Lessons from India
After spending merely 2 months in India, I’ve grown to love their culture and how big the hearts of Indians are. Throughout this period of time, there’s so much I’ve learnt, mostly from the people, but also the history, environment, culture and experiences.So here’s a list of lessons from India :
1. The people are beautiful if you get to know them
If people are unfriendly to you at first, don’t retaliate by being unfriendly back. My guesthouse owner in Goa was a very easily agitated lady who overreacts to little things and starts yelling. Being taken aback quite a few times I told her to relax many times and smiled back, immediately she turns away shyly and looks embarrassed. It took a few days but the time eventually came when I broke her (haha!) She started to be more understanding whenever we asked questions and the overreactions stopped !
And then there’s my experience with a chai wala in Bundi. I had this wonderful connection with Krishna. His attempts to teach me Hindi sentences that I will never ever use on a daily basis. The little charade conversations we have because we only understood a few words of each other’s native tongue. Him trusting me enough to watch his shop while he runs down the street to get some ingredients to prepare a nice hot cup of saffron milk. Sitting in the back room of his little shop while he plays a traditional melodica, singing and performing for me. Watching him trade headscarves with his beautiful daughter before school because she wanted the pink one. Remembering the kindness that he showed me, his wide honest smile that’s like no other. I shall honour the promise of returning some day in the future to visit him, but only with a good husband as he said. I’ve met so many good locals in India but none of them were as special as my encounter with Krishna.
2. People do care about the women, despite what the media depicts
There are ladies priority seats, women’s cabin in local trains, signage and posters that condemn people who violate women. I read an article in Bangalore about the rates of sexual assault in different places around India and one that was urging for women to stand up for their rights if they are sexually violated. I’ve been told by locals to always look out in areas that seem shady, and how women are always given the priority to sit in the front of public transports. Outside of India, people might think that nothing is being done to protect women’s rights but it is, no matter how futile it may seem.
3. It takes some skill to get on a local train
Riding on the local trains in India surely takes some sort of martial arts training. The trains pretty much don’t give a hoot about human’s existence. It pulls up at the station and within 15 seconds it moves on again with people desperately running after it, trying to squeeze a spot into the sardine-packed carriage.
4. Grow to trust people based on your gut instinct
Travelling in India, it’s normal to be cautious about people who try to assist you especially when a lot of the cases, these kind deeds are done in hope for a personal gain. But every now and then, it’s important to let that guard down a little in order to see the goodness in people. Or you could be wrong, and end up losing some rupees but try to give Indians a chance for a change. Because traveling around being skeptical about what everyone says is not the best way to experience India.
5. Throw any fixed plans out the window
Someone told me that if you plan out an itinerary in India, you’re most likely not going to enjoy it. I can’t tell you how true that is. I made this BIG plan by booking a few trains back to back just so that I can avoid staying in a city that I didn’t like so much, and the train that was supposed to take me to the next connecting train was so late that I almost missed my other train. I spent the whole journey fretting and worrying, desperately seeking help when it came to getting directions to the next train station or getting my seat number confirmed. And then I told myself “Never again”. Going with the flow and staying however long I wanted in a place depending on the vibes was what made the rest of the trip so enjoyable. That being said, spend more time in a place you want to be, rather than a short time seeing a place you aren’t sure about. The longer you stay in one place, the more people you meet everyday, the more you discover about the place and finding hidden spots.
6. Understanding the culture and embracing it
The Indian culture is SO rich that I could stand around all day just observing people and learning so much. Experience culture shock, understand why people do the things they do and you’ll see things that seem negative to you in a much different light. Like the Indian head wobble for example, they do it not only to respond with a confusing “yes” or “no”, but also as a form of respect. And try not expect the same kind of comfort level that you have back home because that’s the beauty of traveling to somewhere different.
7. There WILL be bad days
I have had amazing days in India but then there are some that I just wish i could get out of the country. Things may not be going right, trains are delayed, people are being nasty, you could be suffering from days of Delhi belly, bad luck seems to be following you around. You could have stepped in a pile of shit or just had consecutive days of bad sleep. It’s inevitable. But when that day comes, remember all the good times you’ve spent in India, the beauty of the place and the wonderful people that you’ve met, all just so you can get through the one bad day and make it to the upcoming good one.
8. Never expect empathy
I was desperately seeking accommodation one time in Mumbai for 3 hours but to no avail. Without any prior booking, all the cheap options were gone and I couldn’t find anywhere that was within my budget. Telling such a situation to people and expecting help from them (because I was tired) is NOT going to happen. Instead, in a dire need to make a living, some people might use that to their advantage after sensing your desperation. Ive learnt that if you’re ever feeling tired and bummed out from a rough day, don’t show it at all. It isn’t going to help make things easier with anyone.
