India, the catalyst that changed me
“Civilizations have arisen in other parts of the world. In ancient and modern times, wonderful ideas have been carried forward from one race to another…But mark you, my friends, it has been always with the blast of war trumpets and the march of embattled cohorts. Each idea had to be soaked in a deluge of blood….. Each word of power had to be followed by the groans of millions, by the wails of orphans, by the tears of widows. This, many other nations have taught; but India for thousands of years peacefully existed. Here activity prevailed when even Greece did not exist… Even earlier, when history has no record, and tradition dares not peer into the gloom of that intense past, even from until now, ideas after ideas have marched out from her, but every word has been spoken with a blessing behind it and peace before it. We, of all nations of the world, have never been a conquering race, and that blessing is on our head, and therefore we live….!” Swami Vivekananda
In my eyes, this quote perfectly encapsulates the past of India up to the modern age.
A sensory overload of oxymorons.
This is the single most holistic way to express present-day India.
You could be stuck in the most horrendous traffic jam, in one of the worst polluted cities such as Mumbai and then with a short travel hop be tracking tigers in the heart of an Indian jungle or be unwinding on a beach in Goa sipping mojitos and in a matter of hours be climbing snow-capped mountains in the Himalayas. The sheer vastness of the country’s environment and its diversity of people is astounding. The CEO’s of some of the most successful global companies are Indian but they too may well have walked among people that are living on 100 rupees ($1.32) a day. The cultural differences you hear, feel and see are beyond the realm of what you expect from a country that advertises itself as the world’s largest democracy.
Like any country, nothing is what it seems, but if you are able to accept India for what it is then it can teach you more than any other nation on earth.
Being satisfied with the bare minimum is a quality that few of us possess, we as a modern society live in an upgrade era more so now than ever before. I feel that having these incremental gains in performance from material objects doesn’t actually enhance my life much, any more, while a mindset shift towards essentialism does. Yes, a new purchase will bring some sort of short term satisfaction, however, attaining joy with what you currently have is more profound. The families that live in the native parts of India face each day with the bare minimum in food, shelter and money, some even living off less than 100 rupees a day. If you want to know ‘squalor’ visit the slums of India and yet despite the misfortune these families face, they are some of the most content individuals I’ve come across in my life. Having the ability to smile through the pain knowing that they have to go through it all again the following day.
My time in India has allowed me to reflect on my life, the universe and topics not previously explored. I realise now spending time with yourself and making active use of the main tool of your body and mind, is not an activity that we often set aside time for, certainly not in the way that India teaches you to do. We have come to be consumed by devices that tend to control every aspect of our life. I now understand that the way I was treating my brain and body was not beneficial to me. I now try to make it a habit to only look at my phone after one hour of waking up and throughout the day overall reduce my intake of unnecessary content. By doing this I’ve felt a lot more clear-headed and can actually capture my thoughts! I am using Google Keep as a reflection capturing tool such that my thoughts don’t vanish into the abyss of my mind. To complement this, I undertook meditation and yoga during my time here and in all honesty, it’s been a life-altering experience, that’s a topic that I will touch on later in the future.
The brief periods of time that you end up forgetting are some of the most sincere in your life. For instance, I take 5 minutes a day to watch the sunrise and sunset. It has become some of the most enjoyable parts of my day. “Why?”, I hear you ask. I think it’s because I’ve recognised that I take so much for granted and that appreciating these moments, slowing them down so that I can absorb them, is a great way to keep myself in check.
All this time ‘alone’ after university I felt a longing to be around people I knew, I think I wanted to be in the presence of my friends back home. In reality, I was trying too hard to keep in touch with people, almost as if I was maintaining a tether to my previous life in the UK. Initially, it was tough for me to live in a place so vastly different from where I had come from. The rules and regulations of England are virtually non-existent in India and nothing can prepare you to be thrown in the deep end of it all. There are individuals here each day begging the motorists and pedestrians for food, water and money. Anything that might help them get through the next 24 hours. Constantly being turned away and ignored in a dehumanising manner to which I struggle to accept. The fact that they continue day-in-day-out, I suspect that they must have an internal acceptance and an impenetrable attitude to be able to religiously do this. Over time I’ve come to understand that the loneliness I was experiencing was just a mindset, meaning that it was changeable, and life would go on, with or without people around you. I now try not to live in the past with memories of what was, I am content with what is, and look forward to the future with no expectations. One thing that is certain in life is that we enter into this world alone and we depart from this world alone. Varanasi taught this but it’s a story for another time.
