Many Shades of Love: Multimedia Reflections on Holi

The following piece is a compilation of videos created by Thea Piltzecker and Cole Pennington and photographs taken by Sylvia Kang and Ana Singh that focus on the immersive, fluctuating and transcendent celebrations of love we all experienced throughout our time in Vrindavan during the festival of Holi. We have included some of the insightful thoughts on Holi by Professor Jack Hawley, a South Asian Religion expert at Barnard College and Acharya Srivatsa Goswami of the Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthanana ashram.

INTRODUCTION BY Thea Piltzecker and Ana Singh

 

For all Hindus, Holi is the festival of love. But in Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthanana ashram in Vrindavan, the love between Krishna and his consort Radha took center stage in a rasa lila theatrical performance that commemorates the original Holi.

 

https://youtu.be/vbihvzebS3k

A Rasa Lila Theatrical Performance. BY THEA PILTZECKER  

The performance that we saw recreated the story of Krishna’s lighthearted interactions with the gopis (milkmaids) and his favorite gopi and consort Radha. An all-male troupe dressed in elaborate gold saris danced onstage; these were the gopis, enjoying their work in the village of Barsana. Krishna and his friends arrived next, decked out in gold pantaloons and bristling mustaches.

The two groups engaged in a tit-for-tat exchange, drawing laughter from the large audience. After a tug-of-war and whirling musical numbers, Radha won their game. She sat triumphantly on Krishna’s throne, enjoying her victory as the musicians sang their praises. She and Krishna were ceremonially bound together by the flower petals poured over the couple.

Once the rasa lila performance ended, the love between families a could be seen through traditional Holi play as children enthusiastically grabbed handfuls of the leftover flower petals from the performance and promptly threw the petals at their parents.

 

Holi in Vrindavan
Rasa lila theatrical performance at the Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthanana ashram in Vrindavan. BY SYLVIA KANG
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Holi Photographs. BY SYLVIA KANG & ANA SINGH

In the backyard of the ashram, the love of Holi continued to spread playfully among friends. A group of young adults could be seen pouring large buckets of colored water on each other as they gleefully laughed about their soaked clothing.

Outside the ashram, on the brightly colored streets of Vrindavan, spreading love was not exclusive to friends and family. Strangers proudly shouted the words “Hare Krishna!” as they smeared vibrant colors on each other’s faces. It quickly became apparent that not a single face or article of clothing can go untouched during Holi.

“Holi touches on the roughness of love,” said Professor Jack Hawley on the nature of Holi play among strangers, and more specifically between men and women. “If it’s about love, then it’s about love in very dramatic ways,” he added.

https://youtu.be/ZMIHFCPtLdE

Reflecting on Holi in Vrindavan.  BY COLE PENNINGTON 

 

But in a sense, that rough nature of Holi is able to penetrate right through India’s rigid social hierarchy system.  During Holi, the traditional rules of the caste system break down, according to the Goswami. “In the multi-colors of love, all the shades of skin are gone,” he said alluding to the caste system’s traditional emphasis on skin color as an indicator of status.

As multimedia journalists, we attempted to capture the many forms of love we experienced during Holi, as the Goswami eloquently summarized. The flower petals offered to the divine contain many colors, which he said is a symbolically important detail. "Love is not just the pure red rose, you know," he said. "Even the love has different shades."


Covering Religion: Still Moments and Moving Memories

The following presentation is a combination of photographs taken by Sylvia Kang and Ana Singh. The descriptions are taken from the daily dispatches compiled by the students during the eleven-day trip. 

Many scholars and believers argue that religion as a term and concept in India is a British construct. In some sense that disconnect persists today. Of the thousands of Indian universities, only a handful have religion departments.

This information would seem to suggest that religion is somehow absent from India or perhaps all-pervasive. We found that our western conception of religion could be found everywhere – from the Sikh symbols woven into the fabrics of cloths at the 1469 shop at Connaught Place to the remains of murti idols submerged in the waters of the Ganges. In India, religion could be felt in all domains of life.

Not only was religion embedded in all aspects of public life, but many religious sites had multiple layers of religious identity. While we read about unfolding religious conflict at the Ram temple in Ayodhya, we witnessed signs of peaceful syncretism at the Nizamuddin Dargah in New Delhi where Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and atheists tied threads of wishes on the outer walls of the Sufi tombs.

As photographers, we attempted to capture how religion often served as silent yet visible guide in the daily lives of the people we were fortunate to meet with on this once in a life time trip.

