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I Could Be In India

Monday, August 7th, 2006

I was reading through some of my blog entries about India the other day and then I came upon this article about India and laughed so hard I nearly cried. It’s really good to laugh.

Trying Really Hard To Like India

from: Seth Stevenson
Posted Friday, Oct. 1, 2004, at 2:27 PM ET

“In the mid-1970s, famed author V.S. Naipaul (of Indian descent but raised in Trinidad) came to India to survey the land and record his impressions. The result is a hilariously grouchy book titled India: A Wounded Civilization. Really, he should have just titled it India: Allow Me To Bitch at You for 161 Pages. I hear you, V.S. This place has its problems. As you point out, many of them result from the ravages of colonialism � and some are just India’s own damn fault. Still, I’ve found a lot to love about this place. For instance:

1) I love cricket. The passion for cricket is infectious. When I first got here, the sport was an utter mystery to me, but now I’ve hopped on the cricket bandwagon, big time. I’ve got the rules down, I’ve become a discerning spectator, and I’ve settled on a favorite player (spin bowler Harbhajan Singh, known as “The Turbanator”�because he wears a turban). I’ve even eaten twice at Tendulkar’s, a Mumbai restaurant owned by legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. Fun fact: Sachin Tendulkar’s nicknames include “The Master Blaster” (honoring his prowess as a batsman), “The Maestro of Mumbai” (he’s a native), and “The Little Champion” (he’s wicked short). His restaurant here looks exactly like a reverse-engineered Michael Jordan’s Steak House. Instead of a glass case with autographed Air Jordans, there is a glass case with an autographed cricket bat. And in what could turn out to be a dangerous habit, I’ve begun going to Mumbai sports bars to watch all-day cricket matches. These last like seven hours. That is a frightening amount of beer and chicken wings.

2) I love the Indian head waggle. It’s a fantastic bit of body language, and I’m trying to add it to my repertoire. The head waggle says, in a uniquely unenthusiastic way, “OK, that’s fine.” In terms of Western gestures, its meaning is somewhere between the nod (though less affirmative) and the shrug (though not quite as neutral).

To perform the head waggle, keep your shoulders perfectly still, hold your face completely expressionless, and tilt your head side-to-side, metronome style. Make it smooth�like you’re a bobble-head doll. It’s not easy. Believe me, I’ve been practicing.

3) I love how Indians are unflappable. Nothing, I mean nothing, seems to faze them in the least. If you live here, I suppose you’ve seen your fair share of crazy/horrid/miraculous/incomprehensible/mind-blowing stuff, and it’s impractical to get too worked up over anything, good or bad.

(This is a trait I admire in the Dutch, as well. They don’t blink when some college kid tripping on mushrooms decides to leap naked into an Amsterdam canal. Likewise, were there a dead, limbless child in the canal� an Indian person might not blink. Though he might offer a head waggle.)

4) I love how they dote on children here. (I’m not talking about dead, limbless children anymore, I’m being serious now.) At our beach resort in Goa, there were all these bourgeois Indian folks down from Mumbai on vacation. These parents spoiled their children rotten in a manner that was quite charming to see. In no other country have I seen kids so obviously cherished, indulged, and loved. It’s fantastic. Perhaps my favorite thing on television (other than cricket matches) has been a quiz show called India’s Smartest Child, because I can tell the entire country derives great joy from putting these terrifyingly erudite children on display.

5) I love that this is a billion-person democracy. That is insane. Somehow the Tibetan Buddhists of Ladakh, the IT workers of Bangalore, the downtrodden poor of Bihar, and the Bollywood stars of Mumbai all fit together under this single, ramshackle umbrella. It’s astonishing and commendable that anyone would even attempt to pull this off.

6) I love the chaos (when I don’t hate it). Mumbai is a city of 18 million people�all of whom appear to be on the same block of sidewalk as you. If you enjoy the stimulation overload of a Manhattan or a Tokyo but prefer much less wealth and infrastructure. this is your spot. (Our friend Rishi, who we’ve been traveling with, has a related but slightly different take: “It’s like New York, if everyone in New York was Indian! How great is that!”) And whatever else you may feel, Mumbai will force you to consider your tiny place within humanity and the universe. That’s healthy.

