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The Indian Syndrome: What do you gain from it at the end?

Author: Irina Mihalkovich
4 Minutes

The Indian Syndrome: What do you gain from it at the end?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I remember the day when I was flying to India. The airplane was landing, and the neighboring passengers were asleep after a hearty biriyani, comfortably snuffling in their reclined seats. I, on the other hand, was wide awake, fueled by ruminating thoughts and excitement, and was staring into the dark window. Suddenly, a nightly Kerala emerged with the constellations of glittering lights. The distant illumination appeared like an unknown galaxy, then faded and lit up again. My heart skipped a beat. I inhaled deeply. This is India.

I had never been to India before my studies with ICCR, neither as a tourist nor as a pilgrim. Though, mentally I was a frequent visitor, being infatuated with it through orientalism and deep esotericism of Indian classical dance. However, physically I could not come for various reasons, which are both irrelevant now and hardly can be remembered accurately. I’ll be honest – at the start of the journey, I had many fears. I have heard the stories of those who have been to India. Most of them told me that I should be ready for the most difficult trials. Being an emotional woman, my imagination would draw the worst scenarios. It’s a shame I did not channel them into writing a script for a thriller. Now, if anyone asks my advice about India, I would say – “Go ahead, try! Everyone’s way is unique. It will be special and only yours, just as this life is.”

I had never been to India before my studies with ICCR, neither as a tourist nor as a pilgrim. Though, mentally I was a frequent visitor, being infatuated with it through orientalism and deep esotericism of Indian classical dance.

I got to Kerala by chance, as my first-choice guru from Bangalore was late with her confirmation letter. Now I firmly believe, it was destiny. I will not get tired of repeating this over and over again – from my first step onto that land it has been love at first sight and it still is. “God’s own country” is already a cliché, used in every touristic brochure. At the same time, I believe, it is a very accurate and laconic description for the vibrant state, which hosts just two seasons – summer and monsoon and thousands and thousands of nuances within them. Like every flower blooming, fruit to be harvested, sky shade to get carried away by, and a touch of the wind to be awakened by—it all changes with micro seasons of nature’s cycle. So, you can never grasp the general sense of Kerala, and India itself, for it always has means to surprise you. The vibrancy is in the people who live combining the spirit of modernity and ancient cultural archetypes, expressing themselves in stage artforms, which enchant the imagination of most contemporary Western theatre practitioners and scholars, in the temples, where each stone has a story to tell, in tribal rituals and trance dances – everything becomes intertwined – dreams and reality, yesteryears and tomorrow. I will not be losing myself in descriptiveness of white sarees with golden borders, smiling Malayali’s, treating their guests as God, traditional sadhya – a lavish meal neatly served on a glossy green banana leaf, tall coconut trees, swaying in the wind and September sea, restless after the monsoon’s rains. Just like India, Kerala is endlessly eclectic and diverse.

So, you can never grasp the general sense of Kerala, and India itself, for it always has means to surprise you. The vibrancy is in the people who live combining the spirit of modernity and ancient cultural archetypes, expressing themselves in stage artforms, which enchant the imagination of most contemporary Western theatre practitioners and scholars, in the temples, where each stone has a story to tell, in tribal rituals and trance dances – everything becomes intertwined – dreams and reality, yesteryears and tomorrow.

In our school, Kerala Kalamandalam, foreign students immediately got the same syndrome, which we called “Indian.” We all understood that no matter the cultural difference, language barriers, and unavoidable adaptational challenges, which are natural for anybody away from their usual space and comfort zone, we got attached to India a lot. If someone came there with an intention to spend a month, they would stay a year, if they came for a year—they’d stay for five years. If anyone had to leave, they’d be promising with tears and most dramatic and poetic exclamations, that they’d be back. There is something magical and unknown, something that gives one a feeling of being a child again in this land. Perhaps, it is the artistic environment, which creates spontaneity and unusualness. However, I think it is more than just an occupation. It is the spirit of the country, which has not lost its past, yet is able to look into the future, and rejoice at the present. And India does this sincerely, while generously sharing its joy with guests. Because every human being is divine, as per the classical greeting “Namaste”— the God inside me greets the God inside you.

I am no longer a student, though I never stopped learning, even after my program had finished. My dance became the way of thinking, the prism of understanding the world. My creations— be it theatre works, writing or filmmaking— all speak like someone who has spent an entire life in India. I do not claim I understood it, and I do not think anyone can. India is like a mirror through which you learn about yourself and others. Yet this mirror is not shallow and plain, but deep, voluminous and transformative. What did India give me, apart from nurturing my creative vision? It gifted me bravery and self-realization. It gave me understanding and acceptance. It gave me the feeling of finding a space, irrespective of where I am. It gave me the qualities I am still yet to unravel.

Namaste.

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