A Sensory Experience of South India, through words and photographs

Myself and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale volunteers of The Pepper House.

Myself and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale volunteers of The Pepper House.

I often struggle to formulate the words to describe transformative experiences. But now, looking at the film I developed from my month in India, waves of nostalgia and inspiration flutter to me. This post is the India I felt, saw, and loved for 30 days.

I have been fascinated by India since I was four years old, when my preschool teacher brought Sri Lankan rice and curry to class. The sensation of spicy food and description of spice plantations soaked deeply into my curious brain. Throughout my childhood I researched India, and fell even deeper in love, imagining my own body amidst the color and chaos. It was not until I arrived in college (this year), that I would have sufficient time for my first trip to India.

Though I studied Indian culture before arriving, no amount of reading or advice could have prepare me for what I would experience.I was ready to come to the “Source.” The motherland that embodies many of the philosophies I identify with, my favorite foods, colors, vibrating faith, and a deep complex history. I couldn’t imagine how it functioned in practice.

In my first week I was unsure of how to navigate being so glaringly white, tall, and conspicuous. I  wanted to be invisible, watching  life in India; how meals were eaten, how religions were practiced, how to cross a street lurching with dangerous traffic.

In the three weeks I spent traveling with my mother. We traveled to cities throughout the Southern Indian states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. We had a beautiful adventure, and I began to understand why my soul urged me to fly across the country at such a young age. It has been only a few weeks since I returned home, and I am already planning my next trip to the country.

I saw India as a country functioning on philosophies that I have always been drawn to. But teenage years, and societal conditioning had made me lose sight of the brilliance of life outside of the Western world. I now know why I adore this culture. I adore the speed, tempered by patience. I adore the frugal nature and innovation using available local and natural resources. I love the variety of smells and the intricate patterns of Kolam drawn in colored rice flour on sidewalks. I love the saris and lungis, spirited garments worn by most Indian people. There is a new kindness I hadn’t known. A curiosity and spirit stronger than any of the New Age hubs of America. I love the tradition and culture of India that has not been lost, cannot be shaken by Westernization.

India is The Source.

While my sensitive and sympathetic self can feel overwhelmed by the constant honking, the trash in the ocean, or the abandoned children found in railway stations, my love is not deterred. This is life. It is not all beautiful.

I will return to India for an entire year in 2018. The only I plan I have is to wander. To meet  my Indian friends again and to allow myself to surrender to love and the rhythm of the country.

With great thanks to La Paz group for helping me navigate my first trip to India. And for the opportunity to volunteer at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale – two weeks spent among Indian art students volunteers and international art and artists.

Love and Light, Eliza Schmidt

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