India's chaotic lesson in letting go

Indian school children watch Kanwarias, devotees of Hindu God Shiva, carry pots of holy water from the Ganga river on their return journey from Haridwar, as traffice crawls due to a section of road being cordoned off for their movement in New Delhi on Aug 10, 2015.
PHOTO: AFP

I first stepped on Indian soil some 20 years ago, determined to change the place. I didn't want to change everything about India, of course, just the parts that I found exceedingly frustrating: the Darwinian scramble at bus stops and train stations, the freestyle driving, the liberal interpretation of a scheduled appointment, the noncommittal answers that were more than a "no" yet less than a "yes". Determined to change all this, I considered myself a Reformer, and I went about my mission with the gusto of the naïve and misguided.

Reformers don't last long in India. Invariably, you see them packing their bags, grumbling about India being an "impossible place". The Acceptor, on the other hand, knows that Indian civilisation has been around for a very long time and is not about to change because some baggy-pants wearing, camera-toting traveller wants it to.

I arrived in India a Reformer but left an Acceptor. I came to realise that India was not going to bend; I was the one who needed to bend. Otherwise, I'd endure a breakdown - or worse, life without India, and the lessons it affords.

The greatest of these lessons is the crucial yet under-appreciated art of letting go. That means, first and foremost, letting go of expectations. Indians know a thing or two about this. In the Bagavad Gita, a Hindu holy text, Lord Krishna says to Arjun, in effect: Give 100% effort to the task at hand but have precisely 0% invested in the outcome. This is, of course, extremely difficult to pull off.

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