I took the blue pill to step out of the Matrix in 2008. That was when I travelled abroad for the first time. Those 6 months were unique and memorable for many reasons, but most importantly it helped me to understand life in India better.
Life sent me to the Netherlands during the end of autumn. I did not go to a bustling city like Amsterdam or Rotterdam, but a calm and peaceful place called Utrecht. I couldn’t sleep for the first 4 nights for no apparent reason. Something was bothering me and eventually, I figured it out. There was no sound. We have all heard the phrase ‘pin-drop silence’ and it is often used to describe how we are supposed to attend class at school. Winter was setting in, the trees had shed all their leaves and there were no birds, so there were no rustling and chirping sounds. Noise on the streets is limited to mornings and evenings when kids and commuters travel back and forth. Compare this to how my life in Bangalore was. Heavy traffic all day long, every street bustling with people, shops everywhere, employees getting dropped off at their homes at 2 am and religious places starting off at 5 am. It was not a contrast; it was like going to another planet. I went from crossing roads in India by scrambling and swerving between vehicles, to pressing the button on empty roads and waiting for the signal to go green to walk in the Netherlands.
Compare this to how my life in Bangalore was. Heavy traffic all day long, every street bustling with people, shops everywhere, employees getting dropped off at their homes at 2 am and religious places starting off at 5 am. It was not a contrast; it was like going to another planet. I went from crossing roads in India by scrambling and swerving between vehicles, to pressing the button on empty roads and waiting for the signal to go green to walk in the Netherlands.
Those were some of the best days of my life, but it was very surreal as well. There was order in everything, in all aspects of life. Government machinery works perfectly, buses and trains all arrive and depart on time. For an Indian, these are unheard of.
But it seemed that the Dutch have pushed their need for order to the extreme. All houses look the same and modifications to houses need permission from municipal offices which takes months to get. The entire neighbourhood is consulted to ensure that no one objects to work being done on the houses. Fishing from water bodies requires a license from the government and even with a license, fishing is not allowed everywhere. Bursting of firecrackers is prohibited except on New Year night. All shops except grocery supermarkets close at 5 pm. When I used to go shopping for groceries at 6:30 in the evening to cook dinner, people in the neighbourhood were having dinner already. Honking is done only in extreme situations and there was only once that I heard a vehicle honk. I saw police cars only 4 times and 2 of those times, they were parked outside supermarkets because the officers had gone shopping. I heard of an accident on the road only once. Children call up their parents and ensure that they are at home before visiting them. Kids have to be compulsorily kept in prams at all times when they are taken outside.
Each one of these aspects is a complete flip from life in India. When I reached office one day, I saw all my Dutch colleagues huddled at one desk. They were watching a video of traffic in India on YouTube. There were no traffic signals or traffic policemen. Vehicles were coming, turning and going simultaneously in all directions. There were cows on the street in the middle of this chaos for the drivers to bypass. My colleagues were fascinated rather than horrified at what they were seeing. I was not surprised.
The entire world has been fascinated by India for thousands of years. India’s rich and vibrant culture that varies distinctly from one state to another, the food, the attire, the lifestyle and most importantly how people of different faith blend and live together seamlessly are wonders that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Even more remarkable is the calm resilience with which we bounce back from natural and man-made disasters. We love our rains and playing in the mud, we shop till midnight and eat whatever we want from wherever we want. If we can drive in India, driving anywhere else is a cakewalk. Life in India builds immunity and the ability to survive. We end up building our nests wherever in the world we end up. I told my dad when I was going to the Netherlands that the only thing that could kill me there was fresh air because my body was not used to it.
Indians love the order of life in western countries, but they hold a love for the chaos of life in India. Why do we love and hold on to the disorder and chaos in our lives? Disorder and chaos are part of the way we live our lives. We need to get together and celebrate at every possible occasion. The ways of celebration may have changed but the need hasn’t. I remember someone wanting to throw a party on Republic Day simply because it happens to be a holiday. The number of festivals spread across each state in the country is mind bending. We celebrate life and we need to celebrate with lights, sound and vigour. No matter how nuclear our families have become, our social structure requires us to be bonded with people, be it with family, friends or colleagues.
There are amazing similarities in the universe at the macro and micro levels. Orbits of planets around their stars are similar to the structure of atoms. How our brain is wired and connected looks similar to the pictures taken of galaxies. The universe is in a state of perpetual chaos and being one of the oldest civilisations in the world with advanced knowledge of the working of the universe, it is only fitting that Indian society and life mirrors the disorder of the universe.