14 December 2015

Gratitude

Okay, so I’m not one to hold back on all the things I vent about living in this country. Several things are still so very wrong — every day a news article that makes me question my sanity for choosing to live here. From intolerance to internet trolls, from monitored diets to police who don't seem to know how to do their jobs.

But perhaps because it's the season of good cheer (discounting my seasonal flu which chose to rear its ugly head this week) and because I have a birthday coming up this weekend, which always makes me happy, and because as I’m writing this, one of my cats has given me the honour of curling up his large warm body onto my lap, purring like a vibrating hot water bottle, I’m in a good mood this week. And because when you’re in a good mood, you want the world to be in a good mood with you, I want this week to talk about things that do make me happy to live here. Because we’re nothing if not a country of contradictions. And some contradictions can be very pleasant indeed.

I’ll begin with the one that’s simplest: access to exercise. I know we all in Delhi have been warned to not go outside with pollution levels rising and what not, but the egalitarianism of parks and outdoor spaces is something to be commended. Everyone can go to a park around the country, whether or not you live in a fancy neighbourhood. Open spaces are for everyone. Think of Mumbai’s Hanging Gardens or Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens, all beautiful open tree-filled spaces that are for the common man as much as for you and me. More structured? We — and several people we know — have a yoga teacher come home and teach us in the comfort of our living rooms. Others still can go to several yoga academies around the city and not all very expensive either.

While I’m on the subject of exercise, eating healthy is another thing that comes naturally to being Indian. Despite the number of fatty snacks available, two types of street food vendors are most popular in Delhi during the winter: the roasted peanut guy, who sells you a screw of paper with warm peanuts in it starting from Rs 5 and the sweet potato chaat guy, who slices up roasted yams and sprinkles them with lemon and rock salt. Delicious and low cal. On the train, if you’re not travelling a fancy Rajdhani, you get street food vendors all the time and the ones that get stopped are not the ones selling chips or whatever — nope, it’s the idli guy or the hardboiled egg guy. Every neighbourhood has a veggie vendor selling fresh produce — and all seasonal — so you’re eating right for the environment as well. As for meat, the goats wander about, so the meat is cage-free at any rate. And if you’re not buying chicken from a fancy chain, then you can expect that meat to be steroid free as well.

Talking to an Italian translator recently, I learned that books across Europe were priced at upwards of 12 euros. Something I take for granted living here is that I can always afford books — even if I have to wait for the paperback version every now and then. Have a reading fix and can’t afford a regular bookstore? Go to one of the many secondhand shops across the country. Books and reading material are priced low on purpose, so everyone can read them and I’m grateful for that both as a writer and a reader.

For every person that doesn’t care, there are a zillion that do. Take animal rights for instance, a cause close to my heart. In the absence of shelters, people take in homeless animals into their own homes, nurturing and feeding them at their own expense and even sometimes going for vet visits. Inspired, we too foster animals whenever we can. Pick a cause, any cause, and you’ll find people already organised and chipping in and helping. All you have to do is contribute, sometimes. The whole Chennai floods would have been even more of a disaster, if it wasn’t for people online getting all the information together and sending help. Simply put, if you need help, ours is a country full of people that will usually give it.

All this not to say that there aren’t problems. There are so many problems. But there’s also some bright spots through all that darkness, brightness we don’t talk about because maybe we take it for granted, but it’s there and it’s for you.

(A version of this appeared as my column in mydigitalfc.com)

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