Have you heard about “India Syndrome” ?

Have you heard about “India Syndrome” ?

I read an absolutely fascinating article in The Guardian a couple of days ago, about a condition known as “India Syndrome”.

And I quote:

Some travelers who spend longer periods of time in India exhibit a curious condition: a spectrum of behavioral and psychological changes that can be all-consuming

It is truly fascinating, detailing people who have almost lost their mind to India.

Though India syndrome, like many of its cousins, is not universally recognized or officially accepted as a psychological diagnosis, the symptoms have become enough of a concern that insurance companies selling travel packages to India-bound tourists have been known to include clauses that void the coverage if the traveler has a psychiatric history or if he or she takes drugs.

Now, here’s the thing.

As some of you know (but some of you may not) I am married to an Indian and am a permanent resident of Delhi.

I showed my husband the article, and he roared his head off laughing.

“Hey, send this to the children! Finally they’ll understand their mother. You lost your mind when you came here.” (And much more in the same vein.)

So clearly he’s not a believer in the school of thought that says the sheer overwhelmingness of India might affect we non-Indians 😛

I have to say, having known this country for a long time, I found myself thinking back to the early days when I was here (try Calcutta in 1983 with constant power-cuts) and yes, often it was All A Bit Too Much, but never to the point of making me lose my mind or my identity.


Not for one second.

I fell in love with India the moment I landed, but never lost my head – if you see what I mean.

The following paragraph kinda explains things:

Much of what psychiatrists have noted as India syndrome, however, is rooted in an exaggerated and sometimes misplaced expectation for what travelers believe India might offer. They leave home expecting enlightenment at the pinnacle of their journey and stop at nothing in their pursuit.

Now here’s the thing.

You see, I didn’t come to India to “find” myself.

I didn’t come to learn yoga or meditation, or live in an ashram.

I came to audit a bank.


Seriously, how PROSAIC a reason can you find for coming to this fascinating, maddening country?!

I came to India, on a business trip, to audit a bank in what was then Bombay.

Met my husband on a delayed Indian Airlines flight.

And the rest, she adds dramatically, is history 🙂

Work. Marriage. Children. And now retirement.

But I’ll tell you one thing, free, gratis and for nothing…India isn’t easy, and paradoxically, the longer I live here, the less easy it becomes.

You never EVER get used to the poverty and the begging.

I have learned to harden my heart at every traffic light, every single day, as filthy children make a beeline for my car, whining “Memsahib, chappati, 50 rupees de do” and hammering on the windows.

I’ve had decades to toughen up. But it is still awful.

In that respect, seemingly nothing has changed over the years, absolutely nothing.

To them, I am just another potentially soft-hearted foreigner – and tragically, who can blame them?

In the early days, I used to find India hilariously funny, a completely mad country, full of colour and amazing sights and sounds, with crazy surprises at every corner.

India is still full of colour and amazing sights and sounds, but I honestly don’t find it as mad and funny as I used to…

…perhaps it’s me…

…perhaps it’s the fact of getting older…

…perhaps it’s familiarity breeding contempt…

…perhaps it’s way too many years spent in an aggressive city like Delhi…

but I don’t laugh out loud at India as much these days.

There are, of course, still moments of pure joy.

Of laugh-out-loud happiness.

Of course, there are.

But (thank goodness) this amazing country hasn’t affected me Syndrome-wise:

“Because India speaks to the unconscious: it provokes it, makes it boil and, sometimes, overflow. It brings forth, from the deep layers of our psyche, the buried.”


    1. Myriam+sleeckx

      Christine, I would like to visit India one day. I also think it’s an amazing country. But I also think every country on this planet is worth to see. If you ever come to Belgium, you will find some lovely places. Call me then, I show you around. ?Greetings.

  1. Vanessa Coetzee

    We were never. Ever. Going. To. Live. In. India. We came here knowing we would either love it or hate it. There is so much that is the same as live back home: the raw poverty and destitution, the incredibly kind and genuine people and the rich history. One day, Christine Pemberton there will be wine in our future. Just when all of this eases up a bit.

  2. Kamilla Skuchaeva

    Thank you. Christine! That is brilliantly written and so to the point. These days when I miss India not so heavily, I’m still asked about the life there. And I found that I have nothing to say clearly. It’s not a black and white case. It is much more sofisticated. And I believe it will take me dozens of years to learn what impact it has had on me. But it definitely has, mostly against my will, anyway. Still, I will be always grateful for it. Thank you again for lightening my feelings about it.

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