Travel

3 Questions Everyone Asks in India

Traveling Southern India for the first time was both challenging and welcoming. Here are the three questions that opened me up to India.

India is intense travel. A first trip is just that. A trip, not a vacation. India is crowded and noisy. Mopeds, people and horns are constantly buzzing at all hours. The summer is blisteringly hot and suffocatingly humid. So much so that many tour companies only travel to Southern India in winter.

Southern India 3 Questions Evening Traffic
Evening traffic in Southern India outside Chennai

It was already so hot early April 2019 that a waterfall of sweat constantly rolled down my back. Between hotel buffet food our first night in Chennai and the heat, I was popping Imodium AD like Tic Tacs. Still, every time someone asks “Do you like India?” my reply of “Yes. I love India.” is genuine.

Yes, there is heat. The aforementioned food issues and trash piled up in shocking amounts, but there is also curious, open, kind people. People shocked to see someone like me a tall, pale skinned, blue eyed woman were the very same people to come over and talk to me. What got me thinking was the three questions everyone asked me, in the exact same order, no exceptions.

Traveling to Southern India, What to Expect

It happened over and over again. Men would point me out to their wives or children. Parents urged their kids to shake my hand. Groups of teenaged boys would ask to pose next to me. Young kids phone in hand expertly gathered their family around me. Next thing you know we’d all be smiling for a photo. After which the questions would start.

“What’s your name?”

Hands down in Southern India every time someone stopped me to talk or take a photo, this is how the conversation began. Most often that first question was followed by a hilarious try-to-say-it-right game.

“My name is Brandy.”

As if waiting for the rest of my name, confused expressions flashed. Courage summoned, the game would begin.

“Brea…”

I’d laugh, smile, repeat. “Brandy”

“Braadknee”

“Close, Brandy. What’s your name?”

A smile would be followed by a lengthy name and a mental note to get my hearing checked.

“Aadarshini”

Now it was my turn. Slowly I’d try.

“Ad-rash-a-knee.” 

My head tilted, eyebrow lifted I’d listen carefully. Laughter, smile, repeat.

“Aadarshini”

My turn for one more try.

“Ardrashiny?”

Always a patient smile and a “yes” even when I was nowhere close. Then the follow up. Always the second asked.

“Where are you from?”

“I’m American and my Husband” I’d say motioning to Paolo “is Italian.”

“Oh, America.”

Again I’d see big smiles and relax. Relieved to be given a free pass in the “Make America Great Again” era. Then, the third question.

“Do you like India?”

These three questions were what every single person who approached me in Southern India asked. To which I could honestly say “yes” with my own big smile.

Why Some Tourists Stand Out In Southern India

The average height of women in India is 5 feet tall. Eyes, skin and hair is almost exclusively rich shades of brown and black.

Southern India 3 Questions
New friends at Arulmigu Peruvudaiyar Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

At just over 5’8″ my long red hair, pale freckled skin and blue eyes made me stick out despite the crowds. A worn in Stetson and white linen pants didn’t exactly help either. It’s rare to see women wearing anything other than a Saree and neither men nor women wear hats in Southern India despite scorching heat.

Brihadishvara Temple in Tamil Nadu, India. Photo by Paolo Ferraris for ALOR.blog

Indian Saree, Cultural Dress of Southern Indian

The women of Southern India are enchanting. Their smiles are genuine, their energy polite and their Sarees enviable. A riot of colors and patterns, not one alike. Each somehow folded, wrapped, twisted and tucked securely in place. A Saree the cultural dress of Southern Indian is stylish, colorful and despite every woman wearing one decidedly expressive.

Stopping to talk in Southern India

Visually there was no doubt I stood out in Southern India. Yet I was never once made to feel uncomfortable for it. Each request for a photo came with curiosity, enthusiasm, respect and those same three questions. What’s your name? Where are you from? Do you like India? I hope you can tell from the smile on my face in the next photo, that yes, indeed, I do like India.

Beautiful colors of a Saree, Cultural dress of Southern India.

During our trip, I was passed warm lentils and rice to eat by hand before an evening Puja at The Big Temple (Brihadishvara Temple) in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India.