9. Eating with your hands isn’t a culinary culture shock
I’ve known people who refuse any attempts of eating with their hands for plenty of ridiculous reasons. But eating with hands in india is one of the best experiences. I can’t explain it but it makes the whole sensation of eating a meal so unique. And locals seem to appreciate it when tourists try to adapt and try eating with their hands. After a while of eating with your hands, you’ll find that it makes the meals you eat extra scrumptious!
10. Be food-poisoning ready
It’s inevitable. Or maybe it is, because of a strong immune system. Whatever the case may be, be ready to get sick. Be prepared to suffer from tummy aches that hit you like it has never before, or lose appetite because you can’t stop throwing up after every meal. That being said, don’t bother avoiding street food just so you can prevent yourself from getting food poisoning, because it’s going to happen either way. Just prepare for it from the start and you’ll survive. Plus, why avoid street food when it’s extra fantastic !!!
11. Make shanti-ism your daily goal
Shanti Shanti — that’s something that goes around in India a lot. People say it all the time, and you’re not sure what it means exactly in the beginning. It means peace, calmness & tranquility. There is no need to rush. The locals are practically just so slow in what they’re doing. If you want to talk to locals, the best way is to be patient and you’ll get to know them gradually. I stopped by a silver store to get earrings made. The humble silversmith told me 5 minutes but it took a whole hour instead. I was in no rush, and waited very patiently. Not only did I get to watch the silver smith craft me a pair of earrings from scratch, we also got to chat and have chai. By the end of it we became friends and he gave me a big discount that I didn’t even ask for because he was so pleased with how I didn’t rush him or walk off. That’s the kind of experience I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t sit around being Shanti. It takes time and a whole lot of patience to gain trust and respect and impatience leads to frustration.
12. Know when to say no to photographs
It may come as a surprise, or not but some, or not most Indians are extremely curious about tourists. It’s not abnormal to have people come up asking for a picture, with extreme cases where mothers throw their baby at you and rush happily to take a photograph, or finding yourself surrounded by a huge group of Indians flashing their cellphones at you and having to get out of the “limelight”. Sometimes they ask, sometimes they don’t.
A lulu-maker in Pushkar told me about his Spanish “girlfriend” after showing me a picture of himself with a tourist, and made very inappropriate comments which felt like lies to me. Since then I’ve always rejected requests for pictures when Indians ask for it. Unless they are girls or families, I rarely agree just in case they post it up online with a caption that is totally untrue. Some times I even joke and ask for 100 rupees for a picture!
13. Women are not taken seriously by some
Especially when it comes to being a woman, I find that Indian men don’t seem to take any remarks, opinions or decisions seriously. Me and an Italian friend (also female) was told right in the face that we don’t have any right to call the shots when our other guy friends said that we can make the decision. Such individuals deserved to be told off loudly in front of others for an ego check.
14. Give yourself space / alone time
In a place like India, it’s almost impossible to find quiet time. There’s practically people everywhere. Somedays I wish I had an invisibility cloak so that I could observe people silently. Even taking a train across the country where I had my own sleeper berth, I wake up to find people sitting on the ends of the bed, or locals striking up conversations about where I’m from and whether I like India. As much as I like to talk with people, it could get a little suffocating not having any space or alone time. Having some time alone can help in making you feel less frustrated with being around people all the time.
15. Litterbug Jitterbug
If you have never littered before in your life, India is the place that will change you whether you like it or not. The lack of bins anywhere will leave you with no choice but to dump your trash out the window or in the streets. I’ve held onto an empty juice box for an hour in the bus, when the conductor offered to toss it for me. Thinking there was maybe a trashcan in the bus somewhere, I handed it to him and thanked him. The next moment he simply threw it out the window. I’ve learnt that the best way to handle rubbish is to either keep your trash in a plastic bag with you at all times (which isn’t the easiest thing to do judging that they don’t use much plastic bags) or do as the locals do but to the best consideration for the environment where possible
16. Everything is possible (but not available)
Last but not least, my favourite lesson about India is that “everything is possible (but not available)”. Sab kuch milega, they would say. Anything I wanted could be arranged, there are no rules in India, no system, no restrictions. Anything is possible — The Indians swear by this slogan. It’s everywhere, signages, menus, graffiti, even in a store where the owners can’t speak a word of English, they can still tell you that everything is possible. Take it with a pinch of salt, most of the time you get a replacement of something or an arrangement that is asked for. As long as the effort is made to go the extra mile to provide you with what you want, that’s making the impossible possible. “Sab kuch milega” was one of the first hindi phrases I picked up, and it possibly came in handy a lot more than “how much?” or “good afternoon”. Live by this motto and do as the Indians do, it’s very enjoyable.
With all these lessons I’ve learnt about India(despite the negative ones), I still am absolutely captivated by the country. I mean, I find myself comparing every other country after with India, talking about it way too much to the point that it’s possibly annoying other people. My visa’s still good through May, perhaps I might pop by for a short trip and sit by the streets for a cup of masala chai while having a conversation or two with random locals.