20 July 2013

Things India has taught me

Following a somewhat related post I had written on habits I’ve picked up over the past 6+ years of living in India, today’s post is on things India has taught me.

India has taught me to tolerate noise.

One thing I’ve definitely learned in India is to put up with noise. Of course noise is omnipresent here. Mornings start with the koel birds exchanging their melodious calls from the treetops. I love waking up this way. Then the morning sounds start: the sweeper women sweeping the road, the sound of the newspaper delivery man’s moped, traffic on the main road, and the jingle played by the garbage collection van. A little later on, the pushcart vendors start making their rounds, calling out in sing-song voices whatever it is they have for sale: tomatoes, mosambi, tender coconuts, brooms, carpets. These are the pleasant sounds. The traffic noise is less pleasant: the constant honking and blaring of horns. Then there’s the excruciating ‘reversal music’ which plays whenever a car reverses and just adds to the noise pollution. On the next street there’s a marble works from where the sound of a circular saw is constant during the day and it sometimes continues late in the evening. When we first moved here the sound really grated on my nerves, but of course now I hardly notice it. Can it be possible I’ve become immune to noise? Last week there was some work going on behind the house, accompanied by loud banging and the sound of electric tools. I wasn’t happy about this but somehow I managed to concentrate on my work. Even a friend I was talking to on Skype asked me how I could stand all the noise in the background! Then at night, the street dogs keep up a steady litany of howls, barking and noisy bickering as they fight to defend their territory. And of course, there’s also the sound of the watchman’s whistle. Somehow I’ve learnt to sleep despite all these noisy nocturnal disruptions. Thank you India, I can put up with noise and tolerate it and find it almost strangely comforting!

India has taught me to not take people at face value.

I used to get upset when a friend would suggest meeting up and then come the day we agreed on, the friend in question would be unreachable and wouldn’t return my calls. I’ve learnt that appointments here are very, very tentative and last minute disasters are daily occurrences. Not that the friend in question doesn’t value our friendship, it just meant that something really did come up, like she was just too lazy to get out of the house that day. Now I don’t take appointments seriously at all and am not surprised when things don’t go as planned. In a way, I like the fact that nothing is written in stone and there’s always a window open for spontaneity.

India has taught me to take everything with a big pinch of salt.

I have noticed that people make things (and themselves!) sound a lot better than they really are. Also, lies seem to be a social necessity. These are often just little white lies about nothing really but somehow they’re necessary. For example, someone will never turn down an invitation but will always come up with an excuse why they cannot accept the invitation when really they just don’t want to attend. Everyone lies and everyone knows these lies are not to be believed but they’re there to save face and avoid offending. Somehow in the ‘West’ we put a lot of value on honesty and are scandalized by blatant lies, but this seems socially acceptable in India.

India has taught me to be cautious and distrustful.

This can be good and bad. I never pay for anything upfront… not until the goods are delivered and in good condition. I scrutinize every 10-rupee note I’m handed to make sure the shopkeeper’s not trying to get rid of a torn or unusable note to an unsuspecting customer. I realized how cautious I’ve become when I was in Cambodia in December and had booked a taxi to the airport. The travel agent had asked for advance payment and I initially refused. If you pay for a taxi upfront in India you can be sure it won’t show up! (But it works in Cambodia.)

India has taught me to be patient. And impatient.

I expect things to take a long long time and then I’m pleasantly surprised when they don’t. I’d rather pay more to send an inland letter by courier than wait in lines at the post office.

India has taught me to try to understand things intuitively and trust my gut instinct.

I’ve noticed that if someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying because of a language barrier, rather then just saying: “I don’t understand” and give up, they make the effort to try to understand by picking up on key words or trying to guess what you’re saying. And even though they may not understand the actual words I’m saying, they do understand what I’m trying to say, because they’re reading non-verbal clues and using their intuition. And it works!

India has taught me to be flexible.

I am unfazed by bugs, I know what to do with a toilet with a broken flush, or smoke coming from an electric socket, and have seen so many rats – dead and alive – and even chased them out of the house (unwanted gifts from my cat), that none of these things evoke the ‘OMG!’ reflex anymore.

India has taught me how to focus.

My powers of concentration have improved after attending many concerts and dance performances. I no longer get distracted by ringing cell phones, loud conversations and screaming kids running up and down the aisles. I also take liberties to share observations with the friend sitting beside me (but I whisper) and get up for breaks when the chief guest makes his (always too long) speech.

These are just some of the things India has taught me!

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