Columns, Opinion

THADANI: Why I (don’t) HATE India

Ever since the election of India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in May, I’ve seen the country pop up a lot in headlines. There’s been a lot of talk over how Modi has been transforming the country and finally helping it grow toward the economic greatness that it is destined for. For example, a civil aviation policy announced Wednesday is under preparation by the government.

While looking into the reforms Modi has made, I somehow stumbled upon a YouTube video entitled “Things I HATE about India” by a user named Jus Reign that he published in April. As someone who has spent a lot of time in the country and finds it quite endearing, I was pretty intrigued.

In this video, Reign, a 20-something Sikh man, sits in front of the camera in what looks like a nice hotel room and rants about, well, why he hates India. Among Reign’s complaints were the ubiquitous traffic, pollution, persistent street vendors and relentless way in which people stare at each other. I spent many summers in India while I was growing up and have definitely found all of these annoyances to be true and know countless people who would agree.

But I learned how important it is to look at India with an open perspective two summers ago when I took up a field reporting stint with a non-profit based in Mumbai, India’s most populated city. I traveled with a translator to more than 30 villages in two states — Gujarat (the state where Mr. Jus Reign was recording from) and Andhra Pradesh – over the course of a month and a half. I spent the first part of my trip hesitant of fully immersing myself in the country, and frustrated at similar things as Reign articulated in his video.

One day, in an effort to eventually get me to engage the culture more, my translator uttered me the phrase “Here, we fight like with like,” meaning we must fight the things we are hesitant about by going out and embracing them.

That was the phrase that turned things around for me during that trip, because I realized the only way for me to beat my nerves and reservations with the country — traffic frustrations, pollution qualms, persistent street vendors, heavy seasonal monsoons and all — was to embrace it for all of its faults and nuances. This perspective, I feel, is where Reign missed out while being in India.

He is right in that there is nothing more irritating than the traffic in India. People move about with no regard to streetlights, traffic stops, lanes, people and sometimes even cows, often seemingly without a purpose. But, as someone who typically isn’t the one driving, I find being on the Mumbai road somewhat thrilling and humorous.

Then there’s the persistent street vendors who will whistle or smack their lips at you until they catch your attention and you buy the trinkets or food they’re trying to sell. The whistling and lip smacking is often alarming and uncomfortable, but, it is from these vendors that I’ve bought some of the most delicious food, beautiful jewelry and shoes, all for less than $5. (Unfortunately, when it comes to the pollution and the way people tend to stare at each other with no regard, I have no defense.)

It’s the culture behind these “annoyances” that Reign ranted about, that I actually find most charming and entertaining about the country — something that is best seen from the inside.

So, in response to Reign and the reasons why he “HATES” Indian: When it comes to India, as with most things in life, it’s all about perspective.

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