After two months in the city of dreams, I won’t want to say good-bai!

Oliver CreedLSE

 

I’ve never left Europe – or travelled much at all – so coming to India was always going to be an experience. A challenge, to say the least. After an anticlimactic previous summer, I stubbornly decided to challenge myself this year. And what a challenge it’s been.

In an attempt to familiarize myself with at least a miniscule and appropriately camp aspect of Indian culture, I downloaded a playlist of Bollywood songs to listen to on the flight. Excitement hit as we touched down in a drenched airport. Mid-monsoon, mid- ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ soundtrack, I stepped off the plane to be engulfed by the warm, sticky air. That’s when the nerves hit in.

From the sheer size of the city – larger than I could have even imagined – to the erraticism of the weather, the city is one of extremes. Excesses and frugalities sit together in this paradoxical melting pot of sensory overdose. At first, I didn’t like it – I preferred the more timid temperature, traffic and spice levels of Britain. It wasn’t until I began at Taj, meeting not only my lovely colleagues and the amazing partners that I have been working with – from disability support groups, to self-help groups for disadvantaged women – that I relaxed, embracing the culture shock for what it is: a great privilege.

What could be more rewarding than empowering underrepresented, minority communities to help supply an iconic Indian brand? I have relished the opportunity to tell their stories, and to highlight the good work that has already been done. Just this week, I have spent several days meeting disadvantaged women, residing in slums. Their openness towards a clumsy foreigner who forgets to take his shoes off, taking pictures whilst they work and asking questions in pigeon-Hindi, has been a blessing. Even more to be admired than their openness, is their talent: real artisanal work, being produced in the most adverse of situations.

After the first few weeks, the immense hospitality shown by a whole array of folk (some more welcome than others: namecheck to the Sprite-stealing Matheran monkey!!), has made me feel both welcomed and appreciated in a way which I neither expected; nor deserved. I soon realize why people love this amazing country, and I question now why anyone would not seek to visit!