family but when I say “goodbye” I know it will really just be a “see you later”. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is with India.

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What I Learned Walking 32 Kilometers with the Palkhi by Carrie Schauder

One of the first terms that I learned upon my arrival in India was the term “lakh”.  It is used to quantify numbers, and is the equivalent of 100,000.  I heard this term off and on, in reference to money or population, but on Sunday, this word came to life.

The annual Ashadhi Wari walk is a 700 year old pilgrimage from Dehu or Alanadi to Pandharpur in which people march with a Palkhi, a chariot-like float pulled by oxen.  The Palkhi is filled with replicas of saints’ shoes.  The walk with the mission to reach Pandhapur and offer their respects to The Lord Vitthal.  Lakhs and lakhs of people participate in the walk, and it is estimated that there were about seven to ten lakhs in all, walking together for 21 days (700,000 to 1 million).  Never in my life have I seen more people in one place.  And by people, I mean all different types.  People of every age (from babies to 80 year olds), social status, and background participate in this walk, including a few out of place Americans.  There is no stereotypical pilgrim.  Here, everyone is equal.  Equal to the extent that while on the walk, everyone has the same name: Mauli.  Mauli literally translates to mother, but everyone who walks receives that name.  I walked with my host dad (Baba), some of his friends, and Joelle, a fellow NSLI-Y student.

The dedication of the Maulis is truly unparalleled.  About 90% of the pilgrims are farmers from rural Indian villages, and they give up 21 days of precious work time, to devote themselves to their Hindu beliefs.  I was continuously amazed to look down at the sea of feet walking in rhythm around me, and notice that many of them were calloused bare feet.  I thought about my own aching feet and tried to imagine walking 33 km on pavement without shoes.  And most of the ones who did have shoes, wore flimsy flip flops or “chapals” (sandals).  All of the woman wore colorful traditional Maharastran nine yard saris, and many of them balanced small bags on their heads.  The men wore white kurtas with pants and clog-like shoes.

However, their lack of proper equipment did not effect their vibrant spirit and excitement.  Initially Joelle and I were overwhelmed, not only by the insane amount of people (I like to compare it to a gumball machine with all of the gumballs trying to fit through the one tube that releases the candy), but also the energy of the crowd.  One would think that walking would be exhausting enough, much less dancing, chanting, singing, and playing instruments.

The most difficult thing for me to get used to was all of the pushing.  In the United States, we have a strong underlying concept of personal space, which I never noticed until coming to India.  But in the Palkhi, personal space is nonexistent.  People would literally grab my arm and push their way through me and others.  And it isn’t just a quick push, its a “hold on to your arm and move you so they can go through” kind of push.  At first I was annoyed by this, as it is easy to mistake it as rudeness.  But as the walk progressed, I realized that it is not meant to be taken as a rude gesture.  Instead it is simply that the people are so passionate, and in this fervor they will not let anything stand in their way.  I came to admire this dedication and excitement, and I realized that this is the entire point of the walk.  That people are willing to give up everything, exhaust themselves and their bodies for the sake of their religious beliefs.  Everything else is insignificant because everyone is there for the same reason.  Nothing else matters.  Just lakhs and lakhs of people who all share the same belief walking together.

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Some Musings on Living and Learning in India by Caleb Martin

In Pune, it seems like traffic rules that Americans are familiar with hold no weight: the roads are packed with an extraordinary amount of vehicles, people occasionally drive against the flow traffic, and car horns are sounded non-stop.  Nonetheless, drivers seem comfortable and confident; there never seems to be much confusion on the road.  The traffic in Pune may seem chaotic, but paradoxically, it is a form of organized chaos.  Similarly, language immersion operates through a form of organized chaos because it forwards that being entirely surrounded by a language is the best way to learn.  At first, understanding next to nothing feels terrifying.  As time passes, however, your knowledge grows constantly, making you feel imperturbable, just like the drivers in the hectic traffic.

The teachers at our school are a big part of the immersion process.  They create a diverse learning experience that integrate many different ways of teaching.  We practice Hindi by speaking, writing, listening, and reading, even using it in real-world situations.  For example, my class has taken short trips to a fruit stand nearby our school to practice how to ask questions in Hindi.  Not only do we get to buy ice cream and fruit, but we also get to use new vocabulary in a practical and (deliciously) rewarding way.

