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. Summers are 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 so hot when we visited in April of 2019 that a waterfall of sweat constantly rolled down my back. Between hotel buffet food and the heat, I was popping Imodium AD like Tic Tacs. Yet still, I loved touring through India.

Yes there is heat and the aforementioned food issues, but there is also curious, open, kind people. People shocked to see someone so tall with pale skin and blue eyes were the very same people who came over to talk. What got me thinking was that everyone asked the same three questions in the exact same order, no exceptions.

Traveling to Southern India, What to Expect

It happened over and over again. Men would point at me, parents urged their kids to shake my hand. Groups of teenaged boys asked me for selfies. Young kids expertly gathered their family around me for photos. After taking a photo, questions would start.

The first question was always “What is your name?” kicking off a game of who-can-say-it-right.

“My name is Brandy.”

Confused expressions flashed as if waiting for the rest of my name.

“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”

Slowly I’d try.

“Ad-rash-a-knee.” My head tilted, eyebrow lifted I’d listen carefully. Laughter, smile, repeat.

“Aadarshini”

“Ardrashiny?”

A smile and a “yes” even when I was nowhere close. Then the follow up.

“Where are you from?” was always the second question asked.

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

“Oh, America.”

Again a smile and I’d relax, relieved to be given a free pass in the “Make America Great Again” era.

“Do you like India?” Always the third and final question.

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 “I love India.”

Why Some Tourists Stand Out In Southern India

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

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

At just over 5’8″ with long red hair, pale freckled skin and blue eyes I stuck out despite the crowds. A worn in Stetson and white linen pants didn’t exactly help. 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? You can tell from the smile on my face in the next photo that yes, 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?

A New Yorker for a decade I never once asked any of the 65 Million annual tourists to take a selfie with me. Until after traveling through Southern India, I never thought about it. With so many international tourists, New Yorkers pay them no mind simply weaving 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

15 comments

    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting! You come from a very beautiful place. The people of Tamilnadu are very kind. I hope to come back again for more visits. Where would you recommend I go next in India?

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      1. Hi Brandy.. Thank you.. If u hav not tried the western ghats of Karnataka.. Tat is the place to go.. U can go to those places at any time of the year.. U will need more than 2 weeks to cover the mountain range.. It lush green and beautiful..

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  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

    Liked by 1 person

    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!

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  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.

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    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?

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      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/

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        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!

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    1. Why thanks Dad! I worked on this one for a long time. Felt I had to try and do it justice. Wait till you see the next one about a Night Puja! Thank you for reading. ❤️

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