By the time my daughter finished up the final term of her iGCSEs and enjoyed her summer break on the beach in Barcelona in 2011, the cats and I had been settled into life in Bangalore for over four months. The blog I started the first day I moved to India was growing and the chronicles of my life were even being published on other websites and in the Bangalore edition of the national newspaper DNA. So from just about day one, my 16 year old daughter laid down the law and made me promise that I would never write about her, never mention her name nor use her photograph in my blog, in my weekly newspaper column or on my public social media channels. So of course I didn’t.
Well, more than two years have passed. My little girl is now a woman of 18, living on her own in the U.K. and attending the #8 university there. She’s happy, enjoying her new life … and she’s finally given me the green light to write about what life was like living in India for a foreign teenage girl. (Please note: for her privacy, and to avoid the very clever Googlebots, I am still going to refrain from using her name.)
My daughter is now living in her fourth country. We had moved from San Diego, California to live in Barcelona, Spain where she was born and where her father lives (my ex-husband) some eight years before our jump to Bangalore. India was the third country she called home, on the third continent for us both.
I am not over exaggerating when I say that she hated the fact that I uprooted her life in Spain to move to India. It came down to me bribing her by declaring that I would no longer pay for private school if she didn’t move with me. If it weren’t for her ambition and drive to attend a top university, I’m sure she would have stayed behind. And like any normal unhappy teenager, she made sure I knew just how unhappy she was the first few months, too! It continued in full swing until her new friendships and social life in Bangalore softened the regret of leaving the old ones behind.
Life at the Canadian International School was good and bad for her. The almost hour long bus ride each way on dodgy Indian roads was the biggest ‘negative’ she experienced for choosing that particular school. Her classes were challenging, she was happy to participate in extra-curricular activities – something she NEVER did at her old school in Barcelona. Being in the IB programme meant that she was to volunteer for 150+ hours to meet her requisites, so she chose an NGO close to home and worked with disabled children … again something she hadn’t done back home in Spain.
Life was different. And according to my daughter, those two years in India made the biggest impact on her life and changed her … in fact, she thanked me for moving us there before she left! I tried to play it cool the first time she told me. It was a couple of weeks before she left and moved out of India on her way to start her new life. She had just had a tattoo inked onto her right shoulder in Hindi that says ‘Peace of Mind’ and I remember telling her how cool I thought it was that she would have a reminder of India … and she kind of just looked at me like I didn’t get it. Then she told me that that was precisely why she had it done. Because India had changed her, and she wanted to take those memories with her.
Well, I was catching up with her yesterday when she typed into the chat window, ‘I really miss India actually! I bought masala chai and Assam tea which was more expensive than my normal tea budget but it is so worth it! I’ve glued a 100 Rupee note to my wall and I keep the Ganesh idol you gave me under my mirror.’ So that’s when I asked if I could share her words and her feelings about life in India for the first time…and she said yes! So I asked a few questions and this is what she said:
She told me that she found individual happiness and that is what her tattoo symbolises for her and that, ‘Going to India was the best thing that ever happened to me … so thank you!’ Woo hooo hooooo, you can’t imagine how good it is to know that! Especially after thinking that I had screwed her up by moving her to India, so I won’t tire from hearing it!
Although I know she loves every moment of uni so far, a piece of my daughter still seems to genuinely be in India! Speaking from the heart, she shared, ‘Meeting people going through the same things, experiencing the same things, but all of us were from different backgrounds … I made so many new friends and connected with really nice people (unlike so many of those who stay in the same place all their lives, who seem to be more shallow and intolerant). It was an amazing experience, with amazing friends. It was the happiest time of my life (so far).
Being in a third world country with poverty [and people enduring] a difficult way of life makes you appreciate what you have, understand the struggles, feel the need to give, and appreciate when given to … in contrast to the US or Europe where everything is handed to you … you realize how primal it is to be living and be able to survive. It gives you realistic sense of purpose and existence, in turn making you value your life and how you spend it. A concept commonly lost in first world places, because life becomes revolved around money, fashion, desire, etc.
After adapting to those new beliefs I began to understand Buddhism and that our goal in life should be to refrain from materialism and pursue individual happiness => my tattoo! My objective in life -> to find peace of mind!
In general, being in India made me happier. It gave me a confidence and enthusiasm to live, which Spain never gave me. From submissiveness to Spanish culture – having to be how everyone wants, wearing these clothes, living for others not for myself, being “unpopular” (stupid term, but actually used to believe in it) and having few friends => made me feel depressed, nervous, miserable…). Being generally happier made me start caring about my body (working out & eating healthier), working harder (better grades, with uni as my goal), and being more social (had a ton of friends in the end! and so many really close ones), developing my mind (reading more, looking into psychology, Buddhism)…’
On a more personal note, it makes me happy that she and I both have the exact same two favourite moments together! The first was when we stupidly befriended a monkey even though everyone said not to. We even video’d the first encounter, fed him two kiwis and named the guy Charles…it was SO stupid! That cheeky monkey started a daily home invasion tour that scared the hell out of our cats and it took ages to shoo him away for good!
The second was a couple of weeks before her departure this summer and it still makes me smile every time I think about it. We took a five day road trip to Coorg and spent a week split between Orange County Resort and the Vivanta by Taj. It’s about a six hour drive from our flat to Coorg and we hired a car and driver for the week from Taxi for Sure and spent almost every moment of the drive taking turns blasting music in the back seat from our phones and singing at the top of our lungs together to everything under the sun from music from the 60s to today – annoying the sweet driver I’m sure! Those moments singing together, giggling and sightseeing are some of the most precious moments I have in India.
I always worry about just how much I’ve screwed up my daughter because I moved her around, because it was just ‘us’ for so many years, because I wasn’t a homemaker type mom, and because I couldn’t always provide a stable financial life because I worked in the wobbly world of start-ups (in and out of work so much). Every parent does the best they can I guess and I am thankful that during those last couple of years that India seemed to step in and help teach those important lessons that I missed … the ones that have helped to shape her into the amazing and wonderful person that she’s become.
If you are considering moving to India, and have any doubts, just stop. Embrace the opportunity that so few people in this world are given. It’s an amazing place for finding oneself (no matter at what age), for exploring beauty and diversity, and simply for experiencing life on your own or with your family in a whole new way!
© 2013 Angela Carson and Angela’s Bangalore blog and photos