One of the things that constantly surprises me here is how welcoming everyone we encounter is*. The surprise is not so much that the folks I encounter here are so caring, open, and giving, as that I don’t expect it: This tells me that my training back home was to expect closed doors, minds, and hearts much more than I realized. Not so much from my close friends as from those I am just getting to know, acquaintances, familiar strangers, and so on. Some examples of small daily surprises here:
- The stable owner where we ride each morning invited us to watch a Polo game. At the end of the game, a complete stranger came up to us and handed each of us a bag of chips and a box of mango juice, left over from what a student group at the same game had been given.
- I forgot to bring any cash with me when I left for the game, in a rush, with a sleeping daughter in arms. When I exclaimed aloud about this without thinking, a passenger in the car, whom I barely knew offered me 1000 rupees with the vague notion that I would see him in the next day or so to pay him back.
- The GHAC members we have meet invariably show the kids with snacks and candy and requests for photos. When we finally organized the cleanup of our local playground that the kids have been requesting since our hike to Ananthagiri hills, one GHAC organizer offered to attend and bring the leadership of GHAC with him to help. We assured him this was not necessary, but he and others at GHAC helped me to find gloves appropriate for picking up broken glass, and were generally supportive of me and full of praise and support for the kids in doing the cleanup.
- Other families in the block have offered to watch the kids, include them regularly in happenings such as Pujas (as well as myself), and generally made us feel completely at home and as though we’d lived here for a long time already.
- The staff at IIIT have worked hard to meet our every need, often coming to our flat to bring things to us if we were not able to come right away to their offices.
I’m sure if I stopped to think about this I could come up with many more examples, including many from our time at RGUKT, others from my interactions with the GHAC and Hyderabad Polo and Riding Club, and more. But my goal is not to document every example. Rather, it is to take note of how nice it feels to know that a neighbor is a friend, how friendly it feels to help and be helped by those around us, and how open and open hearted a society I find myself in.
For the most part I believe I am adjusting well to these differences, both as one who can give and as one who accepts help and affection from those around me. I want to adapt to this new way of doing things and hope to bring some of it back with me. However there is one thing that I find most difficult to change: One of my friends here asked me very nicely to please stop saying “Thank you.” It makes her uncomfortable, and is abnormal to say it so often.
Each time I am touched or surprised by the givingness of people around me, calling it out and thanking them for it is my instinctual reaction. However, it is culturally awkward to do so (and perhaps would seem less necessary if it seemed more normal to me to be surrounded by such giving). So I will try to adapt, though I fear I could step wrongly in the other direction (or that I will simply find this change too hard). But allow me an indulgence, here on this blog, one that may help me to rein myself in later: Thank you, to everyone I meet here, for being who you are and doing what you do.
*I am not claiming that there is nothing negative here. For sure, we have been asked for money (beyond simple borrowing), stolen from, and beggars are also common. However, the overwhelming feeling is that of a positive, giving environment in which far more people reach out to help each other than the reverse.