Understanding India: The Greatest Oxymoron

Words by Gabbie Lynch
Art by Amelia Darling
Photos by Gabbie Lynch

Everything I was ever sure of back home in Australia was always wrong in India. Although I was never sure of much I was certain that cows belonged in grassy paddocks, a red light meant stop and managing a store was an adult job, not a child’s. My basic understanding of the workings of the world and its people were suddenly shattered into millions of pieces within days of wandering the hustling streets of India’s foreboding capital, Delhi. The next six weeks involved me trying to rearrange the pieces into new shapes and forms.

My dad told me not long before I left for my trip that I was neither a city girl nor a country girl – I was a “large regional town girl”. And now that “large regional town girl” found herself trying to cross a typical Delhi street to find refuge in a roof top restaurant. I took a deep breath, stepped out onto the road looking both ways AND in front and behind myself, dodged the cows (and their shit), skipped through rickshaws, smelt burning incense, scraped alongside the shoulders of a holy man with a forehead of orange and yellow paint, and felt dizzy from the kaleidoscope of colours bursting from exotic shawls and saris. Every single one of my senses was working at full capacity and all I had done was cross the road.

I was lucky to experience the contrast of Northern and Southern India. The North paints the emblematic picture of intensity that most people associate with India. I endured eighteen-hour train rides and got lost wandering through the sandy alleyways of the magical gold city, Jaisalmer. I climbed through forts and stared over Jodhpur, a city blanketed by blue walls and roofs. One morning, as I rode in the back of a jeep through the desert of Rajasthan, I watched a woman in a vivid magenta sari squat down on the sandy road and sweep the dust from the entrance of her house, a basic steel structure containing maybe all of two rooms. As we drove further away from her, the dust on the road erupted from the spin of our wheels and lingered in the air almost blinding my vision of her. Still, despite the dust the vibrancy of her sari glowed and she continued what seemed to me, a pointless exercise with exquisite beauty. Life in India may be tough, infuriating and certainly unfair but it is never boring.

The ancient city of Varanasi, perched along the Ganges river was for me, the spectacle of India. You walk outside to a hit a wall of intense sounds, sights and smells. Pilgrims come down to the river wash away their sins or to cremate loved ones. In Varanasi, the realities of life and the inevitability of death greet you as you walk along the ghats. It’s eerie but simultaneously enlightening. It’s not a place people can tell you about, it’s a place you have to experience without holding any expectation or judgement.

The speed of the south was welcomingly slower. Palm trees, sandy beaches and the gorgeous backwaters of Kerala were enchanting. The people are gentler than those in the North and travelling around was easier. The inland town of Hampi was a highlight for me. A bewitching landscape of massive boulders, palm trees and rice paddies supported over three thousand mystical ruins perched between on top of and in between the boulders. It did not matter how many times I stared at my surroundings its mystifying impact never weakened. Once again, as was the case during many moments through my six weeks, I really wondered if this place could possibly exist on the same world as I did.

Now, when I think India, I think of an old woman with a gold hoop in her nose and a jewelled sari hugging her body as she hands over a masala chai advising, “Don’t try to understand it. Take a deep breath, feel every emotion on the spectrum, sometimes all at once and keep walking… or that cow grazing along behind you might barge you over.”

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