Translating Cultures: I Felt Comfortable

A researcher’s journal serves to maintain awareness of any potential biases. Rather than claim objectivity, the researcher acknowledges subjective influences to address assumptions and influences during data collection and analysis. Part of this reflection is to situate oneself in the subject and within the culture being studied.

Many people have asked about my thoughts and impressions of India. I have many thoughts about the country, the history, the future, the people, and the diversity of language, religion, landscape, and biology. Writing all these thoughts down would make for a very long and probably somewhat scattered journal entry. The most succinct way to explain my experience of India is to say I felt comfortable.

In my first journal entry, I reflected about how Indian culture has influenced my life. I read a lot about vegetarianism to demonstrate to adults that even though I was a child I had made an informed decision about becoming vegetarian. I think it was this decision that first drew my attention to India. Gandhi became one of my childhood heroes and of course made the list of famous ‘healthy’ vegetarians mentioned in discussions. Increasingly the rest of the world sees the benefits of a vegetarian or partly vegetarian diet, nonetheless for the last 30 years I have become accustomed to seeing from one to three vegetarian choices in many restaurants. A vegetarian diet is now more accepted, but it is still not esteemed as it is in India. The happy surprise I received when I said I was vegetarian was a new and extremely comforting experience.

As they say, it is often the little things that make the largest impression. I was impelled to finally write about my impressions of India by how I am now sitting at my desk. Currently it would be best described as Fire log pose or Agnistambhasana, it is one of the seated positions in yoga that I have always found to be comfortable. Upon my arrival to India, I was greeted at the airport by people from the Art of Living Foundation. On our drive to the Ashram, I looked over at my companion and saw her sitting cross-legged in the back of the car. At that moment, I thought to myself, wow, I can sit how I want and it is perfectly acceptable. Immediately, I kicked off my shoes and brought myself to sit in a cross-legged position. Interestingly near the end of my time in India, I was in another long car journey sitting in the backseat with a different companion. She looked over at me and said, “Few westerners can sit like that, that is good”.  Similarly, one day I was at farmer’s house waiting for lunch. My companions could tell I was tired and asked if I wanted to rest. I finally turned to my translator to ask him how strange it would be if I just laid down on the floor (a hard stone). He said it wouldn’t be strange at all. I could not help but exclaim how much I loved it in India. My back felt so comfortable on the hard and cool floor, but I certainly would not do that in the home of a new acquaintance in the west. I have also given serious consideration to eating on the floor back at home after doing so in India. I have never felt particularly comfortable at dining-room tables.

Reflecting on time spent in India.

Upon reflection, it is an interesting experience to find oneself so at home with a culture that is supposed to be so different than one’s own. At the time, I was just in the moment and enjoying the similarities I shared with the culture. I was told more than a few times that I must have some past lives in India presumably from my ease within the culture.

Of course, the unexpected did happen on my journey, but I was always at ease with the surprises. For instance, I was concerned that I would be too busy with work scheduling to do yoga on World Yoga Day. Instead, I ended up leading my first yoga class with less than 24 hours’ notice. It just happened and I just went with the flow of events.  I was thrilled to receive positive feedback from participants after the session.

It needs to be said that the people of India deserve credit for making my time there so comfortable.  The warmth of people from smaller communities is one of the blessings that comes from working in rural areas.  Regardless of the large population of India, I still felt the village heart throughout my journeys in India.