An incident on the train: travelling AC, for the first time in India. What an ordeal I made of this. It was ridiculous on my behalf.
I’ll explain: In India, there are so many different classes you can travel on. Me being me, I have always gone with the cheapest class, which is non-ac ( without air conditioning). It’s basically an overloaded carriage, that stinks, that’s hot, that’s male-dominated and can at times feel to be an intimidating environment for women travelling alone. But I would never even consider spending “so much” (on Indian terms) on a seat just so I can sit down and travel in comfort, for a “short 3-hour train journey”. Never. For a number of reasons I wouldn’t consider this. What I could do with for the same amount of money is endless: feed myself for 2 days or book a room for a night or work on the internet for 10 hours in an internet café! That’s the money -side of it, then there’s the other side of it; which is, even if I have the money, how could I feel fine to think of deserving to travel in style? Just because I’m not native? Just because I was earning my wages in dollars, before coming here?
It felt so wrong, at the weekend, to be travelling in a higher class than I usually would be travelling. I actually got into such a mess in my head because of it and wondered: why me and not them? I should be “back there” amongst the heat, the chaos, the smell. But I wasn’t. Why couldn’t I enjoy it and be happy to have such an easy train journey? Why couldn’t I appreciate the fact that Byron and Patsy were offering me something so generous? I couldn’t believe how much “stuff” it brought up for me.
Afterwards, we spoke briefly about it. All I could say on the matter was: why me in an ac-carriage, and not them? Then Byron said something ever so interesting. He said to never let your standards drop, even though you may be surrounded by standards which are far lower than what you have been brought up with. And it’s actually an issue I have been faced with on several different occasions in India.
For instance, when I was in the hostel I felt, the longer I was there, the more I was starting to care less about hygiene. I could see that I was slowly starting to feel fine to wash my clothes in a dirty bucket and to walk on a floor barefoot that hadn’t been cleaned and to eat my rice with a hand that I hadn’t had the chance to wash properly. I could see I was slowly caring less that my roommate would go to the toilet and leave traces on the toilet seat and to smell a smell of sweat in our room from which I had no clue of the source. All these things: I had to see them as normal, only so I could feel comfortable there in the hostel. I had no choice. How else would I have gotten through those weeks feeling all the amazement I was feeling? It wouldn’t have been possible, had I not adjusted and accepted THEIR hygiene standards. So I did.
But now I’ve come to realize how important it can be not to FORGET your own standards, even though you may need to temporarily ADJUST them. This is not only regarding hygiene, but the general standard of living. There’s a difference between forgetting and adjusting and maybe that’s where I got caught “off-guard”. A person can simply adjust their standards, because they have little choice in the matter and otherwise would be “deprived” of the rest of the beauty a certain experience can be giving them. This is what I did in the hostel. A person can however forget that they were raised with certain standards of living and general hygiene and become totally “one” with the world around them and feel they deserve the lowest of the lowest because they find themselves in a world that happens to contain a standard of living that confirms a particular travellers belief that in order to have a positive influence on those less fortunate they also must lower themselves to that level. This is SOOOO not the case! It’s not was I was doing, but it’s what I may thought to have been necessary. How interesting to see this so clearly!
I now see that a person can see themselves as being the same as the other person, regardless of their ”wealth”, their upbringing, their religion, their standard of living. I ask myself: How can an outsider find a balance between the world from which they come and the world in which they have chosen to place themselves? Well, nothing is ever black and white but if a person from a different country can see themselves as being blessed to have their roots in their home country that has wealth and therefore puts that person in a position to travel and make a difference, if that’s what they want to do in life, then standards need not slip but flexibility should be owned. Their land of origin gives them the opportunity to spread whatever it is they want to spread. The wealth only gives options and opens up the world in whatever way that person may want it to open-up. It doesn’t make them snobs, it doesn’t make them feel to be any better than others. It doesn’t define who they are.
Native Indians, most of them, will disagree with this last statement, I reckon. But that’s because they may not have those opportunities or the wealth and envy may play a role. I would like to add though, that most people say India is a 3rd world country, and in parts it is, but there IS money and wealth here, especially in the cities; it’s just the size of the population and the contrasts within the 1 billion different people that cover Indian soil, which make it nearly impossible for the money and wealth that is in the country, to be divided equally.
So I need not feel guilty for sitting in an AC-carriage, I need not feel like a snob for wanting toilet paper when I go to the toilet (something they don’t use in India!! Water is all they need..!!). On the other hand: I need not feel like a pig for eating the Indian traditional way (which is with the hands) and I need not feel disgusting when the heat makes me sweat so much. This is me adjusting my standards but also keeping my own standards in place. I also realize: yes, we are all one, we are all the same.. But we cannot feel guilty for our roots and for the opportunities our place of origin gives us: balance in the world is something that is always needed and realizing this doesn’t make us heartless or snobs, it just makes us even more aware of the options we have and the gratitude we can choose to feel for this.