It’s morning October 25, 2009. I exit through the door of my NYC – Delhi Emirates Airlines flight full of a whiskey infused confidence. I stride through immigration brashly displaying my freshly minted Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card and then head to the baggage counter to pick up my entire life which has been stuffed into 3 large suitcases. Despite the large amount of luggage I’m carrying, customs waives me through the exit and I search for my taxi driver who I assumed would be holding a large sign displaying my name. I pace back and forth and see no “Neel Shah” placard. My arms are getting sore lugging my bags back and forth, my face is getting tired of wearing the fake smile which I am unnecessarily keeping and my confidence is fading at the same pace as the whiskey high. I don’t want to exit the airport as I know that they won’t let me back in so I just continue pacing for a half an hour. Finally, I give up and head over to the Airtel counter to call my future boss.
When I approach the skinny boy who is manning the phones, I notice that all of my confidence is gone. Besides having a slight hangover, I have somehow transformed back into my old nervous, excitable and restless self. I can barely spit out the numbers to call my boss and notice that my voice is cracking while I’m on the phone with him. There is a fear and desperation in my voice which I didn’t expect. After a few back and forth calls which cost me about 100 rupees, I eventually found my driver (or he found me) and we were on the way down NH8 to the Dentsu company guesthouse in Chitranjan Park, Delhi.
On the drive down to my residence for the next 2 months, I stared out the window at the slew of honking autos, beggars on the street, stray dogs and beat up houses and can vividly remember the thoughts I was having: “Why did I move here? Was this the right choice or just an impulse decision? How long will I stay here and what will my life be like?” And the biggest question of all…”How the hell can I expect to make a difference in India if I can’t even find my taxi without freaking out?”
Now it’s morning October 25, 2012. I’m sitting on an Indigo Airlines flight from Delhi to Nagpur (Maharashtra). In Nagpur I’ll be picked up by someone from the Nagpur Premier League who will be showing me the football scene in the city. On the way we will be picking up a friend of mine who I met at a meditation camp in Dharamsala and will be accompanying us on the tour as he has personal experiences of playing football in Nagpur while growing up. In the evening, a car will take my colleague Sweekar and I to the village of Betul located 4 hours away where we will be staying for a few days to assess the viability of establishing a football Academy in this area as part of a research project my company has been commissioned to complete.
While flying over India, I have the luxury of looking back over the past 3 years. I am still that nervous, excitable and restless boy who arrived in Delhi, but the difference is that I am full of much more wisdom. That’s it. It’s that simple and that beautiful.
In the end, growth is all that matters. Spiritual growth. Any other type is fleeting and temporary. Over these past 3 years I have had a lot of money, I’ve not had any money; I’ve had extreme professional highs, I’ve had paralyzing professional lows; I’ve been engaged, I’ve been single; there have been times when I can’t manage all the people I’m hosting and times when I’m so lonely that my heart literally hurts; there have been moments when I’m so thankful that I moved to India and times when I was online looking for the first flight to take me back to the US; there have been times when I’ve been overweight and times when I’ve been skinny; there have been times when I’ve been at the peak of my health and times when I’ve been in the ICU fearing death; etc… the list can go on and on.
The point is that nothing is forever except wisdom created by spiritual growth. Looking back over the past 3 years I have been blessed with growth which is exactly what I was looking for when I chose to move to India. And now I can happily say that I’m looking forward to spending many more years growing in this special country…