In India, there are so many new vibrant sounds, sights, and smells. It is a sensory overload to walk down the street here because so many of these stimuli are new, coming at you from all directions. I often find myself processing the new colors and shapes I’ve seen hours after the fact. The images of temples and women dressed in the most beautiful sarees stay emblazoned on my mind, only fading after newer sights push them out.
I’ll be honest, I don’t always know what is going on or what I am seeing on the bustling streets of these cities, but I tend to revert back to the notion that everything I don’t understand is part of the spiritual celebration of life that I have only found in India.
This past weekend I had an experience that was a great example of how much I have left to learn. My boyfriend and I were out and about exploring on our scooter while visiting Pondicherry, India. It was a French colonial settlement in India until 1954, and is now a Union Territory town bounded by the southeastern Tamil Nadu state.
On that particular afternoon we were sightseeing and I was snapping photos on my iphone while cruising along the backseat of our rented scooter. We passed by his old school, his mom’s favorite church, and other notable parts of this former French colony.
While driving along a main highway, we were slowed by a procession of people. There was what appeared to be a marching band. There were about a dozen or so men carrying a big flower float. It’s been common for me to see floats and processions of people celebrating different deities across all of my travels in India, but I hadn’t seen one quite like this. Normally people will have processions while going to temple. They will play load drums or have loud music blaring from speakers that follow the procession with a pickup truck.
While we were slowed down to a crawl behind this procession he said, “Why don’t you take a photo?”
I pulled out my camera and snapped away. We started to pass this procession and I was able to get a better view of the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of flowers that covered this larger float being carried by these men. Once we passed the procession I decided to take a selfie with the colorful flowers in the background. There were orange, pink, and white flowers arranged in ornate patterns on this float. It was beautiful and complimented by the marching bands music.
To our right, there was a scooter with a father and two young school girls. They were staring and snickering at me while their father sped past us. Sometimes young kids stare at the sight of a foreigner and laugh; out of embarrassment for being caught staring, or because they really think we look that funny.
After I tucked away my phone ,I leaned forward and proudly told my boyfriend, not only did I snap some photos, but I also snapped a selfie (Indians love selfies and take them unabashedly. My comfort level for taking selfies has grown 10x since being here but the bar was pretty low before). His response was not what I was expecting.
“That was a funeral! Those men were carrying the dead body. Didn’t you see it?”
I was so captivated by the beautiful flowers adorned all over this float-like structure that I failed to see it’s rectangular shape and peer past the flowers to notice a covered body.
I was mortified. He noted the little girls snickering past us earlier and said he thought something was odd. Now he understood why they had their reaction.
I asked him why he told me to take a photo and he said, “I thought you knew what is! I didn’t expect you to take a selfie!”
Here I was, cruising down the highway on the back of a scooter with my arm extended out in front of me while I leaned into the frame of my iPhone camera, capturing a funeral procession.
- I will have better selfie control and be informed before I use the front facing camera.
- Black is not the color of funerals here.