When I was 23, I quit my job and moved to India. It was a job that I had had for an entire week, and the thought of leaving it came to me by lunchtime on my first day of work. All it took was a ‘Go on, do it!’ from a friend and, a couple of weeks later, I found myself living on the Subcontinent after a teary departure from Dublin Airport. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing, but I was doing it anyway.
Your no-BS guide to living in India.
There are two questions that I get asked about that ‘phase’ of my life. The first question is always: ‘Why India?’ So, to be very honest with you, I had applied for a job there as a bit of a dare. I unexpectedly got that job and things escalated quite quickly after that.
The second question is “…so, did you, y’know, find yourself??” (Typically, this one is asked with a mockingly ‘rad’ tone of voice! And, if you ask me, rightly so; there are far too many whimsical soul-searching notions associated with spending time in India). The reality is, no life-changing, penny-dropping moment like this actually exists. You may, however, find yourself in a number of never-before-experienced situations, if that answers the question:
I found myself starting up a new life in a village on the outskirts of Bangalore, entirely by mistake… because I hadn’t zoomed in on Google Maps before hopping on a plane to the subcontinent!
I found myself living in a low-rise apartment block, which was intrusively parked in the middle of a field in a farming village.
I found myself sharing my living space with wild monkeys, cobras and geckos… if the door was left open! I got used to the geckos; they reminded me of Haribo jellies that were stuck to the wall but occasionally moved.
I found myself hanging out on a neighbor’s couch one night explaining why a ’23-year old, single female’ would be living in a remote apartment block on her own in the middle of India. (I was invited around purely to satisfy that curiosity; I never saw them again!)
I found myself trapped behind a not-so-secure gate when the sun went down because it ‘wasn’t safe’ to venture beyond it at night after the rape that took place on the roadside.
I found myself alone, completely and utterly alone, for the first time in my life.
I found myself ‘showering’ with a bucket and a jug… because that’s just what you do.
I found myself tripping full force on the treadmill when the electricity unexpectedly cut out in ‘the gym’. The treadmill was the gym… and it was the playroom for kids in the block.
I found myself working in what I refer to as ‘the White House’, a world-class international boarding school campus that was gated off from the village people who lived and worked in the huts across the road.
I found myself standing in solidarity with the cows on the side of the road as I hitched my ride to work every morning.
I found myself earning more money than the Vice Principal at the International School I worked at… because I was “a westerner” and “that looks good in an Indian international school”, so why not?
I found myself shocked at racist “you white people” insults thrown my way because of some ‘higher status’ that was bestowed upon me by Indian society and salary.
I found myself battling ageist remarks because I “should have been married by now” and – seemingly – any form of professional respect was only going to be given to me once I was passed the age of 50.
I found myself running lap after lap of a football field in my ‘pursuit of happiness’ (thanks, Kid Cudi!) before leaving work at night; I was incredibly lonely for a while, although I wasn’t going to admit that to myself or anyone else…
I found myself travelling an hour and a half on two buses every Friday just to get a glimpse of city life because that was what I craved after life in Cardiff, Dublin and Dubai.
I found myself appreciating the toilet in my apartment because, outside of those four walls, there was little hope of much that would meet any form of hygiene standards.
I found myself posing for photos with complete strangers because, y’know, “blue eyes, pale skin” etc.
I found myself gripping on to the edge of overcrowded public buses to get home from days out in the city – the type with no doors, no spare seats and a whole lot of stares because “what was [I] doing on a local bus” to the Sarjapur roundabout.
I found myself the victim of an attempted tuk-tuk robbery. It was a quick drive-by, nothing scary; they grabbed my arm while I was waiting to cross a road. I was pulled a little, but they got away with nothing.
I found myself carrying rupees around in my bra to avoid being targeted by pick-pocketers; I would pull a few rupees out before jumping in a tuk-tuk to play the “I’m a local; you can’t overcharge me” game… which I rarely won.
I found myself letting go of the the hair-straightener addiction because, let’s be honest, the humidity was always going to win.
I found myself cooking maggi on a hob and drinking coffee with powdered milk because the shops were too far away and I had no fridge. Sometimes, I would buy bread from the bakery stall about a kilometre away, then I would ‘toast’ it on a pan. My cooking skills haven’t advanced too much since then.
I found myself choking on explosive whole chilis (mistaking them for green beans) and ‘Ladies Finger’ because… who knew you weren’t supposed to eat the edible greens in your curry?!
I found myself truly disturbed by a level of poverty that I had never ever been exposed to in my life.
I found myself lying in bed at night wondering why on earth I had moved to India on my own, but then making sense of it all… somehow… again.
I found myself totally sober for an entire year, which was interesting after a stint in Dublin, and probably half the reason why I lay awake at night.
I found myself writing a diary of the daily teachings India sent my way. An entire book of teachings and life lessons in just one year.
I found myself ringing my parents every week (pro-actively) for the first time in my adult life, just because there was something incredibly comforting about hearing a familiar voice from home all of a sudden.
I found myself completely incapable of comprehending how any country could be okay with young children knocking at car windows having to beg for money.
I found myself a friend called Moses… seriously. We all need a friend called Moses… and Rachel and Rhuchi and Varsha, who can teach you hindi and make you feel at home in the most unfamiliar of places!
I found myself learning and conversing in basic hindi so that I could avoid getting ripped off by tuk-tuk drivers and street stall vendors while I haggled for my street-side bargains.
I found myself rocking the salwar kameez in attempts to fit in with my surroundings.
I found myself a second family at YET Orphanage in Kallahalli… and that made everything worthwhile.
I found myself in India.
The next time someone tells you they went to India and ‘found’ themselves… just assume they haven’t quite finished their sentence. You don’t find yourself; you find situations – situations that will undoubtedly change you, but isn’t that the beauty of travel?