शुभकामना from Delhi,
We are just back from our much-anticipated trip to India for a spot of professional development (as well as some sightseeing). Comparisons with life in Bangladesh are inevitable.
India has more of almost everything: more traffic, more squalor, more of a discernible middle class, more worldly confidence and, insanely, more people. Linda’s quick assessment was that the people seem more relaxed. She’s comparing life for women under the Hindu religion versus women under Islamic law. In India, it seems women are more confident to hold their own in public places. Families are free to express their delight in each other’s company and women are more likely to be seen driving, riding motorcycles and occupying positions of authority.
the sacred cow
Even the fabled sacred cows are more relaxed, moving about as their will dictates. (The cows don’t ever want to cross the border into Bangladesh, by the way, as they will be corralled into an enclosure and readied for Eid slaughter which will occur early in October.)
On Sunday we had a congenial taxi driver who introduced himself as Vijay Singh. “That’s a famous name,” I said, thinking of the well-known Fijian golfer. Strangely, he had never heard of his namesake. And the explanation would probably have been lost on him anyway, since golf is not big in India.
Vijay took us into the centre of New Delhi where the crowds of people made Dhaka look quiet. He apologised to us for his inability to find a parking spot: “There are many persons.” Of course, this represents the understatement of the millennium.
Linda and I had a pleasant few drinks in an establishment called Beer Café, overlooking Connaught Place in central New Delhi. We were in the company of young urban middle class locals, also enjoying the evening. One of their purchases turned our heads: a beer tower. This novelty is a cylinder, diameter about eight centimetres with a tap at the bottom. They were more intent on photographing this novelty than actually drinking from it, but I did comment to Linda at the time that I thought such a device would possibly catch on in Australia.
traffic in Delhi
The traffic congestion in Delhi – combined with the burgeoning middle class – leads to an inescapable conclusion: they will simply not be able to cope in the future. There is already an underground railway network, and extensions underway, but the road traffic is astonishing. There are more tarred roads, more heavy vehicles, more taxis, more rickshaws, more gas-driven taxis and more pedestrians in India. It also seems that there is also more adherence to road rules but there is also a lot of mayhem on the roads.
But there is also a humanising factor at play (I think). Where there is converging traffic – occasionally with vehicles going literally in all directions – there is a lot of give and take. The horn is being sounded ad nauseum, principally for warning rather than in annoyance and drivers are always on alert for unexpected contingencies.
It all seems to work and there are few accidents. Drivers who toot horns repeatedly – as a request for another vehicle to move aside – or flick their lights on and off for the same reason, never seem to get upset by delays, never remonstrate with the slow movers and never take out reprisals. There’s a certain civilising force at work here. There’s an unwritten set of rules which comprises road etiquette which is predicated on respect for all kinds of road users. They seem to respect each other as equals on the road. I advanced this theory to Sidaarth who opined, “I’ve never heard that interpretation of our traffic jams before”. Even the cows seem to have developed street savviness. I would imagine that effort would probably use up most of their intelligence quotient all in one fell swoop.
the head wobble
We both found the quintessential head wobble of the Indians (which is not always present in the Bangladeshis) to be equally confusing and endearing. It’s actually a very captivating mannerism; one which would possibly be quickly adopted by an ex-pat moving to India. I was surprised at how common it is seen. The abbreviated version is even more appealing.
IVF in India
The overwhelming impression from India is that there are far too many people. We were both flummoxed by signs advertising in vitro fertilisation in Delhi. This seems like such an utterly incongruous offering in an overcrowded city in an overcrowded nation. Surely that’s a triumph of technology over common sense! The Times of India reported today that a 70-year old woman had given birth to triplets, after undergoing IVF treatment. As the Americans would say, that seems wrong on so many levels. (Incidentally, the woman died three months later from complications.)
Our short visit to the world’s most polluted city has been an adventure. Like Bounder of Adventure and Mr. Smoke-too-much, we have wondered about India for a long time. The school’s largesse in sending us on a five-day jaunt for professional development has allowed us to merge imagination with reality, at least about Delhi. Our appetites have been whetted sufficiently to plan a few more trips across the border.
Khoda hafez from Delhi