My Love Affair With India

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.

royal-gaitor-jaipur

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!

lake-pichola-udaipur

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.

jag-mandir-palace-udaipur

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.

galtaji-monkey-temple-jaipur

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.

houseboats


Have you ever been to India? What are your thoughts: are you a lover/hater/inbetweener? And if you like these photos, make sure to follow my Instagram (@stteyaja). Sometimes I make jokes there too, if you’re lucky.

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30 Comments

  1. 28th September 2016 / 11:06 am

    My current job means that I organise and send students away on years abroad and I sat in on a talk about culture shock a few months ago. It’s amazing how much you can love somewhere but culture shock also makes you hate every minute as well. I’ve never been to India and would love to go, but I believe my feelings would be relatively similar!

    • rhiydwi
      28th September 2016 / 1:19 pm

      Your job sounds so cool! Is it with a Uni?
      Ah I know! Of everywhere I’ve been I only feel like this about India. It’s like when I was growing up and I hated my brother but also couldn’t imagine growing up without him.
      You should definitely try and get out here one day if you ever get the chance!

      • 28th September 2016 / 3:10 pm

        Yeah it’s with a university in the South West – it is great but all I end up doing is being envious when students tell me about their amazing experiences! Gets me all green eyed monster! Yeah I can totally imagine that it could have that effect! Love hate relationship! I’m really hoping to go in the next few years; it’s a county I’ve always longed to explore! Plus all of your photos are so amazing!

  2. 28th September 2016 / 11:12 am

    Your blog has become one of my favorites, I love your writing style and hearing about your adventures!

    I can totally imagine India would be hugely overwhelming and the attitude towards women would be difficult to accept, but at the same time your stunning photos make me want to visit and experience it. I think when you spend enough time in a place the novelty almost wears off, it’s natural you’re going to have good days and bad as you’re experiencing the real India and all of it’s warts, not just a tourist kind of version.

    http://fourcatsplusus.co.uk – Amy x

    • rhiydwi
      28th September 2016 / 1:24 pm

      Oh wow, thank you so much! Not to sound like a creepy loser or anything but I’ve silently been fangirling over your blog for a while now because it’s amazing, I fell in love at first sight with your narwhals, and also I’m 90% sure I’ve seen you in actual real life a few times. So for you to say that is wow.
      You should definitely try and visit if you ever get a chance! Despite all my misgivings, it’s SO incredible. And crazy cheap – the amount of money you’d spend in one month here would barely cover a weekend getaway in Europe. x

  3. 28th September 2016 / 1:56 pm

    I felt that way about Kathmandu. HATED it the first few days, fell in love when I went back, and can’t get it out of my head and am dying to go back again even though I got sick and almost got blown up by an exploding transformer on the cow-congested streets.

    • rhiydwi
      28th September 2016 / 2:48 pm

      I’m sorry but I laughed out loud reading that comment! Definitely a little bit in love with Kathmandu myself, although sans bad transformer-related memories.

  4. 30th September 2016 / 12:40 am

    Really enjoyed this! Sometimes I feel the same about Mexico – I’m here for thre3 months and it can get a bit much. How are you managing to juggle translation and travelling- I’m finding it impossible!! Becky: )

    • rhiydwi
      1st October 2016 / 6:06 pm

      Thanks for reading; I’m glad you enjoyed! Tbh I’m finding it impossible at the moment, but that’s more to do with crappy India WiFi than anything else. It was a lot easier in the Americas where steady WiFi was easier to come across, but involved a LOT of discipline. I sort of had to revert to being a schoolkid and give myself rewards program: e.g. No Chichen Itza until you finish X% of this project or if you earn $X this week you can hunt down a bar of extortionately priced Dairy Milk. But yeah, I did nowhere near as much work as I probably should have done! Oops.

  5. 9th March 2017 / 12:35 am

    Loved reading this! I thought I wasn’t going to like India- I felt like I was going to have to give up everything I love about travel- exploring freely (sometime independently), running outside, sitting in cafes, trying new restaurants, etc, etc… And I ended up loving it! I will say, though, that I think it would have been much more difficult had we not been visiting family who set everything up for us and spoiled us:)

    • rhiydwi
      11th March 2017 / 2:42 pm

      Oh absolutely with you there! The first time I visited India I was alone and while I did enjoy myself, I was always on edge and looking over my shoulder. The second and third time I was visiting and staying with friends and I don’t think I had a single bad day! Immersing yourself fully there and “letting yourself go” really makes a difference to if you just go there with the whole “I’m just a visitor” mentality.

  6. 9th March 2017 / 6:39 am

    This post excites and terrifies me all at the same time! I am planning to spend a couple of months in India at the end of this year, and you have confirmed everything I already think about it. I can’t wait to go, but I’m sure it will be overwhelming 🙂 So good to hear it’s possible to see both sides and still love it.

    • rhiydwi
      11th March 2017 / 2:40 pm

      Oh Josie I’m so excited for you (and super jealous!) and I’m sure you’ll have a bloody fantastic time, honestly. There’ll be awkward and unfortunate situations too, but don’t let them ruin your outlook on the whole country because it really is something special.

