One of the things I missed the most when I arrived in India was the long evenings. Today, at something past 10 pm, the sky has only just become black.
The first day I arrived in Pune, we went out to eat around 7 pm. My plane had landed at 5 o’clock, I had had time to dump my stuff in my room, have a bath, and get changed. We stepped outside and it was pitch black. All of a sudden,
it felt as though my internal clock had broken down: it couldn’t be dark already!
I learnt to live with it. Being closer to the equator, India sees less difference in night length throughout the year than a country like Switzerland. It’s logical, it makes perfect sense, but I never would have thought about it. Not before it hit me straight in the eyes. I guess
Switzerland sounds to Indians like Scandinavia sounds to us.
One thing Indians tend to find really weird is the fact that we don’t have a rainy season. “You mean it rains all year long?” Well, of course it doesn’t rain every single day here. But it can rain at any given date. Simply enough, the idea of living in a place where there is no monsoon must sound quite incredible to the indian mind – just as we have trouble
imagining what the monsoon can be like before we have lived (swam) through it.
Today was the last lesson of my class on “Visual Hinduism”. We explored architecture, iconography, miniatures, but also rituals (hence my presentation on indian weddings) and finally even cinema. The teacher, who was doing this kind of “visual” class for the first time, was curious about our feedback.
Actually, I thought it was a great idea. Academic teaching often neglects the realm of the eye – unless you are studying history of art. And the visual world is very important for grasping indian culture.
I remember the first time I saw real pictures of India. My interest for India came late, as I was studying, so I had never spent much time looking at books, documentaries or other hippy friends’ photographs. All I had seen were photographs by Benoît Lange (or similar artists), which are
beautiful pictures but hardly prepare you for what you are actually going to see in indian streets.
So the first “real” indian photographs I saw were pictures of a pilgrimage that my teacher was giving a conference about. I had already started planning my trip to India, although it was still a long way off, and I can remember the surprise of seeing the stretch of brown earth, the
rickety stalls next to the road, and people scattered everywhere. “Gosh, it looks like that over there!?”
During my first days in India, my most intense culture shock was visual. I wasn’t prepared for it at all – I couldn’t have prepared myself, had I even wanted to. Everything I laid my eyes on was new and
unknown. Nothing made sense. All I could see was a mass of colours and shacks and rubbish and puddles and dogs and people. I just stayed there for hours on end, stunned, perched on my small terrasse above the street, looking at the strange world outside and trying to get over the