I can’t believe it’s already been a little over a month since I first arrived in Bangalore. Time flies so fast I’m beginning to realize that 5 months is not enough to really get to know India. This country is so broad, so diverse, I now know I cannot judge it through a short stay in one city. Every single state here has its own culture, language, script and traditions. Every region has its own landscape and geography – depending on where you are you could find snow-capped mountains or dry deserts, sandy beaches or misty hills. Though there are some fundamental things that are consistent throughout India, I am realizing that it is unfair to draw any conclusions without experiencing it all.
Still, there are some things I have discovered during my first month here that are helping me get a better sense of life in the Motherland, and particularly life in Bangalore. And I’m hoping that by the end of my stay here, I’ll at least have some idea of whether or not I want to live here long-term.
Some of my discoveries so far:
1. Anything administrative takes forever in India. This is one of those fundamental things that is consistent all over India, and I am really amazed at just how much red tape one must go through here. Whether it’s getting a sim card for your phone or opening a bank account or getting an apartment – you will have to be prepared to fill out all sorts of forms and present all kinds of documents and follow up multiple times before seeing any progress. Sometimes, I can kind of understand why it may take long. Other times, I am completely baffled. For example: in all my travels so far, I could just walk into a phone store, buy a sim card and walk out with phone service. In India, I had to show my passport, bring in a passport photo, fill out paperwork and first get a regular sim card, and then wait for my account to be activated, return to the store, fill out some more paperwork and then walk out with a microsim for my iPhone. Sometimes I’m amused, sometimes I want to bang my head against the wall. At least it’s teaching me that a life in India will require patience and perseverance – something to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to live here.
2. Admin stuff aside, Bangalore is a really fun city. Walking around on the streets, this is not apparent. From the outside, it looks like a typical, shabby Indian urban city – just a little cleaner and with more greenery. But below the surface, there is a strong progressive vibe and a whole community of creative, forward-thinking people. Through Kitsch Mandi and Startup Festival, I have met entrepreneurs, artists, designers and musicians. Through my job, I have interacted with various non-profits and small businesses working on fascinating projects. Two days ago, I stumbled upon the street dance community in Bangalore, a community I didn’t even realize existed in India. And the many international students, interns, volunteers and expats give the city’s cafes, restaurants and bars a cosmopolitan touch. Never did I think I would be sitting in India socializing with so many European/North American/West African/Middle Eastern/Latin American people. All these things make Bangalore a very livable city for me. Being here, I get to connect with India but without giving up things that I enjoyed about my life in New York.
3. At the same time, there are certain restrictions that I’m having to get used to here that are new to me. While there are pockets of modern, liberal people, Bangalore as a whole is still very conservative and my usual summer wardrobe of tank tops and dresses has to be replaced with clothes that cover my shoulders and knees, despite the hot weather. India, in general, is not the safest country for women, and I don’t take autos (rickshaws/tuk-tuks) or go out by myself after dark. After years of living in a country where I had more independence, it is an adjustment, especially because most people hang out in the evenings after work. Here, I am restricted to going out only when an intern/volunteer wants to go out too, which doesn’t give me the freedom to form too many friends outside work. If I were to live here long-term, I would either have to stay with roommates who share similar interests or earn enough money to pay for cabs or learn to drive (!) or figure out something so I’m not stuck at home by myself in the evenings.
4. India is a country of contrasts. This part is taking a while for me to digest because it is the reason why I’m having trouble forming a fixed opinion on India. The young, hip crowd in Bangalore shows me the modern, entrepreneurial, avant-garde side of India, the side that is liberal, passionate and wants positive change. Then the newspapers, filled with stories of rape, abuse, religious violence and corruption, remind me of the darker side of India, the side that still follows the caste system, divides the country and tortures its women. It saddens me so much to read things like this or this (thank you to Julia for this book recommendation), but they represent the stark realities of many people here. Living in Bangalore, interacting with the people I interact with, I see all the hope, all the opportunity, all the possibilities – people really out there trying to make a difference. And then I look at the broader picture and see a country that still has such a long way to go.
Overall though, being in India is forcing me to think about a lot of things that I know will help me decide not only where I want to live, but also next steps in terms of my future plans. It is a good place to be to culminate my year of travel, and I’m really glad I chose to come here. Like I mentioned in my earlier post on India, I’m interested to see how I’ll feel and where I’ll stand at the end of my stay here.