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India Let It Inside You

India Let It Inside You

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Published by Susan

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Published by: Susan on Jun 03, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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“If one more person pushes and squeezes me in the aarti again I’m going toscream!” The tears in her eyes are testimony to the very real and sincere  pain this young woman from London is experiencing. To an Indian this  pain is unfathomable. Pushing and squeezing are part and parcel of the Indian way of life and the spiritual sector isn’t an exception. Overcrowding is not, in these cases, the reason, for there is plenty of room if one is only  prepared to be a little further from the center of the action.
Let It Inside You
The reason touches upon something much deeper and moreprofound about the culture of India, and explains one of thereasons that visits to India, particularly spiritual pilgrimages,are so emotionally difficult for people from other countries. After living in India for nearly fifteen years, I have realizedthat there is absolutely no concept of social space the way weunderstand it in the West. This is neither a good thing nor abad thing. It just is. In the West, there is an unspoken butuniversally understood “buffer zone” around each of us,physically and emotionally, which can be trespassed upononly by intimate friends and relations. If two people who arestanding and speaking with each other start to get toophysically close (unless of course there is romance brewing) aninvisible yet almost tangible magnet will pull them backwardsuntil the comfortable social distance is re-established. In Indiathis is not the case. If two people are sitting next to eachother, with a socially comfortable five or six inches of spacebetween them, that space counts as a “seat” and an Indiancould very easily come and squeeze into that spot withabsolutely no sense of having committed a social faux-pas. Icannot say the number of times someone has come and satdown basically on my lap in a variety of religious functions inhalls, temples and elsewhere. “But how in the world did a voluptuous, well-endowed woman think there was room to sitdown in six inches of space?” I used to wonder. “Didn’t sherealize she’d be sitting on my legs?” Of course she realized.The difference is that to her there’s nothing wrong with that,if she’s Indian. My legs, my lap, my personal space areabsolutely viable options for places to sit. Of course, there isno accompanying sense of embarrassment or apology, for – by Indian cultural standards – there is no such thing as socialspace, and if it doesn’t exist then it certainly can’t be violated.The same is true emotionally. “Are you married? Why aren’tyou married? How come your parents let you come to India?Don’t they want you to get married? How much money doyou make? Are your brothers and sisters married? How muchmoney do they make?” The questions flow out in a faststream, like a waterfall upon an unsuspecting bather who went into a pond for a relaxing dip, not realizing what wasabout to rain down upon his head. The look of bewilderment,of insult, of embarrassment on the face of the person beingquestioned doesn’t seem to deter the questions either. For,again, there is no personal/social space they have invaded. It just doesnt exist. This is where the choice comes for Westerners visiting India or living in India. We have twooptions. Either we can try to turn India into America or
Europe and attempt to impose our standards and culturalnorms upon India or we can let India be India and openourselves to the transformation which is possible. The formeris what we normally do, but it is an exercise in futility andfrustration. The latter is where the real possibility of Indiamanifests.India is not a country which can be seen at an arm’s distance.It is not a country which can be seen from behind the lens of a camera. It is a country which can only be seen when it hasentered and affected every single cell of our being. To try tohold India at an arm’s distance is about as effective as holdingup a stop-sign at an approaching tsunami. You’re going to get wet, stop-sign in hand or no stop-sign in hand. And that’s thebeauty of India. India does not show us India from theoutside. It’s not about the buildings or the sights. Yes, of course these are beautiful and interesting, but they’re notIndia in terms of what India has to give.They can just as easily be seen in postcards. India shows usIndia not in bricks, not in cement, not even in mud orthatch, but India shows us India only from the inside.Once it has entered our being, whether we invited it or not,once it has held up the mirror of ourselves to ourselves, onceit has brought out both the very worst and also the very bestin us (sometimes alternating almost comically in a period of merely minutes or hours), once it has turned us upside downand inside out, then and only then has India showed us India.Europe can be held at a distance. One can visit Europe, enjoy Europe and “see” Europe by visiting the various cities andcountryside, by visiting the cathedrals and ancient ruins, by sipping coffee in a road side cafe and eating baguettes andbrie on park benches in the shade.But India wants to get inside. And it will, for our ownbenefit. If medicine were unable to penetrate the cell wall, if it were unable to get deep within our cells and spill its contentsthere, it would be unable to help us. Merely floating aroundin our bloodstream, helpless in the face of an impermeablecell wall, medicine would be futile. Our flu and fevers andblood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar would remainunchecked and untreated.In the same way, India is meant to heal us. But only from the

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