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On route to Nizamuddin Auliya

Photo by Sangsuk Sylvia Kang

DAY 1: NEW DELHI After settling into our rooms and grabbing a quick dinner, we started our religious exploration with a visit to one of India’s holiest Sufi shrines, Nizamuddin Auliya for an evening of sacred song, known as the qawwali. If we expected a narrow look at Islamic practice, we were surprised by how diverse the crowd and the ritual turned out to be. - Roda Griffin, M.S. '17

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We were joined by 29-year old Syed Bilal Nizami (center), a caretaker of the Sufi shrine. When we asked him how the qawwali has changed over the years, he said it has become more and more popular with people of all faiths. “When people pray here, their prayers are answered,” he said with confidence. - Roda Griffin, M.S. '17. PHOTO CAPTION Syed Bilal Nizami (center) at Nizamuddin Auliya.

Photo by Sangsuk Sylvia Kang

DAY 2: Our second day in Delhi was a day for the senses. We met Imams at the Jama Masjid, washed our feet at the entrance of a Sikh temple, rang a hanging bell in Jain mandir, heard a song about a lonesome bride, sampled Indian fragrances in the main bazaar and ate Punjabi food at a market stall that has been in the same family for six generations. -Ellen Ioanes, MS'18.

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Jama Masjid.

Photo by Ana Singh

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LEADERSHIP OVER THE GENERATIONS: The leadership of the Jama Masjid has been in this family for over 300 years. According to Sayid Taariq Bukhari, the brother of the mosque’s Grand Imam, it’s become particularly important since Partition, when many Indian Muslims moved to the newly created state of Pakistan, and his family was left responsible for the political and religious leadership of India’s Sunni Muslims. -Ellen Ioanes, MS'18. Photo Caption -
Sayid Taariq Bukhari, the brother of the mosque’s Grand Imam, photographed with his nephew, the next Grand Iman.

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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Young boys wait on a elevated platform at Jama Masjid for a midday prayer to begin.

Photo by Ana Singh

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SIS GANGJ GURUDWARA: The Gurudwara sits on what Sikhs believe is the execution site of the sixth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who was beheaded by the emperor Aurangzeb. The Gurudwara contains a shrine to the guru, where adherents stop to pray, as well as a bedchamber of sorts, where the Adi Granth, or Sikh holy book, is put to bed each night. The book is considered the living Guru and is revered as such by practitioners. -Ellen Ioanes, MS'18.

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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CAREER ADVICE: Geshe Dorji Damdul (photographed above), the director of the Tibet House, who works closely with His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke to us about the nature of happiness and suffering, and how one must find peace within oneself to limit the influence of external factors on one’s state of being. And he had the following advice for being better journalists: “First be yourself happy,”

Photo by Sylvia Kang

DAY 3: After two days of being shepherded around Delhi by Professor Trivedi and friends, today we were turned loose to report on our own. Alone or in twos, we left our hotel early this morning to navigate a city most of us had never been to with the challenge of reporting in a language we don’t know, within a culture that we’ve only read about in textbooks. Delhi is an absolutely vibrant city, fast paced and full of unexpected moments on every turn. -Elizabeth VanMetre, MS'17

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PERFORMANCE: The gopis began to toss flower petals over Krishna and Radha, ceremonially binding their love with flowers. The couple sat in a growing pile of gold, yellow and red petals as baskets of petals were poured over their shoulders. Then, in a startling move, Krishna and Radha jumped up from the flower pile-Thea Piltzecker, MS'17

Photo by Sylvia Kang

DAY 4: VRINDAVAN- Soon enough, strains of music issued from the ashram’s main hall. We were right on time for the Holi play. The Rasdeva theatrical performance commemorates the original Holi; it recreates the story of Krishna’s playful interactions with the gopis (milkmaids) and his favorite gopi and consort Radha. An all-male troupe dressed in elaborate gold saris danced onstage; these were the gopis, enjoying their work in the village of Barsana. Krishna and his friends arrived next, decked out in gold pantaloons and bristling mustaches. The two groups engaged in a tit-for-tat exchange, drawing laughter from the large audience. After a tug-of-war and whirling musical numbers, Radha won their game. -Thea Piltzecker, MS'17

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A young child plays in the leftover flower petals of the play

