India - Ikaria

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"In India you are not allowed to smoke in front of people that are older than you", he said to me with a pretty serious look in his face.

“You must be joking”, I replied skeptically. He signaled negatively. “But why?” I asked after a while.

“Out of respect,” he replied naturally and continued talking with a smile. “For example, my uncle, my father's younger brother, smokes secretly when my father goes to the toilet. He even makes me keep watch while he smokes at the balcony. Likewise, my father does not smoke in front of his elder uncle and figures out ways to do it secretly!”.

“How old is your father?” I asked him with genuine curiosity. “Eighty” he answered me trying to hold in his laughter and I immediately caught myself imagining the form of an 80-year-old, pulling a cigarette out of his pocket and smoking it on the sly, hurriedly and nervously right beside the toilet window, hoping that the 85-year-old smoker-uncle of his wouldn’t catch him. I busted my gut laughing!

After a few minutes, a second bomb exploded: “We don’t drink alcohol in front of older people either, even though they all know, or at least imagine, that we booze”. I almost drowned, swallowing the virgin apple juice I was enjoying.

“What is he talking about, guys?”, I asked my imaginary audience, “How do they manage during family dinners???”.

But within a few seconds I came to realize that this was exactly the case in Greece, 50 years ago. Things had just changed! Like India is changing and in less than 20 years, all of this will probably belong to the past!

“Can I tell you something?” I asked him after a few moments of silence. “Do you remember when I told you that I wrote a book about a Greek island? This island is called Ikaria and it is probably the coolest island on earth. There, you can hang out with the elders, who actually try to make sure your glass of wine is always full and sometimes they’re not letting you leave the table, until you consume the quantity that they consider acceptable. At times, they might even offer you a cigarette! There are also some local festivals that take place there, which we call ‘panigiria’ and in Ikaria they are incredibly popular! At these festivals, all generations sit together, drink together, dance together - embraced - because the local Ikarian dance is only performed this way, they smoke together, get drunk together, laugh together and they talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk incessantly...!”.

We both sat in silence for a few seconds. In my mind, my Indian friend was in Lagada or Monokabi or Faros or Amalou* or anywhere on this island, standing in the middle of a wild spiral of dancers, holding a cigarette in one hand and a glass of local red wine in the other, smiling at the 80-year-old who was leading the dance.

“India, Ikaria, it’s all the same” I thought. “It’s all in our heads...”. And so, I invited him for a visit.

Alexia Palesti for

*villages of Ikaria, where the local festivals take place

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