Welcome to India

By Isheeta Sanghi

The three words that I hear every time the electricity goes out from my Dad are ‘Welcome to India.’ If India had a door the sign on the door knob would read ‘PROCEED WITH CAUTION.’ I say this because really, there are some things that you need to be aware of before moving/relocating here here.

Concrete jungles are developed and are developing, but the fact remains that roads are bad- it stems from the whole ‘we’ll do it at the last minute’ way of thinking. What can I say; it’s procrastination at its best. People will stare- not because they want anything or mean you harm, but because they don’t know any better. Most of them have never set foot on a plane and have only seen them from a distance in the air; some of them have never even gone to a different city in India.

Nothing happens on time, nothing. Drivers show up late, maids don’t come, flights get delayed. Indian Standard Time is as real as it gets, so allow one hour extra for anything because let’s be honest, anything is possible. Your way of thinking and their way of thinking is clearly different. For example, in the States stores do not open until all cashiers are at the registers, registers are full of change, and all employees are in position. In India, not so much the case, there will be four registers they have the infrastructure, the only thing is that one register is operative because only one employee is on time. Exact change is always given in the States; you aren’t given 1 Rupee worth ‘Halls’ as change.

Motorcyclists, or those whom my Dad calls ‘Urban Cowboys’ are like mosquitoes, they’re annoying and they’re everywhere, and they bite, and it itches. They’ll knock your side mirrors; some of them are nice enough to turn them in because they don’t want anyone else to do the same thing. They don’t really understand that the mirrors are there for utilization, it’s not just there for decoration. The car gets scratched up, and lines that form lanes are meaningless (as are traffic signals some times.

One of the most important things that you should know is that usually more than half of the items on any one menu at a restaurant aren’t really available (usually it’s the ONE thing that you really, really want that conveniently is not available) and no matter how much they say ‘yes madam’ a bagel is not a bagel, it is dough that is made like bread with a hole in the middle, and cheesecake is usually not made with Philadelphia cheese.

Please don’t mistake my words of caution as cynicism, they’re just the facts. If you are relocating to India be prepared. The grass will always be greener on the other side. Especially if you are relocating from a developed country, where rules and regulations are followed and enforced. India is not America, or Europe; no one should be deceived in thinking otherwise. Sure there are more imported products, and more people are embracing the English language, but as Kipling notoriously said ‘east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.’

You can make your life heaven or hell living here in India. It’s very easy to choose the latter since it requires less effort, especially if you’ve moved from a developed nation and view the whole situation as a ‘downgrade.’ That was me initially, I hated it, I couldn’t stand the dirt, the staring, and my oversensitive nose could barely breathe, especially in taxis. I was miserable, and was overwhelmed by negativity.

But after really analyzing life I realized that the only reason for my unhappiness was myself. I sulked for a long time, not wanting to associate myself with anything Indian, not wanting to admit that I could speak the language, basically wanting to disassociate myself with the entire country and culture. But you can’t ignore facts. I am of Indian heritage and I’d rather embrace it than say that I don’t like anything Indian; no one can change the fact that I was born and raised in America for that matter either (my accent is really not an accent, it’s the way I speak, and I’m not an NRI I’m a NIR- Non Indian Resident).

Who am I kidding, I grew up loving lehngas, leaving a trail of my sequined chunis, fake jewelry, and shiny bindis, from my room to the TV (I had to change every time they changed outfits in a song!), dancing around 24 hours a day to Madhuri Dixit songs, idolizing the love that is now not so prevalent in Bollywood movies, and really wanting to become the next Bollywood actress. I love that I can finally associate pictures of people at my parents' wedding who used to all look the same and who were really just faces to me, with actual people now because I’ve had the luxury of meeting so many of them.

There are things that make me frustrated, and make my stress levels soar, but there are lots of things that make me laugh and enjoy life. You don’t always get what you want. I just figured that I can make my life a lot better by laughing and enjoying it to the best of my ability. Putting on red nail polish, conversing with someone in Hindi and teaching them a few words of English, realizing that cars and clothes are only material things and that it’s not the end of the world if your favorite white Banana Republic shirt becomes red because sambhar spilled on it, or that you got another scratch on the car because of the sabzi wala who wheels around a cart

The point is that, even though there are negative things (some feel that they outweigh the amount of positive things), there are a lot of really great parts about living in India. And if that’s not enough you always have the luxury of knowing you can pick up and go back to your ‘home country’ whenever your heart desires. Tough times may be as they are, and difficulties will arise, but if you look at the situation as a glass half full, it’s not that bad, "Welcome to India".

Isheeta Sanghi, as you may have guessed, recently relocated from San Diego to New Delhi! 

6 thoughts on “Welcome to India

  1. Seema Sharma

    I moved to India from Paris when I was 15 years so I can relate to a lot of the writer’s feelings. I lived in India for 7 years before coming to the US and settling here.

    While the transition to India was difficult, spending a few years in India was a wonderful experience. It gave me appreciation for all the things that India offers – a closeness to family and friends and neighbors you cannot have in a Western country, a friendly openness from total strangers that you don’t see in the West, a rich calendar of unique and wonderful celebrations such as Holi, Diwali, Raksha Bandhan that have no comparison in any other culture, incredible arts and crafts and wonderful shopping. I could go on.

    With time, you get past the beggars, the dust, the dirt, the heat, the mosquitoes, etc. and appreciate what a vibrant, fun, gentle culture and experience has to offer. Sometimes, it can take a few years, so hang in there. It’s worth it.

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  2. Archana

    Wonderful article, Isheeta!!
    It’s part of our Desi culture, that makes us share and appreciate all that’s real. Well done. And Congrats on your Graduation!!!

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  3. Poonam

    A glass half fulll…..you just said it! Very interesting perspective esp from an NIR and very well articulated.

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  4. Latha

    Hi I would like to add this link to my blog spot for future refernce when I am ready to move to india , do you see any isuse with this

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