How Did I Live So Long in India? Musings from China on Women’s Personal Freedom

When I locked the door to my home in Bangalore and headed to Los Angeles for a simple visa renewal in 2013, I never dreamed that I was destined to move to China, never to walk through those doors again!  It was a series of circumstances and events that could have been prevented and that I was actually able to remedy but at the end of the day I think I knew my time in India had ended so I didn’t fight as hard as I could have to stay if my heart had really been in it.  I lived a yin and yang existence in Bangalore full of fun and friends and opportunities balanced by the worst financial hardship of my life, subjected to degrading situations as a woman and living without personal freedom.  I learned from the negatives and appreciated the positives and I genuinely thought that I was happy there.  But I was wrong.

It took me the whole of 24 hours in Beijing to realise that I may have liked the life I led in Bangalore but I did not like WHERE I lived.  And I don’t mean ‘where I lived’ as in my home, because I was always fortunate to live in a really lovely flat.  What I mean plain and simply is India, and it’s a really odd thing to realise that now.  I moved from Barcelona to Bangalore in 2011 at the age of 40 – not a spring chicken! – so you’d think that I could have noodled that out for myself there in India long ago but I promise you that I’ve only just figured it all out now.

My first day in Beijing was like a dream come true with freshly fallen snow, crystal clear blue skies and no pollution.  I walked out of the hotel in the Embassy District and took the subway a couple of lines over and into the heart of the city until well after dark, navigating through alleyways and deserted parks and bustling touristy areas like the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square – all without a single man objectifying me, all without ever once being stared at or ever once feeling unsafe for walking unaccompanied, and all the while enjoying the amazing benefits of a city that has planned its infrastructure to handle the 22+ million citizens that happily reside in it.

None of that day in Beijing – a day that was like any day in Barcelona – would have been possible in Bangalore.  NONE of it.  There is no awesome public transportation that effortlessly links all areas of Bangalore…and sadly what is there is either terrible to endure or has segregated women’s only sections to protect girls and ladies from being groped and fondled as much as possible.  Some Indian men make it completely unsafe for women to walk alone and the truth is that every expat I know in India has been attacked at least once – including me and my daughter several times.  And white women are stared at everywhere they go – often times with lustful looks from some (and if I’m being honest, I would say more than ‘some’) Indian men.  As an American accustomed to living free and feeling safe and equal and independent…well, India doesn’t offer much on the menu to choose from.  Yet still looking back there was so much I loved about being there, so much that I still carry in my heart fondly for the country.  I just never realised that I didn’t love being THERE and that’s a strange thing to realise after 2 years of living in a country … and after years of emphatically saying that I LOVED living in India.  It was exotic and different and I do love that…and the country has something special…but looking back none of that should have been enough for me.

Even love itself is something that I deluded myself with in India because not even love meant happiness for me in India.  Only my family and closest friends know that I fell madly in love with the most amazing man three months after arriving.  For two years we saw each other as much as possible (well, when we weren’t fighting because I wanted MORE), up until the very afternoon before I left India for what I thought was a quick visa renewal trip.  I can still remember every moment from that last day, even his fingers running through my hair.  Yet we had no true relationship because everything special about us was kept completely secret and we posed as friends because in India it is only a very modern and progressive household that would allow a family member to have a relationship with someone outside their caste or religion – let alone a divorced foreigner with a daughter!

But my American heart always believed exactly what my parents taught me to believe…that love is what truly matters, that if you work hard on your dreams everything will work out for the best, and that anything is possible.  And I’m such a sucker because I still believe it all when it comes to him.  Yet looking back today from China, with a glass of French red wine in hand, I can see that I really was so silly to believe all that in India, and even more silly to believe it now…and it breaks my heart to admit it.  It breaks my heart to think of it for ME but also for every Indian with a dream.

Truly, it is heart-breaking to think of how many dreams are never realised by millions and millions of Indians who opt to ‘do the right thing’ according to society or their family and give up on their own ambitions and dreams to turn their life over to their parents…never to live it for themselves.  And I am not talking about love necessarily but careers, sexual orientation, hobbies, entrepreneurial ideas and so many other life decisions that so many Indians do not have control over.

Looking back I am happy for the time I spent in Bangalore but as a woman who enjoys living life on equal terms to a man, I honestly don’t know how I lasted so long!  I don’t know if I will be happy in China but it seems to have all the right ingredients for happiness for me.  I love the energy of Beijing and the feeling of safety and of being invisible again that it offers me.  Now my only challenge is filling the gap of companionship by finding good friends to laugh with and spend time with in the new land I call home.  That’s what truly kept me happy in Bangalore and something desperately lacking at the moment.

XOXO Angela

© 2014, Angela Carson and Angela-Carson.com. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.

