by Alexa Borgert
India – colorful saris, fragrant spices, cows on the road, traffic chaos, culture shock, Namaste… Almost everyone has probably seen these in documentaries or heard about them from friends or acquaintances. I think we tend to have a very preconceived and exoticized* image of India in Germany. That’s why it took me an incredibly long time to make the decision to write this article. Then, in the middle of my description of intense sensory impressions and chaotic street crossings, I decided to do the opposite – namely, not to write this report.
Why? I tried to write about my experiences in a reflective and self-critical manner, and in the middle of it, I suddenly thought to myself: No! I can try as well as I like: it is and will always remain my individual, and above all, eurocentric*, point of view.
I would like to return once again as an ethnologist and researcher to interview people and let them have their say. Then, I could critically question my perspective and take a closer look from my own cultural point of view. But I am deeply reluctant to write one more of the thousands of travel reports about my personal ‘borderline experience,’ ‘culture shock,’ or ‘personal development.’ There’s already enough of that. Writing a report for myself in my diary or sharing my experiences with friends and relatives is a different matter. That’s about an exchange of experiences. However, in this case, I don’t have the opportunity to exchange experiences. Instead, I get the feeling that with every sentence, I impose my eurocentric view of India on the reader. Therefore, I’d rather not do it.
This is precisely the problem with Western-style historiography: people are always writing about others without letting them have their say.
Our blog is intended to focus on personal experiences and individual lifestyles. While my experiences in India are a part of it, in this particular case, it’s not about the culture that has shaped me and that I know so well. Therefore, I find it difficult to cover the subject when I’ve only taken a short trip to India and haven’t lived there for an extended period.
I must say that after wrestling with an inner conflict for weeks, I feel much better with this decision.
Congratulations on making it to the end of this perhaps somewhat unusual article. It may seem a little strange. Why am I sharing my inner conflict with you? Because that’s precisely the point. I can write about my feelings and thoughts, but I can’t accurately depict the lifestyles of others without giving them a voice. I simply lack the background knowledge to help me explain – both to myself and to you, the reader – the observations I’ve made on this journey. All my interpretations are rooted in my own life experiences, most of which I gained in a completely different context. During my trip, unfortunately, I had limited opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations with people who are intimately familiar with this foreign environment, which would have allowed me to validate my own assessments.
Well, I am open to discuss the topic with you once more at ClubIn and learn about your way of thinking. I’m looking forward to it!
*Exoticization is a term used in cultural studies to describe the attitude of positively evaluating foreign cultures and attributing a special fascination to them. The culture is perceived through an ‘exotic’ lens, while this biased perspective is often questioned little or not at all.
*Eurocentrism is a term that criticizes the description and judgment of non-European cultures based on European values and norms. This viewpoint, rooted in colonialism, regards European values as a standard easily applicable to all cultures.
Translated by Joeline O‘Reilly