As every loyal and recent reader of this blog knows, I’ve made a triumphal return back to the US and thus, this final Schweaty post is ludicrously overdue.
The last month in India was pretty hectic with goodbyes to friends, transferring responsibilities at work, a trip to Bombay and then of course, a 2-week trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
Saying Goodbye to Delhi
Despite the frustrations this city caused me, I did appreciate and enjoy the experience of living in Delhi. More than that though, I met some really amazing people along the way. I didn’t live with Pam and Sampath during my stay in Delhi however they were essentially a second family to me over the past year. Having dinner at their place or joining them for a holiday like Diwali was always an escape from the complete and utter chaos that I experienced daily. I knew that every time I walked in their front door, within minutes, I would be drinking an ice-cold Kingfisher and smelling the amazingness that emanated from Pam’s kitchen.
There were others too: Tyler, Ashima, Anvesha, Imran, Sadaf, Amit, Kartik, etc. who really shaped my the type of experience I was able to have in India. In fact it really wasn’t a goodbye at all as every one of these people is bound to have an international career which means our paths will definitely overlap.
Leaving Work at Satin
I left Satin Creditcare knowing that I had a measurable impact on the organization. That was a very gratifying realization and one that has definitely left an indelible mark on me professionally. I had daily discussions with the CEO and CFO, got involved in everything from Operations to Audit and Business Development to Website Maintenance, and had great relationships with many of our field staff even though we could barely speak full sentences to each other.
That being said, I was more than ready to leave Satin. It was a challenging work environment physically, emotionally, psychologically, and culturally. The area in which I worked, Azadpur, has to be one of the most disgusting places I’ve ever been. And anyone who has visited that part of the city can attest to it. Extreme heat combined with high levels of pollution, smells of the trash adjacent to the building, and swarming flies made for a pretty nasty surrounding environment. Psychologically and emotionally, I consistently struggled to understand how some of my coworkers were thinking or acting based on words and expressions alone. The language barrier was a main cause of that struggle. Culturally, there is just so much different both from an Indian culture perspective and from an organizational culture perspective. From both intra-office politics to eating lunch at 2pm (I’m starving by that point) it was definitely tough to adjust to, to understand and often, to disagree with the culture.
Overall, it’s an experience that will definitely have an impact on my future career. I may not have always enjoyed it. In fact I may have hated working at Satin at times. However, it was absolutely critical to my own personal and professional development. And I doubt I’ll complain about a work environment like that every again.
I decided a few months ago that I could not leave India without seeing Bombay. Though Bombay had it’s critics from people I met in Delhi, it received more praise than criticism, and at times was hyped enough where I felt like my trip to India would not be complete without a visit to the entertainment and financial capital of India. Further, my visit also allowed me to see an old coworker (and somewhat of a mentor in India), TM Viswanathan, once again.
“Oooooh that sticky feeling” – Upon landing in Bombay (and according to people I met living there, don’t use “Mumbai”), you immediately feel the insane humidity, particularly in the pre-monsoon season. Whereas in Delhi the mercury reaches 110 degrees regularly in the summer, in Bombay it can be 90 degrees and feel like 110 with the humidity.
Despite the humidity, it was amazing to finally visit a city on the water. Bombay juts out like Manhattan with spectacular coastal views along Marine Drive. I rode in a taxi from the Southern tip of the city all the way across the Bandra Worli Sealink (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandra-Worli_Sea_Link). Bombay has beautiful neighborhoods like Bandra with a great Bar and Restaurant scene, abundant auto drivers who you DON’T have to negotiate with, and awesome seafood. The South of the city, Colaba, has a more European feel to it and some really interesting English Architecture. Since Delhi really has no area to walk around, it was so enjoyable to walk along sidewalks, in and out of cafes, and of course along the water. I visited the Taj and the Oberoi, the hotels where the terrorist activities took place and then had a highly refreshing pitcher of beer in the much recommended Cafe Mondegar. At night I went with my friend Rakesh to a classic rock bar in Bandra and then got some late night Pav Bhaji (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pav_Bhaji) along the beach. I’m positive there was enough butter in there that should be consumed over a month’s time span. One of the more unique experiences was riding the train from North to South Bombay. Yeah, think Slumdog Millionaire. The crazy thing about the train, beyond how crowded it is and how many train deaths occur every year, is that the different “classes” are essentially identical. People pay more to ride in first class for the same conditions. It’s more of a social status thing to be able to pay for a first class ticket. Needless to say, I didn’t really have space to take a picture while riding but you can imagine limbs hanging out the door of the train.
