Where to live – east or west?

My husband and I have been living in India for over two years now. After being settled in the UK, we relocated to the east for work reasons. Now we’re about to have a baby, I’ve been thinking a lot about which society is best to settle in – the east or the west?

Our background is that we’re both British Indian (Indian origin but were brought up in the UK when our parents emigrated there for their careers). Now our parents are retired and resettled in India, which is an unusual trend even today (migrating back to the homeland after 30 years working and living abroad). My husband was born in the UK and I was born in India; his family is originally South Indian and mine North Indian – but apart from those differences, we have a very similar cultural identity. We were raised in a British society, with British friends and pastimes, but our family life was Indian. As a result, we’ve become very mixed in our cultural outlook, and open to living in different societies.

There are so many considerations when it comes to deciding where to live. One is work and finances, then there’s the environment, social values, education, family life and, the all-important, everyday lifestyle. In almost every category, the west has a more established infrastructure which we find easier to live with, but then again in every category, the east offers more variety and unpredictability which makes life more exciting. In terms of health and safety, environmental awareness, education, I prefer the west’s sense of order. But our family is now mainly in the east, so social values and everyday lifestyle are better for us in India right now. I also like the fact that the sun comes out everyday, as it does have an uplifting effect. It’s a very difficult decision between logic and emotion (west=logic, east=emotion).

To some extent, as the recession looms, the decision is not entirely up to us. We’ll have to consider the work situation at the end of the year and that will be one of the priorities for where to settle. I think raising a child in a safe and secure environment is important, but a bit of unpredictability and a richer family life are important too.

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What India means to me

Map of India

I have developed a very strange relationship with my motherland.

I was born in India, but my parents took me to the UK when I was five years old. They tried to come back and settle in their homeland twice during my childhood, but it never worked. They were absorbed in their medical careers, which required them to be in the UK.

My sister and I spent a couple of brief school years in India, looked after by grandmothers and other relatives while my parents went back and forth between continents, trying to manage work and family life. For both my sister and me, India was our first home, our native country, undisputedly. As a young child who had known no other territory, ‘Mr India’ was my favourite film. But gradually, everything I took for granted as my natural identity became questionable.

As I struggled and succeeded to learn British English in London, my grip on Hindi began to falter. As I became accustomed to my friends’ ways of being and doing things, the memories of my childhood home began to fade. Those brief spells in which we tried to come back to India were like a temporary reawakening – a door to the past that would open and pour its wisdom into me for a short time before shutting again. My relatives thought I had become ‘angrez’, even thought I hardly thought of myself that way. In India. I became ‘different’, and in the UK, I was ‘different’ too.

So now, years later as I write this, I am very aware of what India represents to me. It’s more than just an idea; it’s a reality that I feel everyday. It’s huge and complex, something that I won’t ever be able to explain fully. Every time I feel a sense of ‘Indianness’, I am aware there is a ‘Britishness’ which rests uncomfortably alongside this. After all, the countries struggled against each other historically, precisely because their identities could not integrate fully with each other.

Whenever I am in India, it’s tempting to see stereotypes all around me: spiritualists, poverty, chaos, consumerism. Only when I actually talk to people personally – the rickshaw wallahs, relatives and their neighbours, dry-cleaners and taxi drivers – I see the reality behind the overpowering image of India. The authenticity of other people’s cultural behaviour allows me to see what it means to be Indian.

Despite this feeling of identification, I disagree with the concept of national identity (the idea that an individual can be defined by which country they come from). I see my identity as drawing from, yet separate from, nationality and culture. What I understand about India is cultural rather than political, although I’m aware that there is a connection between culture and politics which cannot be ignored. Even the naming of a country is political and represents a territorial division.

What is Enlightenment?

Being and not being all at once.

Discerning without judgement.

Relishing the luxury within simplicity.

Not needing another’s gaze to behold one’s Self.

Being at one with every other, but apart from everyone.

Dying in each moment before being reborn.

Being enriched by solitude, but finding solitude within company.

Observing the action, playing the part, but watching one’s self as you play.

Embracing afflictions as a test of endurance.

Being compassionately detached.

Who are you, REALLY?

Are you a man, woman, black, white, accountant, lawyer, wife, etc. etc.?

No. You are not any of those things, essentially. You’re just playing the part for a period of time.

Are you alone, isolated, separate from everyone else?

No. You affect everyone and everything that comes into contact with you. You affect the energy of this beautiful planet through your thoughts, words and actions.

It’s so hard to see this from our human eyes. Even though we spend each night sleeping, leaving the physical body at times whilst our souls explore the world beyond, we forget all of that and dismiss it in the morning. Some people travel out of body, or have a near-death experience, or they have deep telepathic insights, but we keep ignoring all these messages, dismissing them as hallucination or irrationality. What is more irrational is the way we humans are living on this earth right now. Just eating, sleeping, working, doing things mindlessly without any awareness or care. Is this the reason we came to this earth? To take a few breaths, go through the motions, and then just leave this place?

No. We came here to experience something amazing and something beautiful.

Is your life amazing right now? I don’t mean it in terms of what you do, I mean in terms of how you feel. We came here to feel something incredible, possible only on this Mother Earth. If we do not feel wonderful despite having everything, then we cannot blame anyone but ourselves. This means we have a choice to reconnect with our original vision and purpose: it’s a matter of free will.

