The last time I was standing in the country of India was back in January of 2008. I was a 14-year-old teenager at the time, and I have very fond memories of that trip. Most of my mother’s family resides in India and I remember that their hospitality provided me with the warmest of welcomes. However, being in India at that younger age was a bit overwhelming, as if the sights and sounds around me were amplified by ten compared to the quieter life I live in Canada. I had trouble adjusting to the differences in lifestyles and I felt something was missing from the overall experience. I often found myself missing Canada because I didn’t truly feel at “home” in India.
Now fast forward 15 years to the future… Having grown up into a 29-year-old adult since that last trip, I took the opportunity to finally revisit India in February of 2023. At this age, I had a yearning desire for an experience that was the opposite of quiet. I’m thrilled to report that’s exactly what I got, and I’ve never felt more at home in another place than I did in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, where I stayed with my mother’s sister (my massi) and her husband (my massar). It ultimately became a trip that’ll remain a permanent highlight within my memory. A trip full of adventures, cultures, traditions, history, learning, exploring, excitement, and most of all, genuine fun.
For all the people born into Indian families living in Canada, America, U.K., Australia, and other places abroad, I can wholeheartedly confirm that visiting India as a child or teenager is nowhere near the same experience as visiting India when you’re an adult. With age comes wisdom, and you naturally develop a much deeper understanding and appreciation for your family roots and the unique society that they belong to. It really humbles you and makes you wonder about how far you’ve come compared to where our ancestors once used to live and work. It also helps that India has cemented itself as one of the top economies in the world and whatever items that were once unavailable in the past are now available in abundance.
Back in 2008, there wasn’t a single shopping mall within Amritsar but now there are multiple malls containing all the latest brands, restaurants, fast-food chains, arcade games, bowling alleys, and movie theatres. As a whole, India has vastly improved its infrastructure with new highways, roads, and bridges that make commuting and travelling far easier than ever before. More rural and isolated places now have reliable electricity, water, and internet for all their daily needs. Their schools can rival any school abroad, where kids go to learn quality education with focus and discipline. Their options for telecommunication are incredibly cheap, with cell phone plans costing as low as a couple of hundred rupees a month (less than 5 Canadian dollars) for a few gigabytes of data that renews each day. Their housing options, including newer gated communities, are plentiful and include some of the most stylish facilities and amenities. Their traffic isn’t as chaotic as it appears because it somehow flows like water and still moves faster than a typical traffic jam in Toronto. Coincidentally, I also happened to be present in India during its first time as a host nation for the G20 (Group of 20) summit, which further benefitted all the cities that were selected to hold events for various world leaders and representatives. Everything in Amritsar received a fresh new coat of paint on it, along with incredible lighting fixtures and impressive murals decorating the walls that represent India’s reputation on the global stage. I could go on writing about the impactful development that has taken place in India but to sum it up, I didn’t find myself missing Canada even once throughout my five-week stay, which was a stark contrast to how I once felt during my last trip.
To state the obvious, no country is perfect or ever will be. India has challenges of its own that are no different than the problems in other developed nations. Their pollution levels still need to be reduced, their political landscape can be divisive, their media could be paid for, and certain groups of people may have more advantages, but how is that any different from where I currently live in Canada? There are still so many opportunities in India, just as there are here, to make something of yourself and excel in any way that you wish to do so. By far, the most popular topic of discussion during my stay in India was the staggering number of students who are deciding to leave the country to go study in colleges abroad, specifically in Canada. Easily, the most intense and concentrated advertising that I saw during my time there was related to completing an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test and essentially getting out of India as soon as possible. Whenever I saw these advertisements, I would always think why? What’s so bad about here? This may sound a little hypocritical coming from me, but I was born and raised in Canada without a choice. The younger generation in India however, including those who’ve most recently turned 18 years old, do have a choice yet they appear desperate to leave the country because they feel like they’re missing out on something.
