Weekend Report: That Time I Spent The 4th Of July In India

The only thing that rivals that fireworks display in my memory is the Pink Floyd concert I got to go to back in high school.
Publish date:
July 5, 2014

I mostly spent this 4th of July recovering from dental surgery -- a freak accident of a broken tooth means I'm in for the long, slow, expensive process of getting an implant. Definitely not the high point of my 4th of July memories.

But, honestly, I'm a little ambivalent about the 4th of July anyway. While I love almost any excuse to celebrate, I have such mixed feelings about patriotism and this country I call home. Living abroad as a kid gave me a chance to realize some really powerful and amazing things about the United States of America -- but also gave me the perspective to see how we just keep crapping things up.

And, I mean, that's still only one perspective -- I'm sure there are plenty of other ways we're crapping things up, too.

I kid, I kid. (Kind of.)

In any event, celebrating such a specific holiday in anything other than the country where its significant can be an isolating reminder of just how far from home you are -- but it can also be an opportunity to think about culture and difference and to really appreciate the distance between you and where you started.

Or, and this is what the US embassy in New Delhi did the year I was there (and probably all the other years, too), you can take the moment and remind yourself in a blaze of celebration why where you started from rocks out.

I was in India to visit my father, who was there to build a golf course. We did some significant touristy things -- we took a train to Agra in Uttar Pradesh to visit the Agra Fort. We went to the Taj Mahal.

And we did some less touristy things -- dinners with various golf course people, church one Sunday because it seemed like the thing to do at the time, shopping at the local market.

We also went to the US embassy in New Delhi for what turned out to be kind of a huge party. There was a little bit of a tour around the grounds and there were a lot of introductions. I wish I remembered everyone now, but at the time it was mostly just overwhelming.

There was a (man-powered) Ferris wheel. And there were phones for people to make (free but brief) international calls back home. There was so much food. There was a band.

And, of course, there were fireworks.

The only thing that rivals that fireworks display in my memory is the Pink Floyd concert I got to go to back in high school. It was a lot of pyrotechnics, especially when we were occupying such a small area. I feel like it went on for hours, though that's definitely not the case -- it can't have lasted more than twenty minutes.

And, under those fireworks, running around with so many people I had nothing in common with other than country of origin, I really did feel a swell of something -- of some kind of pride.

No, not really pride -- more likely it was hope. Because we've messed so much up but we still manage to make really beautiful things sometimes.

Even I can't be cynical all the time, y'all. And they were very impressive fireworks.

I feel like people (mostly white people) go to India and come back talking all "Eat, Pray, Love" about the place. I think that's pretty gross, so I don't often talk about my trip. Being taken thoroughly out of your context is always an eye-opener, yeah, but that's no excuse to exoticize other cultures -- which are far too complex to be summed up as "all dust and poverty" anyway.

That's what I think about every 4th of July. Those fireworks, in that particular time and place, compared to where I am now. That distance and that hope that we, as a country, can do better. Let's keep trying to do better.

Welcome to your 4th of July weekend. What are you up to?