The first introduction I had with India was during my year of study in Leeds University in England, in 1998-1999. The Indo-Pakistani population is considerable in the UK, and there were many Indians on my course. Perhaps some were Pakistani but I couldn't make the difference at the time. I don't remember a lot about them except that I didn't have much in common and never knew what to talk about with them. I also didn't like the girls' style of dress because I thought it was very uncool and far too colourful - I was a “goth” back then and only wore black clothing... But most of all, it was their English accent that used to get on my nerves! I was madly in love with England at the time, and especially I loved the subtle round curls of British English, while the Indians' English to me sounded harsh, ugly and irritating.
My following encounter with India happened through N., whom I met in the summer of 1999, still in England, and who would become my longest boyfriend. We went out for almost five years and lived together for three. His paternal grandmother, who was Indian, had fallen in love with the British man who would later become his grandfather. She had left India to move the UK with him after converting to Christianity. N.'s father had left India in his teens, never to return, and N. had never been to India and really knew nothing of its culture. But he'd sometimes tell me he'd love to take me to India one day with his parents, and he absolutely loved going to Indian restaurants and cooking spicy food which we would eat with naan bread. I enjoyed the food, but it irritated me that his cooking was always far too spicy for my soft taste buds and I never seemed to get used to it. I know now that the “Indian” food we used to eat together didn't really have anything to do with the Indian food of India. By the way, the word “curry” in England is a generic term for “Indian” food whereas in India (or at least in the northern part of India that I know) “curry” - more precisely “kud̩i” - is a very specific dish made of yoghurt, chickpea flour and turmeric! When I think about N. today I think he would actually have a hard time in India, especially in dirty Varanasi...
Finally, my most significant introduction to India of course was to be yoga, although it took me a few years to even realise that yoga came from India, and later to develop a deep interest in visiting the country. At first I “kind of” knew yoga came from India but I didn't really care, because from what I knew of it (i.e. unfashionable clothing, a terrible English accent and food far too spicy for me) I wasn't interested! So I started learning yoga in 2001 at the age of 24. I decided to take classes after an inspiring friend, who had been going to yoga classes for a year, told me I should do it because I'd really like it. It struck a chord because I had always wanted to find the right form of exercising for me but had tried various disciplines and never managed to keep them up for long – dance, swimming, jogging, or doing gymnastic-type movements alone in my bedroom one day telling myself I'll just do that every morning for now on, but then feeling stupid doing silly movements alone in my bedroom the next day I'd stop until the next time I'd try again.
Before my friend told me about yoga in 2001, all I 'd had in my mind when thinking about this obscure discipline, I guess like many in the West, was not even an idea but just the typical image of a person sat in lotus position. Really I had no idea what yoga was, yet I, too, had that mocking stigma attached to it – kind of like “yoga is for weirdos”. So when my friend told me about yoga I realised I knew nothing of it and felt stupid for my conditioned value judgement.
At my very first yoga class the teacher told us to stand straight and to feel our feet – the contact of our feet with the floor. All I remember today is that I absolutely loved it and I felt silly for not having even thought of feeling my feet ever before! The yoga centre was five minutes walk from work so I'd go to class on the way home, once a week. For the first three years yoga was only exercise for me, but it made me feel good. It was a very new feeling: after each class I felt kind of light, more free in my body.
But it was only after I split up with N. that I started digging into the depth of Yoga – Yoga with a “Y”. I'd met a new friend then, G., who too was starting yoga, practising it everyday, and he was also learning meditation. He really woke me up. Clearly, I had never looked into the deep meaning of Yoga because N., my boyfriend, would never have understood it. When I left him I started my quest; I was so thirsty for knowledge! This came just before the summer of 2004, and at my job (I was working as a secretary at university) every summer was a torture because I rarely had anything to do so I had to sit at my desk 9-5 everyday trying to pretend I was working. So that summer of 2004, I spent all my time on the Internet quenching my thirst for Yoga philosophy and Buddhism. I learnt so much and loved so much what I learnt. It struck a deep chord in my heart, putting into words what I had always known but never been able to clearly express. I started practising yoga at home, I started breath awareness meditation followed by vipassana meditation, and devoured tons of books on Buddhism, zen Buddhism, Yoga, Yoga philosophy, Ayurveda... Finally, in August 2005 I decided to take my first trip to India with that friend who had introduced me to yoga in 2001.
But there was an even older encounter with India. Amazingly, it came back to my memory in a flash only about a few months ago. It is but a very faint image in my mind. I must have been about 10; I am pretty sure it was in the magazine I was subscribed to to help me learn reading, “J'aime Lire” (“I like reading”). It might have been in one of their short sections at the end, one small cartoon or perhaps a short cultural section. All I remember is learning that Indian women wrap a very long piece of fabric round their bodies for clothes, the saree. I think I even remember the double “e” in the word “saree”. And I very much liked the simple idea of it: wrapping fabric round the body for clothes. That very first glimpse must have lasted a few minutes before getting lost into a tiny drawer of my memory, and I was amazed to discover some 25 years later that it had not completely vanished... Isn't the human brain amazing?!
A note on my three blogs
A note on my blogs
(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...
(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!
(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.