I have a bittersweet love affair with India

I’ve sworn I would never ever travel to India voluntarily and yet we’ve just returned from our sixth annual ayurveda treatment in Kerala. After all these years I still can’t wrap my head around what frustrates me most about this place while at the same time I simply can’t stay away from it. For sure, India attracts a lot of stereotypes and many of them are true. But my love and hate relationship with this country is based on many small episodes that sometimes drive me crazy while at others just leave me in awe about this strange place so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Here’s just a couple of examples.

As long as things work as they are, there’s no point improving them – I bet there’s a bit of Gandhi in every Indian. There’s no other explanation for the extreme patience bordering to ignorance with which they approach life. I’m used of being around people who constantly strive to improve things, make them more efficient, comfortable or simply just better looking. Indians seem to be oblivious to any such needs. Once we had an opportunity to observe a local handyman put up a shelf in our room. He simply drilled two holes into the wall, screwed the two brackets and fixed the shelf – all that in less than five minutes. The fact that the shelf was not level skipped his attention. Every time when I see that shelf in our regular room I can’t help but smile. It still not level, but it serves its purpose of supporting the cable TV box so why bother, right?

Shop assistants that don’t really assist you – Enter any Indian supermarket or shop and there will likely be more shop assistants than actual customers present. They are all extremely friendly and polite, but aside from carefully putting all your purchases into more bags than you would need for a month worth of shopping back home they are not really that helpful. I was trying to find ground cinnamon and went through the same process in two different supermarkets: I successfully located the main “condiments & spices” shelf as well as all other less obvious spots where they kept some extra spices without any apparent logic. Cinnamon was nowhere to be found. So I turned to the closest shop assistant for help hoping that she would perhaps check their stock. Instead I followed her through the store only to personally check every single spice jar once again, exactly as I’ve done before. “Sorry Madam, no cinnamon,” was the answer I got both times. Gee, really? I’ve told you before that there’s no cinnamon on that shelf…

Confusing airport procedures – After five trips we thought we had this one covered. We’ve learnt that you should have your carry-on luggage label stamped by security personnel to be permitted to the plane. We’ve also stopped counting all the times they control your passport (at least six times at the last count). Yet still every year they have a new card up their sleeve, just for the sake of the “Gotcha!” moment or so it seems.

This time it was the exit immigration officer wanting to know where we stayed for the last two weeks. The name of the ayurveda clinic obviously didn’t ring a bell so after a while he produced a paper, torn out of a notebook. We had to write down the phone number of the place into one of the two hand drawn empty columns. I would be surprised if that paper made it beyond the first trash bin. If it did, then I hope the clinic staff vouched for us if they received an unusual phone call from the airport immigration office.

 

I know I sound like I’m splitting hairs here. I can’t help it, I was never swept off my feet by India so even after all this time I can’t turn a blind eye to it’s quirks. But it’s these same quirks that make each and every trip a special experience. I guess that’s what makes a bitter-sweet love affair tick.

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