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 5: In atmosphere, Vrindavan feels like a village. It’s mud streets and tiny alleyways cloak a population of approximately 57,000 people, and yet, in the history of Hinduism, its importance is profound. Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, was born here. Radha, his supreme wife was born in a neighboring village. To celebrate their love and, in turn, love in general, Indians of all faiths spend a good part of the day pitching pigment at each other. Those of us who ventured out of the confines of the ashram came back splattered from head to toe in all the colors of the rainbow.-Gudrun Wilcocks, MS'17

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UNDERSTANDING HOLI: In the multi-colors of love, all the shades of skin are gone,” said Shrivasta Goswami Maharaj in his explanation of Holi. Maharaj is the head of the ashram known as Caitanya Prem Sansthan and photographed with Professor Yogi Trivedi (Left) and Ari Goldman (right).

Photo by Ana Singh

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In the aftermath of Holi

Photo by Ana Singh

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Holi celebrated in the Caitanya Prem Sansthan ashram

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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Playing Holi outside the ashram

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 6: RISHIKESH – The River Ganges sets the pace for life in this city at the foothills of the Himalayas, just as it set the pace for our day of markets and aartis, puja and performance.Even though we arrived in Rishikesh after midnight, a few early-risers took to the river with the break of day. Along the banks, local volunteers filled buckets with water to wash out the last brightly colored dregs of Holi from gats along the river. One man sat in the Lotus position and meditated. Two women in pink and turquoise saris cupped their hands around an aarti’s flame and sent it out across the water. As the sun rose higher, we sat on the hotel balcony with chai, watching the light catch on the swells.-Natasha Frost, MS'17

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Two women participate in an intimate aarti ceremony on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh

Photo by Ana Singh

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ON THE BANKS OF THE GANGES: Haridwar seemed like part water park and part temple. We watched as hundreds of devotees, many of them with families in tow, bathed playfully in the river, the men in their underwear and the women in their saris. This bathing is one part of the washing away of sins – one step along the path to moksha. -Natasha Frost, MS'17

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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A Believer at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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An aarti ceremony at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram

Photo by Sylvia Kang

DAY 7: Rishikesh is a hard place to leave. The city offers an interesting contradiction in Indian culture. A beautiful town on the foot of the Himalayas, it is surrounded by natural beauty. The turquoise hues of the River Ganges flow below colorful bridges and alongside scattered buildings and shops. This morning, a few of us leisurely explored that world for a couple of hours. We wandered, we shopped and we questioned this enigma of a place — a place of countless yoga practices, ashrams, Ayurvedic cafes selling vegan foods and scones to people who have come here from across the world, clad in baggy pants and with yoga mats under their arms, to embrace their spirituality in India.-Nicole Einbender, MS'17

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Shiva representation in Rishikesh

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 8: Ninety-one small, carved elephants appeared to hold up each side of the Sun Temple, totaling 364 mini-elephants: the same number as the days in the solar calendar. The structure was carved out of sandstone from a nearby quarry, a material that absorbs heat. When our group stepped inside the temple, everyone gasped. The details which were eroded by the wind and rain on the outside were preserved in sharp images inside and told the story of the Ramayan. - Andrea Januta, MS'17

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Group Photo at the Sun Temple

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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PRACTICING COMPASSION: “Any being can reach enlightenment. An insect can reach enlightenment, ” said Maiti Jratha Suriji, a Jain nun (photographed with her sister). The two sisters practice a strict interpretation of the concept of ahimsa or compassion, doing everything they can to minimize their footprint on the world and protect life, from the biggest elephant to the smallest micro-organisms.-David Klein, MS '17

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 9: AHMEDABAD- Our day started at 8:30 when we set out for a walking tour of Ahmedabad’s old city. There, in the twisting alleys and secluded courtyards, we had the opportunity to see a few different threads in India’s religious tapestry. Though we stepped into a mosque and a Hindu mandir, we also had the opportunity to sit down and interview two Jain nuns about their lifestyle and experiences. They practice a strict interpretation of the concept of ahimsa or compassion, doing everything they can to minimize their footprint on the world and protect life, from the biggest elephant to the smallest micro- organisms. -David Klein, MS '17

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Jama Masjid Mosque in Ahmedabad

Photo by Sylvia Kang

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AN UNCERTAIN FATE: The Zoroastrian community arrived in Gujarat nearly 1,000 years ago, fleeing persecution in what had become Muslim Iran. Today they face a harsh demographic reality. There are only about 1,400 Parsis in Ahmedabad and the death rate has far outpaced the birthrate in the community, explained J. P Anklesaria , a retired brigadier and leader among Ahmedabad’s Parsis (Photographed above). Though hopeful that things will change, Anklesaria feared that if the trend continues in 25 or 50 years there will be no more Parsis in Ahmedabad -David Klein, MS '17.

