by Mia Windisch-Graetz
But what does that mean anyway? It is the otherness, things we have never seen before or things we cannot relate to ourselves. Things like an entire family (including parents, their three kids and a dog) riding on one motorcycle. Things like colour-faded billboards that look like they have been out for the past five years. Things like people eating from the garbage. Things like people working under bad conditions in the dump but still find a reason to smile. Things like orphanages enjoying nothing more than to play with you. You, the girl or the boy who came all the way from Paris. You, the person that is not used to all of this.
You may be surprised. You may be disillusioned. You may be happy or sad. However, one thing is for sure: one can tell that you are not from Tamil Nadu. Not only because you look different. But also because you behave differently. You are dressed differently. You eat differently. You have different gestures. Why do you shake your head? What does that mean? And why do you always take tissues or a toilet paper roll with you when going to the bathroom?
While being in India, the intention of most of us was capturing every single moment that proved the unfamiliar, the otherness. However, as all of us realized, most people we encountered in India just felt the same way about us. One of the students even said “I feel like in a zoo” because guess what: it was not only us, the let’s say strangers, the tourists, the volunteers or whatever we call ourselves taking pictures of them, but also them taking pictures of us. Sometimes if felt like they were even more fascinated by us than we were by them. As if we were some sort of celebrities. Their fascination, however, was almost contagious! At the Chidambaram temple it eventually reached a point that we took pictures of them taking pictures of us. Without having made these interesting encounters outside of Auroville, we would have experienced India in a different way. Thank you.
Fascination at the Chidambaram temple. Image Credit: Mia Windisch-Graetz