FIVE YEARS ago today, I arrived in India to work with a startup hypermarket retailer. As I had never lived here before, the first three months were exploratory but greatly intolerable. Chaotic infrastructure, inefficiency of public services, and often fetid climate made me want to seek less confining places to live outside India. It didn’t help that there were no Filipinos I knew in Mumbai, where I first stayed (except for high school batch mate Gil Amilbangsa in Pune, and he had to leave a few months later). Worst, the Baha’i center was 20 miles by car from where I lived.
But the instinct of fellowship never disappears, even for those experiencing a different culture for the first time. I met people from all religions and walks of life—what other country, after all, offers such diversity?—and a lot of them have remained remarkable friends. It is easy to love the Indians of the mainland: completely at home, without any pretense to show off, they’re charming, curious, intellectual. They share stories, endlessly. In fact, they’re in their finest element when telling stories, with massive finger, hand, and head gestures punctuating their credible narrations. Best of all, they laugh at my mundane jokes. At least the ones I befriended, anyway.
Inevitably, there would be moments of isolation, but I have used these solitary moments to explore and understand the astonishing wealth of Indian spirituality and culture. As I lived longer in India, I began to find poetry in the slopes of auto-rickshaws and the shapes of roti and parantha breads. I’m now drawn to the garish colors of its festivals despite the garishness of their colors, and to the harsh sounds of its crowded cities despite the harshness of their sounds. Such moments and places offer the chance to reflect against the material world, particularly in an India that has moved so far ahead of the incredible India that I first knew in 2005. I’m a more compassionate person today than I’ve ever been, and this is the best gift from living five years in India.