Tuesday, January 06, 2009

More observations on India, elephant polo, animals, women, village life, more on driving, religious harmony and men’s underwear.

Women working on a building site, quite a common thing to see in India.
Hi again

The other day I wrote a post on my first impressions and observations on India and since then I have been writing all the new ones down in my moleskin. It is 6th January (Kings’ day in Spain) and we are at the Indira Gandhi airport waiting for our flight to the holy city of Varanasi which is delayed for a couple of hours. So this is the perfect opportunity to record these notes in my blog and enrich my travelogue on our fascinating trip to India.

I think I mentioned before that India is not famous for footbal although it is played at an amateur level. The top sport is cricket, a heritage from the times of when India was a British colony. The second sport is also British and it is (grass) hockey. Also polo is played in India but only by the elite as in most countries where it is played. I think that was also introduced by British officers and taken on enthusiastically by the marajahas. But what struck me most is that in India and possibly only in Jaipur, elephant polo is actually played too. The sticks must be very long, if that’s what they are called.

If sport is different in India, so too are their animals, or at least how they live. You don’t need to go to a zoo in India to see un-caged camels, elephants, buffalos, monkeys, peacocks and other exotic birds, donkeys, cows (everywhere), oxen, goats, pigs, sheep, horses and dogs. Dogs seem to be the lowest of the low as they are nearly always stray and don’t belong to anyone.
Camels are a part and parcel of India, whether they be for work or play.
Monkeys run free in India.
Women do not seem as repressed as in Middle Eastern countries and are more respected. Men do still rule though. At least in the countryside and poorer areas women often cover their faces with a nearly transparent veil but have no problem in lifting it if need be. The latter dress very colourfully, mixing bright colours and shiny material and are an attractive sight. Most women wear the national dress, the saree or the trouser and long top with a shawl (don’t know its name).
Women in their colourful sarees shopping in a rural town.
In some areas of Rajasthan they use piercing heavily and they have a chain between the nose and the mouth or even big rings on their noses.

You see women constantly riding pillion on the back of motorbikes and they always ride side saddle, never cross their legs and sit on the seat. Possibly this is because you can’t do this with a saree but I also suspect it is a sign of femininity.

Women work alongside men on building sites everywhere, mainly shovelling rubble and then carrying it away on big plastic bowls on their heads. They look absolutely miserable and I feel sorry for them. Those loads on their heads are extremely heavy.
Women working on a building site and carrying rubble on their heads
In the countryside it is the women you see working in the fields or carrying water on their heads in the streets. The men are often sitting around in groups playing cards or talking and smoking, frequently lying on a sort of bed without a mattress on the side of the streets. I asked my driver why they had their beds outside and he said they were not beds but places for doing business. It looked to me they were more for relaxing.

It struck me too, as I wrote before, that human and animal life inter connect. Sometimes I saw people whose lives resembled animals’ lives, so poor and dirty was their existence. This was mainly in the villages. Many times the villages looked like they had been bomb shelled because of the rubble and rubbish tips but also because many of the roofs of the “houses” were just gaping holes. That’s possibly because the material they are made of, dry cow flap, wore away in the monsoons. Who knows? People live in canvas tents but often they live in tents they have made from straw. How can this be possible in 2009?

Driving is crazy in India, vehicles coming and going in the wrong direction even on motorways so I wondered whether people had to take their test here. Oh yes said Rajesh but I learned that it is only practical. There is no theory test. Is this because many people are illiterate or because there are no rules and hardly any signs? Who knows? People driving practically never use the indicator, they just blow their horn insistently. The noise is most annoying.

There are many road tolls and I wonder what people are paying for as the roads are so bad, but of course the systems brings in money for the government. Often there are 3 or 4 people manning the checkpoint and taking the money and one person manually lifts the barrier. It is funny to see a big green sign showing who is exempt from paying the toll: the military, the police and the President of India amongst others!

I have learned a little about Hinduism and Jainism. In Nepal I will be learning about Buddhism. But I had a burning question for Rajesh, our driver and my main teacher on Indian life. How do Hindus and Moslems get on in India? I asked a few other people too, our Hindi guide, Disi, at the Taj Mahal and our Moslem guide, Yussuf, in Mandawa. Their answers were categorical. “Fine” and in harmony. They ventured to say that the problem was mostly at a political level. I cannot comment here just observe. What I did observe also was an animosity towards Pakistan, but then that is public knowledge.

To end on a funny note, the other day I mentioned billboards and outdoor advertising. I said that I mostly saw cement and mobile phones advertised on the roads. Since then I have noticed that men’s underwear is also heavily advertised. Does this mean men need to be advertised to wear underwear??

That’s all for the moment folks.

Cheers from the Indira Gandhi airport in New Delhi

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