I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say that India will change your life. Spend a day there. Spend a week. Spend half your life there. I guarantee you’ll leave India a different person. Better, even.
I get that India isn’t always number one on peoples do-to lists. Between the poverty, poor infrastructure and a terrible reputation for mistreating women and minority groups, it’s not hard to see why people would rather hit up the Americas or Europe.
I’ll tell you straight up, India is not a ‘fun’ place to visit. Fun is definitely not the word. You can not avoid coming face to face with the harsh realities of life: suffering, hardship and the fragility of human existence. Big stuff, I know. And it’s easy for us westerners to roll our eyes at topics like that because we can afford to ignore them a lot of the time.
It wasn’t until I met people who didn’t understand the concept of ‘tomorrow’ let alone the idea of ‘next week’ that I realised how seriously I undervalued my life, and the life of everyone around me.
‘Time’ is a relatively new concept for us as a species. We have clocks and calendars so that we can think ahead. But take us back 10,000 years and none of us could afford to think hours ahead, let alone a couple of months. Life was not a guaranteed thing. And if I learnt anything in India, it’s that this hasn’t changed.
A lot of the people I met fully appreciated the fact that life was not permanent. They faced Death everyday. They could easily have concentrated on that, but instead they chose make the most of life. And it is this life and energy that takes your breath away. I truly believe that India is one of the most vibrant places on Earth. Despite the suffering, you won’t have seen so many smiles in your life as you will walking along the Ganges or through a sprawling slum.
- These girls live in Sahibganj, one of the poorest regions in India.
I’ve been to India twice now, and I’m still trying to figure out why this is.
For the most part, I think the poor have a healthier concept of happiness than is generally found amongst the privileged. Before India, I thought happiness was a place you get to. You work hard at something, earn a reward and boom – happiness. I never saw it as something I could control. Certainly, it wasn’t something you could have when times are tough.
That was until I met Tali. She lived in a hut on the outskirts of a rural village. She had been abused as a child, and resultantly banished from the main community because of her ‘shame’. I met her at a special school which took in girls like her and gave them a chance at independence. She told me she was the luckiest person in the world because she got a place in this school. She explained that her life has been hard, and there are days when she cries, but ‘it could have been a lot worse, and so I am happy’.
I began to understand the role faith and spirituality have when it comes to happiness. I spent time amongst ruins that witnessed the birth of major religions. I sat beneath the tree Buddha supposedly found enlightenment underneath and I touched the river that supposedly gave life to the first Hindu’s. I also spent time in Christian missionaries and witnessed firsthand the generosity of Islamic hospitality. I spent a lot of time with people who dedicated their entire life to God. I began to see that faith wasn’t so much about giving as it was about receiving. One Hindu mystic explained faith to me like this: Bad things happen, that’s life. You can choose to look at bad things as inevitable and that’s the end of the story. Or, you can choose to believe that they happen for a reason, as part of a greater plan, and you can take some sense of solace from it. When you choose to see God, you will always see good.
- “Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think”
I learnt that no one can make me sad or angry unless I let them. It sounds like a pretty straight forward concept but it’s hard to get your head around at first. I had a lovely driver called Raj for a decent portion of the trip. We were walking through a thick crowd and Raj accidentally bumped into a well-to-do man. He spat on both our shoes and shoved Raj aside. I was so mad! I found Raj in the crowd and he patted my back and told me I was wasting my energy. He said India was a crowded place, your heart would stop if you tried to be angry at every person who bumped into you. Besides, he explained, being angry doesn’t change the fact that there is spit on your shoes. You can get your hackles up and spit back, or you can keep moving forward and enjoy the fact that they’re behind you.
India won’t make you any better at saving money, you won’t come home and want to eat less because of what you see over there. You’ll still like expensive watches and pretty things. But you will hug your family a little tighter and you’ll find yourself smiling more than ever before. You’re not smiling because you’re life is any different, but because life means so much more than it did before.
I learnt that happiness is not something you find at the end of hardship or suffering, it’s something you find in spite of it. There is no such thing as a perfect world, or a perfect life. Happiness isn’t about perfection, it’s about appreciation. I learnt that things could always be worse. And they can always get better.
- Witnessing a sunrise is considered a blessing in India.
- This is the last Tripping With Grandma post. For more by Ally, visit: allylynch.wordpress.com