Thodi Si Unlearned Happiness

Perspective

It was either Technical Drawing or Home Economics. I chose Technical Drawing and like most things in high school, I sucked at it. My lines were wobbly, my text never straight and my circles despite the sharp Staedtler compass set never perfect.

When we were past drawing squares and circles, we came to a unit called Perspective Drawings. And for the life of me then, I could never understand why the heck they made us draw the same bloody thing like 3 times. In an isometric view then in a 2-point dimension and then in some other–tric view! This was a time in life when I had no intentions of working in construction and it’s almost ironic that now I read and interpret plans to make a living! (See how the universe sets you up?)

Few weeks ago in a small town on the Nepalese border, Panitanki, I met 3 Australian men who had been bicycling from Dhaka, Bangladesh through to India and going up into Nepal. They were well into their retirement years (in their 60’s) and way fitter than me! While we stood waiting for the bulging officer to issue our visas, a young Bangladeshi girl in a rocker salwaar suit and heels whizzed straight past to the counter. She obviously crossed over regularly. While her paperwork was swiftly tended to, she turned to one of the Australian guys and asked in the typical desi English, “so vhy, vhy are you doing this…*flapping her hands towards their bicycles?*…this things? This cycling and all?” and I remember thinking in my head, “damn right! Shouldn’t you all be home drinking tea and tending to your gardens or something!” One of the guys very philosophically replied to her “because we must…” to which she shrugged her shoulders and walked off.

When she didn’t smile back at me on her way out, I realized she had also classified me as ‘one of them’. And here I was on her side, judging them! What was I doing in that small remote town all alone? Wasn’t I supposed to be home as well, working 9-5, possibly married and planning on a 2nd child?

3 months ago I set out on some travels daring Asia to woo me. On the road from Rangoon to Kathmandu up through Nagaland, I expected enchanting pagodas, ancient tribesmen, chanting-and-clanging monasteries but Asia didn’t woo me. It actually blew my mind. It jolted(!) channels in my brain that made me see the world differently to how I had began to think it was.

As we get older, we get a bit definite about our place in the world. We are comfortable about where we stand, we make loud firm statements and don’t give a damn about judgment as much. We pick our sides, draw the lines and bask in the slight ignorance that where we stand is the absolute best place. And in our growing confidence we disregard other viewpoints, we start believing that our way is the only way.

I wrote a post about marriages some time back. I received an overwhelming number of messages, emails and comments appreciating and agreeing with my viewpoint which all made me quietly confident that indeed the institution of marriage was archaic.

But this time around, India (my absolute favorite country in the worlddd!) taught me different. This time India wasn’t intrusive about my singleness, it was kinder. This time, India didn’t reprimand me for it but sat me down and gave me a talk. Many talks actually! That’s the thing about India. That complete embracement of a total stranger into their lives and treating her as their own. Pulling her ear and lecturing her as their own. That apnapan that no where else in the world can imitate.

In the back of a shared jeep traveling from Mon in Nagaland to Sonari in Assam with two men, a Bihari and a Marwadi – in the typical direct Bihari nature, he told about his marriage. One day, I will sit down and write our entire conversation.

His reason, the Indians were obsessed with marriages was that beyond dowries, cultural obligations, the daughter dynamics – a marriage brought its own special happiness and every Indian parent wants their child to uncover this ultimate joy in their lives. Thus the vigorous pursue by auntijis to find us partners. Then with a chuckle, he added of course weddings also are a perfect excuse to drink whiskey! What a wonderful way to view marriage and from a Bihari! Oh, Bihar – one day I am coming to try out your whiskey!

Speaking of viewpoints, the chilling documentary India’s Daughter that was aired recently is sadly the actual reflection of the common Indian men mentality. More appalling is that I know and work with men who do think like that.

However I cannot completely accept how India has been labeled in the media as a rapist, barbaric and unsafe country for females. My travels throughout that country even in the remotest corner of Nagaland would not have been possible had it not been for the many, kind men who always made sure I was on the right road.

I find it ironic when solidarity supports and protests are organized in other countries every time the media picks up a case in India yet for example in Fiji – we are hesitant to show support to our neighbor who every night is a victim of domestic violence. It’s easier for us to share articles on FB and say we empathize with women all the way in India but we cannot front up to our relatives who abuse our own children because that’s against the village ethics. Women get raped every night in our own homes but we don’t see that because how is rape possible in a marriage, right?

