Indiana Daily Student

From Hyderabad to Chicago: reflecting on my time in India

It’s really cold in Chicago.

This is news to no one, but my body has yet to adjust to that negative-three-degrees-Fahrenheit-with-the-wind-chill-and-still-snowing kind of cold.

Knowing I was tanning in Kochi this time last week makes it worse.

Terrible weather aside, it’s great to be home.

My family put up our Christmas tree and decorations. I’ve been drinking as much tap water as possible, my mosquito bites are healing and the yellow curry stains are finally washed out of my fingernails.

Friends and relatives have asked what my favorite and least favorite parts of studying abroad in India were or what I learned.

I told them I enjoyed living in a country that’s completely different than where I grew up in.

I learned that labeling things as good or bad would help me little in understanding the complexities of Indian life. Comparisons are only helpful to share my experiences with people back home.

If nothing else, I definitely gained perspective.

As I reflect on what I’ve learned, here are a few things I found surprising during my time in India.

Bollywood runs the music industry. Rather, Bollywood is India’s music industry.

With classical music as the only exception, film soundtracks encompass every musical genre.

Contrary to what people with minimal exposure to Indian movies might think, most Bollywood actors don’t sing. Playback singers are well-known and successful in their own right.

Age, gender and class don’t dictate musical preference like they do in the United States. Old Hindi film songs are especially popular.

Also, obesity and diabetes are big problems.

Before going to India, my family joked I would lose weight from eating so many fresh vegetables.

In reality, the high salt and sugar diet many Indians eat combined with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle has lead to an obesity and diabetes epidemic.

Roughly 67 million people in India have diabetes, according to the Times of India.

In comparison, the American Diabetes Association reports 25.8 million Americans have the disease.

Third, “servants” are common and referred to as such.

Middle class and affluent families often keep one or more full-time servants to cook, clean and do the washing.

While they are usually treated well, servants typically sleep on the floor and do not use the same bathrooms as the families they work for.

People can tell if someone is a servant or a low-wage worker based on their appearance.

During my first week in India, I ate lunch at a fairly nice restaurant where the busboys didn’t wear shoes.
 
Lastly, poverty isn’t isolated.

Families live underneath blue tarps alongside mansions worth several crore, or 10 million rupees. Manual laborers sleep on the grassy medians of busy streets in Hyderabad. Women, children and handicapped people begging for money are commonplace.

Sure, homeless people are a fairly common sight on the streets of Bloomington and in cities across America. But the frequency and severity of poverty I saw in India felt very different.

­— kmthacke@indiana.edu

Follow columnist Kate Thacker on Twitter @KatelynThacker.

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