When I began telling people that I had decided to come back to India for the months of January and February, they immediately began telling me how much the place has changed. We’ll see.
The last time I was in India, I was young, living in what was arguably a suboptimal situation, and spending my days tucked away in a small school in one of Delhi’s slums. I had moved to India to pickup some international development work experience before beginning graduate school. I was young, full of idealism and southern sensibilities, excited to begin work. After only 4 months, these things had been sucked out of me. I began to believe that human nature was inherently bad and corrupted by power. I began to believe that there were people who only wanted a better life position given to them free of charge. I began to believe that every man only saw a woman as an object to be possessed, and that every Indian was out to take me for all that I was worth just because I had blue eyes. For me, this was a shocking change of perception.
As I moved on and time passed, I could look back on my experience with softened eyes and pull out more of the positive moments and lessons. During my time, I had met some of the most sincere and generous people ever, mostly on trains and when traveling by myself. And I cannot forget that the girls with whom I worked had a strength and light about them that inspired me to no end. Unfortunately I still remember how that light seemed to be stamped out in most of the adults I encountered.
The juxtaposition of my experiences allowed me to become more confident in my beliefs on international development (that effective development can only take place with the direct involvement and ownership by local actors) and prematurely, but beneficially, knocked some of that young naiveté out of me. Never again would I encounter a place or culture and not look for the unapparent side, the full context. Never again would I take for granted the hope that is created by youth (in life experiences, not age). Never again would I be happy doing something that doesn’t make an impact.
Whether or not India has changed since the last time I was here, India has changed me. I think with that new consciousness, this time around will have to be different, and hopefully, will change me anew.