For the first time, I woke up and it was silent.
I laid in bed with my eyes closed, and thought it was 4 am, but I felt rested, so I looked at my phone.
Something was wrong.
WHY WAS IT QUIET?!
There were no cars, no car horns, no hammering, and no vendors walking through the apartment village selling fruit or collecting junk. I could hear myself breathe.
I was highly confused until I remembered today was a national holiday.
Republic Day is celebrated every year on the 26th of January because it commemorates the signing of the Indian constitution granting them true independence and officially making India a sovereign nation. And because it’s one of the most important, if not the most important, public holidays, everything shuts down. Which means....early morning silence.
Beautiful. Why can’t every day be Republic Day?
I slept in (9am) because it was quiet and then woke up to watch the Republic Day Parade on TV. Even though the day celebrates India becoming a democracy, you have to get tickets to go to the parade, and they cost one hefty sum. Irony. But the TV showed every army brigade in the country marching and then some traditional dancing and floats. Despite the historic occasion, there was a somber mood about the whole thing, partially due to the recent terror attacks in Mumbai, but also partially due to how Indians view this holiday: one of utmost importance and value. Around 4pm I took a stroll through the nearby market and saw that most shops were closed and there were no cars on the street. While most people would have relished in the uncommon calm, it was eerie to me to walk through the empty market that is normally so congested even I can hardly fit between cars.
I found the timing of Barack Obama’s inauguration and Republic Day convenient to learn a bit about Indian nationalism. When I told my neighbour, Jaffa, that my roommates and I cried while watching Obama’s inauguration on TV, he was surprised. When I told him it was because Obama’s election and presidency was the first time many people in my generation felt proud of our country, he didn’t seem to understand. Despite India’s problems, of which there are many, it seems as though Indians are always proud to be Indian. Perhaps it’s partially due to the fact their problems aren’t broadcasted and internalized world wide like American problems are, or perhaps, it’s the recency of independence, maybe they feel that despite their problems, it’s better to have problems of their own than be a colony whose problems belong to someone else. I don’t really know why, but I know that they did not relate to my sentiment towards President Obama.
I feel that my last blogs have had a negative attitude towards India and New Delhi to them, and so I would like to make this blog a bit more positive. India is a challenging place, that’s for sure. But there is much about India I really like. As someone who has never really known how to sit still, to be in one place for a long time, I’m noticing how people here find peace amongst all the chaos.
The biggest example I can find so far of this is chai. Chai is Hindi for tea, and it’s exactly what you think of...tea infused with amazing spices and milk. Made fresh it’s best, but bagged it’s also delicious. (I’ve switched to taking it without milk most of the time, even though it’s way better with the milk because it’s easier on my stomach and the thought of drinking real milk after so long sort of grosses me out...) But no matter where or when, there is always chai. Boys carry trays through the markets with dixie cups of chai for the vendors. During the recess break at school, I drink chai every day with the teachers (I told them I was allergic to milk to not offend them to take the tea black, and they felt so bad for me! Now I always get my tea first! haha) and if I hang out in the flat my program uses as its office while I’m lesson planning, I will always find a cup of freshly made chai placed before me. I find this attitude towards chai to be so quintessentially Indian. No matter how busy the day is, no matter how many tourists are at your market stall or no matter how crazy the traffic is, there is always time to sit with friends, catch up on gossip, and drink some warm chai.
I love how everything here is spicy, even ketchup. I love how the Muslim call to prayer permeates through the air and its haunting and beautiful sound brings many in the city to a halt. I love the smell of bread and eggs on the street, and the bright orange and red flowers that decorate the outside of buildings and make the bindis for people’s foreheads. I love how no matter what time I go for a run or walk in the park near my apartment there are always people playing cricket. I love the colours of the fruit stalls and the cloths and bangles covering women’s cold bodies and the sidewalk at the craft market. There is much about India that I am growing to love, despite its challenges and problems. As I watch this country turn into a world powerhouse before my eyes, I am reminded by a simple cup of chai or a carnation vendor of the simplicity that built up this great, complicated nation. India is made up of, and dependent on, that kind of contradiction.
Happy Republic Day from Mother India.