Backpacking Alone In India As A British Indian In 2014

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My dad and I said our goodbyes abruptly.

I’d been unhappy in the village; my father’s village for the one night I’d been there.

As night had set in, with the lack of doors and windows, power and use of simple nets and incense sticks to fend off mosquitoes – I felt like I was really in a place where I didn’t belong.

The plan was that we’d stay there for a couple of days but of my selfishness and cry for comfort, my father heeded my call, and we left.

I’m going, to be honest.

I have tears in my eyes because of the shame I feel from knowing I did this to my dad.

He’d chosen to take two weeks off, using his holiday from work to come with me to India and show me ‘our country’. It was also an opportunity for him to visit the family he’d left behind to start his life in England.

On the car ride to the airport the memory of me shouting at my dad, and how upset and sad he felt blotted out the memory of anything else.

I was pissed off by his lack of understanding at how much of a pain it was being in the village and I was SO angry I raised my voice and told him all that he was doing wrong.

This; as father and son was our maiden trip to India and as he left the car and the driver took me back to the hotel I felt guilt wash over me.

I still feel horrendously bad about it like I can never ever make this up to my father.

I still see it sometimes when my father and I have a very out-of-the-ordinary argument where my temper spills over and I’m met with silence.

My father is a gentle and extremely caring and loving man, but also made with such strength. And when you’ve upset him, the silence speaks volumes and you can feel the soul of a wounded man punctuate the air.

And that’s exactly how I felt as I began looking forward to my journey through India; alone and without my father.

How would I navigate the Indian subcontinent; where would I go; what would I come to?

On my father’s departure, I had another four weeks in India – and did spend a further few weeks with my grandparents and Babu (my late grandad) helped me see even more of this great country.

Lots of emotions were running through my head as I sat on a bus; a sleeper bus bound for Goa.

By this stage, I’d been in India for around a month; was travelling without a phone and looked like I was an Indian national travelling through the country.

I’d gotten so used to speaking Hindi that I even began to dream and think in Hindi. It was beginning to become very surreal.

Furthermore, for all of my desire to go backpacking – I was doing so alone and struggling with the fear of being by myself and having to fend for myself.

Being left at the railway station in Delhi to then get a train all the way to Mumbai; from which point I’d head to Goa via bus, was frightening; as I said goodbye to my granddad and headed off in search of adventure.

On the bus from Mumbai to Goa, there were no signs or anything to indicate where we were. Furthermore, as the bus driver would approach a stop he would call out the name of a town that didn’t even sound like Hindi or the name of any town that I recognised.

But no one knew any better that I wasn’t an Indian national, and as we travelled through the cover of night – I daren’t sleep a wink in case I missed my stop – not that I knew where I was/or what the name of the stop was.

With a population of 1.4 million, Goa comprises towns and districts just like any city would. So every stop had a different name whilst I had it in my head that ‘Goa’ was just one stop on a bus.

The coach had only its nightlights on and everyone else seemed to know where they were going. I daren’t ask anyone and waited and waited and worked myself up into even greater levels of anxiety

In hindsight, however, there was a mixture of Hindi and Konkani being spoken and rapidly so. My Hindi wasn’t amazing, to begin with, so I got lost in the turmoil of it all.

Ultimately it was very weird to be Indian, at 18 and travelling India alone.

I never spoke English other than when I called home, or I met someone Western (this happened 1x in 6 weeks and the American almost jumped out of his chair in Goa when I switched effortlessly to English to speak with him)

This led to dreams in Hindi and picking up the language extremely fast.

I later remember being in a lorry with an Indian Fijian (in Fiji) who was giving me a ride – and I managed to convince him I was an Indian from India as he’d never been there before.

Ultimately I’d go on to get my money and camera stolen by an Indian national whom I thought I had made friends with but who ultimately robbed our room whilst I went to get a bus ticket to Poona.

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Throughout my 20s I noticed my Indianness (and I guess I still do) in every aspect of my life.

When you travel in developing economies (e.g South East Asia and South America) no one bothers you because they either think you are a local or that you indeed are Indian and have no money anyway.

For those that do recognise you, it’s because they’re British themselves or have been to the West.

Dating; if you want to date someone non-Indian it is point-blank more difficult – and I’ll go on to talk about dating in a separate letter.

Within my first several businesses – Deep Impakt Recordings, Gobsmackers, The CV Guy – there was definitely a 3 or 4:1 ratio of ethnic minorities I worked with (much higher with Deep Impakt Recordings).

When I started Pearl Lemon – some of the people I speak to daily, – Umesh, Varun, and Amir – are all of Asian origin.

It’s pretty obvious why this is – we all share a common ancestry and migrant history, as well as all, being small business owners

In 2004 as I travelled the world and would be in India and look like I fitted right in – whilst I didn’t at all and I felt the loneliness of it all. Then I went to other countries like Australia and it was the opposite – I stuck out like a sore thumb but I felt I fit in loads more.

A lot of the time you let your differences (the ones you can’t control) diminish your light. I definitely did this through my teens. I’d tell my dad to not drop me off outside of my secondary school Evelyns when I was 12/13.

When I was 15/16 my dad would sometimes pick me up from parties I went to and I felt embarrassment about our culture and our Indianness.

Now I’m proud of my family, my roots and who we are. But I must admit, sometimes the perception that still comes up of my Indianness sometimes frustrates me.

Because people see it in a derogatory way, and whilst I wish for nothing to change, paradoxically I’m also annoyed it happens.

This is a subject maybe I’ll wrestle with all my life and is pretty common amongst migrants I suspect; the feeling of dislocation and trying to reconcile how ‘British’ I feel against my colour and my culture and trying to understand how they all work together.

Well, I guess somehow they do – because you’re still here 🙂

Catch you in the next letter.