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Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I've explored 32 countries on 4 continents, residing in 7 of them (currently Kuala Lumpur is my home). By day I'm a digital nomad and by night I'm a passionate storyteller. I even have a private pilot's license and was shot at once by bandits!
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30 Comments on “How Did I Live So Long in India? Musings from China on Women’s Personal Freedom

  1. Great article Angela. Sums up India in a nutshell. Although I enjoyed many aspects of living in India, and made some lifelong friends there who I hope I will see again, I never really enjoyed living in India and have no desire to return!

    • Thanks, Liz! Meeting you at the IPL match was a fun wonderful twist of fate…it’s those things I cherish! Hope to see you again soon xoxoox

  2. Really courageous you are. I read out your posts and have understood how difficult it is to be a woman in Bangalore or India. Its so unfortunate.
    The way you express your experience is what makes me come back to read more. Keep writing.

    • Thanks so much, Avinash. I really appreciate your comment very much, and your kind words about my writing. Have a wonderful day, I wish you all the best xo

  3. Yes I agree it sums up India very well, but let’s not forget the friendship you get there. Because, I lived there 2 years too, and then moved to UK, and I am also going back home in Eastern Europe and to be frank, I have never had such good friends as I’ve had in India. This lacks me every single day here. I am still doing my studies and I am surrounded by people on a daily basis, but I can’t seem to find that “vibe”. It’s just gone, forever! I’ve searched for it in anything here, it doesn’t exist. It’s only there in India. And now despite all the professional success I am having, I miss that spiritual vibe, because, how to say it, it does not exist here, not like that. I am searching for it for 4 years now and I feel more lost than ever. My “aliveness” and all that subtle higher inner awakening and inspiration, are all melting away as I am making more space for capitalist dullness. Like a small voice in me is screaming, as I politely go day by day working my ass off for more success and money.

  4. I have read most of your posts when you were in Bangalore, followed angelas adventure in Bangalore ,now i see so much of difference in the tone ,words and narration of this article , for what ever reasons it may be . I have unsubscribed now.

    All the best for your stay in Beijing , and i am sure there will be post after you leave Beijing about how you lived there with so much people around , etc etc etc.

  5. Happy that u find china good. Just in one day ? Anyways I hope u find love, happiness and peace!

    • Hahaha, yeah I know that sounds silly that it took one day but that’s all it took. I forgot what it was like to feel safe even at night. I forgot how liberating it was to walk around myself and take crowded public transportation without anyone trying to grope me. It was bliss to be independent and secure again. You are a man I would imagine and have no idea what it’s really like to be a woman in India. Their everyday life is NOTHING like the everyday life of women in other countries where I’ve lived. And I forgot how great that was… 🙂 Thanks for your ‘love, happiness, and peace’ message, that’s usually my Whatsapp status message so it made me smile. xoxo

  6. There is nothing but truth in what you have said. I was in Bangalore for two years, and on New Year’s Eve 2011 I got into an argument with one of the bouncers at a pub in Brigade road.The place was trying to swindle extra money out of me. The city was slowly eating me up and I realized it was time for me to pack everything and leave at once. I have been living in Delhi since April 2011, but things are not that great here either.

    I am an Indian. I was born and raised here, and my 23rd birthday is slowly approaching. I’m telling you, nothing hurts more than being racially abused in your own country, just because you have a korean or japanese looking features. You are right, friends are the only thing that helps you going through each day. Tough time, huh. I like my friends but I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive this country. I am an educated person and I’m not going to praise this country just because I happen to be a citizen. Blind patriotism is not my forte. But having said so, I would also like to point out that goodness still exists in some strange surprising places, and I cherish every time I encounter those rare moments among the chaos of this country.

    I go to university here and we organize meets, and talks against racism – against whites, blacks (they have a hard time getting apartments out here) – but the discourses don’t always spread very far except within the university circles. But we haven’t given up yet. We are still working on it, trying hard to bring some awareness, order and change here.

    I’m happy that you’ve found some sort of freedom over there in Beijing. Freedom – that’s very important. I have a strong desire to study oriental philosophy and literature after college. I’ll be graduating this summer. Who knows maybe I’ll come over there. Beijing sounds like a nice place. Anyways, they wouldn’t make any fuss about by chinese looks over there.

    P.S. I was at the Guns and Roses concert in Delhi (12/12/12). I saw you on stage. It was such a great night.

    P.P.S. Last but not the least, I’d like to say that I am thrilled & still waiting for your first novel to come out.

    Cheers & Goodluck
    Benjamin

    • Hey Benjamin, I loved reading your surprisingly different view than what most Indians will have when they read this. I wonder what your parents are like and how they’ve raised you so liberally 🙂 I tried to check out your blog but it is either blocked or the URL is not right, please double check (and I will check it when I turn my VPN on later).

