Stories

Harriet’s India Obsession

This next story was told with so much liveliness and energy that it might be one of my new favorites. As I was sitting in Holland Park, a group of friends walked by and caught site of my sign. Two of them stayed behind to see what the deal with the sign was while the rest continued on. The woman, who’s name is Harriet, mentioned that she had just returned from India three days earlier and I immediately wanted to know more. The questions began pouring out of my mouth in no particular order and I felt like I was practically bouncing off the bench. I have always wanted to go to India, but I’ve heard that you either absolutely love the country or absolutely hate it.

It turns out Harriet is one of the people who loves the country. Not just loves, adores. She had only good things to say about her trip. The joy in her eyes when she spoke about her love for the country was genuine and pure.

Harriet went to India for a total of five months! That’s almost half a year, people. She was working for an NGO for the first three months and continued traveling on her own for the following two. I asked her if she had a favorite story about her time traveling the country and she thought for a bit while explaining that the whole experience was incredible. But one story in particular popped into her mind.

It’s a sweet story that showcases the authenticity of the people of India. Harriet started by giving me the background on how the train system in the country works. There is first class, second class, third class, and then the general class. Apparently, the general class is filthy cheap. For one British Pound, she traveled for 7 hours down two states! That’s pretty insane to me, especially because I live in England and the trains are way too expensive here. People that you meet on the trains in India are claimed to be some of the nicest humans ever. Harriet continued on to tell us more about her experience on this train.

She had been standing up for several hours when a man tapped her shoulder and called her “sister”. That’s the way people there refer to others. If you are a woman, you will be called “sister”, and of course if you are a man, they will call you “brother”. If you’re a bit older, it will be “aunty” and “uncle” out of respect.

This man continued on to tell Harriet to go sit down and demanded that everyone along the luggage rack shuffle over so there was space. He reassured her that he would watch her bag while she was there. About half an hour later, Harriet opened her eyes and looked up at the man and saw him still staring at her bag! This man looked up at Harriet and told her, “It’s all good,” and continued staring at her bag.

At this point I let out a huge “awwww” and clapped my hands happily. It’s my natural instinct to expect the worst from people, so it’s always incredible hearing when people are honest.

The man she was with in Holland Park (Husband? Brother? Friend? No clue) chimed in and wanted her to tell his favorite story from her trip. He nudged Harriet and said to tell “the story of that one gentleman that fell asleep on the other gentleman.” Harriet giggled and agreed.

The story started on that same train journey when she was sat on that luggage rack. There was a sign opposite her that read “For Luggage Only” and there were about six people sitting underneath it. There was one man that looked to be in his 20s and another sat next to him that looked to be in his 50s. The older gentleman put his arm around the younger one and fell asleep leaning on his chest. The funny part was that neither of these men knew each other. They were complete strangers!

 “The other guy did not react because they are all so fine with an invasion of privacy. Imagine that on the London Underground!” The man woke up and shrugged his shoulders and stretched his legs. No one said anything, did anything, and there was absolutely no reaction because everyone there is so easy going.

This just made me laugh. I loved the comment about the London Underground because so many people freak out if they ever even get looked at! I could only imagine what I would do if someone put their arm around me and fell asleep. No, thank you!

One of my main questions for Harriet was if it was overwhelming being immersed in such a different culture. She was really lucky on her journey because she was with a great group of friends that were born and raised in India. Never at one point during her time in the country did she feel unsafe. She even claimed that she felt more secure there than walking down the streets in London. “They’re not all creeps and they’re not all trying to get your money. You just have to be slightly more open-minded,” Harriet said.

And there it is, folks: the reminder to be just slightly more open-minded. Harriet did mention that there is endless honking, cow sh*t everywhere, and people spit every second of the day, but that did not change her perspective of the country and culture. “The culture, the people, everything was amazing. The people there can’t do enough for everybody,” she exclaimed. Harriet, you sold me. I need to get to India ASAP!

I consider myself to be a very open-minded person, but there is always room for improvement. India would be a complete culture shock. I know it would be one of the most life changing experiences, just like it was for Harriet. I needed this reminder that there are genuine, good people in this world. One of my flaws is to assume the worst in others (it causes so much anxiety, trust me) and it’s one of the reasons why I want to listen more. This blog is here not only to remind you to travel, listen, and connect, but to remind me to do the same.

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