Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Absent without Liebe

(A guest post from Indiadam)

I’ve been out of India for 58 days now, 25 was the plan.

When we first decided to move to India I was given some advice from a Mumbaiker I knew, “embrace the chaos” she said. It’s a nice principle to remember on the occasions when things don’t go to plan, which is always. It’s not us, it’s India, embrace it. TII.

I left Hops (my nickname for this blog's regular writer) in Mumbai mid-December to come back to my parents for Christmas and collect an Employment Visa, having accepted a job offer in Mumbai. It would take a week or so to get the required documents so I had the Christmas period to enjoy being home and having some time off. I wouldn’t be back forever so I prioritised; I saw family, friends and went out drinking. By January 4th everyone was back at work and I was ready to head home to India, but was still short of my papers. The team in India promised me next week, so I made plans.

Getting fit. Learning German. Finishing my book. It all seemed a bit daunting, so I escaped to Devon. I headed to Topsham to see friends and go cycling and having lived in London for the past 5 years and spent the previous 8 weeks in Mumbai, it was quite literally a breath of fresh air. Beautiful scenery, monstrous hills, the feeling of a different way and pace of life. It was a wonderful way to spend a couple of days before the papers arrived. But, when I got home, they hadn’t arrived. The team in India promised me next week, so I made plans.

Getting fit. Learning German. Finishing my book. They could all wait, I was going to Belgium. A friend from University was living in Brussels, so I spent some time visiting her, checking out the local sights and museums. A highlight was the René Magritte museum, showcasing his work and life story. I’m no art buff, but Magritte was clearly talented and bold, producing some of our most thought provoking and challenging art. I spent my final day in Brugge, which was a delight. You can easily spend a very enjoyable day there on your own, walking the cobbled streets and taking in a city that oozes history, serenity and amazing beer. 

Whilst exploring Brugge I was busily texting and calling the team in India. How are the papers progressing? When will I get them? What’s going on? Monday was the answer. It was still ‘next week’, but it was certainly an improvement on the open ended non-committal responses of before. 

Monday came and Monday went, and I remembered another piece of advice a friend had given us before we left - In India there are only two periods of time. Now and never - and I realised I was very much in the ‘never’ pile. It was time to start veiling threats, speaking to the right people and making things happen. I got heavy handed, ignored my culturally driven desire to be polite and wait, refused to accept a head wiggle over the phone as an adequate answer and I got results. I finally had a real commitment from the team in India - they promised me next week. So I made plans.

Getting fit. Learning German. Finishing my book. My desired January return to India had provided enough self-delusion for 2016, so I agreed with myself to stop pretending I might get fit. But I had made progress, with my Duolingo account opened and now 11% fluent I forced myself to crawl into the home straight of Shantaram. 

As an aside for those of you thinking of travelling to India, you will receive advice from friends compelling you to read Shantaram. “It’s an incredible story” they will say, “if only 5% of it is true..” they will start to explain, but take this advice instead, ignore them. David Roberts will suck you in with a spellbinding first 300 pages, but then knowing you’re past the point of no return, make you wish you weren’t. He spends the next 600 pages making reference to well-known Bombay districts and spinning unbelievable stories only to mask self-aggrandising pseudo philosophies. I’m on page 832 of 933 and I can’t walk away now, and I literally hate him for it.  

Much like Shantaram there was no turning back for me, I was fully committed to paperwork purgatory and after another week of demanding progress I finally made some. After over 50 days of waiting and 5 hours of printing, signing and collating, yesterday I submitted documents for my permanent Employment Visa.

I have no complaints, having accidentally taken an 8 week sabbatical, but I’m very much ready to get back. Being apart from Hops, with my life on hold when I’m ready to start making a new one has not been easy, but it has been my first lesson in navigating the chaos that is India and any life it touches. And now I’m closer than ever before to getting back, it’s time to start making plans. The last few months have given me time to think and to prioritise and now the routine of a new life should finally give me the chance to focus on the things I’ve wanted to do for some time: start exercising again, dust off my German text books and finally finish Shantaram.

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