      So you were at GN’R in Delhi? That was my favourite of the 3 shows, and it was the only one that Axl chose to play an extra song at the end. They rocked it the whole tour but that show was hands down the best of the 3. Any chance that you or any of your mates snapped a photo of me on stage? I still haven’t been able to locate one of me 🙁 If you can check and ask friends too that would be AWESOME, I’d really appreciate it.

      Thanks again for your nice message and kind words…and most importantly for your views on the topic. xoxo

    • I turned on my VPN and there it was, love the photo blog! You have a great eye, keep it up, you are talented.

      • Well thank you for visiting my blog! A magazine in New York has selected a few of my photographs for publication. It should be out by the end of April if everything goes smoothly. They also published a bunch of my poems last October – (http://www.amazon.com/Poetry-Nook-Volume-October-2013/dp/1939832055) . Both the editors are really cool.

        About the GnR concert – well, I didn’t take my camera that day. Me and my friends arrived at the venue at around 1 pm, thinking that there would be a huge line for the tickets and all, but it wasn’t so. We got our tickets as soon as we got there and we ended up taking a tour around Gurgaon city. And his battery died before the concert even began.

        A few of my cousins were also there for the concert. I ran into them by chance after the event. Maybe they took some pictures. I’m not sure, though. I’ll call them up and inquire and let you know if there are any pictures of you.

        Cheers & Goodnight
        Benjamin

  7. A very interesting post Angela. India does have so much that is wonderful, but yes it can be a very hard place to live. I hope you enjoy your new home in China.

  8. I am not going to talk about anything else you have written here except for this one point..
    ” Truly, it is heart-breaking to think of how many dreams are never realised by millions and millions of Indians who opt to ‘do the right thing’ according to society or their family and give up on their own ambitions and dreams to turn their life over to their parents…never to live it for themselves.”

    I believe and I quote, “The beauty of life does not depend on how happy you are. But on how happy others can be because of you!!”.
    I have a brother who quit a well-paying dream job to be with my Father who is close to retiring, I know of a close friend who didn’t marry the man she loved since they knew that their two families would not be able to mingle due to language, customs & traditions. Yes, they could have said “To hell with everyone, to hell with the world & society, let US only be happy”. But, they cared for their families more than themselves. It is not always about caste and religion as many people or media outlets like to print or showcase to increase their TRP. On the other hand, I know of 100s of people who are realising their dream, trying to find their spot in the ever-changing landscape of things and also know many who are living their dream.
    People do what they feel is right, may it be for their own selfish reasons, or for the society or family or because they owe it to their hardwork and dreams and probably a multitude of reasons.
    I do not like to judge people and I speak for a huge number of people when I say “The beauty of life does not depend on how happy you are. But on how happy others can be because of you!!”
    I wish you find what you are looking for, in China.

      • Thank you for your kind words, people keep asking me to blog all the time, reminds me of my blogging days where I fired up over almost everything. However, there are certain things that one should learn on their own.
        Before I open that link, let me guess.. Is it an article based upon some surveys that describe all the problems of 1.2 Billion people while taking a small chunk into consideration?
        BINGO! Well, close to ‘Bingo!’, although it is aimed at only one gender.
        Let me pull out a few words from that article, “New Delhi based think tank” “30,000 married women”, “living in 1,500 villages & 971 urban neighbourhoods”. Small fact, there are close to 6,38,000 villages and more than 5,480 urban neighbourhoods in India. When the government is putting huge efforts for making people vote political parties, I personally wish that they put equal effort when they take such surveys. It helps to know the pulse of a nation as a whole. And believe me, Indian Govt. is famous all over the world for the voting system that takes place between 1.2bil people.
        I am not denying the presumable authenticity of the survey, I am merely remarking upon the absurdity of zeroing out all problems that occur in an entire sub continent and putting them in pie charts.
        I might sound optimistic, but I wish both men & women, elders & children have a better life.

    • Hi Ajan and Angela,

      Sorry to intervene, but as an Indian female with liberal views, I thought I would chip in with my two cents (or two paise :-)).

      Ajan,

      Isn’t it sad that two people who are in love, should not marry because of a difference in language, customs and traditions? We have so much in common as Indians, yet we chose to focus on differences. Why should marriage be something to make your parents or society happy? What about the two people who have to build a life together? And, why should being “selfish” about one’s happiness be exclusive of loving your parents? Why this either/or mentality?

      Personally, I have stood up against family for the man I loved a long time ago, and I am still proud of that decision. And, yes, caste and community still matter in India. Hence, the difference in customs and traditions that can so easily be adjusted with.
      I look at it this way – if our generation values personal happiness along with the well-being of society, we will set an example for coming generations. If we continue with this “sacrifice” mentality (and it is not really a sacrifice in my opinion), we will continue to pave the same path for generations.

