Hello readers! My name is Jodi Marcus and I am an Urban Studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences, Class of 2018. I am originally from Los Angeles, CA. This summer I am working in New Delhi at Leap Skills Academy, a skill development startup that aims to bridge the gap between students and industry.
I can’t pinpoint exactly where my fascination began, but I have pretty much always been drawn to India. The colors, detailed art, flavorful food, lively music and other thrills of Indian culture have always seemed like the perfect antidote for the feelings of monotony I associate with my life in the U.S. Of course, it is an embarrassing cliche— an unfulfilled Westerner’s Eat Pray Love style romanticization of a mysterious country across seas—but it has been my reality. I have always yearned to break out of my routines, to be shocked, scared, excited and thrilled for as much of my day as possible.
I have spent hours day-dreaming about a happier, more at-peace version of myself, covered in henna climbing tall mountains and speaking to beautiful strangers in saris. I have pictured a me who is more stimulated, confident, and excited about the world.
After glorifying India for so many years, it feels pretty damn weird to be here. I have built up such high expectations of India, and of my life in India, that it can be hard for me to take my experiences at face value and appreciate India for who she is, scabs and all. For all the wonders as glorious as I could have imagined, there are realities just as neutral and just as unsettling.
For all the adventures I have had and will have, I am still primarily living my life in a pretty standard routine. I go to work from 10:30-7, eat dinner, get home exhausted (the heat really takes its toll), try to get some things done before I crash for the night, and then wake up and do it again. While each day brings its own challenges and excitements, when all is added up, I spend most of my hours sitting in front of a computer in an office. Even in India, life must go on.
There are times I have felt deep confusion and sadness. For example, about a week or so into my stay, I went shopping for work clothes at Janpath market. I briefly stopped to look at an outfit from a woman who had set up shop on the sidewalk. When she told me the price of the outfit, I lost interest and moved on. The woman then followed me down the street for over 10 minutes, shouting lower and lower prices, even touching me and grabbing my shirt to try to get my attention. What started at $28 ended up being offered for $1.50.
Yes, we could talk about how this woman was prepared to severely rip me off or that she probably shouldn’t have been following/touching me, but more importantly, the incident gave me insight into the extent of her desperation. Here I was with a generous stipend from a fancy university, trying to ignore a woman who was willing to stalk me for $1.50. I think of the little boy I met whose genitals were exposed through a gaping hole in his dirty pants or of the hundreds of dogs lying in piles of dirt, sick and covered in fleas. And yet all I know how to do is continue walking and try not to feel like a bad person for not having the answers. The cognitive dissonance is hard to shake off.
I have felt extremely claustrophobic because of unwelcome stares, wishing I were invisible at times because I feel taken advantage of just by existing. I have become hyperaware of people looking at me and can feel the sexualized undertones creeping over my skin, a sensation that is blatant to me but frustratingly not as obvious to other people around me. I have learned to look down so that I don’t have to confront my discomfort, and while this method works, I feel upset that the boundaries of my gaze are now dictated by others.
And yet, even through India’s (literal and metaphorical) haze, the beauty and liveliness of this country are astounding. The art, colors and patterns are absolutely incredible. Even the trucks are painted in beautiful designs!
How rad is this truck!!!
Walking through the market places, I am continuously in shock at how beautiful and meticulously crafted everything is. No matter how many embroidered kurtas and dangly earrings I see, I seriously can’t get over it. We visited the palace of mirrors at Amber fort in Jaipur and I was literally squealing with joy, overtaken by the textures and craftsmanship.
Amber Fort, Jaipur
Me in the INCREDIBLE palace of mirrors at Amber Fort. This picture doesn’t do it justice
I love the sneaky smile the shop-owners get when I call them out on trying to rip me off, the laughter we share because we both know that bargaining is actually just a really fun game. And then there’s the confused but exhilarated feeling I get when I see cows walking through lanes of traffic like its their backyard, the excitement I feel towards the cities’ relative symbiosis with animals and nature. I have felt so appreciative of my coworkers who come to our table every day to ask how we are and I am almost equally grateful to the samosa guys near work who sell me my favorite Indian snack for a mere 30 cents.
A cow surrounded by monkeys and a pig. Killing it.
I have now been here for almost three weeks. For the times I have felt let down, there have been twice as many times where my expectations have been met and surpassed. I look forward to updating you all on my adventures to come!