2013 was an extraordinary year for my husband and me. We arrived in India in January 23. Except for a few short visits to spend time with his brother, my husband had been gone for 40 years, I had never been. We went to explore the possibility of outsourcing our retirement and to reconnect with family.
I think the culture shock was more difficult for my husband because of his childhood memories of India. The most difficult was seeing the intrusion of American companies and women wearing provocative western wear. He was very surprised seeing the expanding Indian waistline. He has a saying, “America is leading the way down the toilet and the rest of the world is following.” Growing up, plastic packaging did not exist. The family had a compost pit and recycled everything. Today India's use of plastics along with poor garbage management has resulted in a huge problem that is getting worse now that disposable diapers are starting to be widely used. To my surprise, I think I adjusted quite well. I expected the chaos of traffic, poverty, and overcrowding, intermittent electricity and knew that there would be things that did not always work well.
We rented a cottage, which is really an apartment according to western standards, located in the Himalayan Mountains. The weather has been always comfortable for the most part. The area is still uncrowded and relatively clean. We thought seriously about buying a house or land to eventually build. Looking back, I am surprised how much I have changed. I left my western clothing in the States and embraced the Indian culture. Many have told me that this has brought me respect and my efforts were appreciated. Some have said “you are more Indian than I am.” I have gained a sense of peace and well being.
Last year much of our time was spent learning how things work and often times do not. We found that we like living in India but fear that this will not always be so due to the growing population and lack of infrastructure. India’s land area is 1/3 the size of the United States and by the year 2020 it will be the most populous place on earth. So far, getting around in India is not easy. In many places the roads are very bad and getting worse. One must book a train ticket three weeks in advance and then you are on a waiting list for the ticket. Sadly, I do not see how things can improve. Corruption is rampant and it is the expected way to get things done. When India gained her freedom from the British she chose a socialist form of government. India now realises that Socialism does not work. However, turning back from Socialism has been very difficult. The Indian government is so big it can’t get out of its own way. The railways, many banks, airports, electric companies and other business are government owned. Since the government worker’s paycheck and job are not dependent upon performance customer service is almost nonexistent. Inflation is another huge problem. When we arrived in January, 1 US dollar equalled 54 rupees, now it is 62 rupees. For these reasons we cannot think of investing in India any time soon, if ever.
Even with all of the chaos and uncertainty we do love living in India. Economics is one big reason. Health care is very affordable and accessible in a lot of places. We enjoy a good lifestyle including a full time cook/housekeeper at a very affordable price. When we are in India, even with all of the fixed expenses we have in the United States, we save $2000.00 per month. The Indian people are also another reason. They are friendly and try to be helpful. Take a walk, say namaste and soon you are invited to tea, and later after tea, "Please come and stay with us when you are in Delhi."
We came back to the United States November 26. I did not expect to feel a reverse culture shock. The first thing I noticed was how expensive groceries are and how limited really fresh vegetables are. Both Ram and I have lost 35 pounds, without trying due to our Indian diet. I find it hard to duplicate here in the states. There has been a huge learning curve learning to cook Indian on an electric rather than gas stove. Things just seem more complicated here, the uncertainty of health care, taxes and insurance and the feeling of how do we hang on to what we have. It breaks my heart to witness America’s continued decline.
All in all, it has been good to be back in the States. I enjoyed seeing family and catching up with old friends. It’s nice to be able to jump in the truck and go where we want to go, when we want to go, and no planning, good roads all the way. Yet, I miss my life in India. Next year we will travel more and see more of India. We go back in April.