Thirteen. The number of years that had passed since I last visited India as a ten year old boy, still naive and not mature or old enough to understand what’s going on around, just witnessing what my eyes allowed me to. I had a few memories that I often flash backed to before my most recent travels, but some of those included poverty, slums, children younger than me begging for money but these are all things you can’t often relate to as a 10 year old boy.
Twenty three. I returned to my Indian roots, where my ancestors had come from and I experienced the reality of how people in the third world live. Leaving Mumbai airport, dressed in a number of designer pieces as my parents collected me after travelling out there a few weeks earlier, my heart sunk. The reality was this wasn’t one of my usual luxury travel escapades and nor did I want it to be. This was real life. Wearing Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren, whilst carrying a Longchamp bag and Prada wallet felt so irrelevant. I almost wanted to take it off and throw it into the street. There were Indian citizens that were triple my age walking without shoes, bare feet on stoney ground whilst I was flaunting my entitlement right before them.
What made me any different to them? I was just lucky in the life lottery, being brought into a first world country where things were fair. People have to be paid minimum wage here, they get benefits, free healthcare and have sturdy roofs above their heads. Where as people in India work labour heavy jobs just to be able to earn enough money to feed their families. They don’t work to be able to afford the luxuries in life, like we do. They work to survive.
I heard a few stories from Indian citizens themselves, hearing first hand experiences made it all the more personal and touching.
“I am a driver for this hotel and I get paid around 11,500 rupees a month and I work 6 days a week, each day with 12 hour shifts.” When I heard how much he earned, my heart just shattered. That is equivalent to £133 a month. I then asked the driver if he enjoyed his job and he responded “It’s not about enjoying my job, it’s about earning enough money to feed my family. If I don’t work, we don’t eat – it’s as simple as that.”
When we did a tour of south India, we had another driver that took us to all our destinations and showed us the best places to visit. During our 5 day our with him, we learned a lot about him and his family background. His mother had passed away just 30 days before and he was the only son of his family, both his sister were married and living with their in-laws. It was just him and his dad, where his dad ran a small agriculture business growing rice and therefore he had to take on this new job to earn money for his family. He spent every evening sleeping in the back of the car in the car parks of every hotel we stayed at and to our dismay, we only found this out on our way back home. It wasn’t this experience that hit home the most, it was he said a little later. “I was dating a girl for 8 years, since I was 23. Her parents found out and refused to let us get married because I was ‘uneducated’ and she had completed an MBA. Being in love and being happy doesn’t matter, it’s all about status, money and education. My parents didn’t have the money to educate me and for that I lost the love of my life.”
Education is something we take for granted in England, going to school is something that is just a part of life. Many kids don’t even want to go school whilst others yearn for the chance to be educated, but just aren’t as fortunate.
The sad thing about the way India runs as a country is the corruption that runs through the country. Especially as there are two polar extremes – you have the millionaires and the very poor. The corruption only makes the rich, richer and the poor, poorer. Police are easily bribed with money which is a struggle to get any legal justice in the country. Stall owners and shop keepers that sell goods try and price things as highly as possible in order to ‘cheat’ you out of money, just so they can earned a few extra rupees. I can’t blame them for trying either.
In a country that is over populated, over polluted and struggling to get by are yet some of the happiest people alive. There is so much colour and vibrance that runs through the city, regardless of the lives they live.
People aren’t afraid of working hard and it’s so inspiring to see. On a taxi journey home from doing some Indian clothes shopping, we pulled up at some traffic lights. We were on the topic of those that beg for money at your car windows and how a lot of them are run by gangs using small kids to manipulate people in order to give money. However, he said there was one boy who used to beg for money on the same street for many years and never got anything and eventually caught on too. He then pointed at the boy and said, now he’s older he’s learnt the art of getting by and sells stuff that people can buy rather than just begging for money.
During my time in India, I watched, noted and experienced. It was a grounding experience for someone who often lives and travels very luxuriously and my experience has actually changed the way I think about things and how I value the little things we take for granted. I want to start living life more carefree, living in the moment, appreciating everything I have and not allowing envy or jealousy to even cross my mind. After all, I am very fortunate for the life I live and I definitely want to start giving back to the less fortunate during 2018.
Until next time…
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