India is a country of paradoxes: harmony and conflict, spirituality and guile, development and destitution. It is a place someone can visit and love, or visit and hate; a place someone could never leave, or a place someone could never return. India is, suffice to say, awesome.
India is a society which is both vibrant – because its people are so passionate and diverse – and complex – because it is so old. This may explain why in India there is such an acceptance of the concept of dynasty, whereby a few old and respected families effectively rule the country. The reality of dynasties is that they are both appealing and repulsive – emotions which I felt powerfully in India, and which have changed my understanding of consumerist society in significant ways.
India, a country I have always wanted to experience, yet at the same time I felt a country too intimidating to discover alone. The Australia India Student Experience Study Tour, an initiative of the Australia India Institute (Aii) gave me the opportunity to visit India with the support of the Aii and its staff and share my experiences with 19 other Australian students. This has been a journey through an amazing country, the most colourful, chaotic, diverse and life changing journey I have experienced in my 22 years.
Even from a height of 30,000 feet, India is alive. Vibrant. Colourful. Bustling with energy. As our aeroplane begins its descent into Mumbai, I rummage through my carry-on luggage. My backpack is stocked with information on travelling to India, tropical-strength insect repellent and an endless supply of SD cards, prepared to capture thousands of memories. My mind is even more full. Expectations and questions race through my head, faster than the constant flow of traffic throbbing through a Mumbai street.
Ten days, two flights, a train journey and countless coach rides, Mumbai, Delhi, Haryana countryside, Agra, Jaipur, University visits, formal engagements and sightseeing wedged in between; all thanks to the Australia India Institute 2013 Student Experience.
Today marks the end of the Australia India Institute study tour. For me it also signifies the end of my formal career as a student (at least for now), making it an ideal opportunity to reflect on what it is to be a student in both India and Australia. Over the past ten days we have had many opportunities to meet and interact with students in India. Students from HR College, Jindal University and the University of Delhi welcomed us warmly. The lecturers and students were not only academically impressive but also wowed us with a range of talents—dancing, singing, public speaking, debating and cricket—far exceeding our own expectations and abilities.
Poverty. Gender. Race. Equality. Economy. These are just a few of the concepts that have been raised and discussed during my short time in India so far. And the discussions have been amazing: I am constantly inspired by those around me. However, it is a feeling of hope that keeps coming back to me. This hope comes from the children of Mumbai.
When one is on a schedule as fast paced as Delhi motorcycles, taking the time to reflect on one’s experiences is a luxury. The past week sometimes feels as if it has been only a couple of days. I am incredibly fortunate to have sensed the sights and sounds that have given me a taste for some of what India is and can be. This crash-course in the seventh geographically largest and second most populous nation in our world has amazed me and opened my eyes to many different ways in which fellow human beings can live: ways that can be utterly exuberant and ways that can be extremely humble.
Today is day 4 of the Australia India Institute study tour, and we've just landed in New Delhi.The group here is amazing - we have some of the brightest young people I've ever met studying fields as diverse as Criminal Justice, Population Health, Primary Education,Aeronautical Engineering and Sanskrit.We're all sitting on a bus heading to Jindal University, and I thought I'd reflect on my experiences in the magnificent city of Mumbai.
Stepping off the plane in Mumbai is like stepping into a colour movie, after a lifetime of black and white. The smells, the sounds and the sights take on a new dimension, as if India is a more ultimate reality compared with the rest of the world. When reading about India, most people will say something along the same lines as this, so you think you’re prepared, but the rush of sensual activity is still overwhelming. I could describe the smell of spices mixed with human waste and car exhaust, but until this scent invades your nostrils and wafts around in your head, there are no words that can capture how it is both repulsive and alluring at the same time. The whirl of traffic, blaring of horns, press of humanity and the sticky heat of an Indian ‘winter’ all lend to the unique sense of harmonious chaos in this country.