A Plane? Really?
The distinctive Indian bus horn, a mix of a high-pitched elephant and a trumpet, assaulted my eardrums again. It was four in the morning and the monsoon was in full force. I was in a trans-Atlantic flight-induced fog and would have done anything to get this last leg, from Mumbai to Cochin, over with. Our bus from the international to the domestic terminal was halted by something, and the driver seemed annoyed by it. As the horn squawked again, I slowly began to see what was blocking our way. From between the darkness and sheets of rain, languidly came the form of a… 747. Our tiny airport bus was yelling at a jumbo jet. The jet was not listening.
At this point, I normally would have started to fume over the wasted time, the incompetence of airport officials, the absurdity of telling a plane to get off of a runway for a bus, and so on. This time, I just leaned back and smiled. What brought about this startling transformation? I cannot cite a specific “Aha!” moment or a life-changing event. Instead, what I can say is that life in India gradually ground down my exaggerated sense of importance and impatience.
That my opinion here in America is, at the very least, respected, made my ego grow just a little. I am not saying that I became a self-enamored maniac, but I did begin to offer my opinion on most everything that crossed my path. As expected, this annoyed friends and family. In India, however, it’s a different story. The staggeringly large amount of opinions in the world’s largest democracy makes it quite easy for your voice to get lost amidst the general cacophony.
This can have a very humbling effect. When my opinion became one of an unending stream of opinions, I began to see the contrast between my pretension and everyone else’s pragmatism. For example, I went with my grandmother, my parents, and my aunt and cousins to a local mall to buy a birthday gift for my little cousin. The mall was okay, but the bathrooms were not the cleanest I had ever seen. I walked up to the manager to tell him this. In retrospect, I should have realized exactly why my entire family was about to burst out laughing. But no, I strode up to him and informed him of my complaints.
“So get a mop.” That’s it. End of story. Even my parents were surprised at the brusqueness of the manager, but that’s life in India. I’m still smarting from that blow, but in a good way. I never thought that my unsolicited opinions were always loved, but I never really thought that they were that annoying either. This experience didn’t cause that revelation immediately, but it did plant some doubt in my mind. I began to keep my mouth shut more often and noticed how nobody proclaimed that they missed my opinions. This set off a slow chain of thoughts about my other habits, ones that I had never thought of as particularly in need of change but could be grating to others, especially my family members. So, while in India, I tried not to complain about the two mile trips that took three-quarters of an hour or the roads that looked like the surface of the moon. Instead, I finally found best part of those trips, their raison d’etre. This allowed me to digest the whole experience of living in India, both the great and the horrible.