A letter to Marilyn as she travels to India

For over 21 years I lived in Pakistan and never made it to India, despite her being right next door.

For those from the region, this will not surprise you. At any given time India and Pakistan struggle with a tenuous relationship, and growing up there were wars and rumors of wars that kept us from heading across the border. So as I’ve prepared to go to India, Robynn has been a wonderful friend and resource. Having lived for long periods of time in both countries, her heart has a divided loyalty – but she wears and articulates this division well. So here are her words to me this day.


Dear Marilyn,

Today you are traveling to India. There’s a few things I want to tell you, a few things I want to share.

  1. First off, you need to know that the idea of you traveling to India is killing me. I have a terrible case of travel-envy. I want to be you just now. I want to pull out my passport, push you out of the queue and travel in your place. Please enjoy every minute of it…because I’m traveling there vicariously through you and if I were there, I surely would!
  2. India is NOT Pakistan. I know you have a deep love and loyalty to Pakistan. I do too. We were both raised there. Our hearts have “lugged” there. We are attached to that place. But India is not Pakistan. Don’t assume they are the same country. Although they may be twins that were cruelly separated at birth, they are paternal twins, not identical ones. On the surface they share similarities but at the heart they are vastly different. Indians are more reserved, more contained. It’s a shyer country, if that’s possible. People from Pakistan tend to be more gregarious, friendlier, louder. They dress in different clothes. They prefer different foods. Indians eat more rice. Pakistan loves it’s chapatti.
  3. India gets in your blood. She has a way of moving in and forever ruining you. There is no ambivalence permitted: You will always feel a pull toward India or a push away from India. India calls for an emotive response and she always gets one!
  4. There is an intensity to Indian culture that will immediately strike you. The extremes, the contradictions, the climate, the population –all of it arduously affects the soul.
  5. Did I mention that India is not Pakistan?
  6. There are a few street foods that are worth getting sick for! You’ll never see this in a guide-book or a travel blog, but let’s face it, Gol Guppa (or Pani Puri as it’s sometimes called) is just about to die for…and you might nearly die for it if you try it from a street vendor…but it’s really almost worth it!
  7. Don’t expect India to meet your expectations! She will surprise you time and time again. Don’t try to make sense of her. Resist the effort to understand all that you see. Just experience it. Enjoy it. Engage. Your world will be changed, but you can sort that out later.
  8. Indians aren’t the same as Pakistanis but they do share certain values. You’ll enjoy expansive hospitality in India, akin to what you’ve known in Pakistan. Pakistanis and Indians love families and are quick to include you as one of theirs. Both countries love colour and conformity. Both countries understand chaos and a little confusion.

I guess that’s it for now. Really I’m so very pleased you get to go. India has a big space in my heart. Right next to the Pakistan space.

Travelling mercies.

12 thoughts on “A letter to Marilyn as she travels to India

  1. As with Egypt, I have always wanted to go to India but not as a tourist. I know from experience that such countries are hospitable yet you don’t get the full effect or the full experience unless you are there as a resident or, at the very least, guests of residents. The superficial tourist doesn’t – can’t – come away with the same depth of feeling or belonging. Or, at the risk of repeating myself, experience. Perhaps someday. Meanwhile, Marilyn, we’ll live vicariously through you. Have a safe journey! And, as I said ritually to my daughters as they left for school each day, “Learn lots!”


  2. Thanks Robynn. A very good letter to your friend (and mine). How wise to point out the differences. Your use of twins, paternal but not identical is an apt description. We never lived there but our visit was memorable.


  3. We were always sorry that we couldn’t visit India. India was where we expected and planned to work, but then India refused our visas, and the door to Pakistan was wide open. But we never were able to even visit. So I am ever so thankful to the Lord for making it possible for Marilyn to go. Be blessed dear daughter of mine! And thank you Robynn for this insightful post. It’s a good thing for you and for your family that you go to India. Too much American education is just so narrowly focused. There’s a world out there to experience and we who have had just a taste are truly blessed.


  4. I love the phrase “India always calls for an emotive response and she always gets one.” When my newlywed husband and I visited India I had been there before and loved to be back in the chaos and sensory explosion. He couldn’t handle the overload of smells, colors, sounds and PEOPLE! It is an amazing country, but it just isn’t some people’s cup of chai.


    1. It is very overwhelming. I’m never surprised by stories like yours. We used to tell people to “Embrace the Chaos”….but some people don’t want that type of hug!


  5. India definitely has a way of getting in your blood. I went to meet people and I left with a new family. I went to visit and I left with a deep love for the people. I also have travel envy, its a country that I have grown to love and I cannot wait until I am back there! Have a great time!


    1. Alana! It’s so true…India gets in the blood! We’ll have to settle for traveling vicariously through Marilyn….! sigh….!


  6. I left Pakistan for my 3rd furlough thinking I would return. I packed my barrels, said my salaams to everyone that I would return..but I didn’t. Like you, I experienced burnout and depression. It took 3 trips back to get closure, and peace of soul that it was OK to say good-bye to Pakistan. I understand that living in another country can affect you deeper than you realize. It will always be apart of you inside where only those who have experienced it can understand. You are doing the right thing taking your kids back and you too. Enjoy the journey!


    1. Thanks Barb for this. We’re planning our trip back in December….but I’m wishing I could go now with Marilyn too! I think God does this to us…He gives us this deep love for the nations (a particular nation) to mildly mirror His own deep commitment to the nations! …but oh how it pains!
      Your words couldn’t have come at a better time. We are just now starting to coordinate with our children’s teachers at the high school. It’s daunting to insist that this is the best thing we can do for our children, for their education, for their well-being. I so appreciate your affirmation today.


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