I remember my fellow intern, Ali, repeating the advice of one of our esteemed professors on our first day in India: “In India, you always have to fight to get what you want. Always fight.” Almost one month into our internship, I’m finding that the words exemplify a truth of India.
Right now, as I’m outside on the second-floor terrace of our guesthouse (see the attached pictures of the view from our terrace and our guesthouse), I enjoy the momentary peace. It seems that I take more pleasure in these moments now that I know that the advice was correct – as I reflect back on our adventures in India, we have indeed fought for everything that we have wanted. Constantly, I find myself awestruck with the way that fighting is ingrained in Indian culture.
Simple chores like buying food and clothing turn into day-long events where haggling for prices for rickshaws and goods seem endless. Every day, we walk to work with ears constantly perked so that we can recognize the sound of a car in case its driver does not see us first. As girls, we must always remain inside the guesthouse after dusk falls because, according to our live-in aunty, “the boys outside are no good” (a rule that I find particularly difficult to follow as I love to run in the dark of night). People watch for poisonous bugs and mosquitoes that have diseases that can kill if they are treated incorrectly or too late, a likely possibility with the quality of Indian hospitals. I also find myself constantly questioning the motives of those around me – is someone being truly helpful or, as often is the case, is there duplicity somehow involved? These are the constant, subtle ways that citizens, and now us, fight for our survival.
And, as always, there are more obvious ways of fighting. Ali, Eliana, and I had two more trips to Indian hospitals due to the fact that our guesthouse manager, a kind 18-year old, spontaneously had muscle spasms and could not feel her limbs at midnight earlier this week. Luckily, our bosses come to our aid immediately in what now feels like a routine and we head to two local government hospitals. Even there, we fight to try to make sure that she is being treated correctly and given the right medicine despite our limited knowledge (thankfully, she is now fine and resting in her village a couple of hundred kilometers away from us).
Two days later, we also had a somewhat horrifying experience when we found out that our food left in our lunchboxes was being fed directly to the diseased dogs that roam the village. That night, we ended up laughing about it, however, as we fight to keep our health and boil our lunchboxes to get rid of any possible bacteria (even though the next day we happily discover that diseases like rabies cannot be transmitted by eating out of an infected lunchbox).
And then there are the physical fights. Last night, when Ali, Eliana, and I were walking back from Bali’s local bazaar, there was a sudden yelling as a man ran across the street in front of us and starting punching another until he lie passed out on the ground. It was over in a matter of minutes yet the spontaneity and severity of it unsettled me for much longer.
Throughout each event, the constant phrase rings through my head as I am constantly reminded that to survive in India, we must always fight.