Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Top 10 Indications You Are In India

10) The street you are looking for is the only one not marked with a sign
9) There will always be construction occurring just outside your room. Always.
8) Animal Planet and the Bollywood channel are the only cable channels available
7) Your waiter responds to every request with a pronounced head wiggle. This could mean anything.
6) The term "deluxe" appears to have suffered in translation
5) Your autorickshaw driver will never have change. Ever.
4) No matter what you order, the family who arrived a half hour after you always gets their food first.
3) Just as you are about to send the email you've spent 45 minutes crafting, the power goes out.
2) Ridership on a motorcycle is not limited to 5. Livestock optional.
1) People you don't know will always go out of their way to help you.

Sometimes it's hard to understand how anything gets done here. To the untrained eye, it just seems perpetually chaotic. And yet, after a few weeks of careful observation, patterns begin to emerge. It's as if you are watching a Polaroid picture develop in front of you. At first, there is nothing. Then vague shadows. Dark forms. Finally, a reasonably clear picture emerges, and you are left scratching your by now wiggling head as to why you didn't see it earlier.

Take traffic for instance. For those used to driving on Canadian roadways, India seems like the circulatory system of some huge beast running completely amok. It's like every corpuscle is simultaneously on a collision course with every other corpuscle, all at the same time, yet strangely, there are no collisions. In Canada, four-way stops are occasionally painful displays of hoser etiquette. "After you, eh.... No no, I insist, after you eh...". In India, there is absolutely no such thing. In fact, virtually every signal, sign, or other indication of lane marking is routinely ignored. The center line in the road, when you can find it, functions only as a quant suggestion. A mere reminder of the duality of existence. It is a very common thing for your driver to suddenly veer out across where the line used to be and into the stream of oncoming traffic. Your driver has somehow mastered time and space in such a way that he can accurately judge the width and length of his vehicle to within an inch of the perimeter. Sometimes less. At first, your knuckles are white and the blood routinely drains from your face, which is perpetually locked in a silent scream expression of "Noooooooooooooo....", but soon, you find that you can relax and completely surrender to the experience. You learn to trust in your karma.

At first every driver's move seems motivated by the wish for an early death, but soon you start to detect the little cues that the drivers use to signal that yes, indeed I am crossing five lanes of traffic, and you had better stop. It's mind-boggling to jump into this perpetual motion machine, knowing that somehow you will end up where you are supposed to be going. It's no surprise really that the nation with some of the most treacherous traffic in the world is the birthplace of many a transcendent religion. Getting from A to B brings new meaning to the term "God's will".

Then there is the power. Electrical power that is. What first looked like huge eagles nests on top of large poles were not nest at all, but in fact wiring. I'm no expert, but I'm willing to bet that there is a lot of clandestine access to power on some of those poles. Great clusters of tangled wire sit on top of virtually every pole like a confused Brillo pad, with thin strands of disparate gauge going madly off in all directions at once to their secret destinations. Being an electrical inspector is either the worst job in the country, or the easiest, depending on which side of the bribery fence you're on. In our neighbourhood, as in most, the power goes off a minimum of once a day for anywhere from a half hour to a couple of hours. Today, it cut out a total of three times. I'm not sure if this is a cost-saving measure, or just the routine breakage of flimsy infrastructure. If it was all cost-saving, you might figure that there would be a schedule so you could plan to work around it. But no. It's as if John Cage were appointed Electrical Commissioner, and the I Ching was used to create a continuously random schedule of power availability.

And yet strangely, even beautifully, things get done, and the peculiar order of things begins to reveal itself. You just have to train your eye.


jcree said...

We've just spent 3 days driving through round'abouts in Ireland, and you know what?
It works. They seem confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, and you realize there are no ridiculously lengthy traffic lights at intersections, you get into it! Having said that, they also drive like nut-bars here, so not all is predictable.

Murray A said...

Can't tell you enough how much we are enjoying your Blog. Keep them coming!
Hope you, Laurel and the boys have one of the most interesting, unusual and intriguing Christmas' ever!
Murray & Anna-Marie

Rob Bailey said...

Sri and Madam Atherton

Thanks for the kind words. And a very Merry Christmas to you both! Thanks for all the support for Laurel's new Naked store on Bowen.

And Julie and Christophe, we miss you guys like crazy. We're definitely collecting and perfecting recipes for our next potluck, which you will eat entirely with your hands. Much love from the Baileys.

jcree said...

Will there still be a had free for a wine glass?