Feeling incapable living in India

As a reminder, blow your horn!
Colorfully painted trucks are all over India, remind us it is okay to blow our horn, in fact it is encouraged! Photo courtesy of Lauren, of English Wife, Indian Life.

Living in India is more than vacation experiences of colorful saris blowing in the wind, people of diverse religions mingling on the street side shops, interacting without premise. Nor is it the designer chumbak trucks with people happily snoozing away in the backs of tempos all with “horn ok please” painted on the back, reminding people to announce their location on the road. Living in India isn’t the 10 day visit seeking a deeper meaning in a more spiritual life.

India is India. India is all of this, and it is also a lot more. It can be difficult to adjust to an Indian perspective when you hold differing beliefs. It can be difficult to know your worth when you’ve valued independence and can’t get let go of a different sort of justice and hard work. Differing doesn’t mean judgement, it is just that – different. Living in India versus US is a question mixed couples and NRIs often balance. Many love the extra set of hands in India. And, of course, having help can be useful, since the cleaning regime in India can be extensive. Dust settles through the day. Cleaning bathrooms require a small army, and, I’ll be honest… kids are kids! While in the US, you can easily stay in one evening, living in Apartments means that kids can hear everyone else and have a strong desire to see friends and play every evening. I can’t be in two places at once! So  yes, it is great to have extra help.

In India, The Help is still alive

I see Indians picking up the book, The Help, reading the back and I wonder what they think as they replace the book at Crosswords Book Store. Do they see that a majority of middle and upper class people in India are living it still? The Help does their floors, washes dishes, does their cooking and then takes care of kids. A special massage wala bathes screaming babies and then another may come to tell the mom of a tonic to increase milk. Another auntie will have hints for keeping baby fair (because what is genetics) and another may recommend a specific oil and a way to massage a nose to make the noise more straight. A housewife in India will get advice on everything and then be expected to ensure The Help can take care of everything.

Not being used to The Help can seem like an awesome luxury, it really takes a load off! But it can also cause a person to wonder of their worth.

What use does a housewife do, if they aren’t expected to do the cleaning themselves? Then, queues are major here, and can take a full day… so you can also hire someone to stand in line for you. Getting e-banking set up will take at least 3 half day visits to the bank, so in the mean time nothing else can be done (housework or otherwise). And then it still may not be done, right! If getting that taken care of is the largest success one has in a week, and they find it terribly inefficient (and their feedback from others is “well this is India”)… one can feel entirely unable to do the minute of tasks.


This weekend my four year old was able to convince his cousin-brother (mid 20s) to give him money. What could be 20% of a fresh graduate’s salary became a 4 year old’s claim to being rich. “I have 1000 rupees, I am rich!,” he proclaimed.

And then, the questions began.

surviving life in india
Perception, coping, living and surviving. How does western culture and individuality and defining success affect someone’s ability to survive or thrive in India?

How does someone get rich?

The American answer is what? “Hard work!” Right? But when you see a manual laborer here… they don’t necessarily get rich. Their reward is muscles, hepatitis A and if they’re lucky two meals a day.

Are they happy?

What is happiness?

Can we ever really be happy?

Does India work because people are happy in their allotted life? Does the idea of karma make people become okay with their current situation, even if it means disrespect, abuse and hungry bellies?

Foreigner battling depression in India

I have posted before on this, but when someone is depressed, one thing often said to the person is “but you have so much going for you!” or “things get better” or “others have it so much worse, what do you have to worry about?”

Now even if it isn’t being said TO YOU, reading these on social media to other people or hearing these as commentary after a movie star commits suicide can make the cycle f depression more of a pit of worries when you see destitute situations. You KNOW others have it much worse. You see injustice. You turn away beggars. You ignore babies tapping your leg for money. You want to vomit when you see a child younger than two touching their head to your feet because you feel too much. Too many emotions. It is overwhelming to process.

And then you see what all you aren’t doing for yourself. You see, in the US, most families prize independence. In India, it is perfectly okay for a college graduate to still be called a “boy” – it was like this 100 years ago in the US too (I read the “history” page of my hometown local newspaper, and it is common to see a headline “Local boy succumbs to injury” -and it turns out he’s 28). So, part of this transition, is that before I was “working” and earning. I was able to go through and have accomplishments at work, and then come home and take care of other business. So it isn’t India, but it was two major changes that really affected my ability to feel worthy.

Not too long ago I was reading a self-help book on battling depression. Okay let me rephrase that. I read a bit and then skimmed more of the book when i realized it had been over a half year of depression. I needed to feel worth. To be worthy. To be and do. Of course my husband honed in on the benefits of yoga and meditation…

Small completion of tasks. Taking the laundry to be ironed and picking up on time. Leaving soap bars at public locations so people could wash their hands if they wanted.

Doing something and being something.  Because feeling incapable in India is something I know I am not alone in feeling. Being humbled and feeling real.  But, it didn’t make it any easier.

How do you define your worth or success?

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  1. This is a really great post Amanda,

    I have struggled with several of these things. I didn’t like having maids because I felt so awkward about it, especially as they are paid so little. I couldn’t understand why graduates get paid so little and that salary and age collerate. I couldn’t understand why they forced kids to touch the feet of elders, something which feels so demeaning.

    I too have faced depression in India, something that is not really understood and is considered a taboo. So many people have commented on my blog (Indians) saying ‘just smile and get over it’, as if it were that easy.

    Now I am moving to my own home, the question arises- to hire a maid or not. When I tell people from England that I am “just a housewife”, people often saying “just a housewife? but being a housewife is the hardest job of all”. My reply is simply, “not when you have no children and maids to do everything”.

    My hope is that moving out of my joint family will give me extra purpose and independence (I’m sure it will!).

    Great post!! XX

  2. I can truly understand where you come from when you talk about depression. I experienced it for the first time in my life this year and I’m sure it must have been underlying somewhere but I never paid attention to it. When people do say “but life is good” I watch them like they’re dumb. My experiences and yours are different and we see things differently. To each his own I say. I do hope you’re able to learn from your experience over there and things get better for you.

  3. Great post! I have not been to India and have no plans of it. I have battled depression and can’t stand when people say just smile or it will get better. Those aren’t really what you want to hear. I sure hope it gets better for you. I define my success by how my daughter is turning out. I am a good mother and makes me feel like I am worth something and makes me happy.

  4. Great post! Though I wonder if they think Americans look down on help because of that book. It didn’t paint the ladies of the house in such a good light, they may think we think of them as lazy or mean spirited because it is the norm in their culture to have help, unlike here, where only the wealthiest have maids and nannies.

    1. The other thing for me is that today most families in India who have maids do not allow their maids to sit on their sofas. Maids have separate utensils and plates and cups… yet a maid does the dishes. Either they trust they’re washing them or not, right? Many kids are with maids or at school more hours than with the parents, so like in “The Help” it is some-what similar as it is today. While it isn’t a race issue it is a social hierarchy/caste issue today still in India.

  5. I know all you have said is correct about the US and I will take your word for what it is like in India. Honestly work never gave me a feeling of self worth-but then I never liked being a bookkeeper! My self worth comes from knowing I am a good person–not necessarily because I help everyone of I can-which I do-but because I am a good person–period. If you are so totally depressed perhaps you should seek help. Maybe there is someone there (an American) who can point you in that direction.


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