Photo by Ana Singh

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A man practices puja in Ahmedabad

Photo by Ana Singh

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An Intimate Dinner with a Jain Family

Photo by Sylvia Kang

DAY 10: Saturday was our last full day in India. After a morning panel with Indian journalists, newspaper editors and media entrepreneurs at our hotel in Ahmedabad, we went our different ways to finish our reporting projects before meeting in the evening for our formal farewell dinner, held at a restaurant called the House of MG. Then it hit us: None of us will ever be the same after this trip. We’ll look at the world through a lens crafted by our experiences in this incredible nation full of religious diversity. We gained the skills necessary to cover religion with an open mind and an empathetic heart.- Cole Pennington, MS'18

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Indian Journalists discuss how they cover religion in their reporting

Photo by Ana Singh

DAY 11: We attended two Christian services: the high Anglican Dalit Church and the Mar Thoma Syrian Orthodox church, both in the Christian district of Ahmedabad called Behrampura. The Anglican church service was packed, housed in a sanctuary with dusty pink walls. A wooden cross hung high on the wall behind the preacher but the decorations were simple. Most of the color in the room came from the saris of the women in the congregation, with white lace scarves over their hair. On their laps, under folded hands, lay personal bibles in Gujarati.- Pia Peterson, M'S 17

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Believers raise their bible at the high Anglican Dalit Church

Photo by Ana Singh


The Dark Colors of Holi: A Reflection

VRINDAVAN -- There’s an almost opiate tinge in the cool air that twists through winding streets of this ancient city. There’s a giddiness, a childish glee that’s rising as the colored dust begins to fly. It’s the eve of Holi, the annual celebration of love and the start of spring. Based on the tale of Krishna and Radha’s love, it’s one of the most recognizable Hindu festivals to a Western audience. Tourists from across the world flood into India’s streets to mix with locals during this festival of color.

We are no different. We join the streets – albeit generally unaware of what was fully going to happen – in order to get to our ashram where we are spending the night. Within minutes we are being swarmed with whooping, grinning figures, walking by and throwing chalky paint at us, asking for selfies, cheering loudly when we shout back the traditional cheers for the day: “Holi Holi!” and “Radhe Radhe!”

The excitement is intoxicating. The festival is the embodiment of sensory overload. There is too much to see and to feel and to smell when every direction is full of senses new and profound.

People start approaching closer, invading our personal space, reaching out to rub our faces with paint, or to place a yellow or red dot on our foreheads. It’s here that our group of 17 begins to become separated. We become splintered. Some start running towards the ashram. I duck into a side alley to wait for those behind me. Two students stand with me. One has her face hidden by the building’s edge; her eyes are streaming, thickly caked with red powder. We are no longer smiling.

We go on, and one class member is approached by men who shove powder in her face. As she reaches up to rub her tightly closed eyes, her body is vulnerable. She is groped.

The experience of harassment is one that many of us encountered in our days celebrating Holi in Vrindavan. Perhaps it was because of our obvious appearance as outsiders. Perhaps it was because we weren’t expecting advances, and our shrieks and surprise attracted more attention to us. Perhaps it was because we didn’t play Holi like the locals. Either way, though Holi was, in many ways, a standout moment – one unlike any other – in our trip, it was also an experience of discomfort for many members of our class.

Class members spoke of varying levels of preparedness for entering the situation. Ana said she wasn’t shocked by anything, but only because she had been told by family members what to expect. She said she was groped on three occasions on various parts of her body. Though unpleasant, she was touched by the aid given by locals.

“The thing is, people would notice when things were getting intense,” Ana said. “We got scared and they out come help.”

Pia was surprised and disappointed by what she saw and was subjected to, but understood that our experience as a class was not necessarily an accurate portrayal of a holiday. Nevertheless, she felt that she came into the situation without a full understanding of what was to be expected.

“I had thought about what it meant to throw color dust around everywhere,” Pia said. “But I hadn’t thought of how it could be an aggressive tool if you wanted it to.”

Though classmates reported both positive and negative reactions to the festival, it seemed nearly a consensus that we had not experienced Holi as it is meant to be celebrated.

