Why India is So Transformational

by Sharell शारेल on September 21, 2011

in Culture Shock in India

Post image for Why India is So Transformational

We’ve all heard of people going to India to find themselves, over and over again. It’s natural to wonder what’s so special about India. How could such a confronting country be so transformational? Actually, the fact that India is confronting and in your face in so many different ways is part of what makes it transformational.

Here’s an article that I wrote about India, transformation, and my book for popular Australian lifestyle website TheHoopla.

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© Copyright 2011 Sharell शारेल, Diary of a White Indian Housewife 2008-2014. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie September 21, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Great article, Sharell !
Hope you are enjoying your stay in Oz and obviously making the most of it while there !
Loved the pictures too … So typical of one could expect to click when visiting Indian : great snake, elephant, oxes pulled cart, river offering …
Obviously, you shot them during your first years of staying in Bharat at the time you first discovered the magic of the land !


Sharell September 21, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Hi Annie, I’ve been busy working most of the time unfortunately, and the weather isn’t that nice so not much enjoyment. ;-) You’re right about the photos though, they were taken on my adventures over the years!


Rebecca September 21, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Hi Sharell!

I loved your article. I agree that India is transformational in so many ways. I hated India the first time I visited but now when I visit with my Indian husband and our children I take a better attitude with me!

India definitely has made me appreciate my life in the United States and I also greatly respect the will to survive and hard working nature of working class and poor Indians. I also love the food, and have been grateful for the love and generosity that (most :) ) of my husband’s relatives and friends have shown me and my children.

I am concerned about my upcoming visit to India (it will be my fourth) because this time we are taking my American WASP parents and my sister. My sister is 22, well-traveled, and adventurous so I am not worried about her. I desperately tried to convince my parents to take a vacation to Europe instead of India because I know my parents and they are not going to enjoy their experience in chaotic and filthy India. Do you have any tips for this situation?


Sharell September 21, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Hi Rebecca, glad you loved the article. I can understand your problem with your parents because my dad is the same, and I haven’t got him to India yet. If/when he does visit India, I intend to keep him as far away from the chaos as possible. Could you take your parents to somewhere like Kerala, which is much more peaceful, and make sure you stay in good hotels? Rajasthan has some beautiful authentic palace hotels, which I’m sure they’d enjoy too.


sam October 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

How come europeans never feel the shame of looting and occupying and enriching themselves at the cost of others in the last 3-4-5 centuries ?

If i were them, I will be ashamed to enjoy my ancestors loot, instead of “appreciating” my “current” lifestyle..


Manny October 4, 2011 at 7:59 am



Rebecca September 21, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Sharell, I wish we could avoid the chaos but my husband’s family lives in Mumbai. Out itinerary will likely include Mumbai, Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), and Tirupati of all places because my parents have friends there. Also we will probably visit Goa. Kerala is my favorite part of India but we will not have time to travel that far south. I hope we stay in good hotels but I think my husband’s definition of “good” is miles away from my parent’s idea of a decent hotel! Well, they wanted to go to India so they will see India in all of its glory, humanity, and chaos. If they don’t like it I will just send them home.


Sharell September 22, 2011 at 6:22 am

It sounds like you’re in for interesting times then — but you never know, your parents may surprise you. Let’s hope anyway! (Or, yes, send them home! :-P )


Hélène September 22, 2011 at 4:24 pm

OMG, Rebecca, I would definitely check what kind of hotel your husband is reserving ! :)


Sonali September 22, 2011 at 2:12 am

Oh Sharell, LOVE the article! Made me love my country even more, if that was possible!! Wanted to let you know, I spent 45 minutes telling a friend about you and your blog today, and what a massive impact it has made on me and my life…you cannot imagine what you have done for me!! The full extent of it actually hit me when I was telling my friend about it…in so many ways Sharell, you saved my life :) Sounds extremely dramatic especially when it is out of context, but so true! Will tell you about it in detail someday…and somewhere more private, hopefully! I cannot wait to get my hands on your book, I already know I will love it!

PS: In two days it will be a year since I moved to London…and you were so right, I feel much, much better about it now! :)


Sharell September 22, 2011 at 6:19 am

Hi Sonali, oh I’m delighted to read your comment. India really is many things to many people. 8) But that aside, I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing well in London and that I was able to have such a positive impact on you. It’s amazing, you just never know who you’re helping without even knowing it. Wishing you all the best! (And do write to me if you ever feel like it).


