Colours, spices, bindi and Bollywood………

When I came to Europe, I was struck by the orderliness, discipline, cleanliness, beauty of Europe, but a week down the line, I was home-sick! I still am! But there is something more that happened when I came to Europe. I realized how vast, multi-cultural, diverse and complex India is! And well, also how synonymous India is to Bollywood! 😀

Wherever I go, I meet India enthusiasts and well…… are some that will be etched in my memory forever………

1. University Cycle Repair Shop

I had a minor problem with the chain of my bicycle so I went to University cycle repair shop. The assistant there helped me mount the cycle on the chains and started his work. Two questions about the cycle and then, “I went to see Rab ne bana di jodi, it was fantastic”. I thought I heard him wrong. But he repeated and well, I said a hesitant, ya, it was ok, not so good. And then, “I went to London to watch the premiere of the movie but I didn’t get tickets, so I went to an Indian restaurant, ate and came back”. I was tempted to say, No one in India probably will bother that much! But he was saying it with such passion. Next question, “Is it true that the girl and boy don’t see each other before the marriage?”. Now, this was a trick question. I know in some parts of the country they don’t, but in a large part, this is allowed. My reply was the standard, “You can’t really generalize anything about India, there is a whole spectrum in everything”. Next question, “Do you eat spicy food every day, three times a day?”. Ah well, I didn’t think our food was spicy at all until I tasted food in Eruope! And then, he launched into what movies he has loved. He was a fan of Aamir Khan and Rishi Kapoor. He didn’t like Shammi Kapoor (“he seems like he’s in an epileptic fit”) but he loved Raj Kapoor (I wonder how!!!). He likes Madhuri Dixit’s dance (who doesn’t?) but he thinks Aishwarya Rai is prettier! For 20 minutes flat he spoke effortlessly about Bollywood and struggled in equal measure with my cycle-brakes! 😀 When I was leaving, he said with a very sad expression, “Some day, I want to go to India and I’m sure, I won’t come back”. 🙂

2. Ecohostel Andromeda

My friend stayed in a boat hotel and unfortunately, forgot to hand over the keys while checking out. So, I went to drop the keys to the room. A girl and a boy own the boat hotel and they thanked me profusely for returning the key. I was about to leave but the girl asks me a surprising, “Tell me something about India”. I was a little stumped (I’ve never been able to answer this question, this IS no one answer to this question. If it’s Belgium, you say, it’s the land of chocolates and beers but what do you say about India?). I asked her to be more specific and well, first question: Why do women in India wear that dot on their forehead? Uhmm…….well, I think it’s one of the chakras of Yoga, the seat of wisdom, I think. And she was mighty impressed. Next question: But why do only married women wear it? Uhmm…………I guess they need more wisdom to get the husband up from in front of the TV and help in house-work. She laughed heartily and next question: Why is it red in colour? Ah well, I don’t know frankly. I guess red is the colour of marriage and red bindi signifies marriage. Next question: Do people in India really wear the clothes they show in Bollywood movies? I was tempted to ask, which one have you seen? But I sort of knew the answer already. It must be the “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham” (that’s the one EVERYONE here has seen). And I assured her, such clothes are worn pretty much once in a life-time, on our marriages. Next question: Will your marriage be Bollywood style as well, lots of Music and dance and 200 people dancing with coordinated movements? This time, I couldn’t resist it! I REALLY laughed! After I’d recovered, I immediately thought of Ram, Sathya and Laasya doing a coordinated “Khwaja Mere Khwaja”. And God! I laughed again! I assured her that no one in India does such coordinated dances in the weddings, at least not 200 people and definitely not in most marriages! 😀 After answering a plethora of other questions about spices, sarees, clay-jewellery, child-labour, I finally left. Smiling to myself, I thought, India is so many things!!!!!! As the girl rightly put it, “They should declare India a continent, it’s NOT one country”.

3. On the bus stop in City Centre

One old chirpy woman sat next to me as I waited for a bus to head back home. I had worn the salwar-kurta that day and the woman had been eyeing me with sort of an adoration for some time. She broke the silence eventually and first question: Is that a comfortable dress? I was like, Ya, I think so. Next question: You’re from India? I answered in affirmative. Next question: Why do you wear that dot on your forehead? (Bindi sure is the centre of most curiosity!!!) I explained the chakra theory again. Her remark to that: Indian culture is so rich, we don’t have anything in the name of culture here really. I assured her that there are pros and cons associated with what you call “culture”. She smiled and next question: “Is it true that people are divided in India based on what community their parents belonged to? I said yes, but the trend is changing and people are gradually beginning to open up to the idea of all human beings being equal, at least in my generation. She was so happy hearing this. And she said: I saw a program on TV about India (and the TV here SURE is on an overdrive to educate people about India) and I saw the trains. One man was selling food in train. Is that how it is in India? I answered yes. Somehow, this amused her a great deal. And then,she went on asking about India’s take on spirituality and Nirvana, about Varanasi and death rites. When the bus finally arrived, she left very reluctantly and well, wished me a marriage just like it is in Bollywood! 😀

After I came here, I got to know how much fascination there is about India, the land of bindi, spices, colours and Bollywood………..