The vital energy, the most powerful transforming energy which can change despair into bliss is love. Love is the energy which binds all of creation on the spiritual level. It starts from love for one’s self, goes out to touch the planet as love for every other creature (whatever phase of growth or ignorance a life form may be at, it has the potential to be great), and it becomes the nurturing energy of God which sustains the health of our planet, of Gaia.

If you feel out of touch with the rhythm of nature and the potential goodness of life, its unseen magical power to nurture you, heal you, sustain you, then read some accounts of near death experiences. It will remind you of something familiar seating in your soul. Visit this site.

Social ethics

Sometimes, the morality of certain people or societies perplexes or troubles me. This is because I honestly believe that social ethics are codes of behaviour which have been created by people to make life simpler for themselves. If we actually think about social ‘rules’, they don’t all make sense and they largely promote ideas of ownership (people in power protecting their possessions). Some of these codes translate into individualistic notions like, ‘keep out of my space’, ‘this is mine and you can’t touch it’ etc. We get married and think of our other half as another possession, which is why it’s so important for us to make sure s/he does not care for anyone but us. We see how damaging this ego-centric system is only when it’s too late: when people get old and they have no one to care for them because they kept everyone at a distance, or when a person dies and no one realises they’ve gone.

I have just had a debate with a friend about social ethics versus ‘natural morality’. I think that natural morality is doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, because basically, whatever you give out will return to you in some way. But my friend believes that the little codes of behaviour are really important, like the code of privacy which means you should never pry into another’s affairs (harmless curiosity can become harmful sometimes, I guess), or the code of etiquette which means you should always ask the person ‘in charge’ before you do something, even if you know what their answer would be. These are certainly cultural codes, but they have become so ingrained that in our society we are outraged if someone reads our personal e-mails; we have so many secrets and we think they could be used against us. All of this despite the fact that many of our e-mails are checked by certain organisations, without us knowing. They do it because they don’t trust us, and we despise such voyeurism because we don’t trust them. So, really, some social ethics are necessary because we live in a society without trust. That’s why morality is so complicated. How do you know if something you did is REALLY wrong, or if it’s just a little bit wrong? I think it comes down to the ‘Harm Factor’: could the action harm someone? If the answer is no, then it is likely to be, at the most, a bit wrong. If you INTENTIONALLY harm someone then it’s very wrong.

Sometimes, you are not the best person to judge the harm factor…

The view from my window

When I first moved into this apartment, I immediately noticed the view from the living room. Up on the third floor, the apartment overlooks a busy Indian road, bustling with people, cars and auto rickshaws. Looking past the road, one notices a truly lustrous row of trees: coconut trees, neem trees, banana trees. The delightful mixture of colour is a feast for the eyes.

Everyday, I sit facing this view, either having my dinner, talking to my partner, writing, reading, watching TV or listening to music. Sometimes I just sit here, staring into space and daydreaming.

Just today, I was staring out at the trees thinking about things I need to do for work, when it hit me: I have been taking this spectacular view totally for granted. Seeing the same lovely image everyday, its beauty has become something regular. I closed my eyes and reopened them. That same initial wonder I felt when I first saw the trees entered my perception once again.

Now, this is only with a view from my window, but how many other things could I be taking for granted right now? There are so many amazing visions, moments, people, things… We really have to renew our vision every once in a while to appreciate what we have.

Don’t lose the magic

We create reality on so many levels, but how can we know what is actually real? Are our thoughts, perceptions, feelings, intuitions actually real? If we can see something, taste it, smell it, touch it, hear it, does that mean it’s real? What if what we can see or hear cannot be seen or heard by others? Usually we define reality through collective perception, but what if the collective cannot perceive something which we perceive very strongly – are they blind or are we mad? We give validity to collective opinion, but is this correct?

I think that it is necessary to rely on the collective to define everyday reality because the collective is what keeps society going. But I think that this is something we need to do for convenience, not something which defines reality. I don’t believe in reality, or to put it another way, I believe in multiple realities. I believe that reality and illusion are not opposites, they are part of the same system which creates experiences. These experiences are relative and they come from personal perception. For instance, when we are children our parents look very big to us, but once we grow they look much smaller. Our perception changes according to our relative position. Sometimes we take collective reality so much for granted that we STOP QUESTIONING. We think ‘that’s just the way things are’. We lose the magic of being alive. We forget that reality is elusive and personal, not rigid and enforced. We lose our imagination, our freedom.

This is a very sad fact. Sometimes it takes a visionary to remind us of our magical life, to show us that we are capable of creating wonderful dreams and transforming them into everyday ‘reality’. Such visionaries have a versatile mind which can see beyond limited ways of understanding reality. They see beyond relative reality in order to search for something enduring, something ABSOLUTE, something which never changes. And sometimes, they find that absolute reality, and they spread the word about something wonderful which connects us all in a bond of enduring love.  But we take that message and often do not understand how to appreciate the wonder of it. We feel the power of God’s message in the messenger’s words, but we don’t know how to keep it alive in our everyday worlds, so we create a system for that message, we make a religion, we make a doctrine. In trying to solidify the message of God, we make it into something rigid, which is exactly what the messenger was trying to free us from. We create commandments and we say that the messenger gave us these ‘rules’ to follow. We become followers, when the messenger wanted us to be the leaders of our own wondrous reality. And that’s when the magic is lost.