Laav September 22, 2011 at 8:15 am

Hi Sharrell -

Thank you so much for the beautiful article. Also thanks for your
openness about your past (the breakup of your first marriage) and how
India healed you and gave you a new life, husband, family, and purpose.
Though I am of Indian descent, I doubt I will ever embrace India as fully as you have. Gotten to used to life in the West. But India has its own charm and I love it in my own way.



jesh September 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

I always had the feeling that West treat India as Third world Country ie nation that live in the past. I always wondered why because every place has it uniqueness. It would be boring to see the who world had the same life style, culture and food. I as an Indian embrace the west culture because it so much different that where and how I live. Even India each state has its own culture, language, life style. You would feel you are going to another country when you travel to next state…That makes India special.

I should also mention that this scenario is starting to change…


Marina September 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Hey Sharell,
I loved the article! I came across your blog a few months ago and have been reading them whenever i have the time (truly enjoy reading your entries). Ive only been to India once (in May). It was quite an experience! My boyfriend lives in Bombay and im planning to move from Kuala Lumpur and be with him next year. We’re still trying to figure out the documents and paper work (for marriage purpose), one of your blog entry kinda helped us a lil. Its going to be a big change for me. Im looking forward to it though! Would be hard leaving behind friends, family, advertising career..all in all..i welcome the change :) Your blog has been helpful, reading it from a woman’s point of view. Looking forward to more entries.


Piu September 22, 2011 at 6:04 pm


Good luck with your book promotions. Waiting for it to reach indian shores.

That was an interesting article.

As for me, a foreign returned indian of no spiritual religious bearing whatsoever, to answer the same in very brief about me, here goes.

Why I liked the west: clean, well mannered, polite, systematic, law abiding

Difficulties I faced in the west: V.expensive, v.hard working – cleaning up and cooking after myself after a hard day of work…. it started weighing on me. I think it gets to be particularly hard and depressing for single people. Personal chores keep people so busy, I feel there is little time for ‘leisure’ which needs to be planned.

Things I started to appreciate after I came back to India (kolkata to be precise):
A feeling of safety and kinship from strangers. There is a lot of rudeness in India – which is plain childishness – but there is real warmth in its politeness. Of course, the lightening of a work load, by virtue of being lucky to get a good maid – it is the opposite if the maid is not good. I never feel lonely or depressed in this loud noisy teeming land.


Mohit gupta September 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Hi Sharell ,

I loved the article and “enjoyed” the ‘Angry American’ most :)
Btw , I hope nobody missed me here.


Sharell September 23, 2011 at 3:30 am

Welcome back Mohit. Actually, I have to admit that I did miss you. Sachi! Who ever would’ve thought….

Angry American sure added a bit of interest to the article! ;-)


Jenn September 23, 2011 at 10:39 am

Angry American sure was angry. She reminds me of some people I knew back in my non-profit days. They didn’t realize how snobby they were about their causes. Sometimes I wanted to shake them to get them out of their own world.


Jenn September 23, 2011 at 10:41 am

Oh yah and I really like your outfit. It’s really cute.


Nathalie September 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Hello ! I read the “AA” too, and found you very wise and smart in the way you answered his/her (I don’t remember) comment !! “Chapeau !” as we say in French !!!


Sharell September 24, 2011 at 4:06 am

Merci beaucoup! :-)


Mat Diplo September 23, 2011 at 4:16 am

Just read the article. When I visited India and saw people with leprosy, with stumped legs propelling themselves on a wooden board with wheels. I choked back the emotions; it was very disturbing to see. India confronts visitors with shocking real-life–India is not a movie, it is very moving.

The marble hotels with en-suite swimming pool does not reflect India, however the reason they are so popular is because it shields people from the real India, which can be too much for some.

India as a country however, is very welcoming, humbling, and generous–one of the most hospitable countries, where a poor family will even insist you eat whilst they go without because you are a guest.

Once India transforms into an “emerged” market I hope that more will be done to help those less fortunate in the “ovarian lottery” as Bill Gates calls it; people who were unfortunate to be born into poverty through pure chance–they should be helped always.


Mat Diplo September 23, 2011 at 4:37 am

India’s poverty and the suffering is the most confrontational thing about it. It would be amazing if life was fair, and people were not born into poverty and suffering. When I saw a programme on the Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, I felt for the children who were rummaging through rubbish to retrieve recyclable material. I really hope corruption is eradicated from Indian politics because money should be channeled to those who are destitute and desperate and not to finance the lavish lifestyles of corrupt uncivilised civil servants. Every day is a struggle for some people, where even clean water is not available–most of this can be prevented and is caused by greed–such as burning perfectly edible food to keep prices up and profits high–that is a new low re. human nature–utterly evil. India confronts for sure!


