This question actually had me off guard and unprepared – how is it for you in India? It was a broader question as to how it was in general for people in India. This inquiry came from two different people – once from a Danish elderly woman, and second time from a migrant from Jordan who was living in Austria.
When faced with this question, both the times I did not have a ready opinion based on my experience to be delivered as an answer.
When the Danish woman asked me, the context of the question was about family and bonding – it was then that I answered it even to myself. “It is quite natural for us to live with our parents for really long years, and it is considered the norm unlike in the West. This might also imply that the bonding within the family is deeper, and of course sometimes comes at the expense of independence of many of us”. The woman, who was returning from her daughter’s home, with her life long experience was quick to respond, “We leave our parents latest by 20. I did when I was 19. This does not mean the bonding fades away. We are very affectionate throughout our lives”. It seemed to me later my comment had somehow made her think I had said that they lack bonding in the West, which I hadn’t.
Secondly, a man, frail one, without looking into my eyes called out a “Haelo”, as I was peeping out of the window admiring the power of seas. I greeted him warmly, not knowing if he was expecting me to continue the conversation, and if so, whether he expected it to be in German or Danish, while we were on the ferry crossing borders. I spoke next, in English, relieving myself of the repeated embarrassment of having to say I did not know their local language.
I do not guess on people’s nationality, I am no good at it, and I think that would have to be based on mental stereotypes that one makes. We spoke initially, asking basic questions about each of our whereabouts and the weirdness of the train being ferried across shores. He first asked me, as so many have “Are you from Pakistan?”, and I responded, “Almost, I am from India!”. After a pause of few seconds, I reciprocate the inquiry, he says “I am from Jordan”, and I did not quite get it immediately. The captured sound of his reply was playing in my head a couple of times, and then I repeated “Jordan?”, he nodded yes. He was an Arab, originally from the contentious Holy Land.
He was, like the thousands of migrants, one living in Europe – Austria, trying to make a life, a better one away from his home. He asked me “How is it for you in India?”. This time, there was no context – if this were a question asked by a Swede, I would have spoken about the cultural diversity, linguistic heterogeneity, caste (they are very curious to know why this archaic custom still exists) and the bad state of affairs in the largest democracy in the world. Coming from this man from Jordan, my answer was, almost apologetically, “We have many problems, but no war”. After I told him that, I had a realisation myself about the peace that persists in India. No military patrolling the roads. No constant curfews. No violence on the streets. No bloodshed. No worry about your loved ones being bombed. (At least as a daily routine across the country – the North East regions and Kashmir do have precisely these adverse conditions).
A sense of gratefulness, and remorse both swelled in me. It turned into anguish – one level for the conditions in many countries across the world where people live in fear, or are compelled to flee. Secondly, for the lethargy, that is sometimes such a peril, that it feels as if we Indians do not value these and have no regard whatsoever for the opportunities we have. The endemic misgovernance, systemic exploitation of the poor and the oligarchies.
We spoke some more about job prospects, life in Europe, while in the background I was contemplating the artificiality of all the misfortunes of people and the planet.