Sunday, January 04, 2009

Observations of India and the Indian way of life where nothing is the same and birds are green and carrots are red.

A typical row of shops
Hi again,

We are now half way into our Indian adventure and so the time has come for my reflections and observations; very subjective and personal and not always correct because to understand India you would have to know the language and stay here for some time as with any culture and country.

But I must say I begin to understand how some westerners can fall in love with Indian and “go native”. What bugs me most, however, is that I don’t know who I can trust so I end up not trusting anyone and that is sad.

To start off India is cheap when you are not being cheated. To prove this, our laundry of at least 9 garments cost 250 rupees at our last stop in Udaipur. That is about 5 euros! It was done in less than one day and beautifully folded. You wouldn’t get that in the west.

So who owns India? The most prominent brand of all is “Tata” which is a company that makes everything and anything from lorries to cars, to big engineering works, hotels (the Taj Hotel group is theirs) to batteries, to mobile phones to water; all big money making machine products in India. Tata is also the company that bought Jaguar recently causing a big stir in the UK.

You nearly only see Tata cars in this country, the odd Ford and some Japanese makes but nothing else. I have seen only 2 Mercedes since I have been here and not one BMS. This makes you think Tata has the monopoly which it probably does.

Regarding mobile phones, you see them everywhere. I read that there are at least 300 million users, nearly a quarter of the population and this is growing fast. Not for nothing Vodafone is probably the second most prominent brand I have seen. In every village and roadside row of shops, there is Vodafone. You see people using them riding their bicycles and there is no restriction of their use in cars, unlike in the west. The models the people use are quite basic and everyone who sees my N95 begs to touch it and take a photo. They go ooh and aah at the 8 gigabytes and 5 megapixels. The Indians certainly know about technology and have a hunger for it.

Talking about brands and branding, there is hardly any outdoor advertising with global brands which is great, at least for me because I hate it. I consider it visual contamination. The only outdoor advertising you see, at least in the country, is of products like cement. In the towns I actually saw a bill board promoting the coil. Well, that’s not surprising because of the huge population, I suppose.

Going back to vehicles, this is what you see on the Indian roads: numerous noisy and colourful lorries, buses packed with people like in the films, cars and jeeps, motorbikes with anything up to 5 people riding, “totos”, the motorbike run car which is often a taxi, tractors with loads of people on them, bicycles, rick shaws, horses and carriages, donkeys and carriages, camel carts and finally elephants.
A jeep full of people. Notice how the lady's face is covered and the child is at the front; no seat belts of course.
The driving is simply mad and has no system or so I thought. But actually it does. There is hardly any traffic police and practically no traffic signs. People overtake from the right and from the left and no one seems to mind. The maximum speed is 100 km/h but of course no one can drive that fast with all the above vehicles on the road, unless you go on the very few motorways. Then the cars go at any speed they want. But often they have to slow down or nearly crash to stop in time for a cow to pass or even a whole herd of goats!!

Driving on the roads in India, from what I’m beginning to understand, consists of overtaking whilst you blow your horn, irrespective of who and what vehicle is coming towards you. It seems the former has more right of way. There are also very few sign posts on the road which would make it very difficult for an foreigner to drive here. Thank God for our driver. Nearly all foreigners use a driver to get around India. It cost about 40 euros a day all in and of course for a group that works out really cheap.

India is dirty, it’s full of squalor and misery and poverty. You can’t get away from it. It’s everywhere. The countryside is extraordinarily primitive and rural.

Cows graze in the rubbish which lies everywhere. I have yet to see a dustbin. I did read in the Hindustan Times an advertisement for dwellers in Delhi to try to keep the city clean (mission impossible) and one of the pieces of advice was to use dust bins!

The pigs also graze in the rubbish. I hadn’t seen pork on the menus but later learned from our driver that it is eaten by the lower castes, probably the Sudra. Coming from Europe, I can’t come to heads with a country whose people are poor and hungry but won’t eat the meat from cows or pigs when there are plenty of the latter.

India is all about castles, palaces, forts and temples and we have had our fill of the latter as we must have seen more than 10 since we have been here. On the contrary to the towns and streets and people, the temples are spotlessly clean and looked after. I just wish the people could be looked after in the same way.

Housing is nearly always flat roofed. Not everyone seems to live in a house as you see people living in tents (mostly gypsies) or even on the streets and roads. Consequently you see people washing themselves anywhere they can find water. There is luxury housing too but not much.

Shopping is also different from the west. As I have mentioned before, India is filled with rows and rows of tiny purpose built shops, often not measuring more than 2m2 by 2m2. You hardly see any shopping centres or “malls” although I think they are coming to India. As to supermarkets, they too, are few and far between. I once read that if the big global hypermarkets or department stores were to hit India they would put the large population of small Indian shop keepers out of work. That’s probably true.

Education seems important to India. You see schools and colleges and universities everywhere. You also see children going to school and back, walking miles along the road, all dressed in the same uniform, a blue shirt and beige trousers. There are many more boys than girls. You also see children who don’t go to school and this is quite frequent because of child labour which you see everywhere.

People speak English everywhere, some good and some pigeon. You even hear Indians talking English together which I find very strange. I hear from our travel agent here that this is because they like “to show off”. That surprises me. They also know other languages, often Spanish, French and Italian. They obviously learn them to sell to the tourists. They always ask where you are from so’s to know which language to sell to you in. I got so tired of their hassling today that I answered I was from the Czech Republic!! Oh did they laugh, me too.

Any my observations finish today, at least, with some small lessons I learned about religion which is predominant in India.

Apparently of the 3 Gods of the Hindu “trinity”, Brahma (of the four faces), Vishnu (of the many arms) and Shiva, the reincarnations only came from Vishnu. He had 9 reincarnations of which Buddha was the last; the Buddha the Buddhists admire. One of the most popular Gods is Ganesha, the half man half elephant God, son of Shiva. He is the God of success, of wisdom and of education. He is also, apparently, the remover of obstacles. Maybe I will start praying to him too to remove any in my life!! I saw a very funny sign the other day which said “Do your best, Ganesha will do the rest”.
I wrote about “holy ladies” dressed in white the other day. I later learned they are of the minority Jain religion which does not believe in any creator God but rather thinks the soul is potentially divine. There are some 10 million followers in India. They preach non violence and non possession. They obviously take the latter to the brink as we saw a procession of Jain men on the road and the one at the front was completely naked.
Women working on a building site at a tourist attraction, the Amber Fort at Jaipur
As you see nothing in India is the same. Even the fruit and vegetables are different. And would you believe carrots are red and not orange? I even saw a bright green bird the other day. India is colourful and fascinating, but poor and lacking in infrastructure, decent drains and roads and something has to be done about the homeless. For a tourist it’s great. You visit wonderful palaces where I find it more fascinating to snap the women working, carrying heavy loads of stones and rubble than the pictures of the old marajahs.

That’s all for tonight.
Cheers Masha

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