The first time you ask an Indian person a question, you might get a bit confused. If the answer was an obvious yes, why are they shaking their head sideways? Why would someone smile while nodding a no? We showed quite a few lost facial expressions until we realised they don’t shake their heads in our same way.
On the day of our first encounter we were just back from a two day long journey, tired, dehydrated, already drowning in sweat. The Manipal students had been waiting for two hours for us but were very happy to meet us. For once, the Indians weren’t the ones to be late – just kidding, you can’t be late at class here. Anywhere else, yes. We spend the first night teaching traditional dances to each other, all clumsily learning new steps.
While the 5am alarm was not appealing for anyone, the morning sports session brought us all together: there are no differences on a basketball pitch. Also, there is nothing that can make you feel closer to someone than complaining over the same things. We bonded over “I didn’t sleep enough last night “, “I’m hungry” and “I stink”.
What would we do without our buddies? They guided us through the maze that is an Indian restaurant menu, where the only familiar name is naan. “Vidhi, is this spicy?”, I ask my buddy, hoping for a rather bland meal. “A little”, she says, and my mouth goes on fire. I need more naan (the only item I know happens to be the most useful too) and I know I won’t trust an Indian on this matter again. A little means a lot, not much means a little and there is no actual plain option, ever.
There is a real chance to get injured without them. They take our hands in the traffic, little European babies used to streetlights. They are there when we have to take a bus, they are there on the first bumpy adventure that is the rickshaw. They take us everywhere: Wednesday night is karaoke night. Amy and Sarosh sing a Linkin Park classic, Chetna and Camilla Cheap Thrills from Sia. They take us to the beach on our free day. While all of the Scots brag about their tan, or cry over their burns, you hear Maiyuri making fun of Sid: “you’re darker, ha!” and Hiral covers up since she has a photoshoot the following week. “I don’t want to look darker!” We go to the temple on Janmashtami and we all get sandalwood on our foreheads. Then, the mandatory selfie. We all hold hands to make a human chain or else we will get lost.
Every day we find out more about our cultures: how is university like in the UK and in India, how arranged marriages work, why you need to eat just with your right hand. Curious? It’s a grooming-related answer. You can private message us for it.
This clash of cultures has been smooth because of the extreme curiosity and openness of both parties. After a week, we are so comfortable with our buddies, India has become a second home to us.