I have been in the UK for about 4 month now. During this time I’ve been to London, traveled around Milton Keynes a bit, and been in contact with a few Brits at the place where I work. This is obviously too little an experience to pass sweeping judgments about the way things work in this country, however, I would like to talk to you about a few simple ways in which the quality of life in Britain differs from that in India, and the possible reasons for this difference.
On some level, I understand the paranoia some English people have about “immigrants”. I obviously can’t support their more extreme opinions, being an immigrant myself, but I get the heart of their fears. This is a beautiful country, organised, spacious, serene. People follow unwritten rules in an attempt to make it a better place. Life is lived by the rules of basic human decency, which feel fragile and easy to destroy.
People here are open, helpful, and intelligent, but nobody wants to compromise on peace of mind at the cost of looking open, helpful, and intelligent. If you’ve ever lived in an apartment complex, you would understand that it takes just one person to degrade the positivity of an entire building. They don’t want this, nobody wants this.
On the other hand, it is also important to understand that all humans have the right to a good life. A lot of people who come here do so with just that aim in mind. To be valued as a human and to exist in a progressive society is a beautiful thing, and England gives you this experience. They repay England with kindness, hard work, and a more cosmopolitan outlook to the world.
It is sad that the actions of a few smear the beauty of many with generalizations, stereotypes, and fear-mongering. It is also sad that the media tends to focus more on rare extremes of hatred rather than the regular banality of love. I hope through the points I’m mentioning below people get an idea of the positive side of life here, rather than all the post-Brexit negativity that pervades the internet.
1. It’s a physically healthy place to be
It is hard to overstate just how naturally healthy the entire setup around me is.
There’s a small garden at the back of my room, there’s a giant park a few hundred meters away, and there’s an even bigger lake at a few kilometers distance. There’s proper space to walk everywhere, which is something entirely absent from India. There’s no pollution, the difference in quality of air is staggering. The amount of open space around you is simply unbelievable, an effect that’s accentuated by the lack of buildings higher than 5 stories.
A small example of just how clean things are around here would be the fact that I can, and do walk around for hours without any goggles on. If I did this in India, my contact lenses would’ve started dry humping my eyes, with the occasional speck of dust acting as lubricant, and I would be blind by the end of the day.
I don’t have a motorcycle here, and obviously no car, hence I depend on taxis, public transport, and my body to take me places. I have made full use of this opportunity, in the few months I’ve been here I’ve probably walked more than my 28 years back in India. It is a beautiful thing to wander around on your feet, thinking, listening to books, and imbibing the surroundings. I also steal my housemate’s cycle from time to time, it has no rear brake or mudguards, but I can’t complain.
One of the primary differences between Indian and UK is the way public spaces are maintained and respected. It is as if I’m in a country whose entire population suffers from uncontrollable OCD urges, which is why everything is so beautifully constructed, kept that way, and improved. The most important examples of this behavior are in the little things, insignificant bushes that have been minutely trimmed, pedestrian bridges that nobody uses but which still stay in immaculate shape, and even graffiti on the walls that appears to have a more artistic touch rather than an anarchic one.
You can imagine how easy it is to find yourself kilometers away from home, walking on some breathtaking paths, all alone.
Although I haven’t been to the US, I did notice that the traditional British food is rather good, tasty and nutritious. It is true that most Indians would find it bland and tasteless, but for a chilli-challenged twat like myself, it is heaven.
On the whole, this is a place that motivates you to keep yourself fit and healthy, and gives you the means to make it happen.
2. It’s a mentally healthy place to be
I feel valued as a human being here, something I’ve rarely experienced back home.
The menace of jaywalking that’s so rampant in India doesn’t exist here, because cars actually stop for you. It took me a few days to get used to this, I’d be on the footpath trying to cross over the road and I’d see a car approaching. I’d naturally stop, because my brain’s still used to the way things work in India, where vehicles have priority over humans. The car driver would look at me and slow down, which would really surprise me, and I’d awkwardly look at him like “What’s up”, and he’d look at me like I’m some sort of jackass. Then he’d actually wave his hand and ask me to cross, at which point I’d run and give him the thumbs up.
When I return to India, the chances of me dying under some vehicle are really high, since I’ve lost that instinct of looking both ways when crossing a road. I did it here in the beginning, but soon found out that people looked at me funny for checking the wrong side of the road before going across.
They don’t know.
Another exceptionally small but important detail is the fact that people open and hold doors for you, for no particular reason. It’s not even like men hold doors for women and old people, everyone does it for everyone. When you do it, people thank you. The only time I’ve seen people be so nice in India is when they are high.
When I go for a run or walk, people look at me and smile, sometime they say hello and ask if I’m “alright”. It took me a while to understand this way of greeting, the first time someone said “You alright?” to me, I thought I was bleeding from my nose or something, but it is just their way of saying “How are you”.
I get even better greetings on my journeys from doggos, many of whom attempt to climb up my legs. Dogs here are very well mannered, they normally just pass you, or come and say “Hi” and then move along. The cats here are fucking fat as fuck, and they run away from me for some reason.
The population density here is almost depressing. If I cycle for 20 kms, I pass no more than 20-30 people on the way. This means that you frequently find yourself in secluded areas without anybody around for miles. I haven’t had any bad experiences till now, and I’ve gone through some rough-looking neighborhoods at rather wrong times. I’m sure bad stuff happens here too, but the implicit sense of security in the surroundings is quite rich.
The sense of security comes from other people and situations as well. When me and wifey recently checked into a hotel in London, I was surprised when the receptionist asked for no ID. Your name is enough to put a room key in your hands. I was even more surprised when at check out time, nobody bothered to go and check the room as it happens back in India. I stood there like a jackass waiting for them to see that all was well in the room, when the receptionist politely told me to fuck off.
