Saturday, November 10, 2007

India for Beginners

Perspective is all. Having returned from India in more or less one piece, I see Sri Lanka with new eyes, at least from the point of view of living here. With my fresh perspective I now think it's a breeze (well only for a few wide-eyed moments) We thought, living in a 'watered down' version of India, we wouldn't find it too much of a culture shock. We did. Many things were very familiar, but we were amazed actually at the differences. Everything was so much more extreme. The poverty, pollution, traffic, dirt, roadside rubbish and congestion were SO much worse. there are far more beggars sleeping on the streets. Everywhere. Far worse disabilities. Far more persistent hassling. Every available public railing was turned into a place to dry clothes in Delhi and Jaipur. You could smell urine everywhere as you rode in tuktuks.

Yet the infrastructure, roads, trains, shopping malls were all so much better. It was a strange mix. Returning to Sri Lanka, the place seemed so calm, gentle and 'sane'. Of course we know this is so far from the truth in terms of the corruption, the war, the prejudices, the human rights abuses etc. But on the surface, the traffic is not as crazy, the pollution is less, the poverty is less extreme. I felt so thankful to live in Sri Lanka and not India. It took me a year to get used to 'here' as it was.

Our son was wowed by the Taj Mahal "I can't believe I'm here actually seeing the Taj Mahal. I must be dreaming" And for some reason he seemed to wow the India tourists.

After the 4th request for a photo of him with an Indian family he said to me

"See I told you I was famous"

"Yes all these years and I've never realised I wasliving with a celebrity " I replied.

"Well, actually I only found out myself yesterday" He admitted to me. On his arrival in India.

By the 8th request that day, and by the end of a 2 wk holiday, our 7 yr old was realising the onerous burden of fame. I don't know why Indian families wanted to pose with a complete stranger. Our daughter of course felt it was beneath her to oblige anyone.

We had a few hairy travel moments, beyond the usual travel by cycle rickshaw, camel etc. Our son flew off the 2AC bunk on one train trip ( a fall of about 5 ft) I'm glad we weren't in "3AC" which has three tiers of bunks... He nearly got run over in Delhi. A car brushed him, despite my borderline neurotic vigilance, as I yanked him out of the way. And he fell headlong on the uneven paving and gave himself an egg head. Hazards that shd have been familiar coming from Sri Lanka.

Whilst travelling in a car, we approached a level crossing as the bell was ringing and the barrier coming down. Our geriatric Dukes of Hazard taxi driver tried to 'shoot the barrier' but failed (I'm glad to say) So we sat with bonnet a little under the barrier waiting for the train to pass.. Meanwhile people continued to swarm across and motorcyclists limbo-ed under on their bikes, or got off leaning them over to crawl under. Not one of these people looked to left or right as they crossed. They obviously all knew they had a good 30 seconds in hand, after the barrier went down, before the train came.

At the airport I got stopped at security and discovered that I had left my Swiss Army Penknife in my rucksack which I was using as hand luggage. It was, of course, confiscated. This made my Clarins shower gel moment at Heathrow pale into insignificance. I have no idea why it was in the bag I was carrying round Delhi. Not such an Alpha mum that I was carrying it as a weapon to protect my children. Nor did I require the use of the corkscrew or hoof pick whilst shopping in Delhi. I think it was just one of those Girl Guide moments, a nebulous 'useful' thing to have in an emergencyto lull you into a false sense of security. "It'll be ok, I have my Swiss army penknife with me" Must be a product of my Famous Five reading childhood (as I never quite made it into the Girl Guides, actually).

Speaking of which our son consumed 6 Enid Blyton books whilst on holdiay which was very admirable, but I'm sure very bad for the digestion. He will no doubt now assume criminal tendencies in any person he sees who was unfortunate enough to be born with eyes 'too close together', not to mention telling his sister she can't help 'because this is boys' work and you're a girl'

Still just as well he had a few books, as everytime we waited at a station there were announcements saying a train was delayed. One announcement cited no less than 4 trains being late, the first 4 hrs, then 5 hours, one 7 hours, and the last, I kid you not, 9 hours late. The blow was softened by the announcer stating with pronounced sincerity and emphatic sorrow "The late arrival of this train is deeply regretted" Maybe she was speaking for the passengers rather than the Rail company....... Puts that ol' perspective on the lateness of British late trains though.

It did cross my mind to wonder what could possibly make a train 9 hours late, but then I remembered I was in India, and as we were beginning to find out. Anything can happen in India.....

1 comment:

Iota said...

Clarins shower gel or a Swiss army knife - if you had to choose between them as a last-minute item to pack for a shipwreck on a desert island, which would it be? Mind you, sounds like you weren't allowed either.

Any news on where next? It's nearly December.