Language immersion is not easy.  Moreover, the hardest part of learning a new language for me is taking the initial leap of faith into the unknown.  In order to truly learn a language, it is important to be fully immersed in that language.  For me, forcing myself to order food at stores in Hindi, talking often with my family, and always being prepared to learn in has helped me develop a great amount.  It is easy to remain complacent and only challenge yourself in certain contexts, but it is essential to practice and learn whenever possible.  I have found that I learned the most when I embrace feelings of embarrassment.  I have asked waiters, drivers, and countless other people ridiculous questions accidentally, but I can genuinely say that I have improved my Hindi skills as a result of these experiences.

Learning another language, or even attempting to learn another language, is an extremely powerful process.  Even when someone speaks English, I have noticed that it is still extremely important to speak in Hindi rather than English.  In Hindi, for example, the word ‘ghat’ means a long, winding road on a hill.  By knowing and understanding this, you can much more effectively communicate with another individual about places, experiences and even directions.  The process of learning is also rewarding.  You constantly find the connections between languages, frames of reference for thinking about the world, and reflections of culture in language.

So here are three tips to make your study abroad  the best that it can be:

1. Don’t stress yourself out!  While it may seem imperative to constantly study or review, also recognize that experiencing another culture is just as important learning a language.  If you don’t study one day, don’t stress because you are also here to have exciting new experiences.

2. Remember that everyone learns at a different pace.  It is easy to get in the habit of comparing yourself to others.  At times, it can be frustrating feeling like you are not progressing as quickly as the people around you.  However, be aware that language learning is vastly different for everyone; there is simply no need to feel bad about how you are doing.

3. Be sure to challenge yourself constantly.  It is great to become friends with new people that you have met, but there are times that are better than others to be around them.  Setting boundaries for yourself and others will help you learn the maximum amount of information in the shortest amount of time

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Peanut Butter and Idli by Abigail Gard

Day 1 in India:

As I pull my red and black suitcase from the baggage claim in Mumbai, I notice a large, dark stain along the top. Concerned, I open it up to reveal what I might dramatically call “my worst nightmare”. The jar of peanut butter that I packed had broken and exploded everywhere. So, I stood there in the middle of the Mumbai airport starring at the bag containing all of my essentials for my next 6 weeks in Pune, India.

I LOVE peanut butter. It is a rare day that I go without it back home. So naturally, I graciously accepted another NSLI-Y student’s extra jar when it didn’t fit in her suitcase back in New York. “How perfect,” I thought, “I’ll share this with my host family and then they can get a taste (literally) of my American life.” Instead, my host family probably thought that I was a bit crazy when I arrived at their apartment smelling like peanuts and sadly remembering the broken jar now sitting at the bottom of a trashcan in the Mumbai airport.

Day 9 with My Host Family:

We are shopping in the Phoenix Mall in Pune when we decided to go into a grocery store for some food. MY family wanted me to cook for them, so we picked up some pasta along with the American classics—pancake mix and bacon. Then a glorious moment occurred where my host sister turned to me and asked, “Do you want to get some peanut butter?” The choir of angels began singing a melodious rendition of Alleluia in my head, but I contained myself, replying only with a calm “sure.”

Day 11 with My Host Family:

2 days later, we open our precious jar of Skippy creamy peanut butter and I made my host mom and sister peanut butter and banana sandwiches for breakfast. They were skeptical at first, but they ended up loving them! I of course was over the moon that not only was I having peanut butter, but that my family liked it too. We had peanut butter and banana periodically over the next 3 weeks for some breakfasts or lunches. We even had to buy a second jar after blowing through the first one.

Day 19 with My Host Family:

I walked into the kitchen to find that breakfast was idli with a mint, garlic chutney. I love the majority of all the food I’ve eaten here, but out of everything, this meal is not my favorite. Idli is a popular southern Indian dish made from rice flour. It is very well loved, and although it is interesting and tastes a bit like sourdough, I have had to ease into it. However, as I sat down at the table, my host mom advised me not to eat the chutney because she had made it “too spicy today”. Instead, she handed me the jar of peanut butter with a simple, matter of fact, “here, use this.” “Peanut butter and idli?” I thought. “Well it probably won’t be the craziest thing I try while I’m here.” Hesitantly, I spread the peanut butter on top of my idli and took a bite.