  1. Madhurima said,

    June 25, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Duniya ghoom aayo…
    par iss mitti ki kahi mehek nahin,
    Iss jeevan ki woh chehak nahin,
    Iss sangeet ka sur nahin…
    Jo Bharat main hain, woh kahi aur nahi!

  2. Sandeep said,

    June 25, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Yes indeed…India is a land of diversities and hence contradictions 🙂 It has its own pros and cons as any other social structure will have. Its really difficult to define anything specific for India. Bollywood being the most attractive medium to project Indian society, has reflected Indian social panorama quite perfectly but with an artistic/semi-artistic/commercially-artistic impressions depending on who has made the movie.

    Its true that India doesn’t look like one country but rather a continent with many micro countries inside living together and somehow managing to co-habitat.

  3. Niloufer said,

    June 25, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    pritz, i was curious why you wrote about bhindi and finally found out it was bindi!!!!


  4. aditi said,

    June 25, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Great Pritesh! I have a ready answer to the bindi question, “it makes your face more symmetric!” Somebody asked me at some conference in B’lore “Does bindi on men signifies that they are gay?”

  5. Neha said,

    June 27, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Hey ! This is an awesome post 🙂 SOOOOOO many things I can add on here…. Will mention one incident though – I was living with 2 other girls in Bloomington when I was studying. One of them is from Chennai and the other is an American class mate. So the Indian girl and I jokingly refer to each other as “auntie” 🙂 The American was highly intrigued by this exchange and one day couldnt resist asking us what that actually meant… Both of us were clueless about how to explain the concept of “auntie”. We said this was a joke between us. And then we went on to confuse her further by saying that we call woman-relatives who are our mothers age, Aunty. And we also call other such women of that generation Aunty, even though they have no relation to us. Kendra was SO confused, she was like thats not even a word !!! We had a hard time explaining everything to her 😛

    Its true that diversity and culture as varied as that in India will be hard to find elsewhere… Which is why I feel coming back home becomes easier and to me is the most natural thing to do. Madhurima, your poem sums it up really well!

  6. altered ego said,

    June 30, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Nice read pritz.. diversity is what we have in culture, language, landscape, seasons, colours, smells.. everything and this diversity we cherish. And what is best is tht now we are recognizing the drawbacks of drawing lines in this diversity and the lines are fast blurring out.. a special thanks to marriages like ours 🙂

  7. laasya said,

    June 30, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I jusst saw this !! dont know how i mised it earlier !! i know JUST what you mean, and lovely experiences, all 🙂 i was asked in a german classroom if people mrry photos in india..and more recently again in turkey the bindi reeally seems to be a fascinating thing!! tho i didn’t get into yoga chakras 🙂 and honestly, bollywood is incredible..ever since i got a free amulet in cairo in exchange for a shahrukh khan poster i ll believe anything!! 🙂

  8. nitesh said,

    July 3, 2009 at 9:29 am

    you’ll find the same look of amazement even in india!!! the cultures are more diverse than you can ever imagine!!

  9. karthik said,

    July 5, 2009 at 10:55 am

    very nice !! 🙂 You should become the Indian ambassador to Belgium ! :-))

  10. Markiv said,

    July 13, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Lol…… i know some of them really curious to know about…… “Hindustan” in Istanbul to “La vie en Inde” in Paris…… its such a great feeling to tell the people that “I’m from India”………but on the other side….most of the time they just don’t care….because there are lots of Indians in Europe.

  11. Pritesh said,

    September 4, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Yes Markiv, I’ve always positively beamed while saying I’m from India. I guess there are a lot of Indians everywhere but then, if we’re open enough about learning about other cultures, other people also make an effort to understand ours! This is a beautiful world where people like to know each other 🙂

  12. vinod said,

    September 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I never knew the Bindi concept…. But I don’t believe in the answers given by you (about chakra, yoga….and even the symmetric concept)…
    What I believe is traditional Indian men love to see Bindi on forehead of women. Its just a fashion statement.

    Well presented Pritz….

    @ Madhurima……
    Nice lines…


  13. Rahul said,

    January 29, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Lovely post and echoes many experiences of mine as well…..funny the kind of conceptions people have about our country. But there is no doubt that in global perceptions of India, Bollywood realy leads the way…….

    But boy are we lucky to be in this country which is more a noble idea that we should fight to keep rather than a logical outcome. I recently ate some Mangalorean food which ought to be pretty similar to Bengali Food (Fish and rice- how different can it be?) but boy, I was struck by the difference…. We really are lucky to be living in a country where we can eat so many different types of cuisines- all of them INDIAN and yes, I do live to eat as u can probably guess :-). Nice post.

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