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The great Indian spirit

After two cold, clean, neat and luxurious months of stay in England, I thought life was going to change. After a series of Hindi films, I had come to believe that life would now take a U-turn. I would change to a snobbish person with a stiff upper lip. But other things were destined to happen. As our plane hovered over I.G. airport, my heart thumped like I was about to meet with my childhood sweetheart. I couldn't understand my reaction because that was not supposed to happen.

As we came past the arrival lounge, Mumbai's thick air hit me as if earth had suddenly fallen short of oxygen. As I breathed in, I felt greatly relieved. I could be my own. Strangely, I was so much at ease that I saw a friend in everyone (which under other circumstances wouldn't have been the case.) From the airport officer to the boy at the baggage collection hall - an endearing smile was what I searched for. Although I never got one, I translated their monotonous looks to smiles and full of smiles - which were welcoming us - a homecoming that I enjoyed. I now knew I could swing my arms, hum Hindi film songs and shout at the top of my voice and no one would even bother to give me that - "what are you up to?" look. I felt light that at last I could be myself and I was HOME.

I started thinking why inspite of such a good luxurious stay abroad, I felt happy here in Mumbai - a question I asked myself a thousand times. Somehow, I realized that what I yearned for and loved was the 'spice of India'. Let me explain this in detail. When we walked out of the airport, people thronged at us asking if we needed hotels, cars or anything. This is something that never happens elsewhere and which under normal circumstances I would hate but, then, if it doesn't happen here in Mumbai, where else will it? I think it makes you feel important. After all the guy thinks you can afford 3000/- a night for a hotel!! Then, the sheer chaos in the taxi stand and each one battles it out, well, who would want to take a commoner like me? But then, at that time, it makes you feel, you are a Ms.Universe!! And, the Pav-Bhaji wala a few yards from the airport. I think he makes the best ones in the world. The grease in the tawa and the use of the 'chef's' plain hands, I think only adds to its flavour. This is very essential because the 'pav-bhaji's primary function is to rejuvenate the already dying taste buds of we Indians after a trip abroad! The die hard attitude of the people here -with the workers crowding after a night shift and giving you ugly looks and the Hindi film songs blaring from the radio -can only add to its already perfect ambience of a fully paper (and what not) littered surrounding. This is where is India - and once you see this and feel this air, your heart can only race faster because you are HOME - at last.

Let us face it. Food is something we Indians love and any Indian can swear that Indian food is something he cannot live without. This, I have concluded after a lot of study, is because, you grow up with such mouthwatering cuisine that it kind of grows in you and becomes difficult to part with. That is precisely why even after just one week's stay abroad, people die to do anything just to rejuvenate their ailing taste buds. When having steaming idlis floating in a pool of sambhar from one of Bangalore's darshinis become a habit, even freshly baked croissants cannot take its place and the Indian filter coffee from darshini can never ever replace cappuccino or Espresso or café au lait! Well, old habits may die-hard but good old habits never do because we Indians can never be pleased so easily.

Our large home called India is not perfect - with stinking roads and more stinking public toilets, with unclean surroundings, polluted vehicles plying the roads and money hungry policemen gaping at you - it is not a good place to live, but once in love it is definitely difficult to get out. Who would want to compromise on an Indian sandwich (that generally comes with chatpata chutneys and vegetables) to a grilled veggie sandwich? Sandwiches are not originally an Indian concept but we have the capability to convert any foreign concept to suit our style fondly termed by hard-core patriots as "apna ishtyle".

Talking of "apna Ishtyle", who can forget 'Swami and his friends' - the television series where episode after episode, swami ran behind the train? Trains have always been a romantic part of our lives where generation after generation, we wait near railway tracks just to wave at the trains. Well, I have traveled by the European rail many times but with all the windows and doors rolled up and the heater working all through, I could never enjoy train journey like I do here in India. Imagine traveling by train without being disturbed by the chai-wala's ominous call 'chai-chai'! Oh! Life is unimaginable. When I traveled once by Rajdhani from Delhi to Bangalore - I almost cried out for some hawker to just give us some darshan. A train journey, according to me, is complete only when a boy comes cleaning the floor even when you don't want him to, hawkers giving you looks and move you to buy their samosa -vada, your co-passenger opening jar after jar biting away the great Indian food and when at night you wake up 10,000 times to check if your luggage is tact! Well, a journey without all this is never a journey. This is Indian savory. I can never miss this for any other train journey because amidst all this chaos is that 'Indian spice" lingering in our souls that make it enjoyable. Just as you cannot stop yourself from shouting at the dirtily clothed cleaning boy while you still want him to come and clean, the cleaning boy, inspite of being shouted at by everyone still crawls on from eat to seat, bogie to bogie.

Another very Indian like thing to do is shopping. We all want to buy and we all love to shop (even men though they love to vehemently deny this). What we want to shop is always for we Indians is determined by its price (as most of us have cash crunches) Therefore, when there is a sale in C & A or Marks and Spencer's, it wouldn't give me half the pleasure as it would give me shopping at Dadar in Mumbai or Carolbagh in Delhi. Who would want to walk into a store and walk out with stuff? I love the sheer colour and energy in Indian markets. The hawkers priding at their ware, the competition and the festive look that the streets bear is hardly anything when compared to other markets abroad. Imagine not being able to bargain in "apna ishtyle" - like quoting one-third of the price and trying to show 'uninterested' and the hawker pleading you and then calling behind you promising to give it for your price. Who would want to compromise on this drama? This is precisely the sheer Indian bargaining energy. Did you know that Indians are the best bargainers in the world - well, I didn't know this till I heard a hawker in sukhumvit road, Bangkok tell his friend! So, what are you waiting for, plunge to the market and hone your bargaining skills. Well, the satisfying factor is - well, we are good at something!!

After all this, to sum it up, I would like to just add that the spice of India is not in its growth of chillies or dal-chini but in the sheer spirit of its people. But then, why worry about all this when you can simply 'enjoy made'!!

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