Notes from a crowded country: India – Postscript

Sun, 24 Jan, 2010, Boulder, CO

Back in Boulder after a long, but uneventful series of flights from Delhi->Amsterdam, Amsterdam>Washington, DC, and DC->Denver, CO. It’s good to be home. India is an interesting place, but it’s certainly not home.

It is a challenging and surprising country, full of paradoxes. On the one hand it’s got nuclear weapons and satellites up in space. On the other hand it’s still a 3rd world country in a great many aspects. There is great beauty there, and great squalor. You can’t see one without the other. The cities and the countryside are full of litter – people apparently don’t believe in trashcans there. My sister thinks it’s because the culture is based mostly on an agrarian village model – and in most villages, the vast majority of trash is biodegradable – so you tend to throw it out the door and let the pigs eat it, and what they don’t will rot or get carried away by scavengers.  Even the beaches are full of litter – the only reason the beach at Travancore wasn’t was because they employ someone to pick it up on a daily basis. I saw a group of fisherman sort the trash out of the load in their nets – and it was half trash – and instead of throwing the trash away in a trashcan somewhere they dumped it back on the beach – which means it’ll be back in their nets tomorrow.

The electricity goes out for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour just about every day – most people have UPS’s (Uninterruptible Power Supplies – batteries with a voltage inverter to allow you to supply household current – 220 in India). Hot running water is luxury rather than the rule, and everything is dusty from the dry dirt roads.

In the cities, beggars will hit you up at every street light, whether you’re on foot or in a car, and if you give one a rupee, 5 more will magically appear. Woman with babies will ask for money, palm outstretched. Little kids no older than 10 will knock on your windows at stoplights asking for money. People live in shacks and canvas lean-tos by the side of the road and under overpasses.

You will be warned your car will be deflated if you don’t park it correctly. You will be asked to “Dip” your lights at night (use dimmers instead of high beams). You will see trucks with signs encouraging you to “please sound horn when passing,” and lot of people take them at their word. You will see signs saying “please to not pass urine here,” as men in India apparently think nothing of pulling off to the side of the road, turning their back to traffic, and letting nature do the rest if they need to.  India is the only place I’ve gone through a metal detector, and gotten frisked, to go into a bakery.  You’ll find some amazing food, but don’t try drinking the water – even most Indian’s don’t drink it straight out of the  tap without filtering it or boiling it first.

What follows are some pictures I took illustrating the “other side” of India, not the side shown in postcards or in snapshots of the tourist sights. Most of them are technically not very good – a lot of them I snapped out the back or side window of a moving car – but they give a better feel and flavor of the country than, say, pictures of the well-groomed beach at Travancore – as nice as that was.