(Jalebi used to gross me right the hell out. Now, though? Mmmm… delicious. Image from here.)
There’s this interesting thing that happens as you begin to learn more about things you didn’t know anything about – things that surprised you suddenly become commonplace, and you start to wonder how you didn’t always know about them.
For example, the exoticness of toasted mustard seeds and the other delightful details of Indian food totally mystified me at one point, a fact that, in itself, mystifies me. How could I possibly have missed that? How did I not know that these things are absolutely essential?
How did I not enjoy good halwa? Or a really lovely burfi, delicately flavored with rosewater? How was it that I didn’t know the difference between the Ramayana and the Mahabarata? Or rolled my eyes at a performance of a rag?
I know the answer to these questions, and it really doesn’t help me comprehend the gulf of experience that lies between the self before I found India and myself now.
The most astonishing thing that has happened is the change in attitude I’ve had regarding my feet.
I really kind of hate feet. They’re sweaty and smelly and I generally avoid them (to the point of flipping out at a friend for putting them on my bed, shoeless). But a strange thing has happened as I become more comfortable with India – I’ve developed a reverence for feet. I don’t actually know why this has happened. Perhaps it’s looking at eleventy million photos of barefoot people, walking down dusty roads in the countryside. Perhaps it’s watching Bollywood movies and seeing young people touch their elders’ feet as a sign of respect. Perhaps it’s seeing people remove their shoes before entering a temple. I have no idea. I just know that I’m not as uncomfortable with seeing them as I had been. Now, don’t get me wrong – I still don’t want somebody putting stinky feet on my furniture or my bed or my cats. However, I can look at them now, and that’s a big step.
I wonder what would happen if I moved to India, or even just visited there. Would all that become indispensable, as well? Commonplace? Would I start to take it for granted, until I came back to the US and discovered that it doesn’t exist everywhere? How would my experience of shopping at Indian grocers change? It’s still a little exotic right now. Would it seem like it’s lacking something, in comparison to the real thing? Is the sanitized version something I like because it’s closer to my own Western sensibilities, or would I someday come to love India, good and bad, the same way I’ve developed a love for ghee?
I don’t know that I’ll ever find out the answers to these questions, mostly because I am afraid to make that sort of change in my life, although at some point I know for certain that I’ll visit that amazing and vibrant country. I also have no idea what to do with my cats. The immigration site says that each person is allowed one, so maybe we could take them along. You know, in the eventuality something like that actually happens. Or whatever.
I am still amazed that at one point in my life, I had no idea why a really good cup of chai is possibly the best and most comforting thing ever.