Greener on the other side

“So tell me, why should someone visit India?”

“Er—”

When my friend asked me what’s good about India, I couldn’t come up with anything.

The only reason anyone from the first world or a western country should visit India is to understand how much privilege they have over the people of developing countries.

It’s eye-opening. Even the smallest things like a proper footpath are non-existent. Things you’d take for granted, like safe neighbourhoods, pedestrian-accommodating road rules, recycling systems, garbage trucks are all still tucked away under a vague five-year economic plan that may never see the light.

But I know all that only because I’ve lived there. I’ve wallowed in that toxicity for so long that I’ve come to hate everything about it, no longer recognising, or even acknowledging, the good things.

I wanted to leave–for a better lifestyle, a better society, and better mental health.

And I’m fortunate that I could. But—ain’t the grass always greener on the other side.

India is a beautiful country—to visit. It plays host to 780 languages, the second largest number in the world. Thousands of cultures practice millions of traditions every day. Aside from their historical practices, each group that speaks a language has many religious beliefs as well. And so, every language, throughout the years, has served as primary communication among different religions and castes (family groups). Not only does this magnify the number of classifications amongst Indians, but it also depicts the diversity that thrives in India.

For me, that’s a whole lot of unnecessary complexities that lead to political and religious wars. And that disgusts me.

However, this diversity is also why India (most of it, anyway) has a rich heritage and open-mindedness in welcoming foreigners. People love to show off—whether it’s their customs, tales they grew up with, dances passed down over generations, food that’s comforted pained souls for ages, they enjoy sharing with anyone curious enough to ask and invested enough to respect.

That’s priceless when you’re a traveller.

Even though every corner of the country, every urine-smelling alleyway, every open garbage dump, and every infected street dog nauseates the average person, that’s also where you’ll find charming old ladies selling fresh flowers for your hair. You’ll see short-tempered fruit and vegetable stall holders bickering with each other who’s got better produce. You’ll run into juice vendors who’ll pour you a glass so full that you have to take a sip first before carrying it away. When you chat with them, you’ll learn their struggles to make ends meet, to pay their children’s school fees, to wake up every morning with only three hours of sleep. And yet, as you pass these everyday people on the street, you’ll realise that despite all the harsh realities of their lives, they still try to smile, share, and celebrate spreading joy around them.

India is a “developing” country—been that way for decades. And it’s hard to say when, if at all, it’ll offer its people the comfort and luxuries that’ve become a norm in other countries. Regardless, Indians try hard every day to make their lives a little better than it was the day before. And that’s worth a visit.

Oh, and the Himalayas probably makes it worthwhile too.

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Homegrown

Tenkasi, South India
Tenkasi, South India

Eyes full of wonder

while you see here and yonder

village backyards

A flame in a clay lamp

Resilient

Defiant is she

against the odds and the blows

a flame in the wind

Take a walk

Cars flash on your left,
motorists whizz by your right,
stray dogs growl in front of you
and bicyclists bell behind you
welcome to the walker’s life
yes, you’re on the footpath
where pedestrians follow single file
or break the line and break a leg
one-way streets they’re on paper
but look both sides before you cross
unserviced and flanked by trash
are the service roads, built for ease
raggedy stones, rocks, and potholes
more than make up the sidewalks
taking a hike, it will seem to you like
invest in boots and the soles thank thee
put phones away and headphones too
for good money even seconds make
wear naught jewellery, gold or silver
lest they invite snatchers, who’re many
most important of all—dear walker
watch your step, before you even step
on droppings of birds, dogs, or humans


I’ve spent a large part of my commuting life on foot. As much as I enjoy walking, I hate that the average Indian pedestrian faces so much trauma. This is just an outlet of my emotions.

What’s in your backpack?

When I cast my t-shirt aside, I had only one thing in mind—it’s one less thing to carry. Not that a single t-shirt acquires too much space or weight, but it’s the little things that accumulate faster than we can count. That’s the mentality I always assume when I pack.

How much would you carry if you’re returning from visiting your parents, and have a five-and-a-half-hour train journey ahead of you? And mind, this isn’t Amtrak—we’re talking about congested and almost always unclean train compartments that allocate 80 seats but accommodate upwards of 150 sweaty humans and even more bulging bags of what-knows-what.

It was a Sunday morning—6:50 am to be near-precise—and I was on a train back to the city, back to my routine work. I’d spent almost a week at my parents’ for what’s supposed to be quality time with family. Despite how that turned out, I was now heading back to take care of my own life. And I didn’t have a reservation on the train. I’d tried, but failed because the website wasn’t able to cope up to the traffic of the Indian population. And so I stood, almost plastered to the walls of the compartment to avoid the incoming crowd trying to find their seats.

As I watched, from my corner of the car’s wall, I saw most adults carrying a child, a piece of luggage, or a bag of breakfast—in addition to their one baggage.

Now, Indian Railways doesn’t have a limit on baggage. And for a good reason too, because it’d make no sense. The only reason people throng the trains is that they’re cheaper and accommodating to the growing needs and waists of the average Indian.

And so every person struggled to get on and navigate through to their seats. Bags overflowed in the overhead racks, they lined the aisles between the seats, and some even sat snug at people’s feet.

A grin escaped my face as George Clooney’s “what’s in your backpack?” came to mind. Every time someone wobbled past me or heaved at the weight of their bag, I couldn’t help but wonder why they’d inflict such discomfort upon themselves. I had one backpack, which I’d placed in the overhead rack, but even then it was a lengthy and uncomfortable journey. To go through that with additional bags made no sense to me.

It’s a pity that while there’s a cult doing everything in their power to reduce luggage and prioritise convenience travel, there’s another group altogether that doesn’t even try. What’s more, Indian train stations are so crowded that it’s not uncommon to see late passengers sprinting through waiting crowds, swerving by long queues, and high jumping over people sleeping on the floor. Imagine going through all that with a bag you can’t even lift.

The more I wondered, the more convinced I became that people don’t know what matters most to them. They’re so feeble and craving that they can’t bear the thought of leaving things behind. Our intense desire to cling to material things, and our inherent fear of death and denial of its permanence has led us to live in constant fear of losing what was never ours.

Pfft. Let it go.