“Our experience is not indicative of the Indian experience,” said Ana, explaining that as Westerners, we would always have come from an outside perspective and felt the holiday in an alternate incarnation.

As for myself, I was not groped the first day, but the second, where I experienced what my classmate had: a handful of powder almost gently, but firmly, pushed into my eyes and, as I struggled to see again, I was groped by several hands – who knows how many people.

Later, I joined a small group in a rickety horse cart to explore the depths of Vrindavan. Here, we were bombarded by teenage boys who chased us through the streets, laughing as they threw powder into the cart and occasionally reached in to grab the women’s breasts and buttocks – myself included. I pushed one man away and he grabbed my scarf and tugged it, choking me, trying to pull me off the cart.

Ellen was also on this cart, and she, too, was groped by these men. To her, this experience stood out because of her curious reaction to it.

“If that had happened in the US, those kids would have had very intimate knowledge of my left hook,” Ellen said. “But I truly did not care that these young boys were sexually assaulting me. Maybe it was because I was mobile and there was no chance for it to go further or for confrontation. Maybe I just had an awareness that I was an obvious target; this was essentially a game of pin the tail on the donkey, only gross.”

When we arrived back at the ashram, slightly shaken but still on a weird high from the action and sights, a tiny vehicle slowly drove by, music blaring. Ellen, Andrea and myself, seemingly out of nowhere, started to dance. Some locals joined in with us. More paint was thrown. Selfies and videos were taken. I remember laughing hysterically, all my anger at the boys chasing us in the cart floating away with the colored dust we were kicking up with our feet.

The truth is, for me, Holi was not just being groped. It was also the morning walks along the river to watch special holiday pujas. It was flowers being thrown wildly around the ashram, and the special, delicious-smelling spiced powder that the ashram bought for visitors to throw at each other. It was the tiny bites we grabbed from street-side vendors and gulped down on broken plastic chairs as we talked to other tourists and locals who walked by. It was the ineffable looseness when play is encouraged when you don’t know the other players, or even speak their language.

Ellen’s final words on the day summarize the experience perfectly for me – though perhaps not for everyone.

“Ultimately, my feelings about Holi are so much bigger than this incident, much bigger than feelings of discomfort,” Ellen said. “I remember feelings of love, overwhelmingly.”


Surviving India: An Ox, a Monkey and a Diagnosis of Dysentery

By Nicole Einbinder

It’s difficult to look back on our trip to India without laughing. I know, I know. That may sound strange. But, some of my experiences were, well… laughable. At the time, they certainly weren’t funny. Honestly, at the time, they tested me to my limit and had me questioning why I chose to fly halfway across the world in the first place.

 

I could be in California with my family, laying by my pool,” crossed through my mind on more than one occasion.

 

But, with every moment of struggle I endured during our whirlwind trip across Northern India, I also knew I would never, in a million years, take away the many moments of joy that we experienced on the ground. My classmates often joked that if I could “survive” India, I could survive anything. I did survive. It made me stronger. It opened my eyes to new cultures and perspectives and ways of life. And, despite the setbacks, it solidified my love for journalism and continual desire to seek out beauty in the world.

 

Let’s start at the beginning, though. See, prior to our trip, I was determined to stay healthy. I packed zip locked baggies full of nuts and crackers and energy bars. My suitcase brimmed with various medications and antibiotics and Emergen-C packets. I had already pledged to myself I would remain strictly vegetarian throughout the trip. And, at our five star hotels, I only brushed my teeth with bottled water. I was ready, I was prepared and nothing was going to stand in my way of having an incredible experience.

 

But, life is full of unexpected twists. It doesn’t always go as planned. The thing is, I did get sick. Very sick — the sickest I’ve ever been. Laying in my bed at the hotel in Ahmedabad while my classmates were out exploring the city, I felt defeated. I am stubborn, and I refused to let anything — especially my body — prevent me from having the once-in-a-lifetime experiences we were partaking on throughout the trip. But, everybody does have their limits. For me, it occurred on the bus ride from our cushy Ahmedabad hotel to the Sun Temple, an ancient structure deemed a UNESCO world heritage site. Walking among those ancient ruins sounded incredible; an experience I knew I probably would never have again. My stomach killed me, I was too weak to eat food and I felt awful as I slowly stepped onto the bus.

