|Consciously, or not, everyone coming to India, is in search of something. Maybe you are searching for a brief, or extended, escape. Where better to disappear then a society of over a billion people? Or, perhaps you are seeking religion. Where better to discover faiths eternal fruits then amongst a collection of the world’s most devout followers? And maybe still, you are struggling to discover the most difficult entity of all, yourself.
Point is, no matter what your reasons for traveling to India, you will leave changed. Let’s start with fashion, the most tangible representation of personal change.
Somewhere between Hippie and Runway Vagrant, this carefree, loose-fitting, uncoordinated trend, inspired by local garb but fused with western trends (appropriately termed, “Indi-West”), has burst onto the backpackers scene. Beautiful silk and pashmina wraps, customarily used to cover a women’s hair or face, have mutated into European style scarves, dresses, and glossy tops. Traditionally ostentatious women’s bangles and earrings have toned down the gaudiness to present more palatable Western jewelry infusions. And saree’s, typical Indian female attire, have merged with men’s baggy multi-colored cotton pants to create the ultra-comfortable, but in my opinion, ultra-hideous, “fisherman pant”. Of course, some backpackers have taken Indi-West to the extreme, converting their entire wardrobe to, in my opinion, a collection of glorified rags (trust me, you can't miss them), others only dabbling with bits of garb or jewelry. Extreme or not, these simple aesthetic changes seem to manifest a new found freedom for many backpackers.
For other travelers, deep and meaningful internal discoveries, such as spirituality, embody the solace they seek.
There is something very fascinating about religions different then one’s current, or previously held, beliefs and Hindu (the predominant Indian religion) itches that curiosity for many Western travelers. Hundreds of god’s, magical powers, mysterious stories, karma, and reincarnation are all concepts that many faith seekers latch onto. If not for their rationality, for their irrationality. Religious posters showcasing elephant-headed, eight armed, half-monkey deities, colorful and aromatic offerings stationed in nearly every available nook and cranny, and something less tangible, the overall sense of faith and belief that dances through the air like a fresh spring breeze, are just a few catalysts for self-seekers to pursue faith, or religion, in India.
Another change, more subtle and less noticeable then physical and spiritual, is mental. These are the transformations that cannot be described within the confines of words. The new perspectives, outlooks, and opinions that emerge from living and interacting with a culture so different then one’s own. A culture that knows nothing about you, and whom you know nothing about in return. Where you can live without fear of being judged for you’re past, or the business deal you lost, or the family life you may or may not have. You can be whoever and whatever you want to be in India, and it is this simple belief that, once embraced, opens the flood gates towards mental strengthening and awakening.
Now, up to this point we’ve discussed the fairly minor changes that Indian travel can precipitate, but what happens when physical, spiritual and mental realizations culminate into something more? Well, I guess that would put you in a category with about a million other travelers who, “found themselves in India”. Undoubtedly the most coined phrase by backpackers in India and, in my opinion, most fallaciously overused and gravely underestimated expression, as well. As if travelers no longer care to seek the personal words and descriptions to delineate India and it’s impact on them, instead falling prey to the easy to adopt, all-encompassing, yet completely indistinct, phrase, “I found myself”.
Seriously, what does that even mean? Does “finding yourself” simply entail swapping old perspectives for the new revelations brought on by life in India? Or, do people completely change who they once were, inside and out, exchanging a former self for a brand new identity? And wouldn’t it be safe to say, that in order to find yourself, you must first lose yourself? A task that, especially for those intending to return to their momentarily neglected "home" realities, would prove equally formidable.
I suppose these answers can only be explained by those who claim it but, if you ask me, it’s a load of malarkey. Let’s be honest, how many of these “newly discovered selves” return to their homelands acting, feeling, and living the way they had in India? Will they continue wearing the Tilaka (religious marking of Hindu’s) on their forehead or offer alms every morning to the deities? Will the Indi-West look continue to dominate their wardrobe or will judgements and ridicule cause them to hang up the physical embodiment of their previously embraced “freedom” in exchange for the accustomed confinement of a suit and tie? And when it comes to outlooks on humanity, will these claimants continue to view the poor as normal, and equal acquaintances on their home turf, as they had in India? Basically, my question to those who have found themselves in India is this, “Will your new self be able to exist in the old world?”
Pessimistic, yes. Realistic, more so. It’s easy to transform yourself in a neutral domain, where communal pressures are far from reach, but society has a cogent way of bending most back into it's mold and unfortunately, many of those who “discovered themselves”, will invariably lose a big part upon return home. So, if you’re coming to India to “find yourself”, I can only offer two words, “Good Luck”. India might aid in that change, but to discover yourself, I can only tell you to look inward. Your true self is nowhere but there.
Whether actively seeking personal change or not seeking anything at all, it is impossible to leave India without unearthing something new about life, yourself, and the impact others have on it. Open your heart to India, and she will open hers to you!