Imagine playing a boardgame similar to Settlers of Catan or Okanagan. The game starts with a dumpsite that’s filled to about a tenth of its capacity. You first have to shove the trash aside to make roads. After that you can build flats, of which you’re only allowed to finish 80 percent. Of those buildings, five percent has to be removed again to be randomly scattered on the board in the form of rubble. You can now add some cars, many tuktuks, and even more scooters. Following, you throw a layer of dust over the board game. After that you can add as many colourful people as possibly fits, which will be fighting over space with herds of buffalos and goats. Close your eyes. Envision the smell of rotten fruits masked by spices and incense, an air as thick as cigar smoke, temple songs blasting through loudspeakers, and the sound of a thousand hooting cars. Welcome to India. 

Biologists once decided that wolves move in packs, kangaroos hop in troops, pigeons fly in kits, and dolphins swim in pods. Humans officially live in either tribes, gangs, civilisations or societies. In rural India, however, humans live in masses, and in urban India, they move in plagues. Remember when Simba was stuck in the gorge looking for his dad, Mufasa, and herds of wildebeest were running past him. Or when the new iPhone went on sale, iPhone 11, in the Apple retail store on Fifth Avenue New York. Or when the Beatles took off from London in an aeroplane, Boeing 707, and first landed in the United States. That’s what it’s like being in an Indian city at all times. More than 50 people are born every minute, which is almost 75.000 people per day. You can almost hear the sound: pop, pop, pop, multiply, multiply, multiply. 

Plagues of people lead to heaps of chaos. This particularly comes to show in traffic. In India, rush hour is from about 6am until 11am, and 12pm until 10pm. During these hours, people try to outsmart traffic by disregarding all rules. There is no use of indicators, safety belts, helmets, rear-view mirrors, right of way, or even sticking to a particular side of the road. They simply duck and drive. How people don’t constantly crash into each other astounds me. Maybe they move like a colony of bats, using hoots like frequencies to navigate through the chaos. Or like a school of anchovies, that react to the waves caused by their close neighbours. Or like a flock of birds, that follow each other’s direction of motion. No it can’t be that... there is definitely no following. 

Beside the suicidal traffic, Indians are surprisingly dedicated to rules, and rituals even more so. There are so many rules and rituals, it’s hard to keep track. It embraces practically every aspect of life: what to eat and how to eat it, what to wear and how to wear it, when to wash and how to wash it. They live by strong morals and maintain conservative relationships. A billion Indians do things in one way, and one way only. But they love their culture, so would never question its ways. Because Indians are so passionate about their culture, they’ve often asked me about mine. I struggled to come up with a satisfying answer. Brewing beer? Gay rights, legal prostitution and black Piets? Best I keep quiet. 

Many rituals revolve around food, which is the favourite time spending in India. The first word I was taught was thinnara: “have you eaten?” When people already knew that the answer to that was no, they kept asking “are you starving?” while wiggling their head. Not a minute of healthy appetite goes to waste in India, and when the food is ready not another second is lost. As soon as the first rice grain touches the plate they sit down on the floor and dig in, no cutlery required. I asked how to say “bon appetite” in India, but there is no such thing. Just eat, no words required. There will be a quick wiggle of the head, before curries are devoured while slurping and chomping loudly. 

Most other rituals relate to religion. The unconditional devotion to Hinduism almost makes it feel as if time had stood still. Indians still live in a world of spirituality, powerful gods, evil eyes and black magic. Houses are decorated like little temples, and people spend all their free time on honouring the gods. People often go on lengthy pilgrimages to holy temples as well. These ancient temples are rather small, and struggle to house 10.000 to 50.000 Hindus every day. There are so many pilgrims that they have to be channelled through metal fences and underground tunnels that go on for many kilometres. Out of each hour spent as a pilgrim, people will be able to move only 5 minutes out of their own free will. And after a ten hour long wait, the pilgrims get to see their beloved God for no longer than 3 seconds. But at least they are fed afterwards by the temple and offered accommodation. By doing so, Indian pilgrimages have become one of best organized events in the world.

 There are also twenty-two different languages in India, which all sound wicked and unlike anything I’ve heard before. But whereas a language barrier felt threatening in South America, alienating in South East Asia, and distancing in Portugal, it didn’t matter much in India. I could somehow communicate and laugh with anyone without being able to exchange a single word. Indian people are exceptionally welcoming and heart-warming, and a head wiggle or hand gesture was often all it took. They made me feel right at home with their endearing smile, and I couldn’t help but constantly smiling back. Indian people appear to be sincerely happy as well. They have close family bonds and live content lives without needing much luxury. It is truly something to admire.