Bronwyn September 23, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hey Sharell!

This is a fantastic article. I have to second the thought of a lot of your followers who are writing back: parts of India can be too much to bear. In moving to India, and especially to a place like Mumbai where the spectrum of wealth is unlike anything I had ever seen before, one has to “get used to”” being surrounded by grinding poverty, if that’s possible to do. I don’t know if I’m “used to it,” or if I’ve become a little harder hearted. Is that horrible? At the same time, our hearts do that because we have to protect ourselves. If we took on the heaviness of life of every beggar at the window and every kid living on a train platform, we simply wouldn’t be able to continue, and that wouldn’t solve anything either.
A lot of food for thought. Thanks for helping us think about it!

On another note…. you wrote a book! I cannot WAIT to get my hands on it! The cover design is beautiful. I’m really excited about this.
Enjoy your rest (if you are resting at all, with all this excitement!) in Australia, and hope to see you one day where you’re back in the Maximum city!


Sharell September 24, 2011 at 4:19 am

Thanks so much Bronwyn (and you should also write a book!). It’s all been so hectic in Australia with book promotions, I’ve hardly had time to rest.

As for India and the poverty, I’ve become harder too — especially living in Mumbai. I think you have to be. But to me, it’s an objective hardness. All these gangs of beggars etc are a menace more than anything. There are so many NGOs that help people if they truly need it. But yes, it really does make you think about things, and reassess how you deal with things and perceive things. I know I’d still be moved to tears if I still worked at the NGO in Kolkata that helps underprivileged women, yet I can also get so annoyed and frustrated with Mumbai’s beggars. Ah, the extremes of India.


Manny September 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm

You do not have to be a foreigner to be shocked or traumatized at some of the sights you get to see. The first time I noticed something horrible was when I was about 11 years old. I was walking back from school. It was by a local restaurant’s allyway. The restaurant had dumped their left overs at the garbage can/pit. The food and banana leaves (The Indian paper plate) were overflowing from the trash can. A bunch of stray dogs and were about trying to eat what they scrounge. I also saw some kids, probably around 5 or 6 years old in there trying to fight some morsel of food they could find. I simply stood there and stared and was so shocked at the sight. I don’t remember seeing such a thing prior to that. I walked the rest of the way home crying. My mom opened the door as I came in and she asked If was in a fight at school. I was too angry to even speak to explain to her what I saw. I don’t remember trying to explain to her what I saw.

Its kind of strange…even today, if on occasion I am not happy or slightly depressed over some totally unrelated stuff, I wake up in the middle of the night of that episode. It has been permanently etched on my mind.

The thing is, Giving poor people a little money here and there or to pontificate and a give tax payer money for some new govt program is a cop out. An irresponsible act. Only sustained economic development can put a dent into this.

IMO, I find India, an immoral nation. Yes I said it. As long as India tolerates this kind of poverty, India is an immoral nation. IMO, China is far more a moral nation by their economic development to eradicate poverty. One of the reason, I am constantly mad at the left congress and all its supporters is, they bear a major responsibility for not doing anything substantial in the last 60 years to eradicate poverty in India. This leftist klan is the immoral culture of India.


Mat Diplo September 23, 2011 at 5:08 pm

You have many vibrant photographs–it would be cool if you added an 8th tab at the top called photographs / pictures as the photos adds a real rich flavour to your blog–liked the elephant–have not seen one with freckled ears like that before.


Mat Diplo September 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm

…and a 9th tab called videos perhaps with sights and sounds of “NOISY” India!!! :)


Sharell September 24, 2011 at 4:11 am

Haha, that’s a good one! Maybe I could but the videos in the multimedia box, and replace Prithviraj’s Rajput relative there!


Sharell September 24, 2011 at 4:09 am

Hmmm, I would like to add more photos, but I’d have to go to the trouble of putting watermarks on them all. I’ve become really alarmed about how many of them are being blatantly stolen from my website and used unauthorised for other purposes. A friend of mine who’s a photographer in Chennai emailed me the other day, saying he saw a photo of me in a popular wedding magazine in India. Yup, they’d taken one of my wedding photos from my blog and published it without my permission. :-(


Mat Diplo September 24, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Copyright theft sucks and the dweebs that do it suck even more. Even Reuters, CNN, Bloomberg, and Getty Images have their images ripped off and used–unfortunately even with the most advanced watermark software, dweeb web thieves manage to get round it–even with eBooks and MP3s etc. BUT… the MAJORITY of web users are 100% honest and do not go round stealing copyright.

