Things I Learned in India

Why was I in India?

In 2013 I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of 20 students across Australia to partake in the Australia-India Internship Program in Mumbai. I had never been to India and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on this trip; I was however consistently reminded that most people, at some point, experience “culture shock”. I thought “no way, culture shock? nah not me!” but the truth is my first week in India was very difficult, I was really paranoid about being alone, I didn’t want to take showers cause I had heard terrible things about the water quality, I didn’t know how to respond to beggars or let go of the fact that everyone was staring at me and why were they staring at me, was that normal, could they just… stop? And then I got sick. I mean my body did things that I didn’t even think were possible and I was frustrated because I made sure not to eat street food, or drink tap water or even breathe?! Ok bit dramatic but I was very careful about what was going into my body. And then something happened, I started to feel very negative about the whole trip, I didn’t leave my hotel room for a couple of days, I was afraid of being “out there” and what could happen if I was. When everything felt fuzzy and horrible my program host came to my hotel room with a “pizza of hope”. We sat down, we had a chat and I had a slice of that delicious hope, and I think psychologically and physically that’s all I needed, some greasy nourishment and the belief that things were going to improve – and boy oh boy did they! It sounds super cheesy, I know it does, but sometimes when you just flip all of your negativity into something that is slightly perhaps even remotely positive then great things will start to happen – so as Missy Elliot says “put my thing down, flip it and reverse it”.

So what did I do? I decided I wasn’t going to be a prisoner in my own mind, I was going to be sassy and feel confident and head out into the world. Of course I was still scared of being alone at times, because well there have been some really horrifying things that have happened to women in India and it’s hard to just put that out of your mind – it really is. To feel more at ease I started wearing traditional Indian clothing – a kurta (long-sleeve dress to be worn with leggings) with a dupatta (scarf) and instantly I was able to blend in a little more and garner less attention than in my western clothing, it also helped that a lot of people assumed I was actually Indian or something they call Parsee (the Parsee’s migrated to India from Iran to flee religious persecution). This meant that I had more time to experience and observe rather than feel frail and worried. During my time in Mumbai, though it was short, I learned so many important lessons – some of which I would like to share with you today.

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Exploring Crawford Market..

What did I learn?

Jugaad Innovation

Jugaad, sounds funny right? But don’t worry ju-gaad-this – get it? You (ju) got (gaad) this? Haha ok anyway moving along… Jugaad innovation is something I first heard of when I was learning about the entrepreneurship landscape in Mumbai. I had never heard of the term before coming to India but I discovered that the core principles of the concept really struck a chord with me. Why? Well I think sometimes we get a little too stuck in our own doubts that we don’t have any perspective, we turn minor issues into catastrophes, we think mistakes should be abhorred, we think we need everything now just as we planned without allowing ourselves room to fail and grow. To me jugaad is about innovation, being street-smart, having the tenacity to try something different, being creative and resourceful. For example in India I saw examples of people who couldn’t afford to buy a shower head but turned a plastic bottle into one. How? Jugaad! But i’ll give you a hint – it involved a lot of poking around. Of course sometimes being all of the things I just mentioned is necessitated by our economic condition, but it’s something I think each and every one of us can benefit from. For example in the book Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth the authors provide 6 guiding principles for jugaad:

  1. Seek opportunity from adversity
  2. Do more with less
  3. Think and act flexibly
  4. Keep it simple
  5. Include the margin (of society)
  6. Follow your heart

Jugaad can be applied to business, to personal growth, to renovating your house, to travel, to anything really. Of course there are shortcomings to it like is jugaad too short-term oriented? Does it not take into consideration the limitations we face? Perhaps, but either way learning to incorporate these principles into my life certainly enabled me to take a fresh perspective on a lot of things, and ultimately taught me to hustle and do my very best with whatever resources I had/have.

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A visit to the one of the largest slums in the world, Dharavi.

Ask Questions? 

If you’ve got something on your mind, ask yourself question. Be open and honest. For example “why do i feel this way?”, “is there something i could personally do to change the outcome or my outlook on this issue”, “is there anyone i can speak to about this who could give me feedback?”, “has this problem happened before and how did i get over it then?”. If we ask ourselves the right questions we create a much more balanced dialogue within ourselves. Like when I was afraid of walking to my office, which is a five minute walk from my hotel to catching a train alone to a co-working space in the middle of Mumbai. I asked myself why I was scared? Something dangerous could happen to me. How could I overcome this? Stick to the female carriages and know exactly where I was going and let people know how far away I was. Simple challenge to my fears led to a really big difference in my experience, so always push yourself, speak to friends and family for insight, just don’t be afraid and know that you really can control a lot (of course not all) of how you feel in this world and what you are capable of. You got da power!

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Catching the train in Mumbai, in the female carriage.

There’s no perfect time…  

There’s no perfect time to get started on… a project, an essay, a job, a business, a relationship, a workout… so just start now. I really didn’t appreciate this fact until it got to the end of my internship and there were stills things i wanted to do, foods i wanted to eat, places I wanted to explore – at the time I regretted not having done more to make it all happen. But there’s no time for regret in life people! Of course I think it’s important to reflect on what we have done, learn from it but we need to move on by making those changes we seek as soon as we can. So now whenever I go anywhere I always try to plan out what I want to do, see, eat, achieve and I make it happen. Because there’s no perfect time like the right now to get started on it! And as I write this I am just in the middle of planning my next big solo adventure, I can’t wait to write about it and film it!

Having the best Berry Pulao (a Parsee dish) at the famous Britania & Company, where the owner called me a
Having the best Berry Pulao (a Parsee dish) at the famous Britania & Company, where the owner called me a “Parsee Princess” – why thank you kind Sir.

Final Thoughts

I am still yet to explore a lot of India, and I can’t wait to do so! I know there are many more life lessons to come, many more adventures to experience and still so many breathtaking places to visit. Keep your eyes peeled on the blog and let me know if you’ve been to India and can relate to any of this? I’m really interested in knowing how you felt when you first got there!


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