India / Southeast Asia

Finding Beauty Backwards

One of the greatest things about traveling and living in a new place is its ability to take your breath away with an unfamiliar beauty. When I first arrive somewhere new, I have a tendency to see the world through rose-colored glasses. The sky seems bluer, the water clearer, the people more fascinating.

And then as I spend more time in that place, realism slowly adds to my rose-colored world and I begin to notice the subtleties of life there: the way women are treated, how waste is disposed, how wealth is distributed. It never turns me off to a place, because I do believe that everything has its value and ultimately realism is more breathtaking than the beauty your mind first imposes on a place, but it can be a little disenchanting when it finally begins to seep through.

There’s something different about India, though, because here I’ve had the exact opposite experience.

When I first arrived all I noticed was the heaps of trash lining the roads, the lack of women I saw out in public or taking the bus, and the way people stared at us as foreigners. For the first two weeks, my eyes could only focus on these things. I was drawing conclusions from articles I had read about sexual harassment in India, issues of poverty, religious tensions and the like. During those first two weeks it was nearly impossible for me to see the colorful, vibrant, lively India that I had imagined before I arrived.

What I’ve found over the last week or so, is that my focus has been shifting.

Instead of noticing the trash out the side of my rickshaw, my eyes are drawn to the trees that cover the city. Trees that are literally constructed around rather than demolished. And starting this week I can’t take my eyes off them. The convergence of nature and industrialization in Pune is breathtaking.

Instead of noticing the lack of women I see in public, I take the time to appreciate the ones I do. Unlike the men, when I pass a woman on the street here we silently smile at each other and share a moment of recognition. Although I come from somewhere halfway around the world and although we’ve never met, we have shared experiences and we both know that.

And instead of noticing the way people look at us as foreigners, I have chosen to devote my attention to other things. Look all you want, I don’t need to made to feel uncomfortable by your stares. It doesn’t bother me today.

I don’t think this means I will find every single thing about India stunningly beautiful all of the time, but I love that in this country I am finding beauty backwards. It’s a much slower and more savory experience to notice something beautiful with each passing day.

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