Thousands upon thousands of Indian students are now flocking to Canada like a mass exodus and many of them falsely believe that this big move will solve all their worries forever. There are some students who’ve never even travelled from their small village to an actual city that are now hopping on flights to go to Canada, leaving their families and homeland 11,000 kilometres behind without considering any other alternatives first. In fact, many students aren’t spending any time on researching the very colleges and programs they’re applying to, which has led to an increase of shady educational institutions across Canada that are scamming and defrauding students after they’ve already paid thousands of dollars in tuition fees to be there. Some students also lack the preparation for figuring out where they’ll be staying once they arrive in Canada and they’re reluctant to create a budget or plan about how they’ll be able to afford everything, which all adds up to a recipe for disaster. It’s as if some of these students simply wing it and say, “we’ll figure it out once we get there.” This mindset may have worked for immigrants in the past but in today’s day and age, especially with inflation and the record-high cost of living in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, it’s no longer a wise decision that’s worth banking your entire future on.
Many international students that have abandoned their original comforts and lifestyles to come to Canada from India are now struggling, with depression and suicide rates spiking at an alarming rate, particularly after the pandemic. The question is who is to blame here? The anxious students who want more opportunities, the crooked colleges and workplaces that take advantage of them, their pushy parents and relatives who place more stress on their shoulders, the out of touch Canadian government that don’t look deeper into these issues, or the countless college recruiting businesses that are just as guilty and have made it their mission statement to sell fake dreams and promises to those who are most vulnerable? If you ask me, that one move from India to Canada is a lot more difficult, risky, and complicated than it seems.
My personal message to all the young students out in India is that if your situation truly seems unfavourable to you from where you currently live, why not take a chance in one of the hundreds of populous cities across India and see if things improve there? Or at the very least, complete an undergraduate degree in India first and then later decide to pursue a postgraduate degree abroad when you’re older, more confident, and experienced. A great example is how my aunt’s (massi’s) two daughters decided to leave the city of Amritsar to go establish themselves in the cities of Delhi and Bangalore instead. When opportunities didn’t come to them, they ventured out to go find the opportunities themselves and eventually, they were successful. I recognize that it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do or what not to do, but what I’m simply suggesting is think long and hard before making important life-changing decisions for yourselves and for your families. Remember that anything in this world that’s worthwhile takes time and patience, as good things will come to those who wait.
With all that out of the way, it’s been a month since I’ve returned home but it still feels like my heart hasn’t properly adjusted back yet. Getting my coffee handed to me from a drive through window at Tim Horton’s isn’t the same as drinking tea on top of an open balcony while overlooking a magnificent sunrise and sunset. I miss the sights and sounds, as loud as they can be, because I felt that there was always some new experience to take part in. No matter where you go in India, you’re surrounded by a real sense of identity and the locals are proud of their heritage. From enjoying delicious street food in Amritsar, to seeing some of the endless historical sites in Delhi, to a simple stroll through the markets in Palampur with my Himachali cap on, it seemed as if everything was full of energy, life, and colours. I’m physically back in the hustle and work culture of North America with a grey filter slapped over top of it, but my mind is still attached to the minimalism and satisfaction that the people of India enjoyed over there. They seemed to be much happier and relaxed with what little they have whereas people here are more troubled and stressed out even though they may have plenty already.
In the end when it’s all been said and done, my only regret is that I didn’t revisit India sooner. I made too many excuses within those 15 years, from being too busy with my university studies or work, to not wanting to go there in the hot summer months. I waited too long and I feel like I missed out on a lot of key events within my family tree. In that span of time, some of my relatives were born and some of my relatives passed away, along with all the milestones that came and went for all the relatives that aged. Regardless, I’m still grateful for the chance to finally reconnect with my family while being able to experience all the amazing changes and improvements that have taken place in India. The best way to describe this entire trip is that it felt like I jumped into a time machine and turned the dial from 2008 to 2023. India is a beautiful country with so much to explore within it, and I’m certain that my next trip will happen much sooner. I highly recommend visiting India for at least a few weeks, specifically to all the people of Indian background who were born abroad and have never been there. Trust my words and go experience your ancestral land where our roots run deep, I promise you that it’ll be worth your time and money.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ve created an entire compilation to showcase the highlights from places I was lucky enough to visit around India. I’ve added captions and website links as a starting point if you would like to find out more context and information on your own time. If you would like to personally get in touch with me about anything I’ve written or shown, you can e-mail me at email@example.com. Enjoy!
