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Cool Karma on the streets of India

On July 11th 2010, I set out on a travel experience like nothing I had come across before, and nothing in me could have anticipated just how nuts the whole thing was. Six months previously my brother explained to me his plan to take a seven week journey through India, and he invited me along to join him for a couple of weeks during his stay. As it turns out, two more friends of ours also hopped onboard for the ride.

I could give you a thorough account of where we went and the places we saw but the reasons why I’m persuaded not tow are two-fold. First of all, I conveniently lost my notebook on a train the day before we took our flight home, therefore burdening my accuracy somewhat. Also, I’d like to make more of a point as to how my experience out in India has affected my life back here, and how their culture has had an impact on my own way of living and thinking.

Something that my brother pointed out at the beginning of our trip in India and also a realisation I came to was that at no point did we feel unsafe whilst being there. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit apprehensive for the first few days as so many people come up and talk to you, and when I traveled Europe this usually meant they were distracting you so that someone else could pinch your belongings! However I did just come to know that these were innocent acts of business or the locals wishing to practice their English and fancied a chat.

During my previous travels I got so used to padlocking my backpack whenever I left it out of my sight if there was anything of value in it. I went to do this in India and George pointed out that he hadn’t really bothered to do anything similar, and if there’s one thing he’d noticed in the three weeks prior to my arrival was that the locals just don’t tend to steal. Countless times I walked through the streets with my money in the very accessible front pocket of my bag and literally not once were there any attempts to take anything.

So I started to think why this is, and George made an interesting point that stuck in my head. Whether this is a general belief that Hindu’s have I don’t know (if any one does please enlighten me as I’d be interested to find out!) but you get the feeling that whatever you do with you life to get by, whether it be a shop keeper, a road sweeper, a chai-wallah (possibly my favourite Indian term) etc. then that is all you’ll ever be and you make it the best job you can. Just having a job, no matter what it is, and making an honest living is a highly respected thing, and come to think of it this is the impression I get from the Indian people I know who live back here in England also.

If you robbed a tourist, stole a few thousand rupees, yeah you’d have a few more bucks in your pocket but you’d go and spend it and then what? Back to running cups of chai. Those of you who’ve given Slumdog Millionaire a watch might argue my point here as theft plays a big part in the lives of the characters in that film, mainly based in Mumbai. Obviously people do attempt to make a living from taking other people’s possessions, but it certainly wasn’t something I came across. Either that or they’re very good thieves and I just haven’t noticed yet!

I got the impression that the people there seem to think theft is pointless and it’s much more honorable to make a living by law-abiding means. This is of course the case in most countries and not just India but being aware that we do have more money than many of these people and standing out so blatantly as a tourist, I was surprised that pick-pocketing wasn’t something more frequently encountered there, and it’s hardly even mentioned in the guidebook as being a problem.

Another reason and something that’s just dawned on me now is that I guess it’s got something to do with the Hindu belief in karma and reincarnation. If you make the most of and do that best you can in sweeping those dusty roads in this life, karma will dish you out the things you need to get by and then you’ll progress to something better when reincarnated in the next life. Perhaps a gap in the market for some kind of after-life job seekers enterprise? Maybe not.

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