When I first experienced driving in India, I would hold on to my seat for dear life. The constant slamming of brakes and narrow misses – you couldn’t slide a pin between cars in the city. The honking was the worst. Entering an intersection? Honk. Making a turn? Honk. About to hit a pedestrian? Honk. The only time they didn’t honk was if a cow was crossing the street. The whole system was complete chaos.
But despite the disorder, I never saw an accident. Of course they were occurring, but for a road shared by cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, tractors, dogs, and cattle, it seemed much safer than it should be. There had to be a method to the madness. After a few days, I realized the system is completely based on trust. Honking indicates that you’re nearby. When entering an intersection, the honk is so others do not enter at the same time. The honk around a turn is so pedestrians and other drivers know your position. There is no checking of blind spots, no lanes, and no distance is too close. Once you honked, there is complete trust that the drivers around you are paying attention, and then you make your move. Sometimes it goes as planned, and other times it doesn’t. A cyclist shoots into the intersection at the same time you enter, or a pedestrian on their phone doesn’t hear your honk. But then you have to adjust – slamming the brakes or swerving a bit off the road. And somehow it just works out.
My trip to India has been interestingly similar. Planning the trip from Michigan, all I could do was call our contacts, explain our purpose, and trust we would be on the same page. I have to do this, because when I ask a physician whether our team can observe in their hospital or ask an entrepreneur whether we can visit their company, the response is always, “It won’t be a problem. Call me when you land in India.” So I trust that when I arrive, they will come through. Similar to a driver honking, trusting the message was interpreted correctly, and then making their move, I had to trust that when I explain our goals, my explanation is interpreted the way I intended. Even though there was a chance that everything I planned from the US could fall through when I arrived, I had to come to India – I had to make my move.
But just like driving in the country, things haven’t happened the way I intended. Elections in Vijayawada, Nurses’ Day in Bangalore, unfulfilled hotel reservations, and unclear expectations has led to a trip significantly more chaotic than I anticipated. After the third day, we completely ditched our itinerary and have been freestyling the remainder of the trip. What we intended to be two-day observations have turned into two-hour observations, and then we return to the hotel wondering what we accomplished. But then somehow, things just start happening. A post in a Bangalore entrepreneurship Facebook group leads to newfound connections, a trip to the bar leads to some more. When one hospital visit falls through, we walk confidently into another, and one hour later we have the medical director’s permission to observe in any ward. We’ve sat in our room at 11pm with no idea what we’re doing tomorrow, and then 24hrs later, we end the day with a series of valuable contacts. We’ve had the opportunity to visit villages we never intended, and meet people much too important for us. Without a doubt, our most valuable interactions have been with people I didn’t know existed before coming to India. But for all of this to happen, I needed to trust that things would work out.
I wouldn’t say we got what we originally wanted out of this trip, but I think what we have learned is equally valuable. Once I stopped expecting the trip to go as planned, things just started happening. And even though the journey has been complete chaos, I trust we’ll reach our intended destination.