The Covid-19 lockdown here feels more like a prison than a peaceful lockdown, no walking around outside, sirens screaming on occasions through the eerily quiet city and stories of police brutality. Yet in a bizarre way, India has brought the nation and spirit of the people together more than ever before, it’s stayed a united front in the face of adversity. It showed me how a nation can rally together and bring alive the meaning of community even when it can barely feed its own people. Obviously even the strongest minds and communities after 12 weeks will struggle being cooped up inside, nevertheless, for me, it’s not the perfect way to spend the last few months in India, as it is I don’t have much of a choice. Initially, I thought it would be detrimental to me however, it seems I’m in my element. I’ve got a routine that keeps me productive and in touch with my immediate family in the UK and accepted that this is the current ‘normal’ so I’m building my life from this new baseline.
Despite this, it has not been totally smooth sailing, I recently lost my grandfather who passed away in England. I was unable to travel back and as a family, we had to conduct his funeral via Zoom. Not something that I thought I would have to deal with in my lifetime. The point I am making here is that embracing change and going through tough situations helps to shape you as a person, I feel that it is in moments like this that I’ve started to learn more about myself than ever before. It has shown me that I am able to deal with the trials and tribulations that life produces, not to say that I am perfect. I’ve run from my own demons for long enough, now I embrace them, doing my utmost to make sure that I am constantly learning how to welcome changes and adapt as needed.
What’s your purpose? I’ve been asked this question by my dad over and over again, like a scratched record. Initially, I thought that it was a question that required a detailed answer backed with some reasoning that had to be ‘perfect’. From my time here in India I’ve found that I was asking myself that question more often than usual. I’ve wandered through my life for years thinking that I need to have a purpose, and actively searched for it but never really found one that resonated with me. I would have nightmares thinking that my life wasn’t worth living because I hadn’t found that special calling.
Being able to have space to reflect consciously for the first time was certainly helpful, even if I did have to travel halfway around the world to get it. I’ve realised now that I didn’t have the level of awareness back then to see that purpose is whatever you want it to be for yourself, it is constantly changing, that is not to say you are fickle. It can be external or internal and is never solely one thing. I’ve seen people in India whose single purpose is just to put food on the table for their starving families and in the same gaze seen people who want to get completely plastered with a string of shots as their purpose at that moment was to have as much fun as possible. There is no right or wrong and there is no perfect version of purpose, the important point is to give 100% and be honest about what you do, this way you are a constantly striving to be the best version of yourself.
Perfection is just a feeling that you chase, it’s not real.
It is what you value most at that moment in time. I do see the purpose of a purpose, pardon the pun. It acts as the why, and when doing anything, the why is the most important compass we all have.
India has taught and shown me a vast amount through its people and culture. Contentness in life, appreciation of the unexpected moments, acceptance of the now, mindfulness, embracing inevitable change, the beauty in loneliness and finally the ultimate question of purpose, my ‘why’.
Fast forward eight months.
I am not the same person that left the United Kingdom. I may be in appearance, but my eyes have changed or should I say my perception of life has changed, as has my thought processes. I feel like a snake who is shedding its skin of old habits and doing my best not to fall back into my old ways. It is not an easy path to walk but I relish the challenge of another adventure. One thing is for sure, I’m looking forward to the endless learning that life throws at me.
So now you might be thinking Viraj, what is your purpose? Or maybe you are questioning your own. In any case, my advice is to be fearless and embrace all that life throws at you.
At this current moment in time, mine is:
To treat life as a series of experiments while documenting and providing value to others through my journey.