Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme
A Journey back to Reality and Home
Three weeks into my internship I know less about India than ever before. It is much easier to piece together an intelligible image of an incredibly diverse and complex country, from afar. All that needs to be done is stitching together a couple of generalizations and simplifications and voila, there it is – India.
Depending on your generosity and imagination you might buy into the poor, backward, uncivilized picture of it, or the cultured, spiritual, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ depiction. Alternatively, for those of a more sensual set of mind, the seductive, flirtatious image of India is readily available. The more prudish need not be disappointed either; India can perfectly take on the role of an unabashed bastion of family values. Ultimately, its repertoire is as diverse and colorful as its movie industry. An opinion on India can function as a projective psychological test, your interpretation of what India is, actually tells you more about yourself than about the country.
Although there is some truth in all of these virtual portrayals, none of them is sufficient in itself, nor are they equally accessible once you are on the ground. Poverty and chaos strikes you from day one, while it takes far longer to glimpse India’s spirituality. Religiosity is on the surface, you see people taking pujas in the Ganges every day, temples are scattered across Kolkata, yet genuine spirituality is probably as rare as everywhere else. There are undoubtedly pockets of otherworldliness; Darjeeling, high in the Himalayas, on the border with Nepal is certainly one of them. Buddhist philosophy permeates the place and there is an incredible peacefulness and self-sufficiency to it. Yet overall, my idealized version of India as a safe haven of spirituality has been taking hits from Indian reality.
My romantic view of international development has not been spared either. As I understand better the enormity and complexity of the challenges that India is facing, I am coming to question the assumption that I would be able to make a meaningful contribution to the development of countries other than my own. It is becoming apparent to me, in a poignantly striking fashion, that India’s problems, daunting as they are, are its own to solve.
Development work requires understanding and there is no place I know as well as home. If I am to make a difference it would have to be there, a life time could be spent attempting to comprehend a country as complex as India. Paradoxically, it took a journey to the other end of the world to dawn this realization on me and turn my inner compass towards home. These three weeks have truly been an awakening. Thank you, India.