European bureaucracy is great and always getting ‘yes’ for an answer is not a dream come true?! One year and a half into her stay in India Anete reconsiders her aloofness to European regulations but also finds inspiration in India’s attitude towards love and family.
I have been living in India for almost year and a half now, yet it continues equally to surprise me and drive me mad. I have accepted that there will be some days when all I want is to buy a one-way ticket back to Europe. Yet, there will be days when I am absolutely enchanted by the beauty of India or forced to rethink my preconceptions and values in most surprising areas. When I had to write down what drives me mad the most or so far has constituted most surprising discoveries, I really did not need to think long.
Traffic. It is insane. Forget the rules (you quickly learn that a majority of Indians have paid bribes to get their driving license), only remember few main principles. First, the biggest vehicle is always right, which de facto means that cyclists and pedestrians are at the bottom of the traffic food chain. Second, only take care of what is in front of you. To check your side or back mirrors is simply a waste of time. I forgot the rule three – cows rule the streets and they know it. Oh, and yes, rule four – seat belts are overrated. If you see a traffic police, you might consider putting it in front of you for make-belief purposes, but you wouldn’t want to go as far to buckle it. Although I have heard from certain expats that despite the lack of any rules, traffic seems to work “fine”, when you look at the data, the picture is bleak. India has one of the highest frequencies of traffic collisions, and up to 135 000 people die in accidents every year. Coming from Europe, where following traffic regulations seems to be a part of common decency, the lack of any safety awareness can be shocking, upsetting (think of children in the front seat, without any seat belts on) and exhausting.
Triple checking everything
Indians also do not like to say no. It is always yes or sometimes a positive maybe. Everything will be sorted out, taken care of, delivered, managed and put in the right place. Until it is not. Until you have spent three weeks trying to open a bank account or change your gas canister. So you do what I call “triple-check” – you ask every possible question you can imagine about the services offered, you send emails and make calls at least twice a day, you make happy face, serious face, I-am-going-to-hurt-you face, depending on how long you have been waiting. You are on the mission. You are always on the mission. It really does not matter what the mission is – you need a plumber to fix a leaking pipe, get a new phone number, pay a bill or shop some groceries (after your first Delhi-belly, you learn quickly to check expiry dates on every single item you purchase).
Such a permanent James Bond state of mind regarding your daily tasks becomes quite exhausting. Although I can only speak of my experience of Europe as an average EU citizen, which can imply certain levels of exclusiveness, not accessible to other, nowadays I look differently at the level of services in Europe and the rules and standards regulating them. I might even feel warm affection towards them. Thank you obscure DG Unit responsible for ensuring that vendors can only sell food before its expiry date. Thank you even more obscure Latvian bureaucrat for making a purchase of a mobile phone number a matter of minutes rather than a tedious 2 day event, requiring 15 different copies as proof of my legal existence (I counted). You might think I am weird, but when was the last time you checked the expiry date on the cheese?
Yet, it is not all doom and tears. India is pretty great actually. Apart from the obvious perks such as an abundance of fresh fruits (especially when the mango season hits Delhi), well-priced yet extraordinary handicrafts from marble carvings to beautiful textile work, the diversity of landscape and places to travel within India from serene Buddhist monasteries in Himalaya to charming houseboats in Kerala, India can be extremely enchanting.
It has also challenged me to re-consider my beliefs at the deeper level – especially, when it comes to my values and pre-conceptions of what I know to be true. One of the most surprising revelations for me was the concept of love and marriage. Before coming to India, I considered arranged marriage a barbaric tradition similar to the ones of witch-hunts and public corporal punishments. Although I still have strong reservations against arranged marriage, especially, when reading about the worst examples of abuse and coercion in newspapers on daily basis, I have also learned the complexity of the custom nowadays. By taking to my colleagues and friends, I realized that my image of crying youngsters coerced to be wedded by their Machiavellian families is not entirely true, and that the meaning of “true love” in India can differ substantially from my beliefs.
I have also discovered the importance of the family, and not just the nuclear unit of parents and children, but also the extended lot of cousins, aunts, aunties, grandparents, sisters and brothers-in law. For better or for worse, the extended family ties in India are tightly knit. In the country where social support system is weak, and poverty high, the family provides the security, support and contacts needed to thrive. Although I continue to feel cautious about the pressure such ties can exert on the individual choices of people, ranging from education to marriage, I have found myself to question my strongly “individualistic” approach to life. Maybe it is time to talk to my great auntie and hear what she has to share?