It confuses you. Entices you and makes you want to learn more. This is India.
An honest insight into life in India by one of our interns as he spends a month in the run up to his Journalism Internship at the National Newspaper travelling South India.
My Indian adventure so far has been nothing short of challenging. However, not the sort of monotonous challenge required to haul yourself out of bed on a Monday morning to start a 9-5 shift that you may not want to do. I’m talking about the challenges that invigorate your every sense and turns the privileged and spoon-fed native tendencies on their heads.
Nonetheless, these challenges are not for the faint hearted. From taking tuk tuks and seeing cows on pavement-less roads, to seemingly mundane tasks of biting into a piece of fruit (a game of Russian roulette in itself), it is indispensable that you should meet these head-on. Although I think I could be forgiven when admitting there are times I miss home comforts, it’s important not to dwell on these; India is like a rubix cube, the more progress you are making, the better you can understand it and savour it. If you can overlook the initial reservation in people and vacant expressions, and realise this is harmless curiosity, it will put you in good stead to realise Indians are extremely insightful and introspective people, who after all are not accustomed to our social norms. And the heat. The heat is sweltering in the current low-ish season, given its title as many tourists flee the intense sunshine. But why not see the heat as a pleasant reminder of the perennial rainy days we see in Britain? I, for one, am savouring every second in the sunshine, surrounded by the open museum which is India.
As I’m writing this, I’ve had the fortune of tasting, figuratively and literally, a lot of what south India offers. This has been important for me in many ways. Firstly, I am used to everything ranging from the weather, how to act in certain situations, e.g. bartering, and how to tame a tiger (one of those facts are indeed false). Secondly, as South India is more advanced than the Northern regions in terms of education, and far more tourist-centred (Kerala, I’m pointing at you), I’ve eased myself into Indian life easier than, say, a first stint in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market. I can compare this to the hustle and bustle of Kolkata that awaits. Lastly, having spent the first two weeks with my mother and sister, trekking beaches, ashrams, tea plantations, temple festivals, and the unique pocket of freedom in Auroville, it feels as if my cultural trajectory will go from serene to chaotic very quickly. But hey, this is India after all.
I think the most striking thing I have learnt during my relatively tourist-friendly route through India, is my love for the way life here can be summed up in two words: organised chaos. It’s what makes the culture tick, I think. With a country of over 1 billion people, chaos is a prerequisite, but it’s how they as a nation cope with it. Yes, I have used the word organised, which may seem crazy, but the oxymoronic aspect to this gives India its appeal.
It confuses you. Entices you. Makes you want to learn more.
Most indicative of this are the roads. As cliché as it sounds, the roads are chaotic but riddled with very few accidents, or so I have seen (or not seen). Although I have read in newspapers about buses overturning due to drivers who have fallen asleep at the wheel, I have seen the roads first-hand as a chaotic mess, but somehow it works.
There is no denying that India’s greatest challenge is finding a way to reduce congestion and the number of cars on the road, which I hope to explore further in my internship. But whilst it remains, *cue controversial opinion* I think the roads work best as crazy as they are, to accommodate the heavy movement of traffic. If they drove like Europeans, the roads would be at a standstill, and the honks alone would be enough to make you go insane. That, or the asphyxiation from toxic fumes.
Another facet I love about the roads is the lack of road rage; yes, drivers are crazy, but rarely have I seen confrontation, or even contorted expression when a car has blatantly cut someone up. It’s the free-flow of behaviour, and traffic for that matter, that has fascinated me from the moment I came here; everyone is expected to act a certain (crazy) way, and they just get on with it. The roads are an excellent metaphor for the lifestyle here.
Now I’m not saying the country is free of road rage, as each person deals with confrontation differently, but I feel I could strike a compromise by saying the rage is taken out with the horn.