People in the States either love the idea of India or they hate it. Or maybe fear is the better word. When we told folks we were going there for three weeks, the response was typically a look that said, “Why in the world would you go there?” followed by the two words travelers probably hear the most: “Be careful.” Still, it’s not the kind of response I’m used to when I announce a big trip. Usually my friend or family member will act excited—or at least curious—and then make me promise to tell all about it when I return.
And some did. The country does have its fans, including Mark Twain, who said, “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great-grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most artistic materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”
But mostly I heard, “Ew. Don’t get sick.” Even the nurse at the Travel Immunization Center in Chicago said, “You’re going to India? Watch out. We’ve seen some nasty stuff come back from over there.”
“Really?” I asked. “Like what?”
“Oh, gut problems, parasites, malaria, that kind of thing,” she said and stuck me with a needle filled with Hepatitis A vaccine. “Just wash your hands often and don’t eat the street food.”
I nodded. “Have you been there?”
“India? Nooooo. Too many people.” She pulled off her rubber gloves, tossed them into the waste bin, and showed me to the door. “You’re all set. Have a good time!”
Right. The nearer our departure date, the more these cautionary reactions were starting to scare me. Why were we going to India? It certainly wasn’t on Chris’s bucket list. He’d heard stories about beggar children who attach to tourists’ arms and legs like suction cups and refuse to let go until you cave in and give them money or candy … or you peel them off.
“That’s not a situation I ever want to face,” he said when I suggested making the subcontinent our next adventure. It wasn’t a predicament I relished either, but surely there was more to this fascinating country filled with ancient history than abject poverty and desperation. What about the ninety-seven billionaires I’d read about in Forbes? And Bollywood, the world’s largest film industry? And the booming economy ripe with entrepreneurial spirit?
Whatever the case, one-seventh of the world’s population resides there, living in a way quite different from us, and I wanted to see what it was like. What was their take on the question that bugs me: What the heck are we all doing here on this planet anyway?
I didn’t necessarily expect to find the meaning of life. But I was hoping to find a new perspective to add to the mix that I’d found on our travels around the world so far. Still, with all the negative feedback we’d received, Chris and I weren’t sure this was a trip we really wanted to take anymore. But, too late. Reservations had been made and deposits paid. The next day we’d be in Delhi.