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Goodbye, India

P1090607 (Medium) I felt it fitting to arrive at IGI in Delhi in the familiar comfort of an auto-rickshaw as I prepare to leave India behind me.  I am ready to leave – in fact, I feel somewhat as if I overstayed myself here, even with two days in Delhi doing nearly nothing.

I have mixed feelings about India.  The dust, dirt, and heat of the dry season do not bother me (aside from my allergies).  The frequent squalor, open sewers, trash strewn streets, and clear signs of overpopulation and overcrowding do not phase me at all – if anything, they remind me of my youth in the Philippines and bring a certain nostalgia.  I love the food and breads, and while I’m not a fan of the excess of deep fried street food, it’s enjoyable in moderation.  The fact that I’ve had only one small piece of chicken and no other meat for nearly a month bothers me not at all, since the alternatives are quite a pleasure (mmm, paneer!).

In fact, aside from a few things, I have quite enjoyed India.  The people who are clearly in the process of a major economic and infrastructural revolution are often open and selfless.  It’s an amazing time to see the changes rippling through the country, and the roads, availability of water and power (ignoring the frequent blackouts), and general access to what we in the first world consider “necessities” are impressive for such a large country.  Even the smallest villages I passed through enjoy a quality of life that seems quite rare in other places I have visited, with cellular phones, gasoline, rickshaws and scooters being fixtures everywhere.

The big cities are struggling with their two faces, modernity converging with the old chaos and dirt – but the change is happening.  I am sure that by the end of my generation India will be a much different places.

This all said, I cannot escape from the two things that frustrated me the most my entire time here:  The first is what, to my Western trained sensibilities of chivalry and gallantry, appears as incredible rudeness towards women and those of “lower” position.  Not everyone does this, however I frequently see such treatment that would be likely to spark my interference back home, and I am generally quite laid back. 

This isn’t physical rudeness (that I’ve seen), but emotional and comes through as a simple selfishness – it may be as subtle as a man forcing a woman’s attention by constantly asking questions and refusing to allow her to disengage from the conversation (such behaviour that is common when drunk at home, but still triggers my protective instincts and has caused me to “rescue” many a friend) or as blatant as a man throwing trash at a stewardess because her hands were full and she couldn’t take it.  This actually happened when I was engaged in a pleasant conversation with an individual who seemed quite nice and I was left staggered, with no idea how to react as he continued the conversation as if nothing had happened.

The second thing I found very frustrating is an understandable cultural result of overpopulation and crowding – it’s the huge differences in the basics of what we consider courtesy that have drained me emotionally more than anything else.  It’s a harsh reminder of cultural differences, as a stranger will happily give selflessly of his time to help you in some venture, then force you out of the way to pass through a doorway. 

I am a very laid-back (arguably passive) person and have cultivated an attitude of patience in my outlook and my life, and I genuinely believe that it is better to wait than to risk affront or be rude.  I’m not a pushover, but some do misread this attitude as such, and it is occasionally to my apparent detriment (missing out on promotions or raises, for example).  I simply think there is room for everything, and since I spend a third of my life doing absolutely nothing already, I cannot consider time to be such a precious commodity.

The result is that in order to go about simple basic interactions in India, I have to fight against a core fundamental belief of mine in a way that causes a lot of mental anguish.  I was nearly trapped on a crowded bus the other day and had to elbow people aside to get off, using my physical power against random people in a way that made me feel horrible – yet didn’t raise an eyebrow or at all bother them.  If I wait politely for my change when buying something, it takes forever to get it as others come up, shoulder me aside, and buy things – instead I have to box people out like I’m playing basketball until my transactions are completed.

It goes on and on.  I don’t like it.  I understand it’s part of the culture, I understand why it’s part of the culture, and I understand that they literally need to have a different attitude in order to survive…  but I’m equally sure I cannot handle it in large doses, and am not sure if I’ll enjoy returning to India as a result.  It’s really unfortunate, because in almost all other ways, I am entranced by this country and the people here.


(Pete enjoying a Whopper in the Kuala Lumpur airport – first burger in ages, feels like first beef in forever…  delicious!)


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