Day 24 with My Host Family:

I consider this moment to be a perfect example of one of the goals of this program. It truly exemplifies a cultural exchange. My first eleven days with my family were about adjusting to India and having them showing me how to live life here. Then once we were comfortable with each other and our new situation, I was able to open up about life in America even if it started with something as simple as peanut butter. From that moment on our apartment has become a melting pot of ideas, dance, music, art, sports, food, clothing, relationships, politics, hobbies, transportation, languages, American, and Indian. It has become an exciting combination of the spice of new adventure and the sweetness of home. Now, you may prefer one or the other, but if you ask me I’ll take both. So, please pass me the idli AND the peanut butter.

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What Does it Mean to be a Doctor, Without Borders by Sonal Lal

.In a country like India,  where the humidity only seems to increase and the headaches from honking cars never ends, I figured that six days of experiencing feverishness, uncomfortable stomach cramps, and a loss of appetite was enough to seek professional attention.

The clinic was a small, and the door was opened to a waiting area, which seated about six people. The signs were hand written and the largest sign indicated the price of the general visit: 200 rupees. After waiting a few minutes and without making an appointment, I was asked to come into the other room for my examination and lay down on the medical bed.

The mannerisms and formalities between this doctor and I was the biggest cultural differences that I have experienced thus far. The small talk between the doctor and the patient, which begins almost every clinical visit in the United States, was of a different variety in India. As far as the conversation went, the doctor asked the questions, and I answered.  Patients in the U.S. are used to the doctor easing you into the examination, sometimes with jokes or questions about your family. In this clinic, perhaps because of the amount of people the doctor must see in a day, the interaction was very straight and to the point. I am sick, the doctor wants to help. Also, I have to add that there were two adults from the program with me who were doing much of the talking. In India, there is usually a family member with you taking care of you when you’re sick-this is an important understanding to have of the Indian family dynamic. You may not be independently doing much of the talking to your doctor, especially as a teenager.

Initially, it was frustrating because I didn’t feel I had the opportunity to voice any personal concerns about my health. But looking back at the visit in perspective seemed to make sense- in India, I learned that it was expected of the elders to initiate the talking, while the younger ones were limited to simply listening or responding when appropriate. The doctor is the expert. Also, in a country where something like a stomach ache may be a symptom of something more serious, it’s important to find out what is going on as soon as possible-which this doctor was trying to do. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with a stomach infection. After a day of taking the antibiotics and hydration packets the doctor prescribed, I was feeling so much better.

Proceeding my first medical experience in India, I began to think about how each and every ethnic group needs to be understood in its own. It highlighted the importance of cultural relativism and its significance. According to this concept, individual cultures tend to preach and practice their own set of values. They view and understand this intriguingly complex world we live in, in their own way and based on the ways they have experienced the world.

As someone who plans on traveling internationally as a doctor, the easiest thing to assume is that learning from my qualified medical university will be efficient enough for my medical practices to be effective in all parts of the world. That the United States had a monopoly on “best practice”. But this trip to the clinic was an eye-opening experience that seemed to prove otherwise. If every country has its own people, and every community has their own personal set of guidelines, then perhaps there is no such thing as a single medical practice that can be considered appropriate in all contexts.   I haven’t even started the undergraduate journey, nor have I committed to a medical profession yet, but this incident helped me acknowledge and reflect on the unspoken criteria that internationally-traveling-doctors learn to fulfill.

Perhaps this twenty minute journey meant a lot to me because somewhere in the near future I might be expected to meet these pre-requisites, if I pursue a career in the “doctor’s without borders” program.  I would like to be a good doctor however, without borders.

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No Pain, No Roti by Ellie Bernstein

                           Are sansaar sansaar                                                                                                                                                                          Jasaa tavaa chulyava                                                                                                                                                                            adui natala chatake                                                                                                                                                                              tevha milte bhakara                                                                                                                                                      Our life is like a pan on a stove. First we’ll get burns and then the roti.”

