They say there’s a fine line between love and hate. India is that line.
India is that pair of shoes you can’t decide if you like but buy them anyway because they’re on sale and in your size. I mean, that’s fate right?
India is that new food you try for the first time and kind of enjoy but don’t know if you want to finish the whole thing because it leaves a funny taste in your mouth after every bite. Can anybody say mint matchmakers?!
India is that person you know who never commits. Ask them for a drink, dinner, dance, you name it, and they’ll hit you with a “Let me get back to you on that one“.
I’ve heard some people say that India is like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it, and there is no in between. Heck, I’ve said the same thing myself once or twice. But what I’ve come to realise is that India is so big, so diverse, so what the heck is this that it’s downright impossible to have one solitary, plain as day opinion on it.
My feelings towards India are like that annoying yet quintessentially British kind of weather that’s half way between wet and dry – indecisive and downright confusing.
I woke up this morning and thought I was in Italy.
Don’t ask me why – maybe I was dreaming about pasta or something – but when the fog cleared and my brain geographically aligned itself with my body, I had an “Oh damn it, I’m in India” moment.
The thought of having to venture outside and endure the never-ending honking and the random cows and the stares and every single shopkeeper, restaurant owner and tuktuk driver asking me how I am (spoiler alert: the answer is fine. The answer is always fine) made me want to curl up into a ball, pull the blanket over my head and sleep away the days until November.
The inevitability of getting lost trying to buy a bottle of water because street signs don’t exist here and everything is just described as “near” something or “behind” something else made me want to tear my hair out and cry like a baby.
The prospect of having to spend another day smiling and nodding and pretending that I’m a-okay with having random countries shouted at me in the streets because playing a game of guess the nationality is always appropriate and not at all intimidating, kind of offensive and rude, made me almost regret ever deciding to come back here, to this country that has brought on almost as many tears as it has smiles.
Yeah, I know what you’re all thinking – suck it up Rhiannon, you bought the one-way flight and you paid for the visa, you deserve every damn cow-related incident, horn-induced headache and random conversation you get!
And that’s true. I deserve it all.
But I’ll happily take all the bad that comes along with the good.
Because although today I was all “Ugh, India”, just a few days ago I was seriously considering taking someone up on a job offer which would have meant settling in a country where white people are aliens, women are often seen as inferior and a Dr’s consultation costs less than 50p (like, they can’t be providing adequate healthcare at that price). All because I was falling in love with the country. Again.
Right now India is bugging me.
I don’t like it.
I don’t like the people, I don’t like the noise, I don’t like the smells and I don’t like the food.
We are definitely out of love right now, me and India.
If we were a married couple, India would be on the sofa tonight. There would be no cutesie little head massages or cuddles in front of the TV. There would be no goodnight kisses or ‘I love you’. I wouldn’t wave it off to work in the morning, nor would I make it breakfast in bed.
But come home time I just know we’ll be back to our blissful newlywed life. There’ll be a steak on the table and an apple crumble in the oven.
I’ll be laughing along with my tuk-tuk driver’s jokes, revelling in the honks and moos and shouts that will almost sound like birds singing, sniffing incense sticks like their cocaine and nursing a paneer and bread-fuelled food baby to rival all food babies.
There’s no doubt about it that I love India – I’ve made that abundantly clear in the past. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have come back the second time, let alone the third. But as much as I love it, as much as I find myself missing it when I’m back home, as much as I find myself comparing every single other place to it, I hate it in equal measures.
There are tiny little things about the country that just get on my nerves.
Mainly it’s the general attitude towards women. Forget being a successful businesswoman with a multi-million dollar empire and 18 different abbreviations at the end of your name – if you’re not married, your success probably means nothing to most people. If you don’t have a Y chromosome don’t you even dare thinking about wearing anything shorter than knee-length! Then you’re basically admitting you’re a slut, or asking for it. Then there’s the whole female foeticide situation, but let’s not go there.
On a slightly less serious note, there are also the stupid little things that don’t actually matter but just wind me up no end. Like queueing. Queueing is a concept that doesn’t exist here unless it’s outside the government run liquor store. We all know how much a Brit loves a good queue, so India is like actual hell for me in that respect.
And there’s the litter and the overall messiness of what are otherwise absolutely gorgeous places! Yeah, I know, it’s all part of India’s charm, but that charm would be so much cleaner if they stopped ploughing so much money into cricket and focused it on things that matter like access to clean water and education, and the more luxurious necessities like bins and pavements. Oh man, I miss pavements.
I keep seeing signs everywhere that say “Clean India, Green India” but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a bin in a public place. It infuriates me. Practice what you preach you big hunk of contradictions.
India is overwhelming.
Everything about it just makes you take a step back and say “What”. Visiting India for the first time isn’t just a knock to the senses – it’s like Muhammad Ali and Frank Bruno tag-teaming up and beating the crap out of your senses. If I had to define culture shock using one single country, it would be India.
It’s not what you see on Children In Need and Comic Relief, but at the same time it is.
It’s not all poverty and dirty streets and six people to one motorbike, but at the same time it is.
It’s not all sarees and elephants and bhangra dancing, but at the same time it is.
India is everything the media projects it to be, it’s everything we’re programmed to expect it to be, but at the same time it’s more than anybody could ever imagine in their wildest dreams.
India is bustling, metropolitan cities that wouldn’t look out of place in the UK and India is ‘tribal’ villages that still get their water from a communal pump.
India is indescribable poverty and India is unimaginable wealth.
India is palm trees and luscious hills and India is arid deserts.
India is old and India is new.
India is rice and curry and dal every day and India is also a big fan of McDonald’s and KFC.
India is unbearable heat and India is extreme cold.
India is sarees and kurtas and India is jeans and t-shirts and Converse.
India is war and conflict, but that very same India is peace and forgiveness.
India is everything you could ever want in a place, and India is everything you’d never wish for in a million years.
India is a dream and India is a nightmare.
We’ve had our ups and downs (main down being, y’know, attacked by a monkey) and every single day that I’m here I think about how it’ll be so great when I finally head back to normality, but every single day I also think about how much I’m going to miss absolutely every tiny little thing about this place when I do eventually hop on that plane.
But one thing’s for sure: it doesn’t matter how I feel now, or how I’ll feel in a few months, I’ll always come back. India has well and truly sucked me in, and I’m okay with that.
Because India, you’re special. I hate you, but I love you oh so very much.