Growing up, I used to resent India because it was the country that took me away from my dad for 2 years when my mom and I lived in Bangalore. India was the country that took me away from my friends during summer break. My mom generally had to beg me to come with her. The high school and college summers filled with activities had given me a great excuse to avoid going to India for six summers. When I told my parents and friends that I was spending 10 weeks in India, it is safe to say that they were pretty surprised.
This summer has changed India for me. India has become the country that gave me independence. India has given me three unique, new friends. India has shown me its beautiful colors, smells, and experiences. Sure, I was far from home and the people I love, but I found a new home and new things to love. I am dedicating this blog post to all the things that made me change my mind about India. I have a lot to say, so please bear with me.
The people I have interacted with
People in India are amazing. Whether it is the patients in the hospitals who come in barefoot because they can’t afford a pair of shoes or the people we see in what is considered a luxury restaurant, Barbecue Nation that we frequented, they are generous and kind. The moment we reached Delhi at the beginning of this trip 10 weeks ago, all the people were shoving and pushing and not afraid to be in my bubble. I had flashbacks to what the resentful, young Roshni thought about India; the people are pushy and aggressive.
After 10 weeks, my perspective is completely changed. The people here are like people anywhere; everyone has places to be and things to do. The difference about people in India is that they are generous. Our colleagues at work barely know us, but they have invited us into their homes to eat meals with their families and to spend time with them on their 1 day off (we work on Saturdays). My random daily smiles were at first a curiosity to many but they eventually started smiling back and were clearly happy to do so. Whether it is the women who cook and manage lunch in Inspiration (our hostel) or the woman who had just wiped the floor and saw me slip in the lobby, they greet me daily, even if it is just a smile. The people that I have met, not just those native to India, have made me appreciate India far more.
This could have gone in the people section, but I have so much to say about them. When it comes to friends, I tend to have a few close, but strong friendships. Given that I had no role in choosing the people with whom I spent 10 weeks, I am amazed at the bonds we have formed. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been any hiccups. Spending so much time together with just 3 other people is a scary idea, but honestly, I got so lucky. My roommate Liz was the first I met on the trip over; we met at the Frankfurt airport and faced the Delhi heat together and the fearful experience of not being able to find our cab driver at 1 AM when we arrived. Since then, I can honestly say how much we have both grown together. She is strong, brave, and composed. We’ve had amazing and deep conversations and have really seen each other change over the 10 weeks. Madeleine is a lovable and friendly person who gets along with everyone; she brings laughter to everyone around her and exudes confidence. From the moment that I met her in Delhi, I saw how her calm demeanor enabled her to handle most situations. Oliver is a thoughtful person with a good sense of humor. He was willing to do basically what all of us girls wanted to do and I commend him for fitting in so well with 3 girls.
During our time in India, we adopted many of our own traditions that made the time pass so quickly and made it so incredibly fun. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we attended dance classes in Madurai. By far my favorite night of the week, however, was Wednesday night when we ordered Domino’s Pizza and watched the Harry Potter movies in order since Liz had not seen them. We played a lot of card games and watched multiple movies. Of course, food played an important role in traditions. We ate at almost the same 5 restaurants the whole summer (most of our food is provided by Inspiration). Then there were always the Sundays when we roamed the city and fun touristy destinations.
The work experience at Aravind
I have already described my project, but I just want to say that the experience in general at Aravind is one that has changed the way that I look at medicine. In my first blog post, I mentioned that medicine to me had been a lot about research and genes and running gels. While that is an important part of medicine, I have now seen that medicine is all about the people. While genes and proteins can help explain a condition and its root causes, what might actually be more important is considering the individual and his or her background. Medicine is about people; the field exists because people have diseases or ailments. My work specifically targeted the people who have those conditions or may have them down the line. Patient education and empowerment tackled the social aspect of medicine head-on for me. The clinical experiences I got from shadowing and watching doctors and MLOPs (mid-level ophthalmic personnel) showed me the intricacies of doctor-patient interactions in India. Although I have shadowed in the US, I would love to go back and shadow/volunteer even more to further compare the relationship between doctors and patients. Suffice it to say that Aravind has sparked this new curiosity and has showed me that I am really interested in understanding patient behavior and doctor-patient interactions.
