I’ve been home just over a week now.
And I’m really coming to terms with it all now and able to look back on the journey and making sense of the things I saw and experienced.
After the 4 weeks were up at the charity I was joined by Rosie and we got to start really seeing the sights of India. We visited Jaipur, Agra and Delhi.
People ask me how I found it all. ‘I loved it!!’ I say with earnest and hoping they’ll let me explain some of the emotion behind my answer.
India is full of contradictions.
What I have brought home with me is the sense of entitlement that is so profound in the Western world. How often we think we should have more or deserve more or how we never settle with what we have. My friend Racquel put it well the other day. Can you imagine someone saying that they are just happy where they are and how their life is panning out? Here you’d be accused of having no ambition and that’s a totally negative thing.
Now there certainly wasn’t a lack of ambition in India. But wherever each person was along their path, regardless of their pay they seemed happy and accepting of it. I felt that though I’m sure they would accept more, they seemed happy, they made the most and didn’t feel bitter (they didn’t make it obvious like we do in the West anyway) for not having more.
I was mostly around staff of the charity who comparatively to others have a pretty sweet deal. But still, I was told they still struggled to have any money left at the end of the month. There’s no savings, there’s little scope to improve and yet most are happy and come to work everyday happy. It is striking how much happiness and content there is there.
Without writing through rose tinted glasses, there is a huge huge amount of poverty in India. It can’t be overlooked. These are just thoughts that came to my mind while with the people I spent time with there. People are generally happier, warmer and friendlier than people here but that’s doesn’t mean there lives aren’t full of huge difficulties.
Rosie and I talked about Immigration yesterday morning. We talked about how it is being handled so appallingly in the UK (and all over the world to be fair). Personally, I have no issues whatsoever with immigration. I’m not patriotic on principle. I feel anyone should be able to come and go as they please anywhere in the world. I feel we should be in a world where there are equal opportunities everywhere. This is very idealistic. But as a principle people don’t leave their place of birth without ‘good’ reason/desperation (and those that do it for the experience who have more choice about it).
The British vet at the charity would often talk about the UK with awe and enthusiasm and sometimes it almost sounded like a dig at India which might not have that thing, or doesn’t do it so well as in Britain etc etc. But the staff never seemed peed off by it or jealous or longing for it. They were always so proud to be Indian. I loved that. Just reinforced to me what home means to everyone. We don’t naturally want ‘better’ we want what we know and to feel comfortable and at ease.
I’m proud of what the UK stands for in general, I’m proud that we’re one of the more progressive countries, more tolerant countries and just multicultural. I love it. A long long long way to go before perfection though! But i appreciate that I’m living in one of the safest countries in the world.
There are lots of different cultures and religions and histories intermingling here. Cultures can come together and be beautiful! But it takes work and often there seems to be more collision. Well that’s what makes news anyway. And I think understanding on both sides is a real key to making it work. Something there is no general access to here.
It’s little things but they can create a big division. Some examples I’ve noticed are 1) obviously queuing 2) crossing the road 3) groups of men
- Queuing is such a British thing and it’s so often you hear tutting or annoyed mutters when people who arrived later get on the tube or bus etc before those that arrived sooner. I feel it often. When people just seem to not notice you and ‘push’ in front. I feel it’s just rudeness, it’s arrogance and done to make me feel small. But having been to India, you realize it isn’t that. Queuing just isn’t done. It’s like you just have to look out for yourself because there are so many people you can’t queue! People are just oblivious that it’s a thing. It’s not rudeness, it’s different. I was at a till in a shop in Jaipur. And people kept putting their groceries on the till before me. And I realized quickly that I would have to put my stuff on the till before the person in front had finished paying. I found it so difficult!! I felt so pushy, so demanding! It was terrible haha! But it was normal! And those who pushed in just saw a free till waiting to be claimed. They didn’t see me waiting, that’s not a thing.
- Like queuing there’s no structure to crossing the road or indeed driving. You’ve got to suck it in and step out. People will stop for you if you make it obvious and do it confidently. When we got back. A couple night later we got invited to a pub for a catch up with some of Rosie’s friends and I remember totally sober just stepping out into the road. Not really thinking what cars were around, that I was making them slow/stop for me, that there wasn’t any kind of pedestrian crossing. It ended fine but I did have a little skip of a heart beat when I realized what I had done. I think it’s somehow maybe safer in India (maybe!) because everyone is kind of expecting it. Not so much in London! Fortunately both where I was and in India the speed that cars travel at are pretty slow!
- I have found it difficult talking about how intimidating it can be to see a group of men, anything 2 or more really but often talking 4 or 5. And it’s not really a British thing unless we’re talking teenagers. But there a large number of cultures where this is a common thing. In restaurants and on streets in India we found groups of men. Staying at the charity I saw that and you realize that actually most are minding their own business. Most just can’t/don’t/wont sit in a pub like where you’ll find most of the groups of men in Britain. Their homes are often so small or crowded with women and children (who have no one else to go either! And can’t go really). So the men chill on the streets. When you realize this and you realize most have so little interest in you, you get it. Walking down the road I feel less suspicious of it. It may still be suspicious and I’m still wary but less so, I get why they’re there.
When I talk about happiness and entitlement I realize I am really referring mostly to men. There is definitely a movement for better rights and equality for women in India. But certainly more for those women born into more wealthy liberal families. Like what first happened in Britain. Women with money have increasing choice and a bit more independence. You so rarely see women on the streets. Never alone, rarely in twos. Though Delhi was different. However, I was pretty ill while we were there and couldn’t leave our guesthouse. Fortunately Rosie was well enough and went exploring. Having the metro so accessible it was great for her to go solo around the city. But we agree we’d have felt a lot less comfortable elsewhere.
I remember one evening Rosie was feeling hungry and needed dinner and was preparing to head out alone. I hadn’t be able to stomach much and we knew a place down the road that we liked to eat at. It was dark outside. I can’t describe the emotions when she left the guesthouse. I very nearly ran after her in my pyjamas. I think if anything it was, what if something happens and I did nothing? But I knew I was letting my mind go wild and Rosie was confident and happy to do so and I knew I couldn’t stop her, though I also wanted her to go and wouldn’t have stopped her. I was confused! We just hadn’t been out at night at all really while in the country. Except together and mostly in taxis.
I was made totally awe-struck by the architecture and buildings of India. I mean the Taj Mahal goes without saying, it’s absolutely incredible. Before we visited the mausoleum, i felt it would be a beautiful place to see but be a little underwhelming because I’ve already seen so many photos of it etc etc. There isn’t much left to surprise me. But I’m so glad I was wrong. There are so many different aspects and views that photos never show. The gates are incredible, I love the red sand stone. The marble is beautiful and even the gardens.
I read about the forts in India and there are so many. I thought we might get fort-ed out by the end of it. But actually each fort was absolutely incredible. Amer fort in Jaipur blew me away. I wasn’t expecting it at all. beautiful rooms just appear out of no where. We wondered how anything could top it but they’re all so different and when you read about the history of them all it really brings each one to it’s individual life.
There were certainly some strange moments in India. Random men would come and talk to us. Just come up and introduce themselves. Talk about the area and what we should see and shouldn’t bother with. Having read the guide books etc you’re just always on alert for shams and scams and with each chap that came up to us we would hold our bags tighter and try to move on quickly. But often some of the men (and it was never ever women) wouldn’t try to sell us anything, they ‘just wanted to talk’ (some often did). And I’m still abit clueless. Whether it is a bit of excitement to talk to women, a bit of a novelty or even just being friendly? I don’t know. It’s the same way that I just don’t get why people want our photos, all the time. At attractions everyone wanted a selfie and we always said no on principle, though in some cases i think we could have said yes. We just didn’t want it to backfire.
There’s a certain thing about how India works. And I noticed it often. That a task can often take a lot of men to complete. What I thought was a simple task suddenly involves several men looking very serious and often several phone calls to come to a conclusion. There is a bit of a running joke that India generally runs very smoothly as a country but it completes it’s tasks in such convoluted strange ways. As in, everything gets done but you couldn’t explain or couldn’t understand how and how something didn’t go wrong. It’s hard to explain unless you experience it. For example, my washing was a big one. It wasn’t explained to me how the washing system works. Turns out that a chap turns up on a monday morning to collect all the charities washing. I handed a bag of washing in on sunday evening with some money. Then on wednesday I hadn’t heard anything and went to ask if they knew when it would arrive. I met a lot fo confused faces and then one person asked me to ask another member of staff who I didn’t realise had anything to do with the washing. And he told me they had changed suppliers and my washing was only sent off that day. Which was totally fine, i had plenty of clothes with me. I then asked again the following week and suddenly 5 men were on the case and calling people. I never meant to make such a fuss!
I suppose looking at it now. It’s probably a thing experienced by tourists because of the language barrier. I was never very well communicated with in India, I never really felt like I knew what was going on. One of our trains got cancelled (genuinely cancelled, not a scam!) and I still don’t understand what, why how we the managed to get on another train that left ten minutes later, charged us less for the ticket and wasn’t on any of the boards in the station! But i wont complain, it worked fine! Everything does just seem to work out fine!
I certainly haven’t finished with India! Rosie and I are both keen to visit and spend more time in Delhi. I would love to spend some time in rural India too and see the South! Such a massive country! We got ill this time and it was unsurprising in a way though a real shame. But lessons learned! I feel like now I have been there I can now read more and gain more from having a little insight into the culture. There’s a couple of documentaries on TV at the moment which i have devoured this week. I thought I might have seen enough in Rajasthan but no! there’s so many more beautiful cities and towns to see! Ah! India is so phenomenally huge and diverse.