INCREDIBLE INDIA?

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On the first leg of my trip, in Calcutta, I was chatted up on the street by two young men, “Helloooo… where are you from?” This was the most commonly used prelude to, “My uncle’s shop is right down the street, just a few blocks from here…” I stopped the process before it started with, “I’m out of money and I go home tomorrow to the States.” After that we could relax and have a real conversation about NYC, Obama, the high cost of living, etc. Their English was good, maybe they were a gay couple, too. The taller one asked me if I knew those posters for India that said, “Incredible India.” Of course I did, they were all over New York for years. “Well, it’s incredibly GOOD and incredibly BAD!!!” Laughter all around, we said our good nights, and went our separate ways.

As I returned from my month in India, friends and family were very curious about my experiences. I took many photos and bought a number of objects and gifts… more than usual, I must say. I felt like I wanted to share, to give a piece of my experience to people I love. But as they asked their questions I still wondered what all of this means: will this trip change me somehow? Should I ask others to acknowledge the terrible poverty and suffering of others around the world and be more appreciative of what they have? Should I myself try doing something about the plight of ten-year-old brides in places like India?

In my travels I purposely did not see the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and other major tourist spots, but sought out  roads less travelled with the help of my friends in India, old and new: Santanu, Nina, Sonam, Warren and Trista. OK, I bought pashmina, but ONLY after Professor Rafi told me the entire history of the wool and showed me photos of the actual goats who gave their wool! (And then he sold me the scarves).

My friends are eager to see my photos (I had trouble getting internet service on a consistent basis, so focused on text first and did not post photos from over there). I am fielding questions about safety and traveling alone, “Were you afraid?” And, yes, I am happy I got all the shots – good health is wonderfully uneventful. But the larger questions will have to be answered more thoughtfully, and this requires time and distance. You know how you visit a foreign place, and people are wearing interesting clothes that fit into their environment; they look very cool and smart. And you think, I should get some of those clothes. So you do. And then you can’t wear them when you get home, because they don’t really fit in there.

I didn’t buy the clothes this time. But I believe something rich and wonderful happened to me as a result of my trip to Incredible India, and I’ll let you know what that is, as these things unravel themselves. Namaste

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About psullivan66

Patricia Sullivan is a New York City based photographer whose portraits and personal projects have appeared in New York Magazine, on HBO's "Bored to Death," TimeOutNY and other magazines. Born in Chicago, Illinois, Sullivan is drawn to the people "with broad shoulders" whose belief in just working hard and doing the right thing are keeping this whole planet together. Besides rodeo, she has photographed cops on motorcycles (in their off hours) and her mother, "the toughest woman I know."
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