I recently got back to California after spending four full weeks in India. My previous trip was two years ago, at the end of 2014. Until moving to the US in 2012, I’d only ever lived in India. Immediately after moving, life in California seemed very attractive, especially by virtue of the things India could not offer (primarily better facilities, a more peaceful lifestyle, and opportunities for individual growth). Whenever I visited India after that, I’d often complain about the lack of infrastructure, pollution, poor traffic, general disorder, and a host of other problems that might affect any developing country. Typical NRI behavior, I know.
This trip was so different though! It was my first proper long vacation in over four years, although that doesn’t explain everything. Over the last two years, my life in the US hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride, and I’ve felt increasing loneliness, conflated with other personal struggles, including those with healthcare and bureaucracy. All of that has surely dulled the sheen that California once held for me. It’s not a radical idea that each place has its problems, but to truly feel and internalize it, and move past the first world fetishism that many in India grow up with is quite empowering. I’ve also been extremely fortunate in the last 2-3 years to have traveled to multiple places and made friends with people from diverse backgrounds. As a result, I find that I’m quite willing to look past trivial (and sometimes even big) inconveniences and focus on the positives whenever I travel to a new place. Once again, none of this is very unique, and seasoned travelers are often quite patient people (I’m not).
The reason I felt compelled to write about this is that adopting a different attitude made my recent India experience extremely positive. On an absolute level, the India I went to did not feel remarkably different. Some infrastructure had improved for sure, but a lot still felt the same. Traffic was noticeably worse, air quality poor, and the streets dirty. These aren’t new problems, as any Indian will tell you, and they’ve annoyed me a lot in the past. This time though, I had decided to travel like I’d travel to any other country – as a tourist. This might feel like a small thing, but it was an epiphany. I found it easier to ignore a lot of the negative aspects, and focus on the good things – and India does have a lot of good things to offer. In the past, I’d get tired of being in India after about three weeks and want to return, but this time I did not quite feel like coming back. Of course, going to India is different from visiting any other country, since I’ve grown up there, and it remains one of the likely countries I could move to in the future. Still, this new attitude was helpful with realizing what really mattered and what was tolerable.
I have to add the disclaimer that all of this says nothing about actually living in India1. Additionally, this is not a good attitude to adopt if one is living in a place, since it can very easily breed apathy. Still, as I continue to evaluate whether or not I want to move to India in the near future, this helped me think more clearly and filter out the unimportant considerations. Without that, I’m predisposed to hyperbolizing annoyances and never creating a balanced picture.