- The Classical Music
I think India’s classical music—especially Dhrupad—is some of the most perfect music ever created. It has everything: the depth, refinement, and seriousness of Western classical music, the structured improvisational rigor of jazz, the tunefulness of pop music, the deep grooves of folk music. The Raga system has endured thousands of years and it will endure a thousand more. It is truly one of India’s greatest gifts to the world.
- The People
Like any country, India hosts the whole gamut of humanity, from the very best to the very worst. But the best Indians are some of the best people on the planet. They are as cultured, intelligent, educated, creative, and honest as the best from anywhere else, but what makes them distinct is their depth of emotional sensitivity and the openness of their hearts. I know that’s a generalization, but it’s true, and something Indians are justifiably proud of.
- Good Chai
It’s possible to get a good cup of chai in America at someone’s home or a fancy Indian restaurant, but the stuff they sell at Starbucks, et al, is pure nonsense. And even if you do get a good cup of chai, it’s just not the same as on the side of a road somewhere, while striking up a conversation with a friendly person. And the best of all experiences is enjoying a fine cup of chai in someone’s home while sharing a laugh and watching the kids run around. Good chai is a powerful conduit to strengthening social bonds.
- Small Businesses
The large corporate businesses that have destroyed many towns in America are making inroads in India too, but thankfully they are still far outnumbered by small businesses. It’s a marked difference that one feels every day. The shop owners here generally care about doing good business with you because they aren’t paid by the hour. They have to retain their customers or they won’t be able to survive. So they work with you, they’re genuinely friendly, and happy to help you out however they can. It makes shopping much more personable and meaningful.
- Commuting by Motorcycle
Motorcycles and scooters are ubiquitous in India, and they are a great way to get around. They are much more fuel-efficient than cars, take up less space on the road, are easier to park, fun to drive, and are much cheaper to buy and maintain. Everyone rides them here, from rich to poor, men and women.
People generally have less money here and so are more thrifty and efficient. For example, in America the roads are taken up with giant SUVs that only have one person in them. In India people pack into smaller cars. People don’t run A/C here unless it’s really hot (like over 100 degrees), etc, etc. The very rich are still wasteful, but the rest of the folks are not. It’s something I’m going to try hard to bring home with me as a lifestyle change.
- Kid-Friendly Atmosphere
With the exception of some hard-core classical concerts or theatre productions, it’s fine to bring kids anywhere here. In fact, it’s encouraged. Family is at the center of Indian culture and people are used to having kids around. It’s really nice to be able to bring the kids everywhere and not worry about people giving us mean stares or “tsk tsks” when they make some noise or touch something. And people here will go out of their way to help you be comfortable with the kids.
- Respecting One’s Elders
In Western cultures the respect for elders has eroded completely away. I see millions of young people in Western countries who are adrift, and whose lives would be greatly improved if they would simply tone down their ego and open their hearts and minds to the wisdom of the elders in their society. This is something I figured out on my own in my early 20s. It made my time at university and beyond much more productive and enjoyable. I’m enjoying spending an extended time in a culture that still values its elders.
- The Historical Monuments
Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Sanchi, Sarnath, etc, etc, etc. India has incredible historical riches. I feel so much wonder at the gorgeous art, architecture, and the colorful stories that surround them. It is simply mind-blowing to look at a sculpture that was made 5,000 years ago.
- Rooftop Culture
Earlier today I was practicing my drum on our roof while enjoying a sunset. My kids came up and played for a while and my neighbor came out on his roof and said hello. Some boys were flying kites on their roofs a few houses down. It’s a party up there every day and it’s really fun.
- The Food.
It’s such a basic part of my life I take it for granted, but I do love Indian food. I marvel at the way a good cook can coax so much subtlety and nuance out such simple ingredients. And the variety as I travel around the subcontinent is astonishing.
- The Smile and Head Bobble
Most of the time it means “yes.” But sometimes it means “no.” And sometimes it means “thank you.” And sometimes I have no clue what it means. But it’s really endearing and infectious. My own head bobble is getting better and better. I’m pretty sure I’ll bring it home with me next year!