Posted by: kelseypaske | January 21, 2014

Lessons from India


 Refusing food is impolite

There is no polite way to refuse food in India. Indian people are naturally very generous and hospitable, and when it comes to food, they take great offence if you refuse. Trust me, regardless of how ‘full’ you may be, it is not an excuse. If you politely decline, you will be asked and asked until you accept. So for anyone travelling here, you will have a lot of dinner invitations and when you accept them, best to accept any of the food that is offered. Of course, being vegetarian will help with most of the offers of food. However, as I learned at a wedding, if you have any dietary requirements, staff will be notified and you will be the target for any food coming out…. It is certainly not the worst thing to endure!


Your tolerance for spice will increase

Masala means spices (not alcohol as my mother thought when I told her about masala tea) and you will find it in just about everything. The only exception is the Western food you will encounter, even then, additional chilli is provided. Spice tolerance increases as the day progresses, whether it’s the slightly milder yet flavoursome taste of chole (chickpeas) from the local cholewalla on your way to work, the more intense curry at lunch. Now the challenge will be to find some authentic Indian food upon return. But not to worry, I will be returning with delicious spices to make my own aloo ghobi and vegetable biryani.


No is not part of the Indian vocabulary

The Indian people will rarely say ‘no’ instead you may receive a head wobble, as recognition of what you said or the question you asked, but no confirmation of whether they actually know the answer. Or they may lie (often in the case of auto drivers) and say they know exactly where to take you but you end up passing the same landmarks three times, resulting in a heated discussion upon arrival at the intended destination as to how much to pay.  


Maps are for tourists and not drivers

Traffic alone is an experience. Often you may be in a car/auto/ rickshaw and the driver will stop to ask for directions or provide them. This can be particularly worrying when there is heavy traffic and you’re flying down a highway. Rest assured, while most Indian drivers are fast and impatient but incredibly good.


India is the best place to be vegetarian

I’ve always found vegetarian food particularly tasty, but there is something else about authentic Indian vegetarian. Oh my! Any plans of ‘getting in shape’ have gone out the window here. My food intake has certainly increased but I’m in absolute heaven. When in Rome (or Delhi) hey?!


Head bobble is contagious

My family arrived a week ago and I warned them that they would notice a small change about the way I engage with others. I now have my very own Indian head wobble. It’s a new addition that I am particularly fond of, but wasn’t aware of for quite some time. In meetings, at home, socialising it’s there.


A bath is not a bath

My idea of a nice bath involves a tub and preferably bubbles. Indian baths however are a bucket with a jug to help you bath. While I’m not adverse to using this form of bathing as I prefer to be clean. It’s not the greatest of experiences when your bathroom is on a rooftop, it’s the middle of Indian winter and the country has yet to discover the concept of central heating. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the experience.


Learn not to pay attention to the attention

I’m a 23 three-year-old blonde haired blue-eyed woman in India; receiving male attention is just something to experience each time I step out of the house. While some of the gestures and comments in Hindi were particularly worrying at the start, I’ve learnt not to pay attention. I figure it’s a skill and a worthwhile one at that! Now I know my way around, of course I feel more secure, but not paying attention to the attention reduces anxiety. For many of the young men who make a fuss, they are incredibly content if you acknowledge them with a hello. So don’t be fearful, be cautious.


Rape and sexual violence occur everywhere

Before I left, as I said goodbye to a lot of friends and family the one piece of advice provided by a few was ‘don’t get raped.’ The Delhi gang rape of a young Indian student more than 12 months ago was absolutely disgraceful. Last week a 51 year old Danish woman was gang raped after she got lost trying to return to her hotel. While I appreciate the concern from friends and family, rape is not exclusive to India. Sexual violence and assault occurs globally and is perpetuated by gendered world we live in that places responsibility on the woman not to get raped.  Unfortunately we still have a culture that focuses on the victim (predominantly female, so forgive the example): what she was wearing, what time it was, her location, did she scream, did she push him, say no? All of these questions shift blame and result in an environment that teaches women not to get raped yet fails to teach men not to rape.  My fear is that India will be associated for many Australians with rape. Let me tell you, there is so much more to this country than the individuals who choose to violate human dignity through sexual violence.


Add India to the ‘must see list’

This is one of the vastest countries in the world. I’ve been fortunate to travel quite extensively from a young age and I have fallen in love with this country and its people. It can be incredibly frustrating and devastating at times with the amount of people and significant poverty, but it is the most enriching and vibrant places on earth. It will change you.

*Please note these are my own thoughts and comments and do not represent the views of the Lawyers Collective or the UNSR on the Right to Health.

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