Posted 09.05.2009, updated 17.05.09
20.02.2009 - 20.07.2009
India is probably as big as Europe and there are over a billion people living here. Therefore I will refrain from giving a personal opinion on the country and it's inhabitant in general, as I did for some other countries. Instead I will write some insights about subjects that strike me as important, beginning with the most important one:
If you travel through India you will get diarrhea sooner or later. Even I got it (I resisted for two months, but the shock-trooper bacteriae in the community food and water at the Amritsar Golden Temple got through my defenses). However taking a crap in India has not the same degree of privacy as in Western culture, and it is not a taboo discussion theme. People talk about it. Especially for foreigners it becomes a pretty important part of your life, so you talk about it a lot. Indian men also take a crap pretty much anywhere, be it in full sight or not. Only women look for some privacy. I have seen men taking a crap outside while some friend(s) is standing in front of them, continuing the discussion. There just don't seem to be any need for privacy while shitting. You get used to it. For example the Golden Temple guest house toilets in Amritsar have conveniently placed open windows in the doors, so one can look inside. Which people do. While I was taking craps there I had people look at me, talk to me, point me out to their friends, come back for a second look, etc. It's kind of upsetting in the beginning, but since everybody is looking at and talking to everybody else, I didn't really mind. As I said, you get used to it.
This is also a good place to talk about ass-wiping techniques. Basically there seem to be three ways that prevailed throughout the world. One is using leafs or paper, as we do it in Western society. One is to use your left hand. The last is to use the ass-shower. After having used all three abundantly, I have to say the cleanest one seems to be the ass-shower. The paper mostly spreads shit all over your ass, while using your hand prompts obvious hygiene concerns. The ass-shower keeps your hand and your ass clean. I'm surprised it has not found more appeal in our health and cleanliness-oriented society.
Tedious and slow, but cheap. You take the bus where you can't take the train. Both cost about the same, but trains are noticeably faster and slightly more comfortable. Unfortunately both are designed for small people (Indians do tend to be much smaller than I am).
Buses start somewhere and then pick up people on the side of the road until they are full. At this point the driver randomly (at least to me) stops for more people or just ignores them. A bad place to expect a bus to stop for you seems to be at the bottom of a slope, where it caught on speed.
For some reason you are not allowed to sleep in the foremost seat (you'd have to be close to death to be able to sleep in an Indian bus anyway).
People, dogs, and monkeys on the road just expect the bus to swerve around them. I kind of expected that from people, but I was quite surprised to see dogs and monkeys laying on the street and not move an ear when the bus came roaring at them at full speed (meaning about 50 km/h) and passed just centimeters from them. I don't think I would make the effort of braking and swerving for monkeys (dogs are bigger and messier) as a bus driver. Let it be a lesson for the others and Darwin sort them out... But Indians are very respectful of animals.
Trucks are usually privately owned and sometimes leased to the drivers. The owners or drivers always take a lot of care to decorate their vehicle, which makes them quite colorful. Here's what a typical Indian truck looks like:
Indian people are convinced that their food is the most healthy in the world. But I think this is because they know only Indian food and Western fast-food. Of course in comparison it is, but I don't think the healthy reputation is justified compared to normal Western food, or even Japanese food. It is incredibly tasty, though.
Recipe for Masala Chai:
Cardamom, coriander, ginger (fresh, squashed), pepper, sugar, milk, black tea.
To learn on occasion:
Biryani rice, chicken vindaloo, samosa, lassi, Tibetan momo
Well, there's over one billion of them, so I met many good and bad people. A difference to other countries is that they seem slightly less indifferent. They care about each other (and you) a little bit more than in other places I've been (Yes, I know people are living and dying in the streets, I've seen that. But they are not completely alone, each group takes care of it's members). This is probably also the reason India didn't split in smaller countries. A democracy of one billion people, hundreds of languages, dozens of religions and ethnicities, and surrounded by enemies can only stay together for over 50 years (despite wars, terror attacks, poor education, and fanaticism) if people actually like each other more than they dislike their differences. For all it's deficiencies that is a huge accomplishment from the Indian democracy.
When you walk around cities in India you see incredible misery. Beggars, cripples, sick and injured people all live and die on the street. The only way to deal with it is to see through what Salman Rushdie aptly calls “city eyes”. When you see with city eyes you just don't perceive these people anymore, they become part of the infrastructure. I don't know how bad a person that makes me, but I found out I am quite good at it (careful about judging other people...). Of course, there is another way to deal with it, which is to follow Mother Teresa's example. But this life is not for me.
There's a lot of that here. From necrophilia and cannibalism to abstinence of everything but what you need to barely survive, there's something for everybody here. I think having over a billion people around and a lot of room to move around the law makes it easier for like-minded people to find themselves and start a sect, open an ashram, or follow any kind of guru. There is probably a lot of abuse going on, but then again it's a form of freedom to be able to start your own religion. Whatever makes people happy I guess.