Saturday, February 6, 2016

Full Enjoy

If you ever travel in India, prepare to be confused, amazed, spontaneous, and pleasantly surprised by the most unexpected events. Don’t get me wrong, the sights are beautiful and worth seeing, but the whole process of traveling and the people I’m meeting are what I’m enjoying more. Maybe that is travel in general, but I’m not some travel guru (YET). After a month in India I am learning how to fully enjoy every day.

A few days ago, some girls and I decided we would go to Warangal, a small town a train ride from Hyderabad with temples from 11AD and a really cool fort built by a queen (see photos). First of all, Indian trains are confusing. There’s entire blogs devoted to figuring out this system for foreigners. Host family members who let you use their IRCTC account and laugh as you scroll through timetables of impossible to pronounce destinations are also very helpful (thx Kavya).

The morning of our journey, we thought we showed up early enough… After running circles around a train station so crowded we could barley see the trains, we somehow found our car with two minutes to spare. Of course trains don’t leave on time. We soon discovered that just because you have a ticket, this does not mean you have a seat. The three of us shared one seat with a family, taking turns standing. Young men hung out the doors, hopping off at each station, running alongside to hop back on as the train picked up speed. I felt like taking a cliché photo as the countryside sped by. Four or five grandmas and a child waddling back and forth stretched their legs sitting in the space opposite the doors, no bigger than a broom closet. Seeing it in real life, I’m not really sure why media focuses so much on this scene. Yes, it’s a crowded train.

Warangal was beautiful, and a peaceful break from the business of Hyderabad. I don’t think I realized how huge “fifth largest city in India” meant. Maybe Hyderabad is not that big area wise, but the sheer amount of people, noise, buildings, wanna be buildings, and traffic make up for it. Seeing cornfields and one-story buildings was a nice change of pace. 

Exhausted but happy after a day of exploring Warangal, we boarded the train in our sleeper car. Unbeknownst to us, we were going to make a carful of new friends. A man with a round smiling face greeted us, asking where we were from, introducing himself as Suresh. A young woman in a green sari and her husband looked at us with slightly puzzled and interested gazes. Suresh’s friend Venkatesh joined in, explaining to us “You are free to talk to anyone on a train here. It will be a long journey; this is how Indians pass the time! In your country people keep to themselves, but here we have freedom! We will full enjoy.”

For the next five hours, we got to know the ten people around us, plus people walking through the car, pausing in interest or to offer a joke or opinion. We learned about everything from food to marriage traditions to Hinduism, travel recommendations, and of course why “Indian culture is best”. Suresh and his friends would like you to know that Indians actually invented flight thousands of years before the Wright Brothers, and you should always marry an Indian man because they are better at adjusting. Ladies, if you are “chill” and not stubborn in your interests, you can get a nose ring to reflect this. We corrected some misconceptions about our culture (we do not drink Coke with every meal or eat burgers every day) and had our life saving’s calculated in rupees. Our new friends even dubbed us with Indian nicknames, Sunny, Bubbly, and Pinky, common pet names given to children.

At one point we accidentally started a fight about all the major world religions. Suresh had just finished telling us about his favorite god, and asked “ah so you guys are Jesus right? You worship the Jesus?” Rachel tried to clarify Christianity (not everyone worships the Virgin Mary, and even if we do we still call it monotheism), and Suresh asked for clarification on Jesus. “I thought he was just a man no? Like a man with inspiration that became worshiped like a god?”
“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice piped in from the corner “Jesus was a god, not just a man. He was born a god.” The conversation lapsed into a mix of Telugu and Hindi and maybe even some Urdu, everyone leaning forward in their seat. I heard snippets of Hindu god’s names, “read the Bible!” even “Allah.” Heads nodded in agreement while some scowled in frustration, bringing up another point. In a few minutes, everyone relaxed back into their seats with pleased smiles and the rapid exchange died down. Suresh turned to us with a quick explanation “We figured it out. It’s all the same. Everyone has different names for the gods, but it is all God.” Who knew one could find simple answers to frustrations with religion on a train home from Warangal.

After this intense conversation, we switched to food.  They were pleasantly surprised to learn we like spicy food, and even more surprised when I explained my host mom is teaching me how to cook. “What can you make?”
“Well I’m pretty good at chai so far,” I said like a five year old that just learned to spell their name. The berth erupted in friendly laughter “even Sunny could make chai!” they exclaimed, pointing to the smiling baby with chubby dark legs lying on the bench next to us. “Well I can make chapattis too…”
“You know how to make chapattis??” they asked incredulously. For some reason toasted bread made from only wheat flour and water is more impressive than chai. Of course they had to test my knowledge, so I gave a train full of Indians a lesson on chapatti making. All the men in the car nodded as I detailed each step, but looked to the young woman for true kitchen authority. She seemed amused at their amazement with my chapatti skills. The car erupted in applause as I finished with “then, you eat curry with them!” Venkatesh said he would bring his friends over for the amazing chapattis made by a white girl.

It was hard to realize five hours had passed when we pulled into the station. Suresh said “Nice time. See, you can make friends anywhere! Full enjoy.” We said goodbye and quickly lost sight of everyone in the sea of people, exhausted after a day of “full enjoy”. It sounds funny at first, but “full enjoy” is a phrase I have heard many people here use. Whenever I come home late and tell my host mom asks where I was, or I come back from a nondescript day which I would describe at home as “just hanging out, talking with friends”, she smiles and says “ahh, full enjoy!” Conversations and simply spending time with people, drinking chai and laughing are so important here. We head to family members houses across town for “full enjoy” or make a giant “full enjoy” dinner for someone’s brother’s cousin who is passing through town. Living in India is teaching me to “fully enjoy” the wonderful friends and new family members I am getting, the not so mundane every events, and really long train rides.