I wish I could end my India trip as succinctly as Mr.Gump did, after he ran non-stop to all 50 states,with as many followers,as they were expecting him to say something profound at the end of it.
Some of the greatest insights in life happen without symphonic background music, scripted perfect dialogues and dramatic u-turn in character’s behavior.In the real world, they occur subtly. They creep in gently into your system without you even noticing them.They form a pattern that you experience with full-on resistance for a period before you accept them for what they truly are. They give you a grip on the situation to handle something that you were afraid of before. They form a framework to understand and navigate an environment that you couldn’t before.This Indian adventure has been a proof of all these for me.
I had forgotten how India can make you scream in frustration, cry in agony over its laborious processes and test your patience to its limits. At the same time, I had also forgotten how grateful I should be for the strength in character it gave me,how selfless are the ones with nothing to gain and how to move on in life with acceptance without complaining!
It is impossible to put India under simple check-box categories because she is a bi-polar, extremely neurotic, highly sensitive, completely hardened, all-weather-proof strong, extraordinarily generous, fully supportive,enchantingly spiritual,massive blob of humanity in all it’s colors and shades,rising up and down in a constantly shifting wave. She is a paradox. She is a conundrum. She is humanity with all it’s goodness and ugliness.
To live here means to ride a never-ending roller coaster. It tires you but then it also elevates you. You don’t have personal space to endlessly discuss whether iPhone 6 is going to be better than Samsung S4. If you do, you are brought down to reality immediately by the constant power-cuts, unnecessary strikes, barrage of hyper-sensationalized news reporting and the chaotic traffic. You have no choice but to be present,be in the moment,most of the times. If you are not, then you would miss the hundred stories happening around you and your purse!
India makes you a very quick learner and having travelled 4200kms in 13 days over 8 states,staying in 13 different places and meeting countless people,you earn your true Indian Drivers permit to navigate India.
Here are my nuggets,my insights, to navigate this universe of constant cosmic changes.
1) Indian Stretchable Time: Do you need an electrician to fix your fan ? Don’t think you can look at yellow pages,call someone who will turn up on time,give you a quote and do the job,all within 24hrs. Accept the fact that it will take multiple phone calls, the quote is for labour and not the parts,and the job will take three to 5 days to get it done. You can’t waltz into Indian system with American/Western sensibilities. Relationship currency is what counts here. If your parents/grandparents haven’t built the network of plumbers, carpenters,Electricians and other household workers, you need to start building them from scratch.Connections and whom you know is more important than money Or you pay double the price to get things done sooner so he can abandon some other job for yours.Internet problem? Telephone issue ? Need a new door? Just multiply the amount of time you think it should take to fix them by factor of 3.
“That shouldn’t take more than couple of days”.2×3=Minimum of 6 days(if no Sunday falls in between).
2) Slow down: You can’t be in a rush to either get things done or reach some place or hope everything will fall in line. The variables of something going wrong is way too much. You decided half hour early should be enough but you didn’t expect a traffic jam at 3pm.You thought you could get into that shop, buy a few groceries and be back at your apartment in an hour but who knew it would take half hour in that queue to just to pay for your three items you bought ? You thought you can just call the taxi and be on your way in 45 mins but he turned up an hour and half late ?
Rule of thumb-Don’t plan too many things on a day and learn to see the stories unravelling around you.Slow down your to-do list.Accept the fact that things may not go as planned on any given day.
3) When Dejachu strikes,let it go: There are way too many dementors in India(if you are not a Harry Potter fan, google it).People with little power who are extremely insecure and want to prove how big their apparatus is. Ignore them. Don’t fight or try to argue with them.Every country has them but in India, the conditions are even more ripe for them to spread their nasty smell.Get away from them swiftly before they suck the happiness out of you.
4) Do not resist: Accept your situation whole heartedly.Did someone break an agreement ? Is someone asking for your boarding pass AFTER you have landed in your destination city even though 20 people verified you before you boarded? Do they want to get a passport size photo and get it notarized even though you are sitting in front of them with your Indian passport to prove you are who you say you are?Do not resist. Just ask them about all the stupid rules and follow them. Efficiency, common sense, purpose of process/procedure are absent in most places.
5) Few people make decisions: The system of hierarchy and control is systemic and wide-spread.Even after talking to twenty people, it will be hard to find out who makes the decision.A top-down approach will make your life easier but to get to the top, you need to know the right people. It’s a double-edged sword that one needs to know how to wield it and it all takes time to build these bridges.
All of the above has an unwritten base rule and that is Money. You better have lots of it and be willing to spend more than necessary to avoid the hassles.
When you come to terms with the above, the human spirit and stories that fill each one of your senses is a gift that no other country can give you.
Gift of orange sunsets, gossips at tea shops,Dal fry at Daabhas,smiles of people hanging out of overcrowded buses, kids playing cricket in the streets, vendors selling spices in baskets over their heads, lazy cows chewing and staring at you as you swerve your motorbike, Angry Heroes in movie posters, blaring Bollywood songs from an Autorickshaw and Teenagers texting non-stop in a mall smiling to themselves!
Accept India and she gives you bountiful joys that fills your heart with memories to last a lifetime!