May 2, 2023 at 12:39 pm
Very thought provoking and well written. The factual information about the historical places touched my heart, glad that you have not forgotten your roots. Although I have left Punjab long time ago, but I still reach my village in my thoughts every day, the place where I was born and spent my childhood. The system may be bad in India, but it is a great country. People may have less resources in India but they always have smile on their faces, unlike North American society where no one has time to meet up for a cup of tea despite having so many resources. You have shared very good information for young people who are coming to Canada for higher studies, hope someone get guidance and benefit from reading it. I really enjoyed reading your article, keep writing and sharing good information whether it’s travel or your own experiences.
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May 4, 2023 at 8:42 am
Thank you for taking the time to read everything and go through all the pictures and videos! Comments like this make all the effort I put in totally worth it. I tried to do each place justice with different angles and captions, so I’m glad you enjoyed viewing them. I feel as if no matter which corner of the world a person can migrate to, their mind will always be attached to their real home, which is where they once came from, spent their childhood in, and where their family may still live.
I believe people in India were happier than people in North America because they could easily make time for others who are close to them. In North American society, we’re all more connected than ever before through technology and social media but in many ways, we remain disconnected from real interactions and experiences that have more value. We need to normalize making genuine time for each other again, including going out for a simple lunch or coffee, otherwise it’s very easy to get discouraged from making future plans when you constantly hear the words, “No, I’m busy today.”
People in other countries love sitting down with each other and being present in the moment, simply discussing how their day is going. These small acts can go a long way, especially when it comes to improving your communication, confidence, and overall mental health. We’re inherently social creatures but over the last decade, smartphones have unfortunately devolved our basic drive to interact with other human beings. Anyways, let’s hope for the best and try to make spending time with friends and family exciting again!
May 1, 2023 at 7:06 pm
Thank you Karan for compiling your trip to India in such an exquisite way. I visited India so many times before but this time going as a family made a huge difference. We all need a stress free vacation once a while. Good memories created this time will always stay with us. Your love and passion for history shows in your blog. I will be very glad if you stay with your roots in Punjab, India and visit family and relatives often. Love, Mom
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May 4, 2023 at 8:25 am
Thank you very much for your kind words mom, as always. Going as a family at this age made all the difference, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to experience India together once more. A tree is only as strong as its supportive roots, and you’ve shown me how far our roots really go. Also, you can take some of the credit for my obsession of history because as a kid, I used to bug you 24/7 to take me watch history movies in theatres, buy many books, and DVDs. 🙂
April 30, 2023 at 8:36 pm
As usual, beautiful post! India needs no introduction- a land of rich culture, languages, color, music, food, freedom, and much more. I was fortunate enough to grow up in India and spent one year in Butala as a kid (the same house your father grew up in!). The picture of the empty home you posted gave me chills. I still remember playing hide and seek in that house:)
People living in Indian villages may not have access to all the luxuries that we take for granted here in North America, but they appear to be less depressed than people in developed countries, so they really know how to live/enjoy life better than us- perhaps an opportunity to learn strategies to build resilience.
Thank you for summarizing the trip so beautifully. It gave me the motivation to go to India during the summer months!
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May 1, 2023 at 9:11 am
Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experiences Harkirat! I’m so glad I was able to bring some of those vivid and precious memories back to you.
We sometimes forget that there’s a whole world outside of our confined North American bubble that’s just begging to be explored. Money will always come and go, but enriching your mind and soul through travelling and experiencing different ways of life is something else entirely.