6 Lessons from spending 6 weeks in India

I’ve spent the last 6 weeks in India and although I am originally Indian and have travelled to India on multiple occasions since my childhood, this trip really highlighted some key lessons for me. Visiting my hometown in India, Pune after almost 9 years brought up so many memories and lots of opportunities for growth. I am going to share with you 6 lessons I learned from spending the last 6 weeks in India.

1. Don’t say the P word. I’m referring to Pakistan. It is widely known that India and Pakistan have never been friendly neighbours, however since the Pulwama attack that happened earlier this year on February 14th (interestingly enough the day that symbolises love internationally) the relationship between the two countries has become even more sour. As an Indian who has travelled to Pakistan twice, once for a friend’s wedding back in 2010 and more recently having spent 5 weeks in Lahore and Karachi in 2015 I can say that there are more similarities than differences between the two countries. What I have learned from observing the Indians in this trip in relation to their neighbours is that no matter what, hate will never win. The more hate we put out, the worse we will feel. Instead I urge all Indians and Pakistanis to accept the other and honour each other’s similarities and differences. Politics is always going to try and divide us but it is up to us to unite. Our race is first humanity then a nationality; #WeAreAllOne

2. Discounts are perfectly okay. In India one can and should always ask for a discount when purchasing pretty much anything: from a product to a service. Even though around the world asking for a discount is usually perceived as “being cheap,” in India if you don’t ask for a discount you are probably deemed as “being stupid.” At first I found it very awkward asking for discounts but by the end of my trip I became an expert and managed to bag discounts pretty much everywhere: the corner shop, crystal shop, hairdressers and even the beauty salon. The BEST part is that I learned how to improve my negotiation skills. As a business woman this is a key skill one must learn and practice. If you are looking to improve yours, visit India!

3. Marriage is not personal. Having been born and raised in Spain and lived for the last 7 years in the UK you don’t often hear people ask you about your marriage, but in India everyone wants to ask you about your marriage. To me, marriage is a very personal choice; not everyone wants to get married. I didn’t really feel comfortable being asked about my relationship status or love life, for that matter by pretty much everyone: from the jeweller to the clothes shop owner, neighbours and even my cleaning ladies. In India, however, asking about your marriage is like asking if you are going to vote in the elections or not; everyone is entitled to know your answer. I noticed how almost everyone’s life revolves around marriage and post-marriage (babies). It’s interesting how education, career and personal happiness completely take a back seat in their list of priorities. The lesson for me here was to stand my ground, have strong boundaries and communicate to people what they can/cannot ask me. Probably the most challenging lesson for me but one that I have worked on a lot over the last few weeks. My choice of words moving forward is going to be: “That’s a very personal question to ask which I am not comfortable answering.” Let’s see how well that goes down with the aunties 😊

4. Time is an illusion. In India time is truly an illusion. When someone tells you they are running 5 minutes late they really mean 15 and when they say 15 they really mean 30. I noticed most small businesses in Pune opened their stores at their personal convenience. Even though their official shop opening time would be 10am it really means anywhere between 10am and 1030am which also meant the closing times would be moved back. For a structured planner like me this was the biggest trigger in my trip as I felt I was unable to get things done on time. There was also a very important lesson in this for me: to learn to go with the flow and not have everything planned from breakfast to dinner!

5. Tips = Speed & Efficiency. I have travelled and lived in various countries and as an ex-Payroller I am always keen to understand how salaries and tips work. I only tip if it makes a difference to the basic salary (like in the USA) and if the employee gets the money instead of it being given to the company to use towards their bottom-line expenses (like in the UK). However, in India tips has a totally different meaning. If you want to arrive to a destination quicker then give the driver a tip, he will ensure all driving rules are broken and you arrive as quickly as you need to. If someone helps you with your luggage at the airport, they expect a tip. Money is a big motivator in India to drive efficiency and speed. I personally don’t agree with this because it encourages people to forget their basic responsibilities and only be quick and efficient if they see Gandhi’s face on a note. The way I see tips is as a bonus: if you do your job exceptionally well and go out of your way to ensure it is done quickly and efficiently then you deserve a tip, otherwise you don’t.

6. Customer Service is exceptional. In India as time is an illusion almost everyone will overcompensate with customer service to the point that you will feel guilty not to forgive them for a mistake they have made. Whether it is in a restaurant where your food is late, remember to ask for a discount in this case, to a sales person showing you what new clothes have come in store. They will go out of their way to show you literally everything new in store and tell you how good the new sari or shoe is and how you should really buy it because it will really suit you. I might have over-shopped just because they made such a huge effort to sell! This taught me two things: when selling insist until you get a final and clear no and always sell all your products and services because your customer never knows what they need until they see it all.

I loved spending the last 6 weeks in India, and I would do it all over again. Connecting back to my roots always helps me stay grounded, focused and remember where I came from. This trip has also given me an opportunity to do a lot of ancestral healing on myself. I also see the huge potential India has; however, they must improve as a country to drive forward their economy. My recommendation is self-empowerment through personal development and healing. India, I know I will be back, thank you for all the lessons, until next time! 😊

India – the land of temples, food and cultural traditions!