How many people do you see in this picture?
Most outsiders would say “one”.
However, if you are going to survive in India, you should get used to seeing at least a hundred people in this picture. Parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, neighbors, siblings, cousins, bosses, and classmates are all the invisible forces that govern the life of this one person.
When an Indian is born, they instantly become a lifetime member of a group of no less than 100 people. This network will be with them for their entire life. The community exists to provide stability, protection, and anything you could ever need.
Out of work? Call your uncle’s company, and see if he can get you a job. Need admission to a school? Find a relative who knows a decision maker. Having trouble getting a passport? A guy you grew up with is now an IAS officer and can give you inside information.
Communities in India create an essential born-in asset to have in a nation where things are impossible to get done on your own.
However, groups come with a high level of obligation as well. When you get an invitation to a wedding from someone in your community, you must always go. When someone needs to call in a favor, you can’t say no. Once you are in the group, you are there to stay. You are always identified with that group and all of its quirks and reputations. A question such as whom you marry is not only an individual one, but one which will profoundly affect the group.
Why you need a group
When I first came to India, I joined a professional/service club in order to meet people. I enjoyed it at first, but after several months, the meetings were sometimes dull, and I questioned if it was still worth my time. For some reason, I felt like it was the right idea to keep going.
Two years after I joined, I found myself in a stressful situation where I needed some legal advice quickly. My former self would have panicked, jumped onto Google, searched for a lawyer, and started making random cold calls until someone who seemed legitimate answered.
But instead, I made one phone call to a member inside my club. Within an hour, I had a meeting set up with one of the best lawyers in the city who gave me some free counsel, and assured me I had nothing to worry about. I was shocked at how quickly the group circled around me, and helped me through what would have otherwise been a horrible situation.
Later on, I got a call from a friend in a different social circle who was in a panic and needed me to do some work for her that she was under heavy pressure to complete (and for which she was being paid). Because she was someone I valued and was a part of my “group”, I knew my only option was to help her and not ask any questions or hesitate.
Groups make life possible
This complete reliance on groups is often hard for outsiders to understand. However, nothing in India is meant to be done on your own. From finding a new house to finding the right person for a job, everything is done based on groups and personal connections. If you try to do everything yourself, you will not survive.
Communities in India are essential not only for Indians, but for anyone living in India. It is too hard to try to do everything on your own. The quicker you embrace this truth and stop trying to make everything work on your own, the sooner you will start enjoying your experience. India is not a country for individuals. You will be lonely, bored, frustrated, and tired. Finding a group may be difficult, but it is definitely worth it and essential to your survival.
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Photo credit: Eddy Pula on Flickr