In every trip there is a tipping point that makes you see a country differently; an evening with three cousins from India made my tipping point. I can honestly say: I love India, it’s a fantastic country, with beautiful people, although the family culture they have is a blessing and a curse, but are our individualism necessarily better? Although I feel blessed – I would never say this before – that I can travel as a woman alone knows about the world and freedoms that many will never have.
Culture of India
With this freedom we also started our conversation about Indian culture. Kartik, lives in Mumbai. Harshit and Chirag, the funny of the couple, are three full cousins who don’t see each other very much and therefore have planned a few days in Pushkar to see and party each other. To enjoy life. They actually only see each other at weddings, Chirag is next to get married and they tease him with that. It is tempting not to join from time to time.
Women in India
Marriage, having children and continuing the family honour is ‘the essence’ of Indian culture. Maybe I put it very black and white, but it comes down to the fact that everything is about the family. When the woman marries, she moves in with her in-laws and most women take care of the (future) children full-time. You marry when you are twenty-five and when you are twenty-seven you have your first child. A woman is usually two years younger than a man.
And you marry inside your closet. Of course you can marry outside, but that makes your life very complicated. The chance that your family no longer talks to you is great and you usually have a good job with the family, so true love outside the closet happens, but ‘this is usually Bollywood movies are made about’ jokes Chirag.
Traditional Indian food
About two years before your twenty-fifth birthday, the family provides a dinner where they invite a number of families with potential candidates for their son. We look at the CV of the family, what jobs they have, where they live, reputation and so on. It goes without saying that it is the same cupboard. After this traditional food, the family decides which candidate they find most suitable for their son. Sometimes they ask the son what he wants, but in principle he cannot refuse. When he says that he doesn’t want her, the family says: but we think it is a good candidate and that’s all right.
Then there follows a few months when the two can get to know each other. Fifteen days before the wedding the rehearsal starts with dance steps for the wedding. Everyone does this and takes it seriously, even fathers who normally never dance, will dance at the wedding with rehearsed dance steps. The day before the wedding is the dress rehearsal, because everything has to go well of course.
On the day itself there are on average 2000 guests of which you really do not know everyone, but the whole family is present from both sides. That means nephews, nieces and everything that is married and more. It is important and parents save for the wedding of their children.
Vegetarian and religion
If you marry you also mean a religious life, so really vegetarian and no alcohol. Hindus believe in Ahimsa, which means no violence against any living organism, which means they eat animals, not even fish. I don’t think it will never happen again, but the chance that the nephews will go all out in Pushkar for a few days is less likely.
Backpacking about the world before you get married? A year away, as I do? Impossible according to the three. What will your parents’ neighbours think? Your parents may still like it, but what the others think, and that counts, won’t be good, so you can’t go. In this way, people keep each other trapped in an idea of ‘how it should be’.
Change in India
Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t change. They will release their children to travel themselves, because they do see that it enriches your life, no matter if it’s a girl or you’re a boy. I hope they keep to this. I grant everyone a trip around the world – if you like – because you learn so much about other cultures and also about yourself.
Traditional Indian food in the desert
That evening my turning point was how I think about India: it is special to hear that despite being younger than me, they have such a different life and different possibilities than I do. You know that, but until you really meet people and have a face to it, it remains abstract (for me then).
The three promised to invite me to Chirag’s wedding in two or one and a half years, if that is the case, it will be a great opportunity to discover India even further, because two months – the maximum I can stay on my visa – is far too little to understand anything about all of India that is just a little bit smaller that the whole of Europe.