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India in a word

If one had to choose a single word to describe a country, what would that be? Punctual might be selected for Switzerland, fascinating for Japan and exotic for the Maldives. But only one word is worthy of India: colourful.

It is a pity that the word’s meaning has been somewhat tarnished by its euphemistic referral to something slightly distasteful. Because colour, to my mind, is anything but distasteful. To apply it to something or someone should be a compliment because – by definition –colour is something that we all prefer. For what other reason did we move from black and white films to technicolour?

Reinstating the complimentary meaning of the word, colourful creates both a visual and an intuitive meaning of something that is multi-dimensional, has nuances and has layers.

And that is what India is.

It is a beautiful kaleidoscope of ancient culture, spicy foods, loud noises, busy streets, warm smiles and bright clothing. It is diverse landscapes, rich history, melodious language, fascinating history and deep philosophy, all captured in a colourful palette for anyone who cares to look.

Sure, at times too much colour makes us reach for sunglasses, or look for a quiet spot to recompose. And we might not care for all the hues either, finding them just too foreign for our palate. How you experience this colour therapy is entirely up to you. But, there is no denying that India is a vibrant place with a very unique, colourful energy.

While the purpose of colour could be an interesting topic, the result of colour is perhaps the more relevant question. Specifically in the case of India. I lived in India for 3 years. And these 3 years taught me 3 things.

First, life is what you make of it. You don’t have to look too far in India to see that there is very real hardship. Life is not easy for everyone in India, not by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, despite this, everyone is always ready with a smile. Despite the worst of what life could offer, people still have a sense of happiness about them, a sense that tomorrow might be better. That I believe is an achievement that is possible only because of being colourful. Nuances and layers give resilience in a way that an absolute never can.

Second, there is an air of “anything is possible”. You like that chair in the glossy magazine? Of course we can make a replica for you. And a few weeks later, there it is, perfect in every detail. You need a person who is a whiz at doing something? Give me a day, and I’ll find that person for you. It is this sense of opportunity that fuels achievements. In this environment, failure somehow doesn’t seem to be such a big deal. So what? If this doesn’t work, we’ll just try that. Is this the result of being colourful? I think it is. A combination of an entrepreneurial streak, high skills levels and low costs make this possible. Of course, fair labour practices and red tape are issues to factor in but somehow India seems to bring together a colourful mix of elements that spark new ideas.

Third, life carries on. Just as strands of silk make up the essence of the colourful sarees that adorn the streets, so do the strands of relationships make up the colourful fabric of communities. The essence of Indian society – in my opinion - is really its relationships. Yes, granted, this could potentially be stifling, but it is also a safety net. It is the neighbours and friends that turn up to help out when things turn south, or who celebrate with you. It is more than a network of people. It really is your people, the people that ensure that life does carry on, despite what life brings. Or perhaps it is more a case of life is carried on for you until such time that you can get back on.

Despite economic progress and technological advances India remains unique in its colourfulness. Thankfully. A piece of unsolicited advice to any newcomer: yes, it will probably be a bit overwhelming in the beginning but once we get over the natural instinct of wanting to find the familiar, and start embracing the different, life takes on a different hue. Ultimately, if one were to recoil from colour, how could one ever appreciate a crimson sunset?

Culturama, May 2016 edition

#India #Life

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