Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's funny how the brain works

I've recently met with a fellow expat, R, with whom I'd been exchanging some emails those last couple of weeks. We had a short talk about our experiences in India and how we've come to perceive it.
Funnily enough, he said something that is related to what I'd been thinking about two or three days beforehand. He mentioned the smell and dirt one encounters anywhere one goes (apart from the fancy AC places like hotels or malls, which look like everywhere else in the world). 

As far as last week I went to the living room to get a snack and felt a not-so-pleasant smell. Half an hour later I was leaving home and a wave of something not-so-pleasant found me on the stairs (as a feeble attempt at exercising I never take the elevator and climb all the 5 floors of stairs) and it followed me quite a while once I got outside of the building, meeting and mixing with other waves coming at me from allover. I don't mean to say that I live in a dirty, stinky place - by no means. It's that coming from a place like the one I grew up in, this is not your typical environmet. Oh, and the described situation happens every second day. Or more often.

The thing that is important though, is that I didn't mind
Back home, if I felt any of the above mentioned, I would make a disgusted face, cover my nose and ask what the heck was wrong and why the smell. In here I barely even notice it and even if I do, then well, what to do, this is India.

The same goes for the streets. Mumbai, and for sure the part I live in, is nothing special when it comes to architecture or the vibe of the place itself. The streets, according to European standards, are very dirty. A lot of construction work is going on, so there's grind everywhere you look. On the roads, pavements, cars, people.. However, whenever someone asks me how the city is, it never is something I might mention to them, because I don't find it important. And when they ask specifically about how clean it is, I say it's normal.
So I started thinking about that as well. 
Is it 'normal' by their standars? Not at all. 
Is it 'normal' by my standars? For the time being? Without a doubt. 
I don't really notice it. That's how the streets are, period.

Howcome does that happen though? In Warsaw, I would never want to be in a smelly, dirty and dusty place. In Mumbai, I consider my neighbourhood clean and nice.

When I was thinking about the whole thing today in the morning, it hit me. 
It's adaptation
It can't be anything else. It's not that you become immune to the smells that could, and most probably would, sicken you back home. Nor the fact that you don't see all the dirt and ruin around you, your eyesight doesn't get that much worse in that little time. But you accept it. You expect it, even more so. The smell and the poverty become a part of your reality. And if something's a part of your reality, your everyday surroundings, you don't stop and marvell at it. It's simply there. How easy our brain makes it for us!

If five minutes from now someone took me to a part of Mumbai where I couldn't smell anything, where the grass would be lush and beautifully trimmed, where there wouldn't be lots of dust and grit whichever direction I looked, that's when I'd stop and marvell at how strange that place is.

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