You can subscribe to “www. digimarc. com” and have your photos “INVISIBLY” watermarked in less than a second via Photoshop or Photoshop Elements just by clicking your mouse button. Also if you “VISIBLY” watermark your photographs with your blog address it will drive more traffic to your blog, especially, if it is at 25% transparency and is placed over the most important parts of the image. Also if you embed your photos into “Adobe FLASH” then it will be harder to copy as it acts like a video even if it is a picture.

Whatever you do, NEVER add right-click disable as this is sooooooooooooo annoying and unprofessional and will be a nuisance–there is a famous Indian blog owned by some Indians who have put right click disable all over the place and it is IMPOSSIBLE to navigate by opening links in new tabs so I just abandoned their blog and left–it’s as if they are treating all their readers as copyright thieves– so unprofessional.

If possible embed a “LINK” into your pictures so even if it is ripped off and someone clicks it, it goes straight back to your site!!!

But I agree copyright thieves are a nuisance!!!

Oh, you could embed all your pictures into video like the slideshows you see on You Tube that is hard to copy! Lots of options–problem is the time consuming nature of the solutions!!!

Ps. put a legal copyright notice at the end of every blog page…e.g. “Copyright (c) 2011 WIHW etc–I noticed you do not have one–WP has a plugin for this.


Sharell September 25, 2011 at 6:03 am

These are excellent tips Mr Diplo, thank you. 8)


linda September 24, 2011 at 5:27 am

I go to India to lose myself….


Bronwyn September 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Sharell: I’d love to write a book, it is definitely a solid goal that I’m working on. It’s amazing to see other real people like yourself do it: one really can write a book!

Thanks for your support: I’ll trade you signed copy for signed copy when mine comes out in a few years :)


Sharell September 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Deal Bronwyn! 8) Can’t wait…. it really is possible.


Bronwyn October 1, 2011 at 10:51 am

Please let me know when yours will be available on flipkart or at Crossword! :)


hunter October 2, 2011 at 10:30 am

I think it’s because we(white people) don’t really have a culture or something to hang back on. When we meet a group of people with a true lifestyle culture it astounds us. It takes a while for us to figure it out. Indian culture is awesome. My gf’s Thai culture is awesome. It feels good to get in there and find some authenticity, especially because white people don’t know that sort of thing. Anyway, keep rocking Sharell.


Sharell October 2, 2011 at 11:18 am

Hi Hunter, I definitely agree with you! :-) But people say, oh your country does have a culture — yeah, but it’s a culture that’s lacking in culture. There really isn’t much depth to it, especially in a country such as Australia that’s only been around for a couple of decades.


mitesh October 3, 2011 at 5:23 am

I always see so much positivism in your articles. Thats so amazing. Indeed no matter where you live, you just have to carry positive thoughts and the world around will be good :)


Sharell October 3, 2011 at 9:09 am

Hi Mitesh, thank you so much. If more people thought like you, the world would be such a happy place. But every little bit of positivity counts! :-)


Abdullah K. October 3, 2011 at 11:29 am

@ hunter & Sharell:
Thats a rather misanthropic way of looking at the white society. White people are multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, so it is probably difficult to spot a specific ‘white culture’.
Sharell’s sense of egalitarianism and fairness for example, is a very Aussie cultural trait. I have seen this attitude among a lot of Australians, but a rare quality among non-Australian people. For instance, Sharell feels guilty about using her position of privilege as a white in India, something most of us would take as a ‘perk’ of living in the country.


Sharell October 3, 2011 at 11:55 am

Sharell’s sense of egalitarianism and fairness for example, is a very Aussie cultural trait. I have seen this attitude among a lot of Australians, but a rare quality among non-Australian people.

This is a really interesting observation! I just thought all decent people were like that — but I am a bit naive and like to think the best.


TAMASHA! October 3, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I’ve noticed that about Aussies too.
I get a few TV stations on my satellite dish from Australia & the idea of ‘sportsmanship’ and ‘fair play’ not just in sports but even on game shows like ‘Masterchef’ are really pronounced.
I’ve noticed it among the Aussie tourists and expats here in Nepal also. On the flip side though most of the bar fights around here are Aussie on Aussie, usually when someone ‘disrespects’ someone else.


Sharell October 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I guess we do have a popular saying “Fair go, mate”. I just had no idea it was so particular to Australians. Oh, I’m not surprised about the bar fights…. nothing like a drunken brawl to settle matters. :-P


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