I recently watched the Coldplay video “Hymn for the Weekend.” In case you missed it, it’s the one they shot in India. Chris Martin and the band threw colors at each other as if it was Holi, and Beyoncé donned mehendi (henna) and played a Bollywood heroine. When the video was first released, I didn’t care to see it, as it was drawing major criticism for its cultural appropriation and orientalism. My good friend Jordon, a Pop and R&B artist, is currently with me in Delhi—he’s collaborating with a musician here named Ramya, and we’re filming a music video this week. Our project aims to highlight the parallels between the socio-political situations of the United States and India, and offer an attitude of global solidarity rather than isolated nationalism. So, I thought I would check out Coldplay’s adventure in India, perhaps as a “what not to do.”

What rings most false to me about Coldplay’s video is that it places India firmly within an uncomplicated past, while the members of the band are clearly arriving from the present. For example, they somehow find themselves in a Bombay movie theater that still uses analog film projection—there might be some hipster cinema house in Bandra that still does this for its vintage novelty, but I’ve never heard of one. Even in the most remote, rural communities, modernity entangles with old traditions. I interviewed a few cotton farmers in Tamil Nadu who had built their house with mud walls and a thatch roof—but of course, they still had a satellite dish attached to the top.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about this extremely complicated country in my six months here, it’s this: India is a place where anything is possible, and everything is happening all at once, no matter how contradictory things may seem. Everyday I learn more, and everyday, I feel like I know less.

Here in New Delhi, I ground myself with the incredible individuals I have met. I work at a small film company called Jamun (named after a fruit native to the region that turns your tongue purple). Everyday in the office, I look forward to our conversations and our heated debates. My mentors, Ayesha and Udayan, encourage rigorous political discussion, while Anukriti, my coworker who’s fascinated with American pop culture, keeps me up to date on the latest Kim and Kanye news. At home, I live with my two roommates, Koval and Namratha, who have become my sisters this year. Koval is the head of her own film company called A Little Anarky and is a self-described militant feminist. Namratha works in public health and runs a dog training business on the side, Pawsitive Tales. There’s also Ginger, Namratha’s golden retriever—she’s a pampered princess, but in recent months, she’s been branching out and gaining more street cred with the stray dogs who live on our block.

When I think about what I’ll take from this year, I imagine it will be like a collection of charms, rather than one cohesive chain. India is too massive a place, too diverse, and too dynamic to draw any comprehensive conclusions about the country as a whole. But I’ll hold on to some things safe in my memory, like those late nights with my roommates spent on Namratha’s Tinder profile, Koval and I swiping left through all the options Delhi has to offer her, our stomachs hurting from too much laughter. I’ll hold on to the warm chai and spicy maggi from the mountain dhabas after long bus rides and too little sleep. And I’ll hold on to those moments when I thought I had something about this city completely figured out, but then my assumptions turned out to be wildly wrong. I’ll wear these charms proudly, and I’ll know that in the future, they’ll remind me that I can always return and collect more.

by Kaytie Nielsen on February 11, 2019