Friday, December 30, 2005

Thoughts on India in General

  • Roads and Traffic- absolutely insane! This is something they never show in Indian movies. There are no lanes or traffic lights that are taken seriously. Cars just go anywhere and everywhere! With traffic or against it—no difference. Speed limits are non-existent. And you have bikes, rickshaws, cars and everything in between all on the road at once. They honk so incessantly and unnecessarily and there is a sort of rudeness in the honking, too. I’ve never seen anything like this. And I fear for my life every time I’m in a car… And apparently, there isn’t any penalty for getting in accidents or even killing someone on the road! They just pay people off and move on. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any accidents yet, so maybe this system works…
  • So much inequality! Distinctions between people are so prominent here! Just in terms of weight, it’s clear that the poorest people are skin and bones, while wealthier people are much more meaty.
    On the road, you notice it even more. You have bikes, scooters, motorbikes, rickshaws (really cheap versions of taxis), and cars all on the road together. The cars seem to dominate the road. Everyone has to move out of their way. The bikes get pushed to the edges of the road—it’s really a sight to be seen. I haven’t noticed any sort of public transportation, at least in Nagpur. In the U.S., we have different classes of cars, but I feel like they all are equal on the road. This is definitely not the case in India.
  • Smell- there are definitely some distinct (unattractive) smells that pervade the region. You acclimate to them in minutes, but that almost scares me. I have a fear that the smell will never go away.
  • Electricity and plumbing- definitely problems with both, especially electricity. The power goes out city-wide for three hours a day, which can be a huge drag. And the absence of toilet paper is a little disturbing.
  • Poverty- so much of it. people line the streets begging for money or asking you to buy dumb stuff. People showcase their deformities to earn money- you see tons of twisted limbs, burnt arms, and weirdly shaped people. My uncle says that some of them do these things to themselves to earn some cash. I really wish the Indian government would just employ all of these people to fix up the country! There is so much that needs to be done: roads fixed and expanded, fences fixed, cleaning, etc.
    But there also seems to be a sense that people have given up on the poor. My sister was giving my uncle a hard time about the really young servants that are employed in the house, and he was saying that there aren’t any other options for these sorts of people. They don’t care about education or improving themselves. I have no idea how true that is. But the number of kids employed and on the streets instead of in school is definitely sad. And people really don’t seem to care that much. I was giving my cousin a hard time about the trash he was throwing on the floor and he said that everyone did it and that it didn’t matter- him picking up after himself wouldn’t make a difference. And he defended himself by saying that he didn’t litter when he went to Japan…
  • Animals- so many random animals all over the place! There are stray cows and dogs and goats! I have no idea why they are there, but they are literally everywhere and they just eat trash and each other (when they die are are lying on the streets).
  • Servants- Everyone has them! And they’re so young! And they’re treated with such little respect. These people hire cooks and then criticize the food they prepare so openly…I feel so guilty and bad, but I guess this is just the culture…
  • Language- I feel like a total poser speaking in Hindi. I can understand most of what's being said and I can get by pretty well in speaking, I think, but it just doesn't sound natural. And my family teases me about how I sound, so it's a no-win situation. But I really wish I could speak the language with more ease and comfort...
  • Family- lots of emphasis on it. Joint families are pretty common, with multiple siblings and their families all living together. I really liked seeing all the family togetherness and warmth. I also felt like kids are being brought up really well-- they listen to their parents and seem to be focused on the right things.
  • Food and shopping- I actually haven’t gotten a chance to do much shopping, but I am hoping that our time in Bombay at the end of the trip will make up for that. And things are actually more expensive than I imagined them to be. I thought I’d be paying like $.50 or a $1 for everything, which is unfortunately not the case. Although I may just be getting really ripped off. People talk to me in English before I even open my mouth. They can tell I'm American from the way I dress and carry myself, apparently. Food, on the other hand, is amazing and ridiculously cheap. I really have yet to try bad food. And I haven’t gotten sick from anything, which is awesome!
  • General Hospitality- People are A LOT nicer and friendlier here. There is a certain sense of community that I don't think can be replicated in the U.S.

Trip to Agra and Rajasthan

So we took a very cool, one-week, private tour of Northern India, which included Agra, Jaipur, Bikaner, Jaiselmer, and Jodhpur. We started off in a 15-hour train from Nagpur to Agra. Indian trains are a lot less nice and a lot slower than European ones, but I guess you get what you pay for. We had a private van for the duration of our tour, which took us to the different sights in each city and between cities. There were eight of us total: me, my mom and sister, aunt and uncle, another aunt, a 22-year-old cousin, and a 17-year-old German exchange student (the white guy you’ll see in pictures).
Agra was probably my favorite city of the tour, mainly because of the Taj Mahal, which really is something spectacular. It was really foggy in the morning when we went, so it probably wasn’t the best, but I was still very impressed. The rest of the tour was very historical, with visits to a bunch of Indian forts and palaces. They were really pretty and interesting, but they definitely blurred together by the end of the trip. Another highlight of the trip was Jaiselmer, where we got to go on camel rides through the desert up to a valley area and watch the sunset. It was very cool and really beautiful and relaxing.
The trip ended with a 27-hour train ride back to Nagpur, which was less than stellar, to say the least...


It certainly pays to have wealthy relatives. I get to stay in mansions in both Nagpur and Bombay. Nagpur is the city my mom grew up in, located in the Maharastra region of India (sort of in the middle, on the Western part). Nagpur's population is three million, but it's a sleepy sort of town with not much going on. The “Rana House” (Rana is my mom's maiden name) has three floors and there is basically a separate house on each floor. Lots of servants. And full air conditioning. And nice cars. And pretty balconies and swings. So I’m definitely going to be a getting a privileged view of India. In Bombay, we’re staying at my dad’s uncle’s house, which has seven stories, 25 servants, an elevator, and a personal driver… the guy is in the oil business. No complaints.