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Travel through cultures

Sometimes people ask me about how it feels to have come so far from India to live here in America. I was telling my son the other day about my first experience living in another culture, when I married my husband and moved to Agra to take up his post as a professor.

In those days in South India it was rare for people to move so far from home and I was one of the first women in my family to go up North. Unlike now, plane travel was not very common and was so expensive that only movie stars and wealthy businessmen would fly. Many cities didn’t even have aerodromes as airports were called then. Instead we took the Grand Trunk Railroad from Madras to Delhi, a journey of 2000 miles over more than two days that gave me a chance to see the amazing variety of people and cultures that make up India.

I had studied Hindi in school and later through the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, an organization that taught the language in many cities. Like other young people of that time I also watched Hindi movies and tried to decipher the meanings of the songs. This was about all I had to go on to understand my new home.

As my husband, mother-in-law and I traveled north we crossed into Andhra Pradesh and heard people speaking in Telegu, which was relatively common even in Madras. When we passed Bezwada (modern day Vijayawada) though, I noticed things were changing. We saw men wearing big colorful turbans and women covering their heads with their saris. The vendors were now speaking in Hindi and selling chai (tea) rather than the coffee we drank in Tamil Nadu. Places I had only read about like Nagpur and Jhansi, home of the famous queen Rani Lakshmibai passed by. We crossed the Vindhya Mountains which traditionally separated South India from the North and allowed unique cultures to develop behind them. In this area a well known bandit named Man Singh was active at that time, stopping trains and robbing the passengers. Fortunately he didn’t stop our train and we proceeded on to Agra.

We arrived at Raja ki Mandi or King’s Market station at about 4:00 in the morning. My husband spoke to the porters in Hindi and we got off the train in this new town with different people, a new language and far away from all that I’d known. My mother-in-law told me later that she too was very nervous but I thought at the time that I was the only one hiding my fear of this unknown life we were entering.

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