While for Andrew, arriving in Bombay was revisiting old turf and rediscovering once-familiar ways, for me landing in India just over a month ago was like stepping into a new world – a vibrant, colourful, noisy, crowded and generally chaotic world! Luckily, living in Ranong for six months was, I think, good preparation for a lot of the day-to-day quirks of India – our TIA mantra applies here in equal measure.
India assaults the senses every time you step out the door. Silence is a foreign concept, and even I have learnt to tune out the constant hum of traffic, wallahs plying their trade, children shouting, hindu wedding processions, trains rattling past, car horns, truck horns, rickshaw horns and on it goes…
I love the amazing technicolour fabrics of the women’s saris and salwar kameezes, with their vibrant maroons, golds, reds, yellows, greens and purples – every colour under the sun.
I love the hustle and bustle of the market place, with its array of fresh fruit. I love the delicious smells wafting from every restaurant or roadside stall (when they aren’t blocked out by the fumes of a million auto rickshaws, taxis, buses, cars and other vehicles – that’s not so cool). I love the tastes of India too – whether it’s pani puri or bombil in Bombay, chicken xacuti, kingfish with prawn balchao or bebik in Goa, tea with samosas in Fort Cochin, biryani in Bangalore or paper masala dosa in Aurangabad, every meal is fantastic. And in between meals (if you can possibly find any space left) there are a myriad of delectable sweets, or mithai, to snack on. Meeting many of Andrew’s relatives and old friends, and seeing the places he grew up, has been really special, and a definite highlight of our time so far.
Apart from the pollution, the main thing I’m finding difficult in India is what I call the “push” mentality, most apparent when travelling by public transport. Public transport here is pretty good in that it’s fast, it goes almost everywhere, and to date it’s always got us there on time. However, it is often packed to the gunnels, particularly the Bombay train system (apparently a Bombay train compartment is usually filled with over three times the passengers it was meant for at peak hours). As you can imagine, when there are several hundred people trying to get off a train and equal numbers trying to get on, all during the 30 seconds the train is stopped at a station, there’s a lot of pushing and shoving going on – if you don’t push your way through you get left behind, so you do what you have to do and don’t worry too much about those around you. To some extent, I can accept that this is the inevitable consequence of having so many people occupying the same space – but what bothers me is the way this mentality seems to continue, even when there’s no need for it. It’s the destination station, so obviously everyone in front of you is getting off the train here, and once they do, there will be an empty carriage for those waiting on the platform to enter. Or there are, amazingly, only 50 people waiting to get on the Ernakalum ferry, and plenty of room for all. This seems to be irrelevant – the moment the doors are opened, the mad rush to get ahead first begins, despite the fact that if everyone waited their turn they would all get where they wanted to go much faster and more comfortably.
And this mentality seems to pervade all areas of life– there are always so many people either going the same way you are, or getting in your way. If you want to get the last seat, the first rickshaw, a place at the front of the queue before the counter closes, acceptance into that course, the best job offer – you’d better look out for number one, because no one else is going to care if you get left behind. Mostly, I guess, I don’t like that I can feel myself starting to act the same way here – but that’s more about me than about India.