Mritunjai Rai Talks Indian Lifestyle

Indian lifestyle blogger Mritunjai RaiDreams Abroad is a global resource. We have members and readers all over the world. It is our goal to offer a platform for every age group. With this in mind, we were fascinated to discover Mritunjai Rai and his Indian lifestyle blog. Intrigued by his thoughts, we asked Mritunjai some questions in order to expand on his posts.

Before getting into the interview, we want to introduce you to our author’s Indian lifestyle. Mritunjai was born in a small town near Varanasi but has lived in the likes of Delhi, Chandigarh (Punjab) and Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh). He finally setting camp in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, which is a close-knit society. While he himself lives in a nuclear family, Mritunjai characterizes that an important aspect of Indian culture lies in joint families where people live together – from grandchildren, all the way to the grandparents. He does admit to some youthful longing to be out in the world independently, but he points out that as you get older; you realize how important it is to get together and share a meal with your family every day.

 

Of the 200+ languages spoken in India, which would be the easiest for a Westerner to learn and why?”

“Well… to each their own. There’s a learning curve for each of them, but if you’re entirely alien to the native dialect of India, I believe Hindi is the easiest. It is simple and rolls off the tongue (for the most part) and you can find someone in most states who would understand some of it. I couldn’t say for everyone, because I am bilingual and speak only Hindi and English. My mother, however, speaks Bengali as well, and I have noticed it shares some similarities with Hindi. So maybe I’ll alter your question a little and say if you do decide to learn an Indian language, maybe Hindi would be the more convenient option. 

That said, I’ve lived in places where they speak Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, and one thing that’s common with all the languages here is that they will all make you feel like you’re right at home.”

Which Indian language is the most difficult?”

“I can only give you my perspective, but I’ve always been scared to try my hand at South Indian Languages (Tamil, Telugu, and more), which is a shame because South India has some of the MOST beautiful places to visit. I’m a huge fan of meeting the locals and getting to know more about their Indian culture rather than doing the usual touristy stuff. This becomes easier if you know the regional dialect.”

Why are there more agony aunts than uncles? How much are you angling to change the status quo with the recent relationship article you uploaded to your Indian lifestyle blog?”

“I guess that can be broken down into two reasons. First one, being that women by their very nature are warmer and more empathetic. Of course, you’ll also find some men sharing that trait, but let’s go with the general trend. That makes it easier for people to open up and share their problems without the fear of being mocked or ridiculed.

Another reason could be that men being vulnerable is still shunned for some reason. This probably discourages a lot of men from taking up this task. 

But the landscape is rapidly changing, and I see more and more people, irrespective of their gender, speaking up and offering advice about life, relationships, and more! I do not think providing advice should be put in stereotypical boxes. If there is something that needs to be said, people need to say it. It’s the 21st century! 

Addressing the second part of your question, I did not write the Indian lifestyle blog to change the status quo, mostly because I do not see the world that way. I just know that a lot of my friends talk to me about their relationships, seeking perspective on how to navigate a situation. And, more often than not, it all comes down to the basic principles of communication, ethics, and decision making — the very things required to have a healthy work-life. I thought drawing a comparison between the two might be a fun read and may help people navigate their professional life better. Plus, there could be a lot of people going through the same thing and might find this helpful. But if that changes the status quo for the better, I’m all for it.”

Food in Sainjh Valley

People tend to divide Indian cuisine by north and south in terms of tandoor and paneer and dosas and vadas. What other regional variations are there? Is there an East-West division, too?

“I love this question. Mostly because I’m a big-time foodie. But calling it North Indian and South Indian cuisine might be too vague or high level. There are 28 states and eight union territories in India, all of which have some or the other cuisine that will make you drool. You already named a few from the North and the South, but let me tell you some of my personal favourites.

Go to Lucknow for some amazing Mughlai food and Delhi, for some really crazy street food. Punjabi food is ideal if you love spicy. And do NOT miss out on Bengali and Rajasthani sweets, you’ll be missing out too much. I could go on and on about these, but I’ll just leave you with this — when you visit India, be prepared to gain a few pounds before you go back. That is how we show our love!”

When writing about your visit to Pondicherry, you focused on capturing the essence of the place. How would you define your travel writing?”

“I suppose it’s like being lost in thought. Or childlike wonder. I know it probably sounds ridiculous. But I’ve read travel blogs that tell you about the ‘Seven best places to visit’ or ‘How to travel on a budget’ and that’s all very helpful, but I’ve never been able to look at traveling that way. 