My last minute visit was well worth it. Similar to my experience in Bangalore, I walked away from Bombay wishing I had lived in a city outside of Delhi.
The culmination of my year abroad could not have been more perfect than actually seeing the “roof of the world.” I went to Nepal with two friends (and former Coworkers), Geoff and Michelle, to trek to the Everest Base Camp and see the highest mountain range in the world. Most of you have heard about the trek already so here’s a link to Geoff and Michelle’s pictures which are much more condensed than my several hundred photos.
Do You Miss India?
Most everyone has asked me “Do you miss India?” since my return. After much pondering, cogitating, and deliberation, I have realized that I don’t really miss India per se. I miss friends I made at Lok, Satin, and around Delhi; I miss traveling and exploring the country, particularly the South (Kerala, Goa, Bangalore, Mysore, etc.); I miss working for an organization where I knew I had a measurable impact; I miss the chicken malai tikka rolls with spicy chutney; I miss Lodhi Gardens which was my refuge from the pollution and chaos; I miss the second family I had, Sampath and Pam.
There are obviously particular things I miss. On May 1st, however, I was ready to go. I was ready to leave behind the pollution, the overpopulation, the clogged roads, the smells of burning trash, sewage and ubiquitous defecation, breathing in fumes everyday in an autorickshaw, the endless negotiation, people staring at me every time I got off the metro, working in a decrepit building abutting a community trash dump, power outages in the middle of the summer. ET CETERA. I realized that their was essentially no aspect of my daily life in India that is more convenient than my life in the US. Granted, I had a unique experience relative to some other expats: I worked in an area of Delhi that was devoid of foreigners for miles; I commuted on a metro where I might see a foreigner once or twice per week; I spent significant time in rural areas, delving deep into villages. In fact, sometimes I think I might have enjoyed the work experience more if I worked for a more innovative microfinance institution in Bangalore. I might have enjoyed city living more if it had been Bombay or Bangalore. In the end though it’s all theoretical because Delhi was my benchmark. I made the most out of my surroundings there and any other city would always have positives and negatives relative to the nation’s captial.
Some people might say that there is something mysteriously exhilarating about the chaos of Delhi (and India in general); that it’s part of the soul of the country. I anticipated having this feeling given how excited I was about the experience in India before I arrived last June. The truth is that I never had this feeling. I didn’t love this chaos. Further, this chaos was exacerbated by things that make everyday life uncomfortable: extreme pollution, extreme temperatures, extreme crowding, and extreme poverty. India has indeed tempered my adventurous spirit a bit. Keep in mind that “tempered” is clearly a relevant term considering I am going to Israel and Norway later this summer.
My year in India was a remarkable. It’s one that I will always be grateful for and never regret. It was filled with peaks and troughs. Extreme frustration and surprising bliss (look back at my Mussoorie post). Sadness from so much poverty and happiness from so welcoming a people. Suffocating smoke in Delhi and crisp mountain air in the tea plantations of Munnar.
My travels took me to Agra, Alleppy, Amritsar, Bangalore, Bombay, Cochin, Mussoorie, Mysore, and of course the beautiful beaches of Goa. If I wasn’t able to share these travels in person, I hope I conveyed how amazing these cities and sites were through my words.
And now, with this post, I conclude Schweaty’s adventure in India. But don’t worry, there’s no way I’ll stop sweatin’… even in Ann Arbor!