When you enter a mall, there’s no security check. When you enter a train station, or even the underground, there’s no security check. You can enter any shop with a giant trekking back on your back, and nobody will stop you. Nobody runs towards you the moment you whip out your phone to take a few photos.
One of the strangest feelings I get is from the houses around here. They are so beautifully made, but very few of them have any sort of gate at the front, and none have any grills in the windows. It feels odd to me that the only thing protecting the items inside their house is a thin sheet of glass. It is true that most houses have alarm systems and security cameras, but they appear to be of more use after a burglary has happened, rather than to stop one from happening. It is kinda sad that I feel this way.
I’m sure I can’t explain to you fully what emotions you feel around here, what I can tell you is that your sense of self-worth increases dramatically in just a few days.
3. Roads are beautiful, road sense is even better
I am in sort of a self-exile from automobiles at the moment, but I do use public transport a lot and it is hard to describe just how good the road infrastructure is around here. There’s no such thing as a pothole, it doesn’t exist, and I’m not just talking about the main roads and highways. The cycle and footpaths that are everywhere are in pristine condition as well, as are tiny bridges going over marshes and big underpasses going below the city streets.
Like I said before, there’s no such thing as jaywalking, because first, there’s a designated area where people can walk, and second, cars stop for you if you happen to be crossing their path. There are clear markings at places where cars get priority over pedestrians, obviously you can’t expect cars to stop and pile onto each other in the middle of a busy road just to let a few people cross over.
One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen around here is the use of high-beams. The only time someone uses the high-beam is to indicate to someone else that you can pass, I’ll wait. This is completely opposite behavior to what you see in India. It is so nice to walk around the city at night and not have your retinas burned out.
Unlike India, where the horn is used as a non-verbal form of communication, here you barely hear it once or twice a week. When you do hear it, you can be certain that someone fucked up real bad.
Another fantastic thing here is the lack of hoardings along the roads. In India, roadsides are generally treated as a giant advertisement space, sometimes at the cost of pedestrians, but here they don’t exist. Everything feels so clean without them, you are not constantly distracted by someone trying to sell an iPhone or detergent powder.
People here follow traffic rules, and not because there’s police standing at every junction. They do it because they understand that they are responsible for maintaining the beautiful system that they have. At a traffic jam, people wait patiently in line, lane discipline is followed, and traffic lights are respected. And all of this without the threat of some police officer jumping in front of your car from behind some random tree.
Drivers here understand that they are not at war against each other, but instead are using the roads as common property to live their lives.
4. Everything is organised, the system works
I have never seen a stray dog here, neither have I heard the cries of their orgies at night like we do in India. Dogs here always seem to be accompanied by humans, and they are both very well behaved. This is the kind of place where one can think about getting a dog, you have space for them to run around in, you don’t have to carry a stick to shoo away the other attacking strays every time you get out of the house, and you have plenty of friends for them to play with.
It is still fascinating to me that there’s no such thing as a power cut here, I’m so used to the electricity supply randomly going off that this is just amazing. On top of that, the streets here look brilliantly clean because unlike India, electricity lines run underground. There’s no mess of wires and poles everywhere, it’s almost magical how electricity is distributed everywhere without any visible signs.
One of the most brilliant things I’ve seen here is the centralized heating system that every house has. It is not electrical, a heater heats up water, which is then circulated throughout the house. Inside your room, you have a radiator, and you can control the temperature by increasing/decreasing the flow of water. It’s compact, there’s no risk of fire, and you can dry your undies on it.
It is hard not to appreciate the intelligence behind all the little things here.
5. Law of personal space is followed
In my time here, I’ve understood that there’s basically only one rule that governs the way people live their lives.
As long as you don’t create problems for others, you can do whatever you want to do.
This is so refreshingly mature, to be treated as an adult human again, to not have your every action criticized by people whose only qualification for being able to do so is their love for power.
Two people kissing in India in public would be such a big deal, people would stop and look, others would whistle and gesture, police might get called. Here, nobody gives a shit, and it’s not “I’ll not look because I don’t agree with what you are doing” behavior, it’s “I’m happy you are having fun and I hope I can add to your romance”. I saw a couple kissing passionately by the edge of river Thames in London, it was romantic in the true sense of the word.
One of the most annoying things for me in India are these jackasses who feel so happy about someone’s marriage or some random festival, that they just have to include everyone within a 5 km radius in their celebrations. They’ll play loud music, burst firecrackers, and generally be dicks in the name of tradition. That doesn’t exist here, and that’s such a satisfying thing in itself.
Even better is the fact that when you want to go somewhere, you don’t have to factor in the presence of any agitations, roadblocks, strikes, demonstrations, or political dickwaving. When people have something they want to complain about, they stay human and civilized, rather than spouting horns and gathering in large numbers in the middle of some highway like cattle.
I’m not a patriotic person, and although I’d like to believe that I can look objectively at things, it is possible that I can’t. I feel trapped in India, I hate the so-called culture, the idiocy, the illogical following of obsolete customs in the name of heritage and tradition.
I understand now why parents get so paranoid when their kids go overseas, I don’t want to come back, there’s absolutely no reason for me to want to live out the rest of my life in India now that I’ve seen that I can have a much better quality of life elsewhere.
At this point, I have newfound respect for people who stay back in India and try to improve things. It is hard for me to imagine the level of selflessness such an act would require. You can live a fulfilling life anywhere else, and yet you decide to spend it in a hellhole, hoping to make life better for others sometime in the distant future.
I think these are the people who come closest to the concept of God.
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