I am back from India ! After only one month in the mother country of Bollywood and curry (talk about stereotypes), it feels like it is way too soon to be sitting on my European sofa facing the sea, only interrupted by the distant sound of a car passing every half hour and of my brother determinedly repeating the three notes he’s learnt on the guitar off a YouTube tutorial.
I could definitely have spent another month there, working as the competent, dedicated, unpaid intern that I was for Penguin Random House India – thirty-three days living in Delhi is nowhere near enough to understand either the rich culture or the immense chaos that is this city. I have learnt, however, how chaat masala with bananas is the yummiest combo, and how to throw “bhaiyya” (“brother” in Hindi – Hindi, by the way, NOT Indian, which is not a language for God’s sake) everywhere when I talk to strangers. I have learnt that Maggi noodles were a national obsession and have finally succeeded in sleeping over the voice of the fruit seller carefully enumerating every single piece of merchandise he had in stock under my windows for the whole neighbourhood to hear. I have discovered what mangoes should really taste like and how their Indian heavenly sweetness and perfection has made it impossible for me to return to the saggy ones we have in Europe. But on the bright side, I have also learnt to appreciate a juicy, luscious tomato from the South of France after a month of biting into the red balls of water that they dared to call by the same name in Delhi.
I trained my palate to be ready for cumin at any time of the day and have worked on my appreciation of spice – which, I will unashamedly admit, came at a cost that is most frequently known among tourists as Delhi belly. Food was not always easy for someone like me, or in other words someone who is very, very fond of her Mediterranean food and expects to find hummus and an eclectic selection of cheeses in every corner shop. In fact, I still needed the occasional detour to the Hungry Monkey to remember the taste of a good old European brunch and of all the exquisiteness of eggs benedict. But I am proud to say that I came back with a genuine love of Indian food and even dared to find some classic French non-spicy dishes a tiny bit plain… But it’s not all about food (or is it?), because living in India also taught me some serious skills. As a blue-eyed light-haired European girl, I inevitably had to learn all about the art of bargaining. I realise sometimes that is was verging on ridiculous to fight with the rickshaw driver for twenty rupees (30 cents), but it did become a matter of personal dignity. It went the same of market places, where I soon learned, as my friend Snigdha taught me, to never, whatever I did, look interested in anything I saw. “You look away, I’ll take care of it”, she said. I guess I still have a lot to be taught. What else did I learn? My work experience in a publishing house made me realise how perfect life can get when you are working with fellow bookworms. Bookworms are always nice and generally belong to the socially awkward penguin type (again, no stereotyping intended). They are not bothered with social conventions and they don’t expect you to be either. So it was just like being with a bunch of people that were all just like me. That’s probably why I made such great friends in so little time – although I’ll admit that it took me a week and several Facebook friend requests to be able to memorise their names.
Oh, and if there is one last thing that India taught me, it’s definitely what real rains are. I’m not talking about gentle drizzle that you’d complain about in London. I witnessed apocalyptic flooding. The type of situation where using an umbrella becomes a ludicrous idea, because the problem is coming from the fact that your legs are half immersed in water. After all, India doesn’t do things in half-measures.