My host sister recited this poem to me one afternoon during the first week of my stay in India. I didn’t quite know what to make of it so I told my host sister it was a nice and we moved on to a new topic. For some reason, though, I remembered it the next day and began to think about it more. A few days later I asked my host sister to repeat it for me so I could write it down. She thought this was funny and asked me why I wanted it on paper. I didn’t have an answer for her so I asked myself the same question. Why did I want it so much? I think it’s because I appreciated the “no pain, no gain” theme and I especially liked this new and creative way to deliver the message. As I thought about it more, I realized that it also represented my experience in India, both literally and figuratively. My host mother taught me how to make roti one night and I definitely burned myself in the process. I learned that you have to put the roti in the hot pan, turn it, flip it and turn it some more – all with your bare hands. There’s really no way for an amateur to accomplish this without getting burned but in the end the roti tasted great, and all that much better because I had put the work into it. The poem, I found, also applied, more figuratively, to many other aspects of my experience abroad: the food, my home-stay and the Hindi learning.

Before I left the States, I thought the food in India would be one of my favorite parts of the trip. I loved going out for Indian food at home. The problem I found with the food once I arrived wasn’t that authentic Indian food is different from American Indian food as many people warned me. The problem was actually that it was exactly like the Indian food I’d had in America: heavy and in huge portions. While this is nice for an occasional dinner out, it was a little much for me all day, every day. This was the “burn.”  It took me some time to get used to not having the same variety of food I have at home and it was a little uncomfortable learning how to tell my family I didn’t like certain things or that I only wanted a certain amount. Once I pushed through this discomfort, I realized that I actually did like the food. I came to appreciate the variety within Indian food, the diversity which I had not recognized right away. In the end I came full circle and the food has now become one of my favorite aspects of the trip.

The same theme applied to adjusting in my home-stay and host family. I knew that it would be a little awkward at first, but it is one thing to imagine and another to fully experience. I’m shy by nature, so suddenly living with and being part of a family I’d never met before definitely “burned” a bit. I didn’t know what to talk about and when I asked questions, trying to stimulate conversation, I was always worried they would think I was odd or my questions were silly. I also didn’t quite know how to act at home. Everyone had told me that I was now a part of my host family so I should act like a regular family member, but this was hard for me. I was still technically a guest in their home, wasn’t I? Slowly, though, I began to embrace my host family. I didn’t stay up all night chatting with my sister, or rant to my mom about insignificant issues I would soon forget about, like I might with my own family. However, I found myself sitting on my host sister’s bed, drinking tea and doing homework together or going on walks and chatting with my host mom. As I pushed through the awkwardness I got to “taste the roti” and really enjoy myself. Also I began to connect to the people and place I was in. In the end, I was able to act on the advice I had been given and view myself as just another family member.

My experience with Hindi learning was again another story of “pain and gain” or “burns and roti,” specifically in relation to the immersion style of teaching. Halfway through the first week, the teachers announced that they would no longer be speaking to us in English. We were all a little shocked. We had just started learning Hindi two days ago! We didn’t know vocabulary, how to conjugate verbs or even how to ask questions in Hindi. Those first days of immersive learning were the biggest “burns” I experienced on the trip. I felt lost, like I had no idea what was going on. They wanted us to understand the lesson, but I didn’t even understand the words they were using to describe it. It was intensely frustrating. Was it going to be like this for six whole weeks? The answer, of course, was no. The directors and teachers of the program knew exactly what they were doing and they knew this method would be nothing but beneficial in the end. After another week I began to feel more confident. I certainly did not understand every word of the teacher’s explanations but I could understand the message they were trying to get across. As the weeks went on I began to really enjoy my Hindi learning. It was like piecing together a puzzle; when I finally saw the whole picture it felt like I had discovered some secret hidden treasure and I had done it using my own determination and intellect….well, that and my teacher’s never-ending patience. I began to come home from school excited and energized instead of exhausted and stressed. As my “one minute talks,” our daily speaking exercise, became more fluent and complex I couldn’t help but feel that the original discomfort and stress I had felt had been so very worth it. Just as with eating the roti I had made, the progress I made learning Hindi – and adjusting to other aspects of life in a new culture – were all that much more satisfying because of the hard work that came before.

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Rang Bi Rangi by Erin Lopez

Recently we learned about adjectives in our Hindi class, or rather “visheshun”. The word that really captivated me was “rang bi rangi”. Not only does it roll of the tongue, but also it is the perfect word to describe India. The fourteen of us entered into a culture marked by colorful clothing, cuisine, and character. It is safe to say that not one of us has seen a single saree or kurta (traditional Indian dress) with exactly the same patterns and colors. I look forward to seeing the new patterns our teachers wear each day, because as of today they have not repeated a single outfit. There is a cabinet in my room full of my host mother’s 40 different sarees.

