by Kyle Morgan, Guest Writer
Last night I was flying down a barely paved road in Southern India at speeds that would make most people faint especially when you think of the quality of roads we were on. I was with three friends that I had recently met, with maybe thirty words of common language between us, and yet it was probably one of the best hour-long rides of my life. We literally sailed from Tumkur to the airport in Bangalore on these barely paved back roads blaring Hindi/Kanada music, passing dozens of marriage halls, dodging bikers, truckers, cops, people, dogs, and cows the entire way, driving in a manner that would never be accepted or tolerated in western countries!
As I write this reflection about my trip to India, I am on a flight back home to Phoenix. Part of me is excited to be heading home, yet the other part is apprehensive about returning to the normal grind. I’ve never been one to conform to the societal norm to say the least. The apprehensive part of me wants to cancel my flight home and continue my adventures abroad. It’s been a few months since I’ve left the US, mainly to study in Prague, Czech Republic for a portion of my MBA program, the remaining part bouncing around Eastern and Western Europe. Who wouldn’t want to continue exploring?
In the past two months, I’ve been to a myriad of western and eastern European countries: Ireland, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Montenegro, Croatia, Turkey; each with its unique history, customs, and styles of food. While I wouldn’t trade my experiences in any of them for the world, my most recent trip to India has blown all of them out of the water.
To be perfectly honest, I had many preconceived, unfounded notions about India, despite the many friends I have from the country: I had heard that you could get better Indian food outside of India (not true), that you were guaranteed to get sick (not true), that there was trash everywhere (very true), that you could forget about your personal space (very true), and so on. Even after having traveled to 50+ countries, it was hard to land in India without thinking about them. My initial experience at the Bangalore Airport Immigration counter did not help my initial impressions of the country.
The friend that had invited me to India, Sunil Kumar (MBA ’15, US), warned me this would happen; yet, being an American and very used to the magical power of the blue passport I did not really believe him. US Citizens can land in most countries around the world without any questions raised, receiving a quick stamp and passage is a privilege taken for granted by US passport holders (myself included). I landed in Bangalore in the wee hours of the morning with little to no one in the queue, and yet I was grilled for almost an hour on why I was landing in the country, who I was going to visit, where I would be on each day of my 8 day stay, contact numbers, addresses, hotels; the immigration official would not let up.
Later on after finally making it through the entire customs and immigration process, my friend Sunil could only laugh at me while I indigently explained the experience. He related that what I went through was only a fraction of the question and examination process that he and his fellow countrymen go through when they attempt to come to the US, even with a residency visa. Needless to say I felt humbled about even complaining to begin with.
That humbling airport experience was the start of a once in a lifetime experience in the southern Indian State of Karnataka. Orally spoken, it sounds like I’ve been hanging out in the state of and learning the local dialect of ‘Kannada’. Verbal phonetics of the name are about the only thing that is relatable. The state of Karnataka and the people I met are, bar none, the most cultured, respectful, and well-meaning group of people that I have ever had the pleasure to meet in all my travels around the world.
The first day in India included a long drive from Bangalore to Tumkur where I was introduced to the family of Sunil’s wife; a very successful family in the town, they own a hospital and are well renowned within the community. Part of the invitation to Tumkur included attending the wedding of Sunil’s sister-in-law, but more on that later.
As we drove around town, it became very obvious that I was the only ‘white guy’ within the city. The double takes, the glances, and the outright stares were quite humorous. We were well off any normal tourist tract. I felt very honored by the people who had the courage to come up and practice their English with me, asking my name and where I was from for the most part. Some were able to hold more comprehensive conversations, but most of these were with the younger kids!
After meeting the family, Sunil took me way out into the countryside to see the farm of his wife’s side of the family. The feeling of being the only ‘white guy’ in a city is magnified a thousand times when you’re in a tiny village out in the southern Indian countryside! That being said, I couldn’t have felt more like being home than if I was at my family’s house in Arkansas. I was welcomed into Sunil’s Uncle’s home, had an amazing lunch of homemade curry, naan, and watermelon juice; all the while playing games with their two kids and meeting neighbors as they circulated in; and all the while prodding them to practice their hesitant English due to my very limited vocabulary in ‘Kannada’. After lunch, Sunil’s uncle-in-law took us out to his farm to sample his coconut, jackfruit, and banana products. If you’re ever curious to taste where ‘Juicyfruit’ bubble gum came up with their flavor, try fresh jackfruit!
While the farm produce was delicious, it was alarming to learn the water shortage in the region. Sunil pointed out two items to me: first, there was a large retaining wall nearby that looked to hold a large lake. Sunil debunked this by mentioning the lake dried up five years ago. The second item was the dropping level in ground water. In various parts of the farm, there seemed to be many open stone wells that appeared dry. Sunil explained that when he was younger, the ground water supplied these surface wells, but now, ground water needed to be sourced at least 900 feet down and was still dropping. Later on traveling around the countryside, I noticed many more dry lake-beds.
The personable experience on the farm, trying the different produce and spending time with the family was just the start of the week. Traveling around the countryside to different temples really began to open my eyes to the intricate levels of Indian culture. I was raised Baptist, with dashes of Mormonism, and non-denominational thrown in over the years, but there was more culture and tradition sense in my visits to the Indian temples then there ever was with my previous religious experiences. Whether that was due to my agnostic views or thrill of traveling, I will leave that up to readers to attest, but being blessed by an elephant in a thousand year old temple, drinking questionable substances handed out by priests, surrounded by smoky incense, fellow worshipers, and beating drums drove goose bumps down my body. Granted after this feeling passed, I realized my forehead was covered in elephant drool.
The highlight of my trip was being apart of the wedding of Dr. Megha & Dr. Madhukesh, Sunil’s sister-in-law and soon to be brother-in-law. When Sunil had first invited me to the wedding, I expected to be the outsider looking in, watching everything but not really participating in anything: how very wrong I was proven on that thought. I can’t recount how many people that I talked to over the course of the wedding festivities (a three day event by the way), with conversations in broken English, photos taken, and explaining the differences between US and southern Indian weddings. (to be continued…)
*All photos are courtesy of Kyle Morgan (MBA ’15, US)