Friday, November 25, 2011

Turkey Day Away

By: Kathleen

When it comes to holidays some travel better than others. Christmas can be spent on tropical beaches or ski slopes, New Years Eve can be spent anywhere you want, but Thanksgiving, All American Holiday that it is, can’t truly be celebrated without being in the U.S with friends or family.

You can take the tree out of Christmas, the snow and the reindeer and it is still a holiday, but take the turkey and the pie and the fire and the love ones out of thanksgiving and it becomes nothing more than another Thursday in November, no more special or interesting than any other.

So it was that this year I woke up in New Delhi and my first thought was “ It’s Thanksgiving”. As Fiz slept on beside me I played back some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories and then, in a fit of nostalgia started to try to remember as many Thanksgivings as I could, in order.
An hour later I was decidedly homesick. As it happens this was also the first time in four days that I’ve had enough energy to do anything other than lay in bed and read, so to test how human I felt and to celebrate the day we did something decidedly American, we went to the mall.

“The mall?” Everyone at home asked, yes, the mall.  New Delhi has changed quite a lot since my first visit here in 2008, a new metro is being built and new malls are springing up. The Select City Walk Mall is nicer than the mall near my home, and shiny new. Inside, purified air is pumped into a well lit space with international name brands like The Body Shop, Lush, Nike, Benetton, Adias, Marks and Spencers vie with Indian companies like Woodland. Here you can stop and get latté or a cinnamon roll (from Cinnabon) and still find stores that are selling the latest saree fashions. This year there are even lingerie shops added in, though no Victoria secret yet.

We got some pizza, which was made on a tortilla and had string cheese as mozzarella and stopped at the Crosswords for the latest George R.R. Martin book. We saw a kidi- table set up for making "Thanksgiving Gratitude pots" and wondered what the hell those were and counted the number of stores with Thanksgiving sales ( 4).It was very tiring after being so sick and we moved slowly.

The mall itself is a great place to people watch, ex-pats from all over the world gather here to shop, relax and escape the craziness of India. Well-healed locals lunch dressed in jeans and shalwar tops, all well manicured and done up. There are the occasional groups of Indians who stumble in and look about in awe, clearly new to the mall experience. It’s a happening place.

I have to wonder what India will be like in 10 years, 5 years even. The big cities are changing so fast and the country, and smaller cities are… Not. The divide between the two is getting bigger every year. The airport that I first flew into with no AC and squat toilets has been torn down and now a gleaming smoked glass and echoed steel marvel stands in its place. It’s hardly the same city I first met. It’s catching up with the future.

There is evidence of the changing India in other ways too. A new movie features a sperm donor as its main hero and my husband’s teenage cousin has a ‘spin the bottle’ ap on his iPad ( though it’s rules say things like “ kiss any girl on the check” and “ flick your friend’s forehead” which seems silly considering I was dating people at his age but these things take longer over here).

Though it’s undeniable that India is changing I wonder, as it vies for superpower status, is it changing fast enough? Compared with China India lags far behind in many areas, China is cleaner, its cities are more modern, its people are more familiar with middle class life an are less fettered by religion or custom. India has creativity though and imagination in abundance… if only it could get itself organized. But organization seems a far-fetched dream the moment you walk out of the mall. Then the traffic and the smog and the beggars hit you and its India all over again.

 But it’s Thanksgiving and I should be giving thanks, Here’s my list. This Thanksgiving, I’d like to say I’m grateful for all the things that have aligned that have made it able for me to travel, to learn about and to compare countries, to get new stamps and cross new boarders. I’m thankful for my health and the health of my husband and family. I’m thankful for the feel of wind in my hair, for the clean air, for clean water and clean food. I’m thankful for my friends and loved ones at home and for those abroad.

I’m thankful, despite all the issues it comes with, to be an American. It becomes especially clear on days like this that there is no place like home, no other place where I can get a taco and a swarma and a seaweed salad in the same town. There’s no other place where such amazing diversity of people and beliefs intermingle to create such astounding thoughts and dreams. I hope that we can find our way, that we can as a country get things straightened out because although here in Delhi I may be able to get the latest hits and the newest fashion…. I still can’t get a decent burger and certainly not a turkey.  

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