Furthermore, the food is just as colorful. Whether you are eating the world famous Alfonso mangoes (a Maharashtran speciality) for the third time in one day (guilty as charged), or you are drinking down spinach soup (palak saar), the aluminum plates we have learned to eat from are never lacking in color. Any vegetable or fruit market or spices in our respective kitchens will attest to the multiple hues eminent in Indian food. The colors in our foods have expanded our palettes to new tastes and complex spices.

What is even more interesting, is how important color is in the art and design aspect of the culture. In our art classes we have learned to create Rangoli, and have seen professional Rangoli color the streets.  Rangoli is a traditional art form where the artist creates intricate symmetrical designs using colored powders, flower petals or rices. The pieces are meant to welcome someone or celebrate particular festivals, and can be swept away when the event is done.The sidewalks are not grey cement, but rather red and yellow. Numerous temples which decorate the skyline of Pune boast radiant colors. In the Bollywood movies, colors bring the musical numbers to life.

In our language classes, we have learned that Hindi does not have different names for different shades of colors. For example, if you wanted to say something was deep red, in English we might say crimson, but in Hindi you would repeat the word “lal-lal” (red-red), and that would suffice. No matter the variety of shades in the rainbow, there is only one name. It has all seemed to workout so far in our descriptions.

As far as character, we have become aware of the colorful character of the people through our host families. On the morning ride to school, we exchange stories supporting this claim. From architects to yoga instructors to math professors to doctors, we have the opportunity to engage with the colorful personalities of the Indian nation. Our host siblings have illuminated the hard working yet jubilant theme prevalent in the youth of India. On every street corner, museum, net cafe, temple and saree-shop, all will attest to the prismatic identity in a nation that is full of diversity and yet steadfast in unity.

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From Strange to Spiritual by Meredith Raymer

Each morning, someone in my host family prays to the family god. Sometimes they just sing, other times my host mom gathers fragrant flowers from the garden and places them around the idols. I leave them to their worship and at first, let my questions go unanswered. I have to be honest-I am ashamed to say that I initially dismissed their practices, as they were so different from my own religious culture.

As a group we visited a Sikh Temple, and I felt the same discomfort creeping in. The same judgement. Around the Sikh scripture were swords and daggers. It was difficult to imagine that these kinds of symbols, that represent very different things in the United States, would be welcome in a house of worship there.  Even as the basics of the religion were explained to us, I could not understand how their religion was “right”. Afterwards we got the chance to visit a Catholic Church and I immediately felt comfortable. Everything was familiar and I knew exactly what I was seeing and the theology behind its presence.

When we went to the garden of Saras Baug,  we entered the Ganesh Temple which is Hindu. People were taking off their shoes, some sat in front of the idol while others simply bowed to the idol and walked away. I saw the idol and the people worshipping it and immediately thought about how worshipping idols was considered “wrong”, from a Judeo-Christian point of view.  However, as we walked through the Ganesh museum, I had a realization. If a Hindu walked into a Catholic Mass, they would be just as shocked and uncomfortable as I was feeling. They would wonder why we believe the bread and wine turns into Jesus’s body and blood just as I wondered why they were walking around the idol, looking at it from different angles. How strange my religion-it’s rites, rituals mythologies and stories- must look to someone who has no context or connection to it.

Once I realized this, I became more open to understanding other religions, especially Hinduism. I have begun to ask my host family more questions and by doing so, I have not only grown in my understanding of Hinduism, but I’m able to deepen my relationship with them. While I may not adhere to Hinduism, I am learning about from people I have come to care about.  I have gained a reverence for their beliefs and the realization of the similarities rather than the differences between Christianity and Hinduism. I love that Hinduism is not something left at worship like Christianity so often is, but the beliefs are woven into everyday life. Each Hindu can choose to practice how they want  and as much as they want, I have great respect for the personal responsibility they take in their faith. By hearing about a different set of beliefs, I was also forced to examine my own beliefs and think critically about why I believed them. If I had not realized how a Hindu would feel in my church, I would have shut myself off to greater understanding of the faith and also greater understanding of my own. Being truly open does not mean just being ok going into another place of worship, you have to open yourself up to the conversations that come with truly learning about a new religion.

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