Things I’ve learnt from living in India

I said goodbye to India this morning. Or rather, goodbye for now.

Many have asked how I feel about leaving. The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity, each day brought its own stresses, triumphs, highs and lows. But the prevalent emotions I feel are that of gratitude and sadness.

I will forever be grateful that we were able to live in this amazing and baffling country for almost three years, for the circumstances into which I was born and live in, for the kindness of strangers who became friends and of those who were more fleeting, for the compassion I have been afforded whilst here, for the ability to quench my thirst for history and hone my language and photography skills and for the ability to share knowledge and empower others. Today I am sad from having to walk away from it all.

India is a challenging country. It wasn’t always a bed of roses for us. But in the process of living and working here, I have learned how to be kinder, more patient, more humble and more generous; I have learned about myself, about human nature and about the world. Here are some of the main lessons of life I will take away with me.

1. Learn to live with enough
Learn what enough is. For me, it is usually far less than what I think it is. Enough money, enough food, enough friends, enough things. I learned to stop buying. Give away stuff you don’t want or use. It will not go to waste in India.

2. Money doesn’t always matter
But being generous with it doesn’t hurt and sometimes makes a world of difference for those who have and earn less of it. Sometimes I found myself bargaining over the equivalent of £1 and was thoroughly ashamed. It was nothing to me but it determined whether a family got fed that day.

3. Ask for help and be ready to accept it
When we first arrived, I was adamant that I would do everything myself. Or at least, a lot of it myself. I was running myself into the ground running errands amid the constant chaos of Delhi traffic. I also didn’t like to ask random strangers (e.g. security guards, person on street) for directions at the start so I ended up wandering around lost a lot of the time because street names and numbers sometimes don’t make sense. There were other times when I was so suspicious of those around me that I wasn’t able to see when help was being offered.

4. Ask a million questions
Many a misunderstanding and kerfuffle arose because I didn’t do sufficient due diligence. I didn’t ask all the questions I could have asked. I just assumed that things would happen the way I was used to in other countries I’ve lived. What arrogance. Often I felt I was offending by asking so many questions and was embarrassed by that. You probably won’t offend unless you do it rudely so leave your embarrassment at the door. There is no room for that here.

5. Be kind to one another
There is too much suffering in this world to not care for your fellow human beings. Nowhere is this more visible than in India. You will inevitably have a beggar knock on your car window at least once whilst in India and although I never give money directly to them, it taught me to be kinder to people. And whilst you’re at it, be kind to the planet too. It’s the only one we have.

6. Do the right thing
Much of India runs on leveraging personal networks of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. And sometimes, bribery. I found it easier to navigate this environment by asking myself whether what I was doing was morally and ethically right or wrong.

7. Have patience
Traffic, bureaucracy, cows on road, transportation delays, Indian Stretchable Time.

8. Be grateful
No matter how bad you think your life is, there is someone out there who is far less fortunate than you are. And probably happier too.

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