The distance from family and friends and the time difference has given me a lot of time that I would otherwise spend talking and video-calling people back home. With this time, I have been quite reflective and introspective. I have learned more about myself and my personality and really saw myself change over time into an independent and more tolerant person.
Although I haven’t had as much tea as I would have liked, Indian tea (the kind with tea powder, not the tea bags) is my favorite. The classic serving has a small steel cup and a bigger one with a larger base and the small cup has all the sugar at the bottom so if you mix the bigger and the smaller cup really well, you’ll get all the sugar (which will make it sickly sweet) but I usually just pour it once and it is perfection. If it was possible, it would be the only beverage I ever drank. I tried making tea at my dorm at Penn, but it could never compete with what I get here or what my parents make at home.
I tend to be a homebody, so the prospect of traveling every weekend was a little daunting at the beginning of this trip. However, I am so glad that I pushed myself to be adventurous. I realized that I really do like to travel. I had never traveled in India before this experience. When I came to India with my parents, we went to Bangalore and Mangalore exclusively. I have now travelled more in India than my parents have in spite of the fact that they grew up there. I think that’s pretty cool! My favorite trips were to Kodaikanal and to Delhi. Kodaikanal was the first overnight trip for my co-interns and I, and we stayed in this little hotel that was in the middle of nowhere but it was such a bonding experience. It was a beautiful place and the cool weather was a nice change. Delhi was a really interesting experience as well. Since we spent all of our time in South India, venturing into North India for the last weekend showed how different the two parts of India are. As someone who has only ever spent time in South India, I was really comfortable in South India and experiencing some of the discomfort (despite being able to understand Hindi) in Delhi was insightful.
Looking out the window
The landscapes and sceneries in India are incredible. India gets a bad rap for its pollution and its trash (which it legitimately does have), but what people don’t see is the beauty behind it. Going to Kodaikanal and other places, the greenery and beauty of India is apparent. Seeing that beauty is easy if you go to the right places like Kodaikanal or Kerala, but India has other beauty as well.
The people here live such different, and what seem to be, stress-free lives. At some point in early July, when I was talking to my mom, I said, “we should move back to India,” when I was mentioning the stress-free lives of the people here. Although I said it jokingly, there is something very attractive about the way people lead their lives here. It is a minimalistic yet rich life. It is one where people live with just what is needed and are happy with that. It is rich because people have deep roots to their cultures and the people around them. Sure, they have aspirations and goals, but it doesn’t blind them and control everything that they do. Looking out of a rickshaw (another favorite part of India) or a car, you see the beauty in the people as a woman carries a load of laundry in a pot on her head without supporting the pot with her hands or kids come running to you with candy to make you happy.
I have always considered myself a dancer. Since the age of 4, I did Bharatnathyam dance. Bharatnatyam dance is a South Indian classical form of dance. Although I didn’t get to do Bharatnatyam in India this summer, being in a dance studio after so long was refreshing. My experience with Bollywood is limited and I have never done Salsa dancing before. It was really nice that I was able to embrace new forms of dance while still being in my comfort zone of a dance studio.
I have always been really attached to my parents. When in doubt, I usually turn to them for advice. The time difference and just being more than 8,000 miles away from them really forced me to be independent. I handled different issues, like feeling ill or booking taxis or accidentally eating something I was allergic to, without them. With the difficulties I have successfully overcome on my own while being so far away from my family, I have developed a new type of confidence that I hope will remain with me going back to Penn.
This experience has been filled with learning. Learning about medicine and hospitals. Learning about the eye. Learning about people. Learning about India. Learning about myself. Learning about how privileged I am. Learning about my friends. Learning about my love for noodles. Learning about my boundaries with nature. Learning about traveling. Learning to let go of home. Learning to be a better and more confident version of myself. Learning how to wash my clothes by hand. Learning that the lizard on the wall will leave me alone even if I am panicking (still working on internalizing this one). This has been one of the most productive summers in terms of learning. The things that I have learned are diverse and varied as you can see by the list, but any learning is a step in the right direction.
For all these reasons and many more that aren’t included in the list, India has completely changed for me. I see the beauty in India and its people. I can easily say that India is a place I would not dread visiting anymore. I look forward to going back to India sometime soon. When we were leaving the Taj Mahal, our tour guide said “do not say goodbye, say see you later.” So, see you later, India!