Author: Emma Chelsvig

Location: Chennai, India

In order to complete field research for my internship here in Chennai, I took to the pavement of a bustling commercial neighborhood to map and record 6 different attributes for the area’s street vendors. Witnessing the vibrancy of Chennai’s streets is one thing…being engulfed in it is an entirely different experience.

With the clipboard cradled in my arm, I walked down one of the neighborhood’s streets to map its 270 street vendors. However, every few steps that I took I had several sets of eyes peering over my shoulder. The people were not shy about their curiosity—they literally placed their heads upon my shoulder and would even tilt my clipboard so they could see what I was writing. I would walk further on, trying to break my way through the pounding stares, inquisitive minds, and prying questions. Street vendors would then congregate around me, only to throw words around in their native Tamil language and provide me with more looks of concern. I tried settling their unease. I repeated to them, “school project, school project.” I received head bobbles of content, after which I then continued on my way for the next set of curious eyes.

I do realize that I gave the people plenty to stare at. I was, after all, a solo white female holding a clipboard and pen. But despite this, I have found the people to be quite curious and inquisitive of their surroundings. It is common for people to take account of their peer’s purchases at the store or to analyze the latest math test score of their child’s top classmate. And I see this same curious attitude in the nation as a whole. As India looks to traverse their pathway towards progression and development, they look outwards to developed nations. However, in doing so, their eyes can become focused and latched on the Western way of life…seeing the world as it has been crafted—a Eurocentric world.

But be mindful, beautiful India. You are dazzling as you are, with your never-ending surprises of activity. Your infrastructure does not mirror that of Europe’s finest crafted plazas. Your stores and shops are not clean cut. But there is value in that…your differences are to relish. Be mindful, beautiful India. Incorporate modes of development where it can benefit your people, but remember to hold fast to the charm that sets you apart.