 

Nicole, you can do this! You can do this!” kept racing across my mind as I sat in my seat, looking out the window to a world of rickshaws and smog and bustling streets. As we left the city, the scenery slowly shifted to wide swaths of land, people walking on the sides of the highway and the occasional gas station. An hour into the bus ride, however, I knew I couldn’t do it. And, as much as it pained me, my professor called an Uber and I made the heartbreaking trek back into the city and away from my classmates.

 

The following day, as I lay ill in bed after meeting with a doctor, I was diagnosed with dysentery. Yup, you heard that right – the illness most often associated with pirates and soldiers in the trenches of WWI. Simply put, I was devastated. And, after around three days of laying bed-ridden and surviving on a diet of rice and bananas, which I could barely even keep down, I was scared. But, illness comes with travel. It isn’t fun, but it’s life. With my bag of antibiotics in hand, provided by the doctor in Ahmedabad and delivered by gracious hotel staff, I knew I would eventually overcome the disease. It meant I couldn’t report on a story I had spent weeks preparing for, or fully experience Ahmedabad. But, that’s life. My classmates and professors were exceptionally kind, always checking in on me, and the hotel was beautiful. The experience was daunting but, looking back, it made me stronger. Back in the U.S, I found out I contracted E-Coli while in India.

 

Weeks later, as I write this, I can thankfully say that I am finally healthy.

 

Other funny anecdotes from the trip — a monkey jumped on my arm and stole my glasses in Vrindavan, I was hit by an ox while walking the streets of Ahmedabad after our group’s final dinner and I woke up one morning, in the very beginning of the trip, with pink eye. But, conversely, there was beauty in all those moments. Immediately after the monkey took my glasses, the locals jumped to action to help the foreigner begging with the monkey to return her prized possession. After failed attempts by the villagers to throw fruit at the animal, a clever youth with a stick followed it to the roof of a temple and retrieved my stolen item. Those people didn’t have to help me; they didn’t even know me. Their kindness was overwhelming and I am forever thankful that they took the time out of their own lives to help.

 

While in Ahmedabad, after being hit by the ox, I was immediately shocked. Luckily, I wasn’t injured. But, that was only one small piece of the puzzle — we were exploring the chaotic night market. It was a place swarming with people and vendors selling snacks and animals roaming the streets. I wouldn’t take back the opportunity to immerse myself in that world for anything; it was fascinating how even in a chaotic abyss like the market, the people could find a sense of ease. Families enjoyed fried goods at crowded tables, children ran around, smiling from ear to ear, and a few people in our group even purchased spices and other goods. It was chaotic, but it was India. I’m grateful to have been enveloped in that craziness, ox and all.

 

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Nicole gets her glasses back from the monkey

And, ah, pink eye. That wasn’t too fun. But, the day itself was a ride — it was our first glimpse into Holi. I’ll admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan at first of the Holi festivities in Vrindavan. Frankly, it was overwhelming. Colors were thrown at us from all directions, in addition to icy water and paint. People were touching our faces and necks and arms. And, as much as I tried to stay clean and away from the madness, we quickly discovered that was impossible. Our ashram became our refuge; our protection from the world of colors manifesting themselves beyond the gates. On my second day in the city, however, I was ready. I bought my own colored powder — a bright red hue — and immersed myself in the festivities. I realized that aside from a few perverts who grabbed at breasts and buttocks, most of the revelers weren’t malicious or trying to harm us; they were overjoyed with love and celebration. They were also curious; we were a group of foreigners in a tiny village. My white skin stood out and I always felt keenly aware of my status as foreigner, particularly as groups of people approached us and asked if they could snap a photo. Because of my pink eye, I wore glasses throughout Holi. It ended up being a blessing in disguise; the lenses protected my eyes from the powder. And luckily, it wasn’t until after the holiday was over that the monkey attempted to steal them.

 

India was a tough trip. It tested my limits and I constantly wondered why I was such a target for disaster. But, I also knew that I could either dwell and complain or take those experiences in stride — not too many people can say a monkey stole their glasses! I came to Columbia because I love to travel and experience the world. I have an inexhaustible curiosity that only talking to diverse people and exploring new places can quench. Yes, I got sick. And yes, it was horrible. But, I also roamed the ancient streets of New Delhi, experienced a musical ceremony at one of India’s holiest Sufi shrines and participated in yoga on the banks of the Ganges. I interviewed incredibly interesting people of all walks of life. And, I experienced the richness of Indian culture.

 

I survived India. It was the trip of a lifetime.

 


Covering Religion through Illustrations

Covering Religion Through Illustrations

By Pia Peterson