15 days, 8500 km and 450 friends later, I arrived in Bombay, packed my stuff and said goodbye. A small farewell party at Leopold’s and I was off to the airport. This would be the last time I was in India in the near future…sad, very sad. To leave a country behind that you have called home for half a year, to leave behind truly amazing friendships and relationships, and to say goodbye to hundreds of people is tough. Over my travels I have definitely found that making friends is easier and easier, but saying goodbye is still always as hard as ever.
Problems with British Airways aside, I landed in London and gave myself a self-tour of this magnificent city! Apparently January is the worst time to visit this capital, but for me it was fantastic: the people, the famous sights I’ve heard so much about, the food and the atmosphere you feel just walking around. But as I stood in front of the Houses of Parliament I realized that everything might just be so grand and inspiring because I compare it directly to the Indian metropolis I just behind. The contrast was of course very stark, and the next 24 hours was spent making comparisons between India and the city to which India’s wealth has flowed for hundreds of years.
While in India I would never feel out of place for my sense of fashion, in London I felt judged, I felt out of place because I wasn’t up to date with the latest trends – people everyone looked so good in their fancy clothes! Things in London are more spread out: there is just more space everywhere. The sidewalks are less crowded, the stores are further apart. There are sidewalks, period. Unfortunately, this made it much harder to ask for directions to different places I wanted to visit. While in India I could just ask anyone on the street, in the UK I needed to walk to the next store, go inside, and usually wait for the shopkeeper to finish before answering my question. Naturally everything in London is cleaner, and everything is also a couple decibels quieter.
I was standing in Piccadilly Circus, a sort of Times Square of London, and a lady in front of me was complaining loudly to an elderly gentleman: “these roads are in such terrible condition, just look at this asphalt”. After India, I hardly even noticed that the paved road was slightly turned up where it met the crosswalk. I was also shocked to see money just lying in fountains around the city. There must’ve been a month’s autowala income just lying in the Buckingham Palace fountain for the taking.
Things are going to take some getting used to…
A friend asked me some simple, interesting questions right before I left India.
First question: what was the best part about India?
Right away I knew that I have never seen such diversity anywhere else in the world. Even though I come from this “cultural mosaic” which is Canada, there is a richness and beauty in having all that diversity originating from a single country. 28 different states in one subcontinent as diverse as 28 different countries leave an impact that I will never forget. Seeing the mountains of Gulmarg in Kashmir, surfing in Mamallapuram on the beaches of Tamil Nadu, boating through the waters of Sundarbans & Kerala and travelling through the Thar Desert in Rajasthan shows just the physical diversity of the country. When it comes to language, culture, history, religions and beliefs the country becomes exponentially more diverse again. Even though everyone in India has completely different backgrounds and lives, this diversity is something that has united India, and allows Indians to be proud of the country they live in.
Second Question: What was the worst part about India?
See my blog post about “the bad life in India”. Many of the things I wrote there are still true in my opinion.
Third question: What is the worst part about Indians?
I would have to say that it is the lack of exposure: exposure to various ideas, people outside of communities, the opposite sex, but also to the rest of the world. In Vancouver, I am constantly being exposed to people from different parts of the world. For various reasons, many Indians are not making use of the opportunities that are around them to be able to gain this mass exposure which might open them to the rest of the world.
Fourth Question: What is the best part about Indians?
You cannot live in India for 5 months and not realize that sharing is built-in, it’s hardwired into people from the moment they are born. When you are living in such close proximity to hundreds of other people it means that everything must be shared to function effectively as a society. Being on the Yatra it was very clear that everything in our compartment quickly became locally communized. People knew that it was no problem to use my cell phone charger, my laptop or my sandals for walking around. Of course I did the same thing and it felt quite right to be sharing everything (almost everything). In Mumbai I was in a restaurant and I just sat down at a table where another man was eating. There was no asking to sit at the table because it is just assumed that this is acceptable. In Canada I would be considered so rude for not asking. But why ask? There is no morally acceptable reason for you to not be able to sit at the table if there is plenty of space there on the other side. The fact that people have been conditioned to be ultra-social and share everything in this way is something I will miss about the Indian people.
- It is very tough to go completely cold turkey from meat and jump into vegetarianism for 15 days
- Even though India is not cold relative to Canada (5°C vs -30°C), this 5°C feels very cold when there is no central heating, no insulation and you are on a train moving through northern India, very much in tune with the elements
- Prices in the West are so ridiculously expensive, there will definitely have to be a spending revision in the next week or so
- I cannot wait to go back to classes, join other Fizzers and start learning again at UBC!