Lucy Kurup: Incredible, exhausting: Trip to India opens a view to a wider world

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I am one-quarter Indian, although I have never felt especially connected to my Indian heritage. Just last month that changed when my family and I took a two-week trip to India with my grandfather. This trip was the farthest I had ever been from home, and it offered me an opportunity to broaden my understanding of both the world and myself.

I was more than a little nervous. A 14-hour flight to a foreign country where any unbottled water or street food was likely to get me sick? I was in over my head.

On top of that, my grandpa was going to take us to his childhood home, where I would meet many distant relatives for the first time. I knew next to nothing about my Indian family, so my parents had to coach me through an extensive family tree, including my grandpa’s seven siblings and all of their families.


We started our trip in Delhi, the capital city. One of the most immediate differences I noticed between America and India is the driving. In a country with over a billion people, it isn’t surprising that the roads are crowded, but it still felt strange and scary to be on them. Cars constantly honk and zip between one another as if the lane lines don’t exist. Pedestrians walk inches from speeding traffic and then just hold up their hand to stop cars when they decide to cross the street. As far as I can tell, the only rule of India’s roads is “don’t hit anyone” and everyone manages to follow it.

Everywhere I looked, Delhi was a city of contrasts. The streets and buildings were chaotic and dirty, yet there were bright colors everywhere. Ancient monuments, religious sites, and pieces of exotic art stood grandly next to piles of trash with cows lying in them. We frequently heard the soft chanting of Hindu prayers rising above the sounds of honking horns and shouting voices. The city was full of life and bustling with activity, but very few women were out working or even walking around. It was fascinating to see so many people going about their daily lives in a way that is so different to me.

After Delhi, we flew to Kerala, the southern coastal state of India where my distant family lives. It was much more tropical and full of nature compared to Delhi. Daily temperatures reached 90 degrees, despite the fact that it was winter. My grandfather took us to our ancestral family home, a beautiful antique house named Kollelil. Inside there were many uniquely Indian features like ornate gold door handles and a large rectangular hole in the ceiling of the main room for rain to provide natural air-conditioning. The house was surrounded by four ponds and the grounds were filled with coconut trees.

There I was introduced to my dad’s cousin and her kids, who are close in age to me. We talked a lot about their colleges and friends. After experiencing so many differences between India and America, I was surprised how similar their lives were to mine. They speak English with their friends, watch American movies and TV, use the same social media platforms (except TikTok, which is banned in India), and even wear American clothing. I hadn’t quite realized how much of a cultural influence America has on young people halfway around the world.

My great aunt made us a traditional Kerala meal served on a banana leaf. Many spicy sauces and vegetables for dipping were placed along the top of the leaf, with rice in the center. In Kerala, it is customary to eat with your hand, which felt odd since the meal was so messy. It was fun to try and very delicious. The rest of the family came to the house to meet us. I counted at least 25 people, many of whom did not speak English, but they were all happy to see us. In India, even distant relatives consider you family.

The best part of my trip was spending a day on a rented houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala. The boat consisted of three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a main room with couches where we relaxed and looked out the windows. I was able to watch the people who live there commute on small boats, fish, and wash clothes in the river. I learned from my grandpa that when he first became a doctor, he worked on a “floating dispensary,” which was a boat that provided medical care to patients in the rural backwaters in the 1960s. He lived on the second floor of a house on the water’s edge that we were able to catch a glimpse of. I had never heard about that part of his life before, and it was even more meaningful to learn about it while on a houseboat.

Overall, visiting India was an incredible and exhausting experience. I felt so much more immersed in the country and its culture than I thought I would. I now feel much more connected to my grandpa and my family’s history. I’m not sure if or when I will go back, but now that I am home, I enjoy knowing that my view of the world has become a little bit wider.

Lucy Kurup is a senior at Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, .

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