Business Times - 23 May 2009
LETTER FROM NEW DELHI
A sudden shift in perspective
The uniformed drivers of the auto-rickshaws definitely do not require any advanced gadgets to help them drive like Formula One racers. My husband likens driving here to a leaf floating down a busy stream. One just goes with the flow.
'YES! Why not?'
I nodded my head enthusiastically when my husband asked me whether he should take up an overseas posting in New Delhi. Images of 'Incredible India!' appeared before my eyes. I saw myself clothed in colourful sexy saris, dining like royalty in Rajasthani forts, dancing to the latest Bollywood beat, stretching out in graceful yoga postures and meditating like the gurus in the Himalayas. Above all, my silent call for that much awaited break from my highly stressful job in Singapore seemed to be finally answered. I would be a lady of leisure for three years.
Delhi, a landlocked city in northern India, is twice the geographical size of Singapore and has a population of 15 million. It sees scorching 40-45 degree Celsius summers in May/June and chilling 0-5 degree Celsius winters in December/January.
When we arrived here in June 2006, the city had not seen a single shower for the past three months. She was coated in a dusty grey, and exuded an aroma of sweat and urine, fumes from the millions of vehicles and burning smoke from the countless temples. While I enjoy perfect eyesight in Singapore, everything appears blurry here.
Facing an irregular supply of electricity, we were unable to sleep in our bedroom which was as hot as a furnace with no air-conditioning. My husband and I were forced to spend many hours during the summer weeks on the balcony, listening to the humming motors of our neighbours' generators, before my landlord eventually installed one to keep us cool.
If one does not own a private chauffeured car, the most cost-effective way to travel is by humble auto-rickshaw - the ubiquitous hop-in, jump-out, green and yellow motorised three-wheelers. Although small in size, they can manage three adults, two kids, and a week of groceries in a breeze.
Their uniformed drivers definitely do not require any advanced gadgets to help them drive like Formula One racers. After a few months, my husband started to drive like an auto-rickshaw driver too. He likens driving here to a leaf floating down a busy stream. One just goes with the flow.
I also experienced 'inefficiency shock'. Every worker here is a 'specialist' without proper tools. For example, I had the gas stove delivered on a bicycle. It stood in my kitchen for a week as I hunted frantically for the next 'specialist' to turn up and install it.
Just when I was wondering how I could ever live sanely in this 'incredible' city, I found my saving grace in the world of books. They can be found everywhere in the city, and are amazingly cheap at one third of the price in Singapore.
Hardworking street vendors appear at major road junctions with books and magazines fanned out skilfully in their hands. One can easily buy the latest best-seller in the comfort of one's car. Best of all, the bookstores are full of spiritual and metaphysical texts, and I am now savouring the wisdom of the gurus.
I talk to my spiritual teachers, yoga instructors, and they are also struggling with the same issues as I am. The difference is how these challenges impact them. Suddenly, I found myself experiencing a shift in my perspective. Whether the workman installs my gas stove within a day or replaces my water tap in minutes, I can get stressed in efficient Singapore and surprisingly relaxed about it in India. I have begun to appreciate the age-old wisdom about living in India: 'If you have no patience, you will gain it; if you have patience, you can lose it.'
When we think the problem is too huge, we take a breather, go for a walk or put the issues aside for a few days. More often than not, many creative solutions will appear before us. What a revelation!
These days, I practise yoga, meditate with the gurus, dine in Rajasthani forts and find contentment in the books I read. I have seen camels parading in the Bikaner desert, sat on an elephant as it lumbered up the hills to the majestic fort in Jaipur, and admired the serene and beautiful snowy mountains in Jammu and Kashmir. So, have I settled down in India? Of course! What is there to 'settle' by the way?
Om shanti om.
The writer is the wife of Mike Ng, centre director (New Delhi), International Enterprise Singapore