Random Thoughts and Observations about India

October 14, 2008

India: Random Thoughts and Observations

 

Having exhaustively documented my trip, I realized that there were a few random details, things I saw and thoughts I had that weren’t included. Here they are, in no particular order:

 

Bumper sticker on an autorickshaw: “Spitting Spreads TB. Do Not Spit.”

 

A sticker on the back windshield of every car from a specific dealership: “Drive home a relationship.”

 

Cars driving in Mumbai at night might have their headlights on, or they might not.

 

On a busy road in Mumbai, I saw signs, indicating the applicable fines for a variety of offenses. Littering or spitting would cost you 200 rupees, but washing your car in a public place cost five times that.

 

There are two common units used in India that I’ve never heard of anywhere else. You’ll often hear people refer to a “lakh,” especially in reference to money. A lakh is 100,000. You’ll also hear “crore,” which is one hundred lakhs, or 10 million. Not particularly intuitive for me, but interesting that they’d have terms for these numbers.

 

I saw a funny highway sign that drove home the concept of cultural literacy. I wouldn’t have gotten the joke if I didn’t know the story of Ganesh. It said, “Not everyone is as lucky as Ganesha. Wear helmet.”

 

There’s a sculpture at a busy interchange in Mumbai, with a famous quote from Vittal Venkatesh Kamat: “A child gives birth to a mother.”

 

I’m no linguist, but I realized that Indian English, which is the lengua franca in a country with 15 official languages, is really a dialect of English, not just an accent. It has its own conventions of grammar, syntax and usage.

 

Selvam, my driver in Mumbai, apologized at one point for his insufficient English skills. I said, “Your English is fine. It’s my Hindi that’s bad.”

 

Nowhere else have I seen such weird deformities than you might see in street beggars in India. I was reminded of a live Leonard Cohen recording, in which he referred to people as, “curious mutilations of the human form.”

 

The Parsi people, a Muslim sect in India that claims some of India’s most powerful people (the Tata family, for example, were and are Parsi) is dwindling in population, rather rapidly. According to one of my friends in Mumbai, this is due to the fact that they refuse to marry and reproduce outside their sect. This leads to inbreeding, which makes for a polluted gene pool and shortened lifespans. I’m not sure if this is true, but I found it interesting.

 

Everyone knows that corruption is rampant in India, but one of my friends pointed out that corruption is one of the reasons for India’s unreliable and inadequate infrastructure. His feeling was that money influences all these decisions, so that the supplier chosen to build a bridge or install electricity might not be the best one for the job, but merely the most influential.

 

My friend, Tina, whom I know my undergrad days at Vassar College, has a coworker at the Blue Frog who went to Bard College, a tiny, artsy school, just a few miles up the road from Vassar. What are the freaken odds?

 

Shortly after my visit, there was to be a cricket match between India’s national team and Australia’s. Billboards advertising the match referred to the last match between the teams, featured a graphic depiction of a bloody toe, and included the phrase, “It’s time to return the favour.”

 

On the streets in Mumbai, you’re likely to see stalls selling nearly any goods or services you might need. There are people sewing clothes and shaving men. I also saw women bathing their naked children on a very busy street near the Haij Ali Mosque.

 

In the heavily touristed areas of Mumbai, there were cars parked that were labeled “Tourist Police.” While this was mildly comforting, I couldn’t help thinking they weren’t likely to be very effective.

 

As I was leaving India, a comedy movie was about to come out called Hari Puttar. Hari is a common name for an Indian boy, and puttar means “son.” Apparently, there was a legal battle about the movie because the name was meant to play on “Harry Potter.” The legal battle was settled in favor of the movie because it was obviously satirical. Pretty funny.

 

On the drive home from Blue Frog in Mumbai, we got stopped in a very long traffic jam or a light or something, and a beautiful little girl, probably about 12 years old, appeared at the car window. She looked at me and mimed drawing the corners of her mouth into a smile. I smiled back. She then began asking me for money. “One rupee, uncle, please. Just one rupeee. No mommy, no daddy, uncle.” Keep in mind that one rupee is about two cents. And then she began singing a hacked up version of “Jingle Bells.” “One rupee, uncle, please. No mommy, no daddy.” I couldn’t look at her.