My inclination is automatically towards the people and their Indian lifestyle. For example, I love how every restaurant in White Town (Pondicherry) closes by 9 or 10 PM, but post that is the best time to take a walk in the French colonies in the cool summer breeze. Or sit on the rocky beach and just relax and talk. There’s something about the sound of waves at night that makes you open up like nothing else. Travel should not be just about physical experience… but also an emotional one, where you get to reconnect with yourself and everything around you.”

If people wanted to discover a less touristy Taj Mahal, where would you recommend?”

“I wouldn’t. I’m not a very touristy kind of guy, but I do know that the Taj Mahal is one of a kind and therefore one of the wonders. It has a story that’s unique to it and a history that made it what it is. 

However, maybe you’d like Auroville. It is not as touristy and the concept of its foundation, its principles of humanity, and the vibe will win you over. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the place and it is one of the best travel decisions I ever made. Did you know that people from all over the world live there and money isn’t the primary driver? They value peace and the satisfaction of living above all else. At least that is my understanding of it. I might write a blog on it and take you on a virtual ride soon.”

In India you have the Hindu caste system. Combined with British rule, does that make the country one of the most class-conscious ones worldwide?”

“The caste system existed way before the British rule, but maybe got a little amplified in the politics of things. But if you think about it, the entire world is class conscious, in one way or another, isn’t it?

Let us break it down a little more so it’s easier to understand. Bear with me as I try to explain this.

The way I see it, the caste system is nothing but a certain subset of people deciding they are better than others, based on their origins or the means that they come from . Or treating the one from a ‘lower’ class differently, whether consciously or subconsciously. 

Now, if you think about it, how is it any different than the ethnic ‘cleansing’ going on in Palestine or the colour discrimination that exists in America? 

As people who hope to progress, it falls to us to create a culture where people feel happy, safe, and, most important of all, equal. Thankfully the landscape is changing on that front as well, as we hear people from all walks of life standing up for each other. It really warms my heart. 

As for India, while people may still belong to certain castes, it does not hold much significance, at least in urban areas. You will, however, still find traces of it in suburban or rural areas. 

It is centuries of conditioning that we can hopefully strip away completely. And not just here, but across the entire world. Our planet would be a much better place if people just looked at skill and intent instead of caste, colour, gender, or sexual orientation of others.”

Your third post of 2021 on your Indian lifestyle blog looks back on 2020. In it, you mentioned upskilling. What new smarts did you add in Twenty-Twenty?”

Ah, I’ve been trying to work on myself a lot this year. Looking at the lockdown as an opportunity to add to my skill set, I started this Indian lifestyle blog in January. I also did a course on strategic content marketing, got back into the habit of reading, tried to make and edit videos and I have set a goal to learn basic French by the end of this year. I also really want to learn about financial planning and investing. The idea is not to get everything done. It is to get the ball rolling and cultivate a lifestyle of constant learning and improvement.

Indian Art Exhibit

In what ways is art magical for you?”

“In the way that it can transport you to places without you having to move from your couch.

  • A good book can make you travel across not only land, but also time.
  • A good painting can help you feel a lot of emotions at once.
  • A good movie or play can make you forget where you are.
  • A beautiful song can relax you or pump you up.

Art in any of its forms is magical to me.”

You compared 2020 to a bootcamp of a teacher. How does it compare to 2021?”

“Well, 2020 taught us so much, a lot of which you already read in my Indian lifestyle blog. And I feel like if we paid attention, it was a great trial run for 2021. If we’d taken the lessons from 2020, we could have handled this year much better. 

I guess 2021 for me has been humbling. The COVID-19 situation in India is crazy and one of the worst crises this country has ever seen. This tells us a few things:

  • Human arrogance is a dangerous thing. We think nature won’t strike back, until it does. Reminds me of something I heard — the Earth is borrowed, not owned by us. We’re the visitors. Let’s try and be decent ones so our stay isn’t cut short.
  • When it comes down to it, you don’t fight for materialistic things. You fight to breathe.
  • We often forget this in the time of sheer darkness that there is also a lot of light in this world. I see people in my country trying to help each other purely out of humanity. Our neighbouring countries trying to help the best way they can. The only way we get through this is together.
  • Suddenly the ‘Please put on your own oxygen masks before you help others’ announcement in flights has got a whole new meaning. It’s important to take a step back and make sure you’re okay. You cannot help others if your own mental health is shattering.
  • And finally, let’s not forget all of this when it’s over. Let’s use this to be kinder to each other and to nature.”

