India that charms foreigners

We have read so many articles and seen enough documentaries that describe foreigners love for India,  its rich heritage, diversity and culture. They tell you that, these foreign nationals love our temples for the story behind them and its architecture. That is probably most of them see India through the coloured lens of what is showcased. 

But after talking to some of I meet at the line of my work, I think foreigners do realise that there is much more to India than that. First lets get on to what overseas people love – the temples. 

I always see a group of foreigners whenever I visit Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple, Tanjore big temple or Kapaleeswarar temple in Chennai. They listen sharply to whatever the tour guide is telling with awe. I know a Japanese national who studied archaeology in Tanjore University and settled in Chennai to learn more about temples and Tamil culture. They love our classical music, dance, musical instruments and anything traditional. It is apparent from number of foreigners who visit Chennai during Margazhi festival to immerse in the symphony of carnatic music, classical dance and musical instruments.

Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple
Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple

I met an Austrian during last December music festival.  He had come down to Chennai to learn musical instrument Veena. Taciturn though he was, he told me that he would be staying for couple of months in the city to cover the basics. I also know of a Japanese national who is a bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer. She comes to India twice or thrice to perform. She was fascinated with the country when she came here as an student. She has not stopped since.

If music and dance were one thing, Indian idea of spirituality is on whole another level. I went to Tiruvannamalai to do a feature for my paper and broke for lunch in a restaurant near the spiritual guru Ramana maharishi’s Ashram. I was surprised as most of the customers were foreigners. If you want me to give in numbers, of the 10 occupied seats there seven were foreigners. For those who are into spirituality, this is probably one of the favourites. There are other organisations too I’m sure, like Art of Living, Isha Yoga, Auroville and yes, our very own Baba Ramdev. Yoga really became a rage after all and he was the poster boy to spread word across.

Though I’m unable to find any charm in yoga, somehow foreigners seem to have fascination for it. They come to India, stay here for months together, master them and teach to Indians. If you ask my friend, who is a health freak, she will tell you foreign folks teach you better yoga than their Indian counterparts. It is probably their dedication that makes the difference.  

When it comes to Tamil Nadu apart from music, dance and temples, food is something they love, especially sambar. I met a Canadian when I went to cover a conference. The 60-year-old man, who was in Chennai for a week, wanted to have sambar and dosa in Karpagambal mess in Chennai. “If possible I want to watch a bharatanatyam while eating dosa with sambar,” he said and grinned. Food is one other aspect of the culture they love be it sambar, dosa, idly, appam and anything that is South Indian. No wonder Saravana Bhavans are doing so well overseas. 

Goa, Rajasthan and Kerala are some States in India other nationals love. When I had gone to Belgium, I met three of my sisters friends who are Dutch. They were planning a 15 day trip to India. Jaipur and boat houses in Kerala were top of their list. “We want to see those old forts in Jaipur and experience how it feels to live inside one of them,” she said. If it was for its ancient forts they want to stay in Jaipur, they want to immerse in the tranquil backwaters of Kerala and go for massages. Sometimes I do feel, Incredible India campaigns ‘Gods own country’ is overrated. It has been a year since they have come and gone. I wonder if they liked it.

Beyond all the fort, scenery, diversity and all the ugliness included, many like the country for it and despite it. I met a French couple who lost their money in the demonetisation confusion. But they still love it because the life in the country is so chaotic that they enjoy keeping tabs on the craziness. Though to the outside it is just a third world country which is not really safe, people are charmed by the chaos and colours that swirl around them. Guess that is the India they love.

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