From 1998 to 2020 India was not just my career, but my life, my passion and, for 15 years, my home. It’s safe to say that I lived, breathed, traveled, ate and dare I say, slept, India. In March 2020, I returned to Yorkshire, a place I’d left in 1988, but which, as any Tyke will tell you, remained proud to be from.
Strangely, over the last three years, I haven’t really missed India, until last night, when I watched the film, Lion. I find it strange that it was the first part of this film, which shows the early life of Saroo, that made me miss India, because, quite frankly, it is harrowing. It depicts, one aspect of life for some people in India, brilliantly, and yes, I must repeat, it is harrowing.
But you see, India is many things, and one of the most multifaceted places on earth. For every statement that can be made about India, the opposite is also true. She is frustrating and fascinating, beguiling and baffling in equal measure. There is extreme poverty and extreme wealth, she is the kindness of strangers and deception from close friends. This list of opposites could go on for days, she is a living, breathing oxymoron but I believe that there is one statement about India that cannot be contradicted and that is that “India makes you feel.”
It is impossible for anyone to travel around this vast subcontinent and not have emotions wrested from them. Whether awe at the beauty of a sunrise over the Himalaya, excitement at the thrill of running white water, or encountering a tiger on safari, peace from yoga or meditation at a spa or ashram, relaxed, with a book and a chilled beer on a beach, terror at the thought of the next credit card bill after a shopping spree in Jaipur, hungover after one too many at a famous Delhi Sunday brunch, sadness at many of the injustices which are apparent, fear, when attempting to cross one of her roads and happiness when one witnesses one of the countless little wins which help the country and its people get through another convoluted day. India is never, and I mean never, dull. All people who travel there will end up loving or hating her, the majority will love her but no one can remain apathetic.
And yet, as I enter my 25th year of having had her as the one constant in my life, there’s still one sentence, which glibly trips off the lips of many who’ve never travelled there, “India! I’d never go there, there’s too much poverty,” and when talking to me, “I dont know how you lived there. I’m not here to defend India, or try and convince people that there’s isn’t poverty there, of course there is. As for how I lived there, well, each day us made up of countless microcosms. I’d stop every day to give bottles of frozen water I’d made the day before, to the family living under flyover in 40C+ for weeks on end, yes, often on my way to a five star hotel for lunch, you can’t fix India, but you have to do what you can, compartmentalise and take each part of each day as a separate entity.
But to those people who have never been and who proclaim that India has too much poverty, what I would say, is that its easy to point fingers at a third world country. But how about looking closer to home? For the last 2 years I’ve volunteered at a local charity, #Focus4hope in Yorkshire in the UK and let me tell you, we have poverty here and with the cost of living crisis, it is getting increasingly worse. Our numbers at the homeless feed in Leeds were around 80, now we regularly feed up to 150, we feed over 100 homeless and vulnerable housed in Halifax and we send out over 80 food parcels a week in Brighouse and the immediate surrounding areas, for Christmas we are sending out over 600 food hampers and these are just three small towns in one county. Eat or heat is a reality for a lot of people. And we are not a third world country. There are many people who turn a blind eye to this crisis, fortunately for our charity and many others, as well as the people we support, there are many who do not and who support us in our fundraising efforts, whether bucket shaking, donating vans for our Christmas Tree collection, hosting sponsored events, cake stalls, sponsored sleep outs, making donations of money, food or time, the variety of innovative ways we seek to survive knows no bounds.
We have a crisis on our hands in the UK. Please don’t be blind to it, people here need your help. https://www.focus4hope.co.uk/make-a-donation/