I feel like I’m constantly searching for inspiration. I look for it like I do a lost item, in different places and institutions, almost desperately. India has taught me however that inspiration doesn’t necessarily come from traveling the world over seeking clarity, although it certainly can. India has taught me that inspiration can very genuinely come from within, through faith, culture and identity. The more I see of India, the more I see the pride that these people take in their religion, their nation, their culture and their identity as citizens of Hindustan.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar is one of the religious crown jewels of India. Few things in life live up to what you imagine them to be, but this magnificent temple more than exceeded my expectations. It is a Sikh place of worship, however welcomes people from all religions. The temple is open 24 hours a day and there is a large dining hall, run by volunteers, that provides meals to an average of 200,000 pilgrims a day. Everything is free, and the whole place is run by donations and hundreds of volunteers. No one is turned away. It’s quite a sight to be seen as assembly lines of volunteers deliver plates and utensils and rows of people sit side-by-side eating their meals. In the back, another large assembly line takes the dishes to the washing area, where a large group of volunteers have established an organized method to clean. More groups of volunteers sit outside cooking, peeling vegetables and frying paranthas, as grandchildren and grandparents alike participate in the process. One of the organizers told me that celebrities and Rajasthani Princes all have come here and many have asked to sit separately in a chair instead of on the floor with the others while they ate. They were refused however, as everyone must sit together, side by side. We believe everyone is equal, he explained. Many people dip into the water surrounding the temple, as it is meant to cure your ailments and provide you your heart’s desires. Inside, the temple is bathed in royal blue and gold, and a priest reads from the Guru Ganth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Book. The room is utterly quiet except for his chants, and followers gather in the room deep in thought or prayer, reclining on the floor in no stress or hurry. I didn’t understand what the priest was saying or what the words meant, but I felt a kind of calmness and peace from those soothing words that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I remember taking one last look at this magnificent, awe-inspiring temple, and I remember wanting to capture the moment, that feeling, forever.
I further understood the meaning of faith in India when I made the trek to the Holy Shrine of Vaishno Devi with my Mom. I passed a destitute and disabled teenage boy whose leg was permanently damaged. He couldn’t walk properly, in fact he could barely walk at all. Yet he too was online casino making the 14-hour long, uphill journey to pray to Jai Mata, and I wonder how long it actually took him. For many of India’s poor and disadvantaged, religion is their lifeblood and it gives them hope when nothing else does. Their faith is all they have.
Another thing I have noticed is how proud Indians are of their country. Before any movie is shown in the cinema hall, the national anthem is played as a picture of the Indian flag fills the screen. Everyone must stand from their seats and pay allegiance to the nation before any American or Bollywood film can start, and they do so proudly. I recently attended the border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan at the Waga Border. This daily ceremony is actually a battle of national pride as hundreds of people from each country sit in stadium like seating, separated only by a gate marking the border in between. Masses of local Indians crowd the stands, chanting “Hindustan Zindabad,” or “Long Live India,” as they wave the national flag. Each nation tries to be louder than the other in this battle of spirit and pride. Through a grandiose ceremony, the Indian and Pakistani guards alike sound their horns and march into place for the flags to be lowered and for the border between the two nations to be closed for the night.
I know that I often comment on the disparities in India, but I also deeply admire the values that Indians live by and swear by and die by. But enough social commentary for now – it’s back to Bollywood!