The challenges of living in a different ‘system’: dancing in the rain in India

As happens to so many travellers to India, after ten months, I got ill. Although I was in a beautiful spot with the Ganga at my feet, mountains around me and many inspiring people around who kept me company from time to time - India was not the place where I wanted to be at that point….

It was not the first time during my stay there that I was longing for home or felt that India was ‘too much’ for me, yet it had never been as it was now. It ran a little deeper than the occasional spell of homesickness.


A thinking pause

Pondering this, I discovered an undefineable feeling of having been in India for too long. I suddenly felt that it was becoming harder to stay true to the girl that I know so well, the girl who grew up in the Netherlands - a ‘cheesehead’ in an Indian body.

My personality hasn’t changed during this journey – if anything, it became more solid - but my behaviour and mind set have. In a way – I realised - I’ve been becoming more ‘Indian’. Because I’m bouncing to the heart beat of this country; it is the only way to survive here. Yet at the same time, I was also trying to hold on to my own rhythm of life. Not wanting to surrender completely to the Indian way of working and living. It was confusing and made me restless. I was waiting for the storm to pass by.


Captured by the system

Suddenly I remembered a conversation I recently had with the inspiring Indian writer Gurcharan Das about life in India. He told me not to focus on culture or the behaviour of people, but rather on the system, if I really wanted to understand life in India. According to him, people are the same everywhere, but they respond to their environment. And if the environment differs, so does their behaviour. He gave a striking example:

 ‘When an Indian passes a traffic light in India, he won’t stop for the red light. When this same Indian passes a traffic light in England, he will definitely stop for the red light. What is it that makes him act differently in England? It’s the system. He knows that the chances to be caught and the fines are much higher in England than in India, so he doesn’t take the risk.’


Fighting the system

India may sometimes look chaotic from the outside, but from the inside it’s very structured. It has its own system.  A friend of mine is one of the few Indians I know who wears a seatbelt while driving, and who stops for a red light. Consequently, he is always aware that his life’s at stake in the traffic. When you move to the heartbeat of this system, India is great. When you want to do something different from what you’re supposed to do, India is a challenge. Like any system, really….


Finding another way

So it was up to me. Do I fight the system in India? Do I completely surrender to it? Or is there another way? Strangely enough, in the last couple of days I made all my deadlines and did what I wanted to do without having the feeling that India was holding me back. What has changed? I think I stopped worrying that there is a system which is capturing me, but – understanding what was happening -  I created my own system within the system. As the beautiful quote goes - instead of waiting for the storm to pass, I now am learning how to dance in the rain.


Kathalijn is a Dutch student (with Indian roots) currently working and studying in India, for her studies and for Kessels & Smit. She regularly writes blogs about her experiences there.