Evening Puja at The Big Temple in Tamil Nadu

Not one person batted an eye, when I watched blessings from just a few feet away.

Blessings given outside a temple in Madurai

Southern India opens its doors without fear, reserve or caution to share everyday life. The only thing asked in return is “Do you like India?”

Southern India 3 Questions
Proud father in Madurai.

Do You Like India?

I lived as a New Yorker for a decade. In my time there I never once asked any of the 65 Million annual tourists to take a selfie with me. I also didn’t ask myself why until after traveling through Southern India. New York City has so many international tourists, New Yorkers pay them no mind. We simply weave around them in a rush to work. While parts of Southern India felt like the exact opposite.

To them it mattered. It mattered that someone who looked so different, liked India. It mattered that I liked the food, temples, people and culture. I like that Southern India doesn’t seem to take its place in the world for granted.

Travel is as much about being curious and open for the people we meet, as it is about taking an experience away for ourselves. Cultures around the world can be jarringly different, which is what makes travel addictive. I hope one day soon to meet curiosity with curiosity again. To find a way to connect to those I don’t understand. Post COVID-19 and the current wave of nationalism; both of which will no doubt change the shape of the world, I hope America opens its doors and lets the world see us for all we are. That instead of assuming, we ask.

Do you like America?

Aren’t we the ones at a loss if we don’t?

Blue eyes are rare in India but not in this selfie. More photos by Paolo Ferraris on ALOR.blog

10 comments

  1. You end your blog with a statement of loving America or not. My wife and I recently spent 16 days in Southern India. When I returned back to to South Florida, I did not feel better about the country I live in. There is no Dharma that governs our behavior like in India.
    We eat cows not hold them as sacred. Our inequality of wealth mirrors that of the caste system of India. India food although spicy seems healthier than the fat/carb loaded American diet. I wrote several blogs then about our experience. I hope we might have further online conversations on this country. Stay well. USFMAN

    Like

    1. Thank you for reading and giving time to answer a true question. India is what I think of as game changing travel. So too are Burma and Cambodia. There are so many things that perspective starts to shift on after seeing vastly different ways to do the exact same things. Like eat! Like healthcare and especially education. I wrote (ages ago now) about how Paolo’s father was constantly being asked for photos in Burma. We found it funny… until I tried to understand why. Looking around I realized Papà was the only man I was seeing with white hair. Life expectancy in Burma is almost 20 year shy of Italians. These are things that even if you know before travel never really mean anything until seeing the contrasts in person. I am with you that the inequality in America is more caste like than most people would see or even admit. At least most people looking down the caste anyway.

      May you continue your travels this summer in health, peace and curiosity!

      Like

  2. We traveled in both southern and northern India and there is definitely a difference. I think partly because there aren’t as many tourists in the south, foreigners are a novelty (outside of Kerala). We too posed for more selfies than I could have imagined. We must be on half of the Facebook pages in southern India. We also had a lot of people wanting us to take their pictures and they didn’t even care to see it on our camera! And we had the same three questions that you mentioned. In the south it seemed to be more of a curiosity, in the north it’s usually a tout’s tactic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It definitely felt like curiosity in the south which I never tired of as it gave me a chance to connect more. The north is still on my list but something tells me we need a lot more time the next time we go to India. How long did you have there? Do you have a post link you’d recommend I check out?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We spent 8 months in India – a bit too long, 2 month increments is better, it’s too overwhelming. There are a lot of posts as you can imagine after 8 months. If you are interested in architecture then Hyderabad or ‘Mughal Architecture around Agra’. If you’re interested in religion – mostly ancient then Rock cut temples of Ajanta and Elora. And for the popular Rajasthan I suggest the post Udaipur, it was our favourite spot in Rajasthan. Let me know what you think! Here’s the link to Udaipur https://monkeystale.ca/2019/05/14/udaipur-a-palace-fit-for-a-maharaja/

        Like

        1. Really beautiful photos from your travels. The arched doorways are my favorite architectural detail through. 8 months is most definitely a stretch. I have friends who stayed 6 and were only in Northern India. So much to see!

          Like

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: