I get asked all the time, “Why do you choose to stay in India?”. I am asked this by my Indian friends, by friends overseas, travellers I meet and most recently by my parents who are here visiting me for a few months.
It is not an easy question to answer, but whilst reflecting on the year that was 2012, I thought it might be time I tried.
Let me start with the reality that is living in India. It is hard work! When you look at things through Western eyes like I do, almost everything here is challenging.
Walking down the street to get some milk in the morning can be a real effort, like trying not to the fall into massive holes in the footpath that could break your neck, and of course dodging all the human and animal waste on the ground. That said, I also have the luxury of being able to wander downstairs and pick up the freshest fruit and vegetables to cook with each day. That is a huge bonus of living here.
Anyone who has read some of my tweets would know that I love food and really like getting out and trying new things. Unfortunately finding good food in India that is not Indian or been “Indianised” is close to impossible. Whilst I love the local food sometimes I just want my Italian without a huge dose of masala. On the flip side, the variety of Indian food that I can get here goes far beyond anything I have experienced elsewhere. I have learnt so much about the different regional cuisines and am really enjoying discovering new cooking techniques and varieties to try every day.
Sadly one of the things I find the most challenging is the attitude of many of the people. I have written posts about some of my experiences with Indian men here and here and about the treatment of women. The issues of how women are treated in India has become even more prevalent on the global stage in the last week with the horrific gang rape and death of a young girl in Delhi, but this is only part of the issue. Rape and horrific crimes are a reality for so many here in India. Thankfully, I have been fortunate not to be personally affected in such a horrendous way.
On a day-to-day basis, I am affected by the way people treat each other, particularly in Mumbai. I have found my daily life can sometimes be a struggle because of rudeness and plain disrespect. For example I walk everywhere as a preferred mode of transport, and cars just drive straight into me (literally) and appear to be quite happy to run me over. When I say something I am either ignored or subjected to rude hand gestures or a simple shrug of indifference. There doesn’t seem to be any care for other people.
This lack of civic responsibility extends to littering in the street, accidentally spitting on people (because many don’t look where they are spitting), pushing and shoving. A small walk down the street can be downright exhausting and distressing. I don’t think it is pleasant to live amongst a place that resembles a rubbish dump, and where people are only interested in looking after themselves. The strong streak of individualism (in what is viewed as a collective culture) and complete disregard for other human beings and environment is something I find really hard to accept here.
So why do I choose to live in India? The answer is simple; because when it is not beating me down it is lifting me up.
I feel like I can do almost anything here, the opportunities seem endless. When I get on a roll, it is quite exhilarating. When I left Australia I had worked in large corporates for over 16 years. Yes I had a successful career but I wasn’t very happy.
It never occurred to me that I could try a new career (like writing) or freelance as a business consultant (I specialise in various areas including corporate and marketing strategy, customer experience and business planning). It certainly didn’t cross my mind that I could start my own business in a new area (I am currently exploring establishing a textile business, a restaurant and a food wholesaling business, have already done some clothing exports and am looking into opportunities in the travel industry as well). It is really exciting!
These are all things that give me a lot of energy and make getting up in the morning really interesting. I now work from home and for myself, which is a real luxury. Whilst I am certainly not on the same salary I was before (currently I earn about 10% of my previous Australian income), I can live comfortably on it here. Something I certainly couldn’t do in Australia.
From a personal perspective, I have met some great people from all walks of life. My social circle is small but distinguished, with a mix of Mumbai locals, travellers and some expats thrown in. I have learnt a lot from my new friends and it has expanded the way I look at the world.
Thankfully, modern technology means I am still close to my dear friends in Australia. With Skype and Facebook, I am contact with those I love regularly.
I have also been fortunate enough to do a lot of travel, and I have plans to continue doing much more next year (and for the rest of my life). When I travel through this country and see the different regions, it is fascinating. The culture, history and feel of each town is completely different from the last, and there is so much left to learn and be taught here.
India has taught me so much, but particularly about humility and compassion. Whilst I like to think I always had some of these traits before leaving Australia, I feel now I am exploring the depth of these emotions much further. It has also taught me to be incredibly grateful for everything I have. Everyday I am confronted with how hard life is for so many here, just struggling to survive. It is heartbreaking. I am lucky for the privilege that I have.
So all in all, India is a real mix of emotions for me. There are no shades of grey; it is either completely deflating or entirely exhilarating. Whilst the lows aren’t great, I am loving the highs so much I plan on sticking around here to see where they take me next.
So as I enter 2013, I hope to continue to grow and learn and appreciate what I have. I wish the best in the coming year for you too.