My big OE: India changes you
Against a backdrop of sights, smells and sounds you've never heard before, nor are likely to hear again, I notice the presence of dust on every possible surface.
Dust has a way of settling into the grooves of my fingers, in the crook of my elbows, across my pants (which are completely unaccustomed to any sort of dust let alone one the kind that takes over everything) and on my previously white shirts.
Justifications for tossing a shirt in the laundry no longer are protracted arguments that take place in the head over a cup of coffee.
Now the only justification is that things have a way of getting on the wrong side of dirty over here and two uses of a particular garment just won't cut the mustard.
The air is filled with particles of dust that unabashedly slap an outsider in the face with their conspicuousness; then they happily careen away and carry on their journey of kissing arse with the locals.
It's a dusty dirty place that does not apologise for that fact. You live with it, after all what else it there to do.
If you cannot beat it and trust me, you can't, then you must lay down your armour of clean clothes and shoes and just give in and join the masses in not trying to freakishly control the fate of your clothes.
Against your better judgement you find yourself joining the masses in their brashness, their outspoken ways, their lack of judgement in some cases and astute observation in others.
You make friends with man and beast and start relying on the Indian ways of doing jugad. Initially with little enthusiasm and a whole lot of misgiving you venture out of your own little abode to explore the sights and sounds.
While you stave off the mosquitoes and the flies with little more than a rolled up dirty newspaper, you realise that there is more to this place than the eye can see.
It is every Bollywood and Hollywood movie ever made on and about India and yet it is quite different. There is rawness to India, a rough edge that has only managed to become rougher over the years and India covers it all up with a smooth colourful façade that most outsiders don't bother seeing through.
Its shiny veneer and hospitality masks a poverty-ridden economy and a tainted bureaucracy that favours the rich and powerful and grinds the poor into dust.
People here take indifference to a whole new level and then just for the fun of it, kick it up a notch. Just to confuse the issue and make it seem like a puzzle best left unsolved, everyone feigns concern where you thought there wasn't space for any.
It's the dust; it muddles up your brain, leaving it all mushy. It's all over you, leaving little space for your individuality to come through, leaving you with no other choice but to mingle with the rest of what is affectionately termed as humanity.
Once you do get your head around the fact that over here being human and showing love for one's fellow humans is considered to be an abnormal condition arising out of strict limitation in ones upbringing and dietary patterns, you feel much less secure in how your own future will pan out.
You learn to be patient and toughen up.
Things move ever so slowly and the more urgent the need, the slower the bureaucracy rolls.
You can holler and shout all you want at the injustice of it all, but until you realise that no one gives a rat's ass about you and your future, you are constantly faced with the conundrum of staying or going back to safer shores.
Keep in mind that you will not be missed; you will be just another face in a myriad of faces. They have seen it all and heard it all and absolutely nothing moves them.
But if you decide to stay, you must come to terms with the fact that the way of life you are used to is not real.
On the other hand if you decide to run? Well, then you will run with this secret tightly tucked away in a corner of your mind.
At the end of the day, India gets what India wants, whoever it wants and however it wants it and you are far too removed to fit into any category.
Love it, or loathe it, but know this; once you go there, you will never ever be the same.