The search for ‘Real India’ usually comes up when tourists and visitors see something that does not match their Googled images of India. Like tall buildings. And large stretches of smooth road with no traffic.
At this point, person A usually says something like,
‘This is not the image of India I expected. Let’s get away from the commercial areas, I want to see the real thing.’
Which, of course, is claustrophobic streets reeking of urine, dirty kids begging for money, cows weaving in and out of traffic and lively market scenes that will later be Photoshopped into artistic black and white pictures that supposedly capture the beauty of Incredible India.
And then everyone goes home happy that they experienced the Real India, not like those fake ass tourists who lounge about in air conditioned coffee shops to complain about not being able to wear tiny shorts in public.
But even getting followed by drunk men in small towns, sampling whatever the locals eat at roadside restaurants with questionable hygiene and traveling in rickety, old buses is still not real India. That’s called budget traveling.
‘Real’ anything happens to you when you have to take on the systems of the country: It could be going to a hospital in the middle of nowhere, or having to file a report at the police station. (None of which have happened to me yet, touch wood)
Or it could be being given two days notice to find another place to live due to ‘cultural differences’ with your housemates. It could be having to negotiate with people so that you can keep your job after getting into a massive amount of shit.
Real India is when you start to realize that cultural differences are not ‘ha ha, these people all use bidets‘ but are more like,
Oh shit, I’m in trouble because I broke rules I never knew existed and how do I get these people to understand my perspective?
Let’s take the house example. Before, the other trainees had a list of somewhat reasonable complaints:
- the washing machine looks funny
- it’s too hot in here
- the shower does not have enough water pressure
- I can’t stream movies here because the internet is too slow
- these guys are always scratching their balls when talking to us.
And now, new housing options:
- Creepy old female landladies hiding knives in the folds of their skirts
- paying to live in a building with 20 other people and only sharing one toilet
- opting to stay in a girls’ only
prison‘Paying Guesthouse’ with a 10.00pm curfew
- Not being allowed to bring ‘non-veg’ food into the premises
Nothing like being downgraded to bring a little perspective into your life.
Chandigarh’s most famous trainee was a guy named Edward. On his birthday, he convinced a bunch of other trainees to go sleep at the train station, in order to experience ‘real India’.
A friend of AIESEC gave the cops a small bribe to keep an eye on these
idiotic daring and adventurous youths. And so they got to experience ‘Real India’ in all its mosquito infested glory. And a feeling of accomplishment because they survived a night at a train station.
My point? I rarely ever travel with the explicit goal to make friends with the locals and experience ‘real‘ life in that country. I don’t want to because its difficult. And frustrating. And I would just rather have a good time and let things happen, than going around smiling at the natives like an idiot, trying to show how well I can fit in.
And in any case, ‘Real country x’ will come around and smack you when you least expect it.