Chennai, India

Feature Writing

Back to the World Map!
Not three hours into being in Chennai I already had gotten a piece of enlightenment. At a mall I was talking to a shop owner about how there were so many western shops in the mall and how that upset me because I was looking forward to seeing traditional Indian things.
"There are so many western stores here. It's sad there aren't many more shops like yours."
"Yes, but they mean more business. It means progress."
"Yeah. But what about your culture? You're losing it. It's bad."
"The greatest culture is humanity."
Fair game. He got me there. I bought a traditional shirt called a kurta (spelling) at his store and then went back to the ship to pack for my trip to Delhi a few hours later.
"And then I left India under an incredible star filled sky. It's so cool to see the stars here. There are so many and they are different than back home. Orion last night was on his side as opposed to standing up like I see him in Chicago.

Brandon Harper -- Indiana University, Bloomington
Northfield, IL

Well, that pretty much sums up my experience in India. I'm not quite sure how to process it all. Maybe writing it down helped, but I really feel like there was just so much more to it that I can't possibly put into words. How do you tell someone that you were in some of the most beautiful places in the world, but were still completely surrounded by poverty? How do you tell someone that you had to ignore some of the most helpless looking children because you didn't know where your money would be going to or you knew that it would just be stolen by adults by the evening? How do I possibly describe seeing a mother holding a child that I swear was either drugged, not hers, or literally dead in her arms? What about the fact that most of the injuries or disabilities these children had were from their parents who beat them to make them look more pitiful? How can you possibly fathom those things? How do you describe that? No matter how hard I try to capture my experiences in my journal or through the pictures that I take, I can't come anywhere close to doing it justice. This was just all too different.

Kelly Mackey -- Loyola Marymount University
O'Fallon, IL

Where to begin. There is no way to be poetic, or explain India in just a few words. India was a sensual experience, and not in the way that would normally be perceived; every sense was over stimulated. The sights, smells, sounds, tastes and even the feel of India will never leave me. I saw the most beautiful buildings, and the most heartbreaking scenes, I smelled the raw sewage, I tasted delicious foods, I was hot and sticky, I felt the burn in my throat and the sadness in my heart. I often hear now that India is a land of contradictions and I can somewhat agree with that statement. In India there is vast differences between the rich and the poor. In talking with friends about India, I realize that India changed us all. In the night at the train station where we saw men hovering above the ground to pack more people in for free, in the eyes of the little boy chasing me down the street, the baby sleeping on the sidewalk, India made me feel things I have never felt before. Though these things may seem negative they were not, they all painted a picture of India. India is an astounding country.

Brett Lane -- University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Roy, UT

Overall, India was quite an experience. My senses were overwhelmed and more completely used than in the previous ports. I tasted delicious curries and naan, but I also feared that I may get sick from dirty water or ice. I smelled the fragrant aromas of the raw sewage floating in the canals and rivers. I was able to buy some Pashmina cashmere scarves that feel like butter, but I also was touched, grappled and hit multiple times by women and children begging for food or money. I heard the outrageous demands of taxi drivers trying to manipulate me and others into paying more than a fair price. Most of all, I saw India with a pair of Western eyes. I am still trying to make sense of all that I saw and trying not to judge what I saw. I do know that I will continue to make sense of this experience and it will change me forever, in ways I cannot yet understand or describe.

Paul Valdez, Resident Director
Toledo, OH

One notable experience I had occurred while I was shopping in Agra. A rickshaw driver took me to a nearby store and I bought a few souvenirs. Before I left, the owner told me to "tell [my] friends to walked down," and proceeded to give me several business cards to hand out. The store was within walking distance, but I thought it was very interesting that he chose to say walk, not take he rickshaw, and he said this twice before I left. The owner was quick as he as subtle about cutting out the middle man, the very person that got him the sale in the first place! My driver was removed from the equation so the owner didn't have to compensate him. And while that may have been something I would've expected in the capitalist-as-the-only-means-to-an-end US, I was surprised to see it in a more homogenous country whose people I thought would be more unified. It felt like the line between "brothers" and business was much more distinct here than in the other countries, and that's what particularly stuck out to me. It's interesting to see how a person's environment can actually change their behavior, and it seems as though the poverty-stricken Indians have become just a little more eager, a little pushier, a little greedier about getting every rupee they can for themselves and themselves only.

Jason Reaves, University of Pittsburgh
Stamford CT