Incredible India
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - January 10, 2019 - 12:00am

 (Part I)

Early last December my daughter Sara and I tried to discover India’s mysteries and wonders. Not too many people tour India and yet it is such a fascinating ancient civilization. Our travel started in Bombay (Mumbai) and continued to New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

India is one of three largest countries in the world. Russia, the biggest, stretches from Europe to Asia, while China below her geographically lies above most Asian countries. India, the most prominent of all, is between Southeast Asia and the Middle East. India has 25 states and seven union territories. Each has its own language, dress, religious rituals, arts and crafts, and food. The people of India number 880 million divided into four distinct racial groups. They speak 325 different languages and practice more than seven religions.

Arranged marriage

It’s marriage season in India. The specialist wedding market of New Delhi was bursting with colors, elaborate wedding gowns, groom’s silk long jackets and turbans. Stationary stores wildly competed with one another selling large elegant wedding invitation cards. The bazaars and streets swarmed with customers.

Unlike people in the West, Indians take the institution of marriage very seriously. In the south of the Himalayas, boys and girls don’t meet in a fairy tale setting – date each other, fall in love and decide on tying the knot. In India, a boy may even date a girl (or vice versa) for years, but when it comes to taking the plunge, everything – from religion, caste, economic status, language, eating habits and even horoscopes must match. If it doesn’t, that’s the end of what may have been a Mills and Boon love story, and there’s no solution either. It is essential to employ the services of relatives, friends, neighbors, genealogists, priests and astrologers before it can be proclaimed that the boy and girl are fit to be man and wife for ever after. This is one reason why the divorce rate in India is the lowest in the world.

Visitors should not be surprised to see the Sunday newspapers in India carry thousands of matrimonial advertisements. Since marriage is a serious business, the ads are neatly organized under two main heads – “Wanted Brides” and “Wanted Grooms”.

Spice of life

Indians mostly eat from a large stainless steel plate called a Thali. It has numerous partitions for any variety of curry, dals (lentils), subzi (vegetables) and raita (yoghurt with cucumber or onion). Roti (unleavened bread) and rice is put into the middle of the thali along with achar (pickle). On festival occasions the number of different dishes may be as many as seven or 10 while a normal everyday meal consists of two or three variations of vegetables, lentils and yoghurt.

The streets of India are famous for their authentic wayside cooking but they are not for the faint hearted! The king of street food is Mirchi Vada (chili tempura), prepared by the roadside eateries of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur in Rajasthan. Well-prepared Mirchi Vada is simply out of this world. A bite into it sends a wake up call to all taste buds and virtually flames leap out of your mouth! It is rounded up with a cup of sweet masala tea that douses the fire within. ‘Delhi Belly’ the euphemism for an upset stomach, can be avoided if the food is prepared in a clean environment and eaten piping hot.

To take a break from the constant veggie meals, Sara and I tried Karim’s recommended by BBC World Guide. It is in a little alley off Kababian Street near the major shopping walk of Chandi Chouk. Karim’s has been there since 1913, when it was founded by Hafiz Karim Uddin as a sidewall tava (fast food) grill. Over the years, Karim’s has become famous for its flat hot tandoori breads, mutton, curries, barbeque chicken, especially dishes that include sheep-curry.


Today, so extraordinary is the output of the Hindi film industry in Bombay now labeled as Bollywood – that more than 13,000 films are released every year while Hollywood only manages to produce around 800. Initially, the movies were religious and patriotic: later they began dealing with tough social issues such as exploitation of the farmers by the landlords, caste divisions, child marriages, and equality for women, as the backdrop for their plots.

In the late 1950s, Bollywood films moved from black-and-white to color, and with it dawned the age of lavish romantic musicals and melodramas. In the following decades romance lost its luster and daku (dacoit) and later bhai (mafia don) surfaced in violent films about bandits and gangsters. The greatest film to be made in this genre was “Sholay”. Amitabh Bachan, the star known for his “angry man” roles still holds the throne of a superstar up to this day.

In the early 1990s, the public was tired of violence and the pendulum swung back toward family-centric romantic musicals. The new millennium started with a bang with “Kaho Na Pyar Hai” (Say I love You), which smashed box office records and created a new superstar – Hritik Roshan. The movie’s music has sold millions of copies and the film was a smash hit across the subcontinent and other countries of the world. Indeed, the film was such a hot seller that the local Mafiosi threatened the producer for the distribution rights. He refused and was shot. But in the true Bollywood tradition, he survived.

The Indian movie industry has a strict censor board which weeds out scenes of sex, nudity and even a passionate kiss. On the other hand violent scenes are left untouched.

Karma and reincarnation

Majority of Indians are Hindus who believe in reincarnation. The deeds or actions of a previous life are known as karma. One’s present life is nothing more than the reflection of one’s deeds in a previous life. This is similar to the sowing of crop – the kind of seed sown ensures the quality of the crop in the coming season. This may denote the absence of stress from the Indian way of life. After all, if there is anything left incomplete in this birth, the next birth will offer the opportunity of completing the task. This is something Western religions and philosophies do not dwell upon. Despite the pockets of disharmony, India’s reputation as a country of religious tolerance is well-founded, for religious tolerance is built into the Hindu religion.

(Part II – “The Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra, Jaipur”)

(Ref: The Holy Cow by Tarun Chopra)


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