  7. 12th March 2017 / 1:37 am

    You are an amazing writer, I struggle with writing but I love how honest you are. You are so right, you are a pinch of sarcasm and I absolutely love it. India is massive but we always see the typical images/posts of the most iconic parts of India and its great that you’ve captured a different side. And, again, I cannot stress how amazing it is to read your likes and dislikes; its a breath of fresh air (or not so much in this case). Looking forward to reading the rest of your blog, I just absolutely love your honesty.

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 2:37 pm

      What a lovely comment to read, thank you so much Anita! 😀 I think there’s way too much sugar-coating in the travel blogging world, when in reality not everywhere is as it seems on TV and brochures, India included! No sugar-coating here hah.

  8. 12th March 2017 / 2:00 am

    Ok so I’ve never been to India, but your whole article kinda sums up what I think and know about it and my indecision to go there..or not lol. Well, of course I do want to go and see it one day, but I feel as though I will both love and hate it too, for all the reasons you mentioned. I enjoyed the read and like your pictures! I googled what Marmite is lol, and I was wondering where in India is that last photo of yours at? Those are barges on the water?

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 2:39 pm

      You should absolutely visit! Whether you end up loving or hating it (or both!) it truly is such an incredible country. Well seeing as you weren’t sure what Marmite was that probably means you’ve never tasted it, so take my word on it and DON’T try it. It’s disgusting haha. The last photo is of houseboats in the Alleppey backwaters in Kerala!

  9. Soraya
    12th March 2017 / 2:11 am

    This is absolutely hilarious! I love the way you have described your love/hate relationship with India… if you were married to India today, India would be on the couch! hahahaha! To be honest, I have never been to India, but I already feel a love/hate relationship too. One minute I LOVE Indian food and want to buy that one way ticket (just like you)…but other moments I’m feeling the “Ugh India” and don’t feel like ever wanting to go. I think it is the overwhelming aspect of India that you talk about, but I guess that is the beauty of India…it keeps coming to my mind and I keep thinking about it. Maybe one day I will experience India the way you have!

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 2:41 pm

      I really do hope you get to experience it one day! It’s incredible, but at the same time is one of the most infuriating countries I’ve ever set foot in. I get mad every other minute when I’m there at the tiniest of things. It’s actually quite amusing.

  10. 12th March 2017 / 2:20 am

    I would love to travel to india. The pictures are great. Thanks a lot for sharing

  11. 12th March 2017 / 2:57 am

    This was such a fun read! I’ve never been to India, but you describe it so vividly. It’s funny how you can both love and hate a place. I sometimes feel like that about being home. Not in an overwhelming culture shock kind of way… but when I’m home, I constantly have the itch to travel, and once I’m gone for awhile, I start missing the normalcy and familiarity of home.

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 2:43 pm

      I think I’d much rather love and hate a place than one or the other: you get the best of both worlds then!
      What you’re saying about home, I can totally relate to that!

  12. 12th March 2017 / 6:44 am

    Haha loving the comparison to Marmite/Vegemite, love it or hate it! We absolutely love it though! It’s quite funny you felt like in Italy at some point? That’s total random feeling haha! (Not to be rude but we do get why you wouldn’t like the people. We are in Dubai now and there are so many and it’s just so annoying how they always say YES to everything and don’t commit) Great blog post!

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 2:46 pm

      It happens quite often when my sleep is quite interrupted – I wake up in a daze not quite remembering which country I’m in! Downsides of moving around quite a lot I guess. 😀

  13. 12th March 2017 / 5:37 pm

    I can so relate to this post. When I was in India, I was charmed by certain aspects, like the friendliness of other women and repulsed by others, like the lack of care for the environment and childhood poverty. After two weeks in the country, I was ready to leave and go home but I feel this urge to visit again.

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 3:03 pm

      I was the same! I visited for the first time in 2012 when I was 19 and travelling solo. I had a very bad experience there, something happened which would be enough to put most people off returning but there’s this weird attraction there and so I just had to go back! Once you’ve had one taste, love it or hate it you always feel like you should give it “one more chance”.

  14. 12th March 2017 / 5:50 pm

    What bothered me most about India was the two tier pricing, some places listed countries separately and how much had to be paid. Imagine that back home, if they had two prices to visit famous landmarks, with certain countries paying 20 times as much as others. I struggled with the food in India. In some states it was difficult to find protein, I was eating eggs as there was no meat. I must have lost at least 7-8 kgs in the 5 months I was there. I loved it when I was in a city with McDonald’s or KFC! I’ve no plans to go back anytime soon.

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 2:53 pm

      That infuriated me so much! I don’t mind paying a little bit more, but in most cases I was paying 10x more than my Indian friends. If we did that in the UK there’d be absolute uproar and accusations of racism flying all over the place.
      I work in an Indian restaurant back home so I think I had a head-start on the food as I was eating it every day anyway, but I do have friends who couldn’t cope with eating Indian all the time. And even the non-Indian food has an Indian twist (like omelette which always seemed to have chillies in!).

  15. 13th March 2017 / 2:52 am

    I totally hear you about the either you love it or hate it feeling toward India. I went there for 3 weeks and endured similar events as you did! I wasn’t fussed on the messiness, smells and lack of order with the missing queues as well. However, I loved the samosas, curries, scenery and cultural experiences I had during my stay. It really is its own world!

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 2:51 pm

      “It really is its own world” – I love this statement! It’s so true! The lack of order and disorganisation was the worst for me, it honestly gave me such strong feelings of anxiety.

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