Final thoughts on living life with meaning

We want to capture the essence of a country. So we are interested in learning about Mritunjai’s Indian lifestyle. He considers India a true democracy where people have an opinion and are not afraid to voice it. The past few months have also seen people rally together to support each other. This shows the true spirit of the country – that you can find family even outside of your family. However he counsels against abusing this freedom.

Mritunjai says that any freedom comes with a responsibility to be smarter and more sensitive to others and their individual plights. While it is very easy to read a headline on social media and start condemning people, it is wiser to try and get to the bottom of the issue before spreading hate online. This is true for any human being, but in a country as big and diverse in population as India, the chances of conflicts increase multifold. And so it falls to every individual to be kinder and wiser to their fellow people.

If this interview has piqued your interest, head over to the Resources section of Dreams Abroad. Here, you’ll find our VLOGS where the great and the good champion their causes. This is also the home for Recommendations where we share some of our favorite blogs and websites.

by Leesa Truesdell

Study Abroad Programs for College Students

by Samantha LoDuca

I first met Maria in a busy Starbucks in downtown Chicago right after rush hour. I remember walking around scanning the room for a girl who looked “Spanish.” I wound up spotting her eventually, and remember thinking that all my anxiety about meeting her was pointless because she was so sweet. That was almost two years ago! Little did I know that it would be the beginning of an amazing friendship.

A Little About Maria and Her Wanderlust

Maria was born in Madrid, but all of her family is from Cadiz (a beautiful southern city in Spain). She recently graduated from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid en CIU with a degree in Architecture. She is a sweet, kind and hilarious friend. Her travel and determination to master the English language inspire me every time I see her.

While Living in Chicago

She was only living in Chicago for a few months. While she was there my roommate at the time and I developed a fast friendship with her. She was fun and up for anything. Whether that was staying out until 4am (little did we know this was nothing compared to fiestas in Spain) or painting our nails and watching One Tree Hill on our living room floor. When we had to say goodbye to her at the end of the summer, I knew that we would not be seeing the last of one another… and boy was I right.

While Living in Chicago

Study Abroad Programs

Erasmus – Study Abroad for Either a Year or a Semester

Erasmus, for those of you who don’t know, is a European study abroad program where Europeans are able to go to other countries to study for either a year or a semester. This has amazing study abroad programs for college students.

Maria, with her hunger for traveling, decided to study in Zagreb, Croatia (talk about a culture shock!). While there, she really developed her English speaking skills because all her classes were taught in English and this was the primary language of communication amongst the international Erasmus students. From Croatians, she experienced kindness and generosity that she had not expected. In addition to this, living with people from all over Europe allowed her to learn a lot about cultural differences and customs, too! Overall, this experience really shaped her passion for wanting to travel and live abroad and experience even more different places and people… which leads us to her next adventure.

Study Abroad Programs for College Students

Nepal and IAESTE – International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience

Study Abroad StudentAfter Erasmus, Maria returned to Madrid to finish up her studies, but she could not seem to shake the yearning for different worlds. After some consideration of her options, she has decided to do join Iaeste in Nepal, India. IAESTE is a group that helps young professionals find international work experience opportunities, so Maria will have a chance to utilize her degree in Nepal while gaining experience.

This will be the most “foreign” country that Maria has been to yet, with different languages, traditions, religions, and style of life. She assumes that the way of living will be more relaxed than in Madrid. She will be lacking certain amenities that here she considers basic (think working electricity).

For her, these challenges are exciting and what makes traveling worthwhile. Learning how to change your routine (food, weather, clothes, everything) is a humbling and very eye-opening experience for her. She is excited to add Nepal to the list of places abroad that she has lived. Each place she goes leaves an imprint on her mind. She constantly thinks back to the cities, friendships, and memories that she has made in all those unique places.

What does the Future Hold for this Young Traveler

Where does she see herself in the future? Eventually, she thinks she might want to settle down in Madrid, but I think she put it best,”What I want to do in the future is always changing. What I tell you today will be different than what I would tell you tomorrow. We are free and we are young… I do not have anything keeping me here at the moment, so why not go explore?”

A year after meeting Maria in Chicago, I decided to travel to Spain. Since my arrival here, we have seen each other so many times that I have lost count! Seeing her improvement in English from when we first met her in Chicago, has truly been an inspiration to me in my own Spanish language development. As I am getting ready to say another goodbye to my adventurous friend, I take her words to heart. Whether it is across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean or the Arabian Sea, she will continue inspiring me. Those around her will explore the world one crazy culture at a time!

Samantha LoDuca