      Angela,

      There are plenty of Indians who have “love” marriages, who have come out of the closet and are living their dreams. Their parents and society did object, but these folks stood strong and eventually, their parents did accept them and realize the soundness of their decisions.
      For that matter, being gay in the US or marrying someone of another faith without converting, is not always easy either. In the 21st century, the US has made commendable strides in equality, but if the movie “Kinsey” is any indicator, the 1950s-80s were a different era altogether. I think what India needs is someone like Kinsey.

      As a woman born and raised in India, I can totally relate to the sexual harassment part, and feeling unsafe even in public places. A lot of Indian women will empathize with you. The good thing is, Indians are fighting back against such problems very openly. Finally, I am glad that we have stopped making excuses, stopped living in denial.

      I’m looking forward to hearing more from you on your other international travels.

      Cheers,
      Lakshmi

  9. Hi Angela,

    I have to commit that i got really furious when i read the title of your Blog post . How did i last so long in India sounds like you have been surviving on a barren land with no food , water or shelter. But i suppose India offered you much more than your basic requirements.

    We might not be as rich as USA but we are wealthy at Heart. We mite not have the Infrastructure but we welcome people with arms wide open . I am sure you had your share of trouble here in Bangalore , but that happens everywhere. Even Indians gets harassed in USA for lot of different reasons.

    Though i would like to agree with the point you made about Indian Society and people who kill their ambition and dreams for society sake. I belong to the same society and i hate it. Not only Indian society but the entire world is Hypocrite . Remember we were taught to love each other , maintain peace and harmony , live together , Discourage Racial or Religions discrimination . And i dont need to tell you whats happening at World stage.

    We Indians have our own little problems, may it be social , political or economical but there are 1.3 billion people (and counting) living here together in-spite of religious , cultural and language differences . And we are gonna LAST FOREVER 🙂 ( considering that you were wondering how you lasted so long ).

    Anyways , maybe you should write another blog after spending 2 years Beijing . Lets see what you got to say about China then.

    Wish you all the best 🙂

    Cheers,
    Abhishek

    • Hi Abhishek, thanks for taking the time to contribute here with your point of view. I’m so happy that there is some conversation happening instead of just ‘hate mail’ for me. I don’t know if you followed my blog before but I wrote 240 articles about the beauty and splendor and diversity and frustrations at times of India — almost all were wonderful articles about my experiences are were all 100% true (you can find many here on this blog that I moved her a month ago, and more at http://www.angelasbangalore.com). This article is also 100% true, written after years of never leaving India (I hadn’t left the country since 2011) and finally having something different to compare and use as a new reference point. Thanks again for your comment, and for your well wishes, I also wish you the best. xo

  10. Hey Angela,

    I shall surely check out your previous and upcoming blogs .

    I moved to Bangalore 5 yrs ago from Kolkata and inspite of being an Indian i had my share of problems . I am sure you have had problems at regular intervals here but i hope you are not going back with bad memories .

    Being a true Indian and a Patriotic i would like to apologize on behalf of everyone if you faced issues during your stay. Hope , after few years when you look back and you think about India , you smile and have good memories about this country.

    Peace & Love ,
    Abhishek

  11. I can slightly relate to your experience, but I always had such a lovely time in India everytime I visited.I made so many many friends,and I know this sounds totally ridiculous but I feel friendships made in India last life long. all my friends from India are always in touch and its the welcoming feeling the country gives that i find it hard to part from the country and its culture. as one of your friends put it, it’s the vibe thats there in India
    I had my equal share of horrible experiences since i stayed in an apartment. the auto rickshaw people always leered and it was quite horrible until i complained to one of my guy friends, after that it was smooth and peaceful.

  12. I really wonder how you all manage to make friends here..I have been in India for more than 9 years and the few indian friends I have are my collegues…not to jugde but when I first came, Bangalore was not as developed as it is now. for most Indian men, the word “friend” with a women was directly related to sex and the Indian women were to “shy” or afraid of what the neighbour will think of them roaming around with a foreigner…

    Infortunetly, after so many years, I am still a lonely soul looking for true Indian friends….

    • I had great male friends who never tried to make any sexual advances. Do you run in the same circles like I did?

  13. I think its best to move on ! Now that your in beijing think about your future plans rather than focusing on the past (india) so much?

    Regards
    suresh P

  14. Bangalore is such an advanced city in comparison with rest of India, did you really live or lived without personal freedom or the reason might be, you are a foreigner with a whole lot of glaring eyes.

    • Hi, no no … Indian women had it far worse than I did probably. Most live with almost zero personal freedom when compared apples for apples with men.

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