Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Return to Mother India

"There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won't go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds... I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor."      
- Keith Bellows, National Geographic Society. 

Spices in a New Delhi market, 2006 

The above quote almost perfectly sums up my attraction to India. As a child, I lived in Chennai from the ages of 8 months to 2 and a half years - far too young to really remember it. However, through the friendships my family maintained over the years with friends from Chennai as well as the presence of my wonderful Indian nanny Theresa, my curiosity and awe of India has grown by leaps and bounds. 

Me and my friend Cyril, Chennai 1988
Me and Theresa, Chennai, 2008

Upon graduating from the University of Virginia with my bachelor's in Anthropology and History, I went back to India to visit Theresa and friends. Experiencing the amazingly unique cities of Chennai and New Delhi inspired a desire to return with a greater understanding of the culture, food, and people. When trying to decide on a location for my PhD research, I felt that India's growing HIV epidemic and vibrant culture might offer the greatest opportunity to view the ways social traditions are incorporated within the local understanding of the virus. Chennai, as the capital of Tamil Nadu, one of the hardest hit Indian states, will hopefully allow me to return to Britain with a clearer picture of how individuals use their cultural schemas and traditions to understand the unknown and what this practice means for public awareness and those living with the virus. 

HIV/AIDS prevalence in India.
( http://margavp.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/india-map.jpg )    

I hope that my findings may be useful for other researchers who are looking for ways to increase awareness of the virus and lessen stigma within the Indian public. While my time in India is primarily focused on my research, I hope I'll be able to share the amusing, touching and amazing stories that I find along the way in this unique and beautiful country. With my flight date rapidly approaching (March 11th, arriving in Chennai March 12th), the next few posts will probably involve less about how incredible India is and more about my panicked attempts to not forget anything important... 

Therefore, in an attempt to end this post with a last bit of clarity and intelligence before being caught up in hysterical packing, I'm including this quote from author Will Durant, who perfectly sums up the unique appeal and historical importance of this amazing country: 

Taj Mahal, 2008

"India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages; she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all." 


  1. This blog looks great! I can't wait to read about your adventures and research in Chennai.

    1. Thanks! I'm excited to get there and get started!

  2. I'm thrilled by the opportunity to vicariously re-experience the sensory overload that is India. They say that of the five senses, smell has the longest memory. I totally subscribe to that idea and look forward to smelling my very distant past through your words--does that make sense? Probably just as well that YOU'RE the Caitie/Katie O'Grady doing the blogging; your writing is stylish, evocative and engrossing. More, please!

    1. Thank you! I'll try my best to live up to your very kind endorsement! I'm sure there will be many interesting smells to report back!