“No Worry. Come, come.”
In Kozhikode in Northern Kerala, at the crack of dawn, I stumbled into a small decent-looking hotel and straight to the concierge. I was ravenous and exhausted from a rough 5-hour bus ride from Mysore. All I wanted was a decent meal –paratha, dossa, idli, anything, anywhere within 20 metres. It was the crack of dawn, the hotel kitchen and restaurant was not open until some 2 hours later. The tall man behind the front desk informed me of this with a polite apologetic look on his face. Disappointed and hungry, I thanked him and retreated. He suddenly raised a hand, stopping me, then beckoned quickly. I followed him to the closed hotel kitchen, which he opened, wordlessly gestured for me to wait in the restaurant, and in 15 minutes I had toast, butter, jam and freshly brewed coffee in front of me.
I love how everything, anything, can be arranged in this country. (Was what I tweeted, oh hipster me)
I think one of the things that struck the most and implanted itself in my heart forever was the easy openness of people in India. Traversing from north to south, jumping from bus to bus, landing in random cities, navigating a system of organised chaos, constant negotiating. This was how I met and experienced India, albeit not long or far enough. And amidst all the haphazardness and frenzy and occassional scamming mishaps, were people who helped, welcomed, received me, so openly and effortlessly that even I would have the urge to remind them that I was still just a stranger. In fact, at some point I did, and the response I got was a quizzical look and a jumbled mumble that sounded like, “You are now part of family, what are you talking about?”
On that same day, still in Northern Kerala, I found myself adopted by a family. Yes, a family. Complete strangers, booked in that same hotel for the long weekend and ready to tour around Wayanand for a day trip. The kind man from the concierge had asked them if they would let me, a lone traveller not even booked into the hotel, join them. Without much fuss or drilling (save for the standard “where are you from?”) I hopped into a van and found myself on a roadtrip.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, on that same afternoon, I knew this was the highlight of my entire trip. No majestic sights and altitudes such as The Himalayas and the Taj Mahal. Just a day of driving around tea estates and coffee farms, meeting the farmers themselves, some kulfi, jokes and laughs with the kids, feeling like a kid again. Before the day tour ended, we were welcomed into the home of one coffee farmer and his wife offered us some snacks and the standard good ol’ masala chai.
The day began with me hungry and disoriented in an unfamiliar city, and ended with friends I would remember forever. And a long hot shower and the first really good horizontal sleep in 4 days.
This was how I ended my few weeks in India. Well, not quite, it ended in Bangalore and equally received and welcomed by a group that were strangers for 5 minutes and with whom spent the last seconds of 2011 and first of 2012. And this was pretty much how the entire trip began. In my first three days upon arriving in India, from Delhi to Chandigarh, I was welcomed and offered a bed and food and even chapatti lessons and words of wisdom from a Punjabi mother (but that’s for another post).
Yes, I might be generalising and wrapping up a summation of all my pleasant encounters from those 2-3 weeks wandering about a foreign country. I could quickly assume that all this was based on a certain bias of debunked notions and expectations. I am from a country supposedly known for its culture of warm hospitality and generousity especially to foreigners (our history more than tourism reports is main proof). Yet I was (and still am) overwhelmed by the constant response I experienced, from bus to bus, city to city, start to end.
So, about my strong emotional and nostalgic reference to all things India: how could I not?
India = Open doors, open kitchens, open hearts.