I’m not good at transitions, at changes of life rhythm.
Switzerland to India and back is a big transition, and not because of the temperature gap. Everyone knows there is a huge difference in culture and lifestyle between these two places of mine.
But there might be an added twist. I don’t know if it’s personal to me, or if it’s something others experience while navigating between India and “The West”. When I’m in Switzerland, my life in India seems very very far away. It feels unreal, almost fictional, or like it’s somebody else who is there when I’m there, not really me.
What about when I am in India? India feels very normal. Switzerland is very far away, and my life “at home” also fades away into some degree un “unrealness”, but with a different quality. Put side-by-side 35 years in Switzerland and 1 year in India, I guess it explains it.
(Come to think of it, my time in India is adding up: 11 months + 6 weeks + 5 weeks + 5 weeks + 2 weeks + 6 weeks… we’re approaching a year and a half end-to-end.)
Put simply, I feel there is a rift between me-in-India and me-in-Switzerland. I’m not exactly sure what it means or how to deal with it. I’m almost sure, though, that it does have something to do with the very strong feelings I have about India and Indian culture when I’m not there. It doesn’t mean I’d like to go and live there for good, or even for an extended period. But sometimes I feel a bit like I’m caught up in a one-way love story with the place.
Anyway, here I am in the plane, typing this during the hour-long layover in Frankfurt (thankfully they don’t make us get off the plane). I did not plan my time in India exceedingly well (more about that in a bit), but I did plan my return well: I have 5 full days with no serious work commitments so that I can “land” in peace, and then I ease back into my work life by attending the Lift Conference. Most of my work stuff is currently under control, either because I dealt with it before I left, or because I stayed on top while I was traveling (blogs like the Ebookers Travel Blog and the Paper.li still need an editor even when I’m in India, right?). So, I’m happy with myself about that bit.
What I’m less happy about is how I approached my time in India — but thankfully, the stress I got myself in led to an important realization. You see, my now-annual India retreat is my big chunk of downtime for the year. So I spend all year thinking “oh, when I’m in India, I’ll do… all sorts of things”. Examples of things I planned to do in India:
- read a huge amount of books
- write a lot (fiction and for the blog… you can see how well that turned out ;-))
- put all my photos online, and catch up with the backlog
- work on my Hindi
- see a long list of people
- eat a long list of things
- learn many more Indian recipes from Nisha
- do a long list of India-specific things.
What happened with that is that when I arrived in Pune, I started feeling very stressed. There was actually humanly not enough time for me to do everything I had unrealistically put in the “when I’m in India…” box. I understood this during the return journey from Mahabaleshwar, so early enough in my trip, thankfully. I started writing down the list of everything I expected myself to do, and quickly understood why I was feeling so stressed. As I couldn’t extend my time in India (specifically Pune!) I started chopping things off the list. It helped a lot. For my second week in Pune, at the end of my stay, I actually decided to plan my time a little (as much as India allowed) and everything went much better. I’ve learned for next year: diving in without any structure is not a good idea when there are things I actually want to do!
Sometime during the last weeks, I read this article on the absence of work-life balance: there are always piles of things we “wish we had time for” but in practice, even when we do have time for them, we don’t do them. We’re fooling ourselves. I need to think more about this, because I spend a lot of time trying to make more space for things I think I want to do, and failing quite a bit.
So, I didn’t read much this year. I read American Gods. That’s pretty much it. And as you can see, I didn’t write any blog posts (well, barely). However, I did quite a good job on the photos, including catching up with some of last year’s. I saw almost all the people I wanted to see, bought enough stuff to bring back to get me into trouble at the airport (Kuwait Airways: 7kg hand luggage and 20kg in the hold… even though they didn’t enforce the 7kg hand luggage limit on the way to India — I hate it when airlines are not consistent).
I think I had a really nice time. I had some adventures, which I tweeted about when they happened. Come to think of it, maybe this is one of the reasons I blogged less? I had an Indian SIM card with data, which meant that I pretty much stayed connected on Facebook and Twitter and Path. Aside from that, I have to say that having a local phone number and data connection made my life a thousand times easier (think: suspicious-looking rickshaw-driver and Google Maps, for example).
I might or might not write about these in more detail at some point, but just to give you an idea:
- a day trip to Mahabaleshwar with a bunch of scientists
- frogs in the kitchen in Kerala
- swimming in the Arabian sea, both in my clothes (Kerala) and in my swimsuit (Goa)
- many days of rice and sambar and fish/chicken curry (very nice but a little repetitive for me!)
- trying to teach a bunch of Hindi-speaking Delhi guys a French song
- huge piles of seafood
- being climbed all over by a two-year-old in the train (I was not in the mood)
- drinking 80-rupee masala chay (in a teapot, probably justifies the price)
- a whole afternoon/evening of listening to students in Western classical music perform (very nice and completely unexpected!)
- car encounter with a roadside tree-stump (nobody hurt but the car)
- a very long day trip to a waterfall which turned out to be dry (food not included
- unexpectedly really liking Goa (large quantities of seafood helped, so did the Portuguese architecture)
- things turning out all right when I didn’t expect them to
- experimenting the 2×2 sleeper bus: one berth, 1m80 by 1m20, me, and some unknown Indian guy (more horrified than me, probably)
- no major stomach issues! yay!
Of course, aside from the adventures, there was also things like eating lovely food, discovering new Hindi music, spending time with nice people (old friends and new acquaintances), taking lots of photos, relaxing, enjoying the warmth (specially when Siberia decided to move to Lausanne). I think I had a really nice time and am coming back relaxed and refreshed (once I’ve got over the jet lag and lack of sleep from travel).