The eight days spent in a tiny third floor apartment were an accident. Or fate, if you believe in that. I had booked an Airbnb for $11 a night in a residential neighborhood in Mysore, but the day before I was due to arrive, I got a message from our host saying that the room was unavailable due to some electrical issues caused by a storm. He had another room for us, though, in a different neighborhood, if I wanted to see that one? I said sure.
Our host picked us up at the bus station and took us to our neighborhood, driving past his house where we were supposed to be staying. He parked a few streets away, because “it was congested” where our place was, and when we walked through the tiny alleys to get to the apartment, I knew this was the place for us.
Taking a left at the colorful Shiva temple, we walked down an alley filled with cows eating grass and children playing. Ladies were in their stoops and in their doorways chatting with each other. The kids yelled HI! to us as we walked to them, and when we walked away they yelled BYE! The ladies, children, cows, sheep, and goats greeted us every day, always bringing a smile to our faces.
When people in India smile, their entire face lights up. A smile here, to me, is a gift.
Though our little third floor apartment had nothing but a bed, a squat toilet, and a bucket shower, I loved living simply. I loved looking out from the rooftop and watching people ride by on their bicycles. Every morning I was awoken by vendors carrying big baskets and bags, selling onions, flowers, and herbs to make their meals for the day. Their voices carried through the streets, creating an early-morning song to wake up to. They projected the name of their wares in a musical way, with strong voices. I watched several storms roll in from afar, and stood on the roof as the rain came down in buckets. I saw a funeral procession, with the deceased sitting upright in the back of the truck, covered in flowers, and surrounded by mourners. I got to see real life in an Indian neighborhood.
Mostly I loved the actual neighborhood feeling I got. Greeting my neighbors, smelling their dinners, hearing them wash dishes…some might say there was a lack of privacy, but I felt like I was a part of something. In America, even neighbors are separated by fences and yards. No one stops by unannounced anymore like they do here. Having a guest over your house in America involves at least a phone call, or a planned dinner party. In India, people just show up to your house with their whole family. You welcome them, as quests are to be treated with the utmost respect, and you immediately get them water, juice, a snack, or all three. Then everyone sits around and talks, and the kids play together.
I’ve been thinking about how I miss the days of uninvited guests, where a doorbell didn’t make me run and hide, afraid of who the heck is coming over because I didn’t invite anyone! India is a country where family is a cornerstone of everything, and togetherness is a huge part of the culture. It’s one of my favorite things about this country.