Beautiful chaos. These were among the first words that fell out of my mouth on arriving in the sweltering madness of Mumbai, and I came to use them over and over again. Never before had I visited a country where disarray is so exquisitely packaged. The streets of Rajasthan were particularly mesmerising; cows nonchalantly meandered through markets past technicolour spices and saris. The symphony of noise from hundreds of people and motorbike horns and Hindi records swirl among the soothing sounds of crickets. Even the traffic has its own strange splendour. Visit any Indian city and you are likely at some point to end up in a rickshaw, whizzing and weaving through hordes of vehicles and people and animals in a perfectly executed, seemingly choreographed manner.
It was precisely while in the back of a rickshaw, laughing at ourselves for being in awe at something so banal, that Faye and I realised something… many descriptions of India, much like the one just given, actually end up glamorising the widespread poverty and overpopulation that plagues the country. These issues are real, present and too often ignored. Clean water, food and shelter are luxuries not afforded to all, and those with access to these most basic of necessities often must share them with a huge family. Yet somehow, the spirit of Indian people remains unbroken. I have never met such compassionate and generous people in all my life, no matter what their personal circumstances. Everywhere you go, smiles and warmth pulsate from people.
On this trip, Indian people blew me away with their kindness on a daily basis. We were treated like family by everyone we encountered, and even complete strangers made it their personal mission to ensure we got to wherever we were headed, safely and with a full belly. My direct experiences of this are far too many to list, but one in particular stands out. We had spent a long day of trekking up Mount Abu, new landscapes rising and falling out of nowhere through the mist. Faye and I arrived at a tiny, ramshackle village, hours on foot from civilisation and high up in the clouds. It looked like something from another planet, and felt like being both at the top and the edge of the world at the same time.
Despite being soaked from the mist and rain, covered in mud and feeling fatigued, we were instantly lifted by the usual Indian welcome; a huge smile, encouraging head waggle and a cup of sweet, warm chai. The villagers ushered us into a small mud hut where we huddled together around a crackling fire, on which they cooked a simple curry for everyone. As night fell, one man beckoned us to another hut, apparently offering us a place to sleep. This man, who had almost nothing, shared not only his food but his tiny, bare home and makeshift bed, despite our profuse insistences to the contrary. As I burrowed deep into the musty, dusty blanket, I couldn’t help but smile. This man was so much wealthier than he could possibly know.
India is a total assault on the senses. Its beautiful chaos can be hard to digest at first, but once you get to know its people, the disarray reveals itself as a seamless, welcoming flow of energy. If the rest of the world had even half an Indian heart, I feel sure there would be peace on earth.