India welcome! AS I BACKPACK THROUGH THE MOTHERLAND FOR 3 weeks, i explore the question, "what does life mean to other people?"

Nana Joan, My Grandmother

Joan - Mangalore

I decided to interview my grandmother because, in a way, I'm getting to know her for the first time. The last time I was in India was when I was 13, so I have a lot of catching up to do with her. She's 76 years old and has endured more tragedy than most of us can fathom. 4 of her 9 siblings have passed away. She's also buried both her parents and her husband. With both of her children and their families on the other side of the globe, she's been living alone for almost 17 years now. "Life is very lonely sometimes," she told me. I think as humans, our biggest fear can be loneliness. We seek companionship in our work, in our mistakes, and in our love life because it avoids the the idea of feeling alone. In a culture saturated by instant gratification, I was curious to understand what has kept her going all these years after having faced such grave misfortune. How do you enjoy life, Nana? She told me she enjoys life by helping those less fortunate than her. She volunteers at a seminary here in Mangalore where she teaches English to poor people. "If I relied on my family for all of my happiness, I would be deeply depressed because of how far you all are and how infrequently I see you all. My biggest source of happiness comes from the joy I get when I help someone in need." The more time I spend here, the more I am beginning to understand that the most genuine joy derives from the simplicity of life.

Rocky, the Taxi Driver

Rocky - Goa

Living in a hut with his wife and 25 of his siblings and their spouses, Rocky is a taxi driver in Goa. We met him on our first day in the city, and he showed us around. He makes roughly $300 a month. "Life is tough in India" he said. He really took a liking to us and opened up quite a bit. His dream is to move to the Western World and make $1,500 a month (a minimum wage job). As we looked out of the taxi car onto the streets, the poverty that we grew up seeing in books and movies came to life. Right outside of the restaurant we ate lunch at, was a child - no more than 4 years old - begging for money. Rocky told us that tourists coming to India enjoy the food, the fashion, and the cheap prices. Most of all though, they enjoy appropriating what they like about India and exploiting poor people for the perfect picture to share on social media, not understanding the reality that it is for the people of his country. He explained to us that he must also remain living a life that is objectified for millions. The aim of this blog is to give him a voice. When I asked, how do you enjoy life, Rocky? He responded saying that he loves to dance. "I go to the disco, I have a little drink, and I dance my heart out. What is life when you can't enjoy it? So many rich tourists come here and die of heart attacks. I think, about dying suddenly, like that. That's why I don't care about money. I care about having fun."

Goa - Day 1

We have arrived in Goa!! They say this city is the Miami of India, and they don't lie. Goa is buzzing with life and beauty. The beaches are pulsating at night to the heartbeats of young people dancing. There's a vibe to this city that is so inherently cool. I've been thinking about my question, what does life mean to other people? And I've decided to try something out. Yesterday, as we were riding around Goa with our taxi driver, Rocky, I got inspired me to ask him, How do you enjoy life? He seemed to be facing so much strife, yet kept the brightest smile on his face and the most genuine laugh in his heart, so I was curious what his answer was. He's my first subject. I'm choosing not to set a number for how many people I interview per day or per city, hoping that life decides for me.

Before I go

Tomorrow, I leave for a 3-week trip to India where my two best friends and I will be backpacking through five cities. On the eve of our trip, I ponder what will come of it. Which discoveries? Which revelations? Which adventures? I’ve noticed over the past few months that whenever I mention our excursion to anyone, the movie Eat, Pray, Love usually finds its way into their response. This brings me to a question that has always intrigued me: how does one prepare for an experience that will be life changing. The truth is I don’t know. My goal for this trip is to be truly present: taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the sensations of this country that my roots belong to.

Waiting for our flight to Goa from Mumbai - 4:35am 12/27/2016

While I am Indian by descent, I was raised American in the USA. I was never proud of my Indian heritage; I was embarrassed to answer, anytime someone asked me what my ethnicity was. I have to admit, I want this trip to change that. As I gear up for whatever may come my way in these next few weeks, I’m going to try and keep an open mind and an open heart, ready to experience and learn and grow from whatever comes my way. This can be so difficult, living in New York. The hustle and bustle of the city sometimes causes me to feel as though time goes by too fast with too little gained. It’s easy to get caught up in my own world there, forgetting about the life that exists outside of me - which I resent. So by the end of this journey, I wish to answer one question: what does life mean to other people? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to finish this answer, but I hope this trip gives me a working start.

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