Over the past few weeks, I have traveled during my days off – first to Bangalore, where I visited the Lal Bagh botanical gardens with a friend, shopped in the street markets, and sampled my first Kulfi (frozen Indian dessert) and then to Mahabalipuram, a beach town 60 km south of Chennai with temples, open-air reliefs, and cave sanctuaries.
Living and traveling in India can be frustrating. It is difficult to communicate with the autos without an Indian accent. You feel constantly bombarded by artisans and – more heartbreakingly – by small children wanting to sell you food, jewelry or souvenirs. At times, I want nothing more than to return to North America – to a functional subway system, peaceful natural sanctuaries to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, constant Internet access, and clean drinking water.
Compared to the average Indian, we can live pretty luxuriously in this country. I have probably eaten at more fine dining restaurants here than I ever did in North America (all for around $10). We spend our weekends on air-conditioned buses and trains visiting natural and cultural wonders, and, for the first time in my life, we actually have our own housekeeper. But something doesn’t feel right about eating American food and living in comfort in cities where so many lack the basic necessities of life.
I was talking to one of my Indian friends who wants to eventually do something for the people here. “What do you love about India?” I asked. He paused for a minute and replied, “There is so much I hate about India.” He continued that he feels a sense of obligation toward this country that has so many problems, yet such great potential. “If we don’t fix it, who will?” And I became extremely frustrated because I worry that I have become addicted to a quality of life that I am not willing to give up. Although the discrepancies between those with resources and those without seem more pronounced in India where people sleep on the streets and struggle to receive adequate nutrition, these realities are everywhere, even in more developed countries. As I progress through my personal and professional life, I truly hope I remember the infrastructural and institutional challenges I witness in India and that some part of me, however small, still cares enough to effect change.