Below are some memorable moments I had throughout my stay in Ahmedabad that to me, piece together the puzzle of what it means to live in India. This post will keep being added as I traced back my eye-opening and touching experiences in this loving land.
Me and my roommate on our way to the wedding of my host sister’s friend. Weddings can be seen as one of the most special celebrations for each family in India. Long traditional ceremony and reception could last the whole day or even two to three days. Guests include anyone from the most distant relatives to the whole family of a dear friend. I used to meet a person whose brother’s wedding had more than 3000 guests, almost double the size of Amherst! He also told me that weddings in India to some extent serve more as a “show-off” of a family’s social status than as a celebration of the marriage itself. The more well-off a family is, the more splendid they want to organize their wedding. Marriage in India means more than an individual choice. My host sister once told me: “When two people get married in India, their families get “married” as well!” Not surprisingly, when I came to the wedding, I got the impression of a community gathering for families and friends of the bride and groom more than a celebration of their marriage itself.
Unlike indoor supermarket in the States, outdoor markets where goods are laid out right on the street signify the daily shopping setting in India (and many other developing countries like my own home country Vietnam!). Out of all the markets, Manaek Chowk is the oldest and biggest one in Ahmedabad. This 600-year old market keeps the bustling commercial atmosphere alive in the Old City with diverse and abundant offer of products throughout the day: The market transforms from being a fruit market (both wholesale and retail) in the morning to a collection of busy jewelry stores in the afternoon to a vibrant night life of street food in late evening.
To me, my memorable experience at the market has turned the name “Manek Chowk” into a reminder to always have faith in human kind and be willing to build random, yet meaningful connection everyday. There I met a friendly papaya seller who went extra miles to strike up a conversation with me in his broken English, invited me over for tea in his papaya shop right in the heart of the market and eagerly shared with me beautiful photos of his 30 years of making kites together with notes from his other foreign friends before me. There I met a sugar cane seller who entrusted me with helping him find a sugar cane peeler machine that will allow him to reduce the exhausting manual work of peeling and cutting sugar canes. There I remember being showered with free fruits, warm smiles and curious looks as an expression of a “Welcome to India” message from vendors around the papaya shop. There my skin got burnt by searing heat of the sun at noon, my ears deafened by non-stop honking, my nose stuck with exhaust fumes from hundreds of rickshaws and bikes worming their ways through the market, yet my heart couldn’t feel more happy being filled with enhanced trust in instant and genuine human connection across any barriers of language and nationality.
(My papaya-selling friend :D)
Streets in Ahmedabad take on a life of their own. Motorbikes, cars, rickshaws, buses horn at each other craving space to speed up, while cows, dogs, sometimes elephants, goats and horses take their leisurely walks right in the middle of the street. In the Old City where life grows with little planning, there seems to be no lanes to obey or traffic rules to follow. Rarely anyone cares about traffic light. When I first got onto the street, everyone seemed so ready to bump into each other. I remember my heart missing a hundred beats as our rickshaw drivers made a turn when a car was approaching from the opposite side, or raced ahead through the narrow distance between two motorbikes. My muffled screams when we got too close to another vehicle would dissolve in the driver’s laughter at my easily frightened spirit. Yet from chaos arises order, as if an invisible hand was coordinating every movement away from collision. As one of the staff told me on my first day in Ahmedabad: “The traffic here is organic. It is chaotic, yet it still works. It functions. It lives. It is a distinct rhythm that that needs time and patience to get used to.”
Cow on the street!
Traffic in the new city