One year ago, on this day, I packed my life in Singapore and boarded a flight back home to India. Like a hopeless romantic finally uniting with her first love, my head filled with starry-eyed dreams. I dreamt about magical places I could travel to within my own country. I thought about the many causes I could make a difference to. I imagined proving the notions of most Indians who choose not to live in India, wrong. I swore by John F. Kennedy’s words, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
In this one year, I have come a long way since my dreamy self boarded that flight. I developed a love-hate relationship with Delhi, travelled to countless small villages & towns, marvelling at the natural beauty India is adorned with, and let the stark reality of social issues in India dawn on me. In my first few months, I lived with purpose, preaching the spectrum between optimism and idealism to everyone I knew, including myself. I refused to accept that anything was impossible to change, especially mindsets. I tried to fight head on the inefficiencies in the ‘system’. Sometimes I gave up, but mostly I escaped into the wilderness that can be found beyond any Indian city. I rejuvenated amid the magnificence of the Himalayas and the Shivaliks. I rejoiced in the warmth of the people I met on the countryside. I gathered myself on the shores of the Arabian Sea.
I didn’t know then, that in the coming months, I would slowly trash my conviction and accept that I can’t be the change I want to see in this country, the country I loved to bits. I slowly started to understand that it is not easy to live in a country plagued by poverty and homelessness, after experiencing life in a better part of the world. How do you go about your life – eat at a fancy restaurant, spend a fortune on a fancy hotel, shop at a mall, do anything really – when there is someone who, by mere fate, is sleeping on the streets and begging for his next meal? This maybe exactly how a westerner feels in India, and it makes me wonder how so many of us Indians can suppress, or even eliminate, the contradiction of our everyday lives. There are many ways to look at it, say that everyone’s trying to make the best of their lives with what they have. Or that our only responsibility is to be a law abiding, tax-paying citizen. Or worse still, that the government and everything else under the sun is to blame. Or simply that this is how it is, and what can anyone do. India is struggling with a billion other issues to which the same questions & arguments apply. How can one, with any basic human tenets, accept it and live with it, I don’t know. How can one get out there and change it, I don’t know either.
I always thought I was one of those people who could adapt to life under any circumstances, water or no water, cleanliness or no cleanliness, comfort or no comfort. If one year in India of doing what I do has taught me anything about myself, it is that I am not one of those people. With a sinking self-esteem, I confess that I want and need my urban comforts. To those who can do without them, I say kudos, especially those who come to India after growing up in the west, and live a bare minimum life to follow their heart’s conviction.
Time & again in this one year, I’ve floated the idea of leaving Delhi, and leaving India, to live in another part of the world. Maybe it’s the restless wanderer in me that craves change. Maybe it’s because no logic justifies living in a city / country where I instinctively grab my pepper spray after dark. I know that running away is not the answer. But I don’t know what is.