Column: The Finer Things
Home Safe And Sound
Published: Sunday, September 8, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 8, 2013 22:09
Loud, constant horns, sounding in staccato, suffused the crowded streets of New Delhi—the incessant beeping becoming, to me, quickly characteristic of the bustling Indian city.
Casual cows lowed loudly on the side of the road, as they thoughtlessly roamed the same lanes as the mopeds and compact cars whirring past me.
Vendors screamed out, bargaining in Hindi and mouthing “namaste” each time I passed in and out of one of their small shops.
My ears had never heard anything like it—cars, animals, and people all at once seemed so foreign to me. So foreign, in fact, that after this overwhelming audial introduction to a new culture, I soon abandoned the hopes I had had of finding any sort of similarities between Eastern and Western countries.
But during my three weeks studying in India this summer, I found that the two places were actually a lot closer in comparison than I ever could have conceived.
This slow discovery began in a modest, little village tucked away in the Himalayan Mountains. It was called Sanji. The young children who lived there held our hands, and eagerly took me, and my eight other peers, around their fields and even into their own homes. They asked us questions about where we came from—about our customs and traditions—while we walked. Eventually, a few of us found ourselves in a tiny straw and clay hut with three of the village girls.
It was quiet and awkward for a moment, until, suddenly, a petite girl with two long, dark braids, asked if we would teach her and her friends how to do “American dancing.” We were taken aback at first by her odd request and said that we couldn’t because there was no music playing. Admittedly, it was a poor excuse.
These children, though, were innovative and adorably persistent—they actually offered, if we promised to dance, to sing the only American song that they knew: Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”
So, gathered closely together in this single room, we all began to dance as the smiling children confidently sang, in their high, accented voices, the chorus to Bieber’s song—“Baby, baby, baby, oooh,” resounding off the four thin walls.
Even three months after my trip, I still don’t know what would be classified as “American dancing,” and I still don’t quite know what to make of the fact that the only Western song that children half way around the world knew was by a Canadian pop-star with a funny last name. Nevertheless, the incident did afford my new Indian friends and me some common ground—music.
I think my revelation reached its fruition a few days later, though, when my classmate Sean and I were walking through a lively marketplace in Mussoorie. We peaked in at the wooden carved elephant trinkets and the brightly embroidered tunics sold along the way, but it wasn’t until we came across a stand selling tourist trap, personalized key-chains that we really stopped. The vendor was a tan and lean man in his late 20s. He was playing the guitar—the sound of its warm strings reverberated with a comforting sense of recognition.
Interestedly, Sean asked him what he was playing, and he replied that he was practicing English gospel songs for his church. He offered Sean the guitar, and the two bonded over the instrument’s sound, exchanging musical techniques and ideas with natural ease.
On the plane ride home, it was, for the first time in a long time, absolutely quiet—no honking, no mooing, no singing, no strumming. In the silence, I remembered a poem I had read while abroad by Kabir. He said, “The source of all is sound.” I’d heard so many different sounds while I was in India, and from those sounds, I had experienced a range of things—from displacement to belonging. But I think the most important thing that I learned there is that if you open your ears and listen—really listen—you’ll find something universal. You’ll find something you understand. You may even find harmony.