Religion Magazine

A Letter to Marilyn as She Travels to India

By Marilyngardner5 @marilyngard

For over 21 years I lived in Pakistan and never made it to India, despite her being right next door.

For those from the region, this will not surprise you. At any given time India and Pakistan struggle with a tenuous relationship, and growing up there were wars and rumors of wars that kept us from heading across the border. So as I’ve prepared to go to India, Robynn has been a wonderful friend and resource. Having lived for long periods of time in both countries, her heart has a divided loyalty – but she wears and articulates this division well. So here are her words to me this day.


Dear Marilyn,

Today you are traveling to India. There’s a few things I want to tell you, a few things I want to share.

  1. First off, you need to know that the idea of you traveling to India is killing me. I have a terrible case of travel-envy. I want to be you just now. I want to pull out my passport, push you out of the queue and travel in your place. Please enjoy every minute of it…because I’m traveling there vicariously through you and if I were there, I surely would!
  2. India is NOT Pakistan. I know you have a deep love and loyalty to Pakistan. I do too. We were both raised there. Our hearts have “lugged” there. We are attached to that place. But India is not Pakistan. Don’t assume they are the same country. Although they may be twins that were cruelly separated at birth, they are paternal twins, not identical ones. On the surface they share similarities but at the heart they are vastly different. Indians are more reserved, more contained. It’s a shyer country, if that’s possible. People from Pakistan tend to be more gregarious, friendlier, louder. They dress in different clothes. They prefer different foods. Indians eat more rice. Pakistan loves it’s chapatti.
  3. India gets in your blood. She has a way of moving in and forever ruining you. There is no ambivalence permitted: You will always feel a pull toward India or a push away from India. India calls for an emotive response and she always gets one!
  4. There is an intensity to Indian culture that will immediately strike you. The extremes, the contradictions, the climate, the population –all of it arduously affects the soul.
  5. Did I mention that India is not Pakistan?
  6. There are a few street foods that are worth getting sick for! You’ll never see this in a guide-book or a travel blog, but let’s face it, Gol Guppa (or Pani Puri as it’s sometimes called) is just about to die for…and you might nearly die for it if you try it from a street vendor…but it’s really almost worth it!
  7. Don’t expect India to meet your expectations! She will surprise you time and time again. Don’t try to make sense of her. Resist the effort to understand all that you see. Just experience it. Enjoy it. Engage. Your world will be changed, but you can sort that out later.
  8. Indians aren’t the same as Pakistanis but they do share certain values. You’ll enjoy expansive hospitality in India, akin to what you’ve known in Pakistan. Pakistanis and Indians love families and are quick to include you as one of theirs. Both countries love colour and conformity. Both countries understand chaos and a little confusion.

I guess that’s it for now. Really I’m so very pleased you get to go. India has a big space in my heart. Right next to the Pakistan space.

Travelling mercies.

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