Speaking of media when I was flying from Bangalore to Mumbai and my seat was next to a woman clad in a burqa and her husband. I dozed on and off waiting for the plane to leave the tarmac and hazily was aware that the woman next to me was very fidgety. She was wringing her hands, cracking her neck joints; nervous. I jolted out of my doze when she took out a small, finger-watch and clicked on the stopwatch. I sat up straight. A woman in burqa + a stopwatch + in a plane = you do the math. She looked pretty average (though she had nice shoes on) but then I don’t know how people who blow up planes look like. After what seemed an eternity, she clicked it off and threw it back in her bag and started taking deep breaths. By this time, she had turned pale and I was ready to scream the whole plane down.

Then what I saw blew my mind. Her husband took out a paper bag from the seat pocket and handed it to her. She vigorously shook her head, keeping her head down. She was feeling nauseous! She wasn’t a plane-blowing terrorist; she was feeling seasick! I dove into my backpack and offered my $60 seasick pills, which pretty much kept me alive for the past 3 months on the road.

I am so deeply ashamed to write the above encounter but that’s how media has perceived Muslims and women in burqa to us. I am not going to shy away and say this terrorism in not an Islamic problem because it is. The terror uses Islam as a shield and if there are more good Muslims than terrorists than they need to step up and blow this perception over instead of expecting the rest of the world to understand.

But then it could be just me, like the time in Kalay in Myanmar when I blurted out how I had jugaad-karo my visa and permits to cross the Burma-India border on foot to this man who I thought was a…just a man. He turned out to the Assistant Director of Immigration of Myanmar! Yeah.

Then I come to Australia and as usual, the ‘boat people’ are a national threat and worry. The government is letting in all these ‘immigrants’ come in and do the jobs that should be for Australians. Ironic really, when I think of Goa where I was lounging just 2 weeks ago. The number of Australians and Europeans who now all call Goa home, own businesses and shops and have been accepted and blended so well in India. I met an Australian woman even in Hampi who runs a small shop in the bazaar and nobody complained of her taking over their livelihood in that small, poor community.

Even in my hometown of Nadi, a steady growth of builders from Australia and New Zealand have emerged in the last 10 years. This has me fighting for work not just with local builders but also these foreign ‘expat’ builders who now have Fijian passports. We don’t call them ‘immigrants’ there, no they are ‘expats’. But should I ever move to Australia even with my entire travel blog, I will still be classified as an ‘immigrant’. Somehow even in 2015, the racial component of you will determine whether you are an ‘expat’ or an ‘immigrant’ and it will have nothing to do with the number of PhDs you have.

Then there’s Climate Change. It’s a good ice-breaker when you’re traveling. People either scoff or passionately get into the conversation. Especially after knowing you’re from a country that potentially could disappear underwater in a few years! Irony is you can either see the Greens as a tree-huggers or a people fighting for the future but the fact remains that climate change is real and it doesn’t differentiate between immigrants or expats! 😛

For me, travel used to be all about going to new destinations, ticking wonders of the world off my list and taking epic photos. But in one of my travel diaries 2 months ago, I wrote how I was getting frustrated with this trip because I wasn’t seeing anything new or my mind wasn’t blowing at the epic-ness of the places I was taking photos of.

That’s because this trip was working on blowing up the perceptions I had gotten comfortable with lately and saw as the only absolute, right way.

The last 3 months has taught me about perspectives. The importance to acknowledge that the other viewpoints on the same subject is not wrong, only different. On our little mountains, we sometimes get in the delusion that how we see things is how everybody else is seeing it, too and if they are not seeing what we’re seeing than they are wrong. (Oh the number of times I’ve thought someone was wrong…) It’s not necessary how we see somebody or some other country that they see us in the same manner. Perhaps from where they are standing, that’s all they can see.

The world is a very, very big place. Big enough for all of us to stand in our own little corners and be a 100% right from where we stand.

Just like Mr.V’s Technical Drawing classes, there is always more than one perspective to draw the same thing and all of them can be right.

Happy Easter. x

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