On the digestion of Indian culture

For days I’ve been telling myself to write another blog.

I wanted to write something pithy here, like ‘Everything’s the same, despite being halfway around the world’ or ‘Everything is different because I’m halfway around the world’ or even ‘I can feel the earth spinning more quickly here.’ (I can’t, by the way.)

Then again, I’ve only spent ten days in India, and I’ve been blessed with each of the five symptoms treated by Pepto-Bismol for the last four of them. At the moment I’m completely healthy, but as I laid in bed earlier this week, I thought about what I could definitively say about India.

Here’s my pithy statement:

India overwhelms your senses.

All five of my senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch – have been in overdrive since I got here, as I’ve digested the culture both literally and figuratively.

I’ve heard mosquitoes buzzing and birds chirping. Our family’s two dogs bark, and the three parrots squawk. Chainsaws buzz next door and a man calls out prayers from the street each morning. The air-conditioner, however, always hums loudly enough to keep me asleep.

In the streets, burnt gasoline from the cars, rickshaws and scooters dominates the air. In my house I’ve encountered dozens of smells – from wafts of bug spray to the now-familiar smells in the kitchen. The nighttime air in Mumbai had a distinctive fresh smell, one shared by parts of Nagpur. Of all the senses, smell is the hardest to describe.

The food – when I can safely digest it – has been wonderful and often surprisingly similar to Western food. Not all Indian food is spicy, by the way. Unfortunately I’m not well enough versed in the food to describe it well either, but I’ve had potatoes, rice, toast, cereal and some delicious pizza. The pizza, however, has less sauce and cheese, and more fresh vegetables. Milk, tea, and juices are also very common.

But my eyes have worked harder than any other part of my body so far, even my stomach. Everywhere I look, there is competition for my attention.

People vied for my attention – arms outstretched – when I approached a currency exchange booth in Mumbai. Signs vie for my attention in the streets, each more colorful than the next – written in both Hindi and English to make sure everyone understands the meaning.

There’s no shortage of things to see: cows, motorcycles and colorful people in the street. A palm tree sits just outside my bedroom, as do a dozen other plants. Everything seems more bright than in the USA, just painted less thoroughly.

In time, this will all become ordinary, rather than overwhelming.

For now though, I’m in the process of giving my eyes, my stomach and my head some time to digest it all.


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7 Responses to “On the digestion of Indian culture”

  1. Wilda Kennedy Says:

    Hi! Keep up the good reporting. Since I can’t travel any more I shall enjoy India vicariously through your eyes!–Aunt Wilda

  2. Jason Says:

    Great post, Chris. I feel as if I experience enough cultural/sensory overload every time I visit China; I can only imagine how magnified the effect must be on a first-time trip to India. Hope you’re still having fun! I miss your online presence on gchat, but you’d be sorely depriving yourself if you logged on too often, anyway 😉

  3. Shawn Says:

    Chris, I am enjoying your blogs enormously, and already it comes to mind that you need to save these, and do something with them later. Aside from being a great portfolio for a Creative Writing program, there is definitely book potential here.

    We send a group of students from our school district to India every couple of years. Many of them become quite ill from parasites. I had a girl in my senior English who has been told her parasite (she calls him Bob) will be with her forever, and he is not a very pleasant companion. Be very cautious eating outside your host family home. (Now I’ll have scared your mother. Sorry mom!)

    • DrPam Says:


      Chris went to India prepared for anything (and nearly everything). He has antibiotics with him, local access to antiparasitic agents, and a host family (and doctor mom) who are watching over him IRL and digitally. He is aware of the risks, the resources, and the responsibility he shoulders to prevent and treat infectious diseases and other illnesses.

      I will, however, add your name to my network of those sharing information so that all parents can benefit from this collective concern for the health and safety of expat GenY kids.

  4. Stephanie Says:

    Sounds like you’re having a great time! Now just think of how boring C-U will be when you come back. One side you’ve got corn, on the other side some soybeans. My only experience outside of the country is when I went to Toronto and that in itself was crazy. And that’s only Canada. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. Oh well, we miss you. : )

  5. G Says:

    Very nice writing.

  6. Steve Rayburn Says:

    Just had the chance to catch up on this. Great stuff! I am enjoying reading all you have to tell and look forward to the year ahead for you. I know you will make the most of it (that is obvious already!). Enjoy!

    S. Rayburn

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