On the whole I've been quite positive about India on the blog. But there are a few things that bothered me and I think they're worth sharing.
Several people advised me to watch out for caste and poverty issues in India. Valuable advice, but I think I would have seen it even without the warning. It is easier to see poverty, but caste is still so important that people will often tell you what theirs is even without being asked. I remember the driver in Gujurat who refused to enter the home of someone in a lower caste. He wouldn't eat with them either. I remember watching a street sweeper in Udaipur. He was very old and dusty. He wore nothing but a cotton shirt and cotton shorts and he drooled. He walked stooped over like he'd been sweeping his whole life, and I think he probably had. I watched who touched who, who did the work, who gave the orders, who was fat and who was bone skinny, whose children went to school and whose children went to work.
I met many young girls, and they often liked to smile at me or talk to me and two times they did mendhi on my hands. They would often grab my hands and smooth my arms saying, "Your skin is so nice! So fair!"
It is hard to ignore the signs in support of PM candidate Narendra Modi all over the country. Here is the Economist's take on the man: http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21591599-populist-nasty-past-and-decent-economic-record-wants-run-india-man-some
The former chief minister for Gujurat played a very controversial role in the 2002 religious riots that killed around 1000 people. Talking with some young people about politics in Varanasi, Modi's past wasn't seen as a big deal, as long as he boosted the economy. And he seems a dead cert to win.
And finally, it's hard to deny the slight unease you feel as a woman in this country. On the street women are outnumbered, unless it is in a residential street where women sit on their stoops talking to neighbours. In the public sphere, women are outranked heavily and it increases when night falls. I never had any problems but I always noticed how my friends and hosts took care to check back after I arrived, how they put me into a rickshaw, how they wouldn't let me walk alone. You can't help but read the Attack on Women pages in the paper, and I wish I knew when this would change.
I hope I haven't totally depressed you. I'll continue on with part two of this post...the positive stuff.