Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology of the RWTH Aachen University

All the little things: Thoughts of someone who came back

Spiritual journey

Since I was a child, I was raised in a rational, non-religious way. Nevertheless, I attended lessons in religion, not only Christianity, and always have been interested in other religions, as they show a part of the culture and history of other people, and gave a lot of thoughts on spirituality. Still, during the last past years, I somehow haven’t given much thoughts to that topic.

Maybe because it is not really part of the everyday life in Germany. In Raipur, or inIndia in general, religion and spirituality was everywhere I looked. It seemed to be part of almost every part of the everyday life. Everywhere you walk you can find big and small temples, sometimes a bit hidden, between the houses and almost near every lake and under a lot of certain trees in the streets you can find small places for worshipping and sacrificing. Of course, there were a lot of young people which haven’t been that spiritual, but still even them believed in goods and in certain tradition. They always wondered how I cannot believe in goods when I told them that I am an atheist.


Being surrounded by all this spirituality, there was no other choice but to get curious about it and to engage with it. In that way we had a lot of talks about it and learned a lot about the history, their tales and how they still affect the modern life. But talks only get you an idea of what it really about, so we visited many temples and joined some ceremonies to experience this spirituality on our own. It was quite different to the kind of heavy, sad and obedient way of the typical European ceremonies. The music and the songs seem to be happier (as I don’t understand Hindi I can’t really tell but it felt like it) and more natural/elemental. During the ceremonies they use a lot of flowers, water, fire and food, so it felt more like worshipping the elements than directly the goods. This impression is, in my opinion, also reflected in the fact that a lot of rivers, trees and other plants are worshiped as holy things, as parts of the gods.


But, contradictive as every religions seems to be for me, even they worship it, the Indian people very often don’t treat the nature around them well, filling it with a lot of waste or destroying it with building factories or expanding their cities unplanned and unorganized. So all of these experiences made me think about what I know and about the way I was raised. But like a lot of questions I brought back from the stay in India, this one is also still not answered.

Pani Problem

For people living in Germany, it is quite normal to go to the tab, turn it on, pour a glass of water from it, fill a bottle or simply drink it. If you buy fruits at the market, for example grapes or apples, you should wash them at home, but you also can eat them directly without fearing instant aftermaths. You can order drinks with crushed ice without thinking about it. As common as all of these things sound to people like me, it is not something to take granted in India.


If you would turn on the tab for example in Raipur and directly drink the water from there, you would most likely end up with health problems. And as the fruits at the market are mostly cleaned with the same water and the crushed ice is made of it as well, you would most likely deal with the same outcome after consuming them. In some parts, like in the poorer areas and slums, you couldn’t even turn on the tab, because there is none, as well as there is no toilette, as the city don’t have any sanitation and waste-water system in these parts, while being not very proper in the rest of the city. Most of the waste water is channeled into an open sewer system along the streets, so called nallahs. But as they are mostly also used to get rid of any waste, polluting the waste water even more, they are quite often filled and clogged, resulting in a really bad smell all over the city and, during strong rainfalls, in floods, spreading the pollutants in the area and let it infiltrate the ground and polluting the water resources. Because of this reasons, especially foreigners like me have to be very patient about what they eat and drink, have to by bottled water for drinking and sometimes even for brushing your teeth. At the first weeks, it was kind of hard to remember that all the time and you really learned to be thankful to have a proper system here in Germany. You really learn to appreciate all those things, especially when seeing people washing their dishes and clothes, themselves and their teeth all at once in a lake behind their houses, as they have no other choice.


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

One thing I really miss back here in Germany is going by the rickshaw. Whether for going to the university in the morning, the way back from there or in the evening driving back to the hotel through the night after having a walk around the Telibandha Lake. Whether public and cram-full to the last corner or all by my one in a private one, every time it has been a really immediate and really direct way to get to know the city and the people. Because of its open cut, all the noise, the dirt but also the life hits you directly without the protection of wall, e.g. a window glass in a car, and you fully emerge in the city living around you. The sound of the engine was like a drum machine, producing a beat which seemed to be like a heartbeat of the everyday life around you, mixing up with all the honking and shouting that one felt like in an urban jungle. With the heat, nearly no wind or fresh air and all the vehicles and people around it felt like being a part of a big body, moving here and there.


During the evening, the city got more quiet and only the sound of the engine was left like a heartbeat in a body that goes to sleep, with the fresh wind being like a calm breath and the city lights like the pictures of the day that come to you mind before falling asleep.

During those rickshaw rides, as well as during a lot more occasions, a lot of people approached us and we started stalking to them. Those talks where often a mixture of a little Hindi here on our side, a little English there on the other side and a lot of smiling and laughing in between, because we did not really understood each other. This is another example where we experienced the kindness all the people commonly showed to us, which made you feel welcome amongst them, being part of this body named Raipur.

Enjoy the silence

The first thing I recognized after coming back to Germany was this big silence around me. It hit me in the same way as the noise and the life hit me when I arrived in Raipur. I was so used to the cacophony from honking, shouting, rattling engines and every other possible sounds, that even a city like Frankfurt on the Main, in which I landed on our journey back to Germany, seems to be a little and quite village.

But what I felt was not only the silence in the surroundings outside, but also in my everyday life. After living together with two other persons in a for me rather small hotel room for two months and spending almost the whole day together, at the first moment it is kind of weird to have again  a room and time for your own and be on your own. Nevertheless, even being three in one room, there were moments when nobody spoke, everybody was absorbed in thoughts or concentrated on their work. But this silence was quite different, not as complete as being entirely on your own.

Also it feels like the streets are more empty and less lively, that less of the life of the city happens in the public space but rather in the buildings. All the small shops selling fruits, street food, clothes and a lot of other stuff which can be found in Raipur and where people gather around, all the small temples and small restaurants, in Germany they are most likely in buildings or fewer but more empty. Of course in the evening a lot of bars and restaurants open too in Germany, but during the day the streets are rather empty and business is done behind walls and windows.

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