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Saturday, December 02, 2006

India, from Sea to Shining Sea

What strikes you as soon as you get off the plane is that India is a very big and very diverse country, a continent of innumerable cultures, skin tones, languages and dress, and who all appear to have arrived to greet the same flight. And that is India. It is the sea of Humanity, the humbling, inspiring, crushing, chaotic mass of it. I’m used to living in diverse cities, but Toronto or Vancouver, for all their colour, don’t wash over you like India does. It is like Indian turned up the human dial to 11 (and the volume to match). India is human life distilled to 100-proof and it hits you just as strong. But if you are open and can withstand the onslaught that should by all rights sweep you away, it somehow manages to connect you to your humanity instead. And that makes life here interesting – sometimes exhausting, sometimes indescribable, sometimes just ludicrous, but always interesting.

For those perhaps still struggling to grasp the diversity of India from places where Indian food restaurants all serve the same set of dishes, think of India like Europe: from across the Pond we lump them together as Europeans, but go from Germany to Spain or even London to Paris and you can get an idea of how much India changes from place to place. People from one region dress different, look different and cook different from the next. They will speak different languages (India recognizes 18 official languages) and have different customs. They will mark their religions differently.

So therefore, it needs to be noted clearly for the record:

my observations are for SE India only and mostly only for the city of Chennai.

I have not yet seen any other places and anything I remark on should be taken with several lumps of salt (due to the high humidity here, it is next to impossible to find individual grains) before applying it to broader India. I will try to make my language clear, but in case I slip into “India this” or “India that” generalizations, take this caveat with you.

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