There’s more good stuff I’m forgetting, but enough love for now. Let’s not go overboard. As they say in really lame travel writing: India is a land of contradictions. A lot of things to like and a lot of things (perhaps two to three times as many things) to hate.

It’s the spinach of travel destinations, you may not always (or ever) enjoy it, but it’s probably good for you. In the final reckoning, am I glad that I came here? Oh, absolutely. It’s been humbling. It’s been edifying. It’s been, on several occasions, quite wondrous. It’s even been fun, when it hasn’t been miserable.

That said, am I ready to leave. Sweet mercy, yes.”

Extremes In India

Sunday, August 4th, 2002

Back in Delhi the next day Bob and I are walking in the middle of the street as usual to a shopping area from the hotel when I noticed that one of the men lying on the sidewalk was dead…large open white emaciated eyes with flies in them…still body…like the dead sheep I used to see on my father’s farm growing up…none of the sellers or other pedestrians seemed to notice…just the western tourist…

The next day on the way to the airport we see miles of male walkers in orange and maroon carrying large triangular forms decorated in shiny fringe on their shoulders. They are making a 270 mile pilgrimage from Hardiwar, through Delhi to a Hindu temple on the border of Rajasthan. They started July 26 and they will reach the temple on August 12. Along the way charities have set up rest and food stations for the pilgrims many of whom are limping with bandaged feet.

For an hour I look through the taxi window and feel tremendous affection for these sincere, earnest and well-meaning people that don’t have a cynical bone in their bodies but probably have every reason to…If we had not visited India we would not have known a land like no other.

Shimla India

Wednesday, July 31st, 2002
July 31-August 4 2002 The last few days I have been fighting some sort of strange malady...raging sore throat, red spots on the tops of my feet and the underside pads of my fingers red, sore and sensitive. Want to risk ... [Continue reading this entry]

Rickshaw Driving Lesson

Wednesday, July 31st, 2002
After dinner, Bob entertains the nearby date sellers by dickering with another rickshaw driver who makes the mistake of saying to Bob "You are rich man-why can't you give me few extra rupees?" Bob shot back that "I have ... [Continue reading this entry]

Death of the Vice President

Tuesday, July 30th, 2002
Saturday morning the revered Vice President of India, Krishan Kant had had a massive heart attack and died so Sunday afternoon Bob and I watched the building of the funeral pyre on national television. "Tears trickled down the cheeks of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Surface Culture

Tuesday, July 30th, 2002
India's spirituality is strong and is seemingly integrated with it�s culture. So this is the first country we have been in that has resisted becoming least on the big time make-up, no dark glasses, no T shirts, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bargaining for a Rickshaw

Tuesday, July 30th, 2002
Our last night in Delhi before taking the train to a cooler Shimla in the mountains for a few days, we strike out in the worst part of the day for traffic to have dinner in Old Delhi. Bob ... [Continue reading this entry]

Traveling India Bob-Style

Saturday, July 27th, 2002
The Indians have a wonderful sense of humor so Bob takes advantage of it and manages to turn everything upside down wherever we go. In addition to an auto-rickshaw, India has bicycle rickshaws-a three-wheeler bicycle with a seat for ... [Continue reading this entry]

New Delhi

Saturday, July 27th, 2002
July 27-30 The hotel arranged to have us taken to the railway station in their car for the 6am train to Delhi, so at 5am the streets are full already and workers are queued up at the tea stalls for breakfast. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Jaipur City Tour

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and sits on a dry lake bed surrounded by barren hills at the top of which you can see fort-like edifices and the surrounding fort walls. The all day city tour bus with ... [Continue reading this entry]

Jaipur India

Monday, July 22nd, 2002
July 22-26 2002 The next day we discover we are the only guests in the Hotel Meghniwas and we have breakfast in the quiet restaurant downstairs. The night before Bob had a few minutes of the sweats but no fever...this ... [Continue reading this entry]

Pushkar India

Sunday, July 21st, 2002
The driver has to ask 5 times for directions to Pushkar (no male pride here). Upon entering the village a guy sitting at a table lets down a red and white pole barrier and asks for a 15 rupee ... [Continue reading this entry]

Chittorgarh India

Sunday, July 21st, 2002
On the way out of town the next morning, I am not surprised to see a dead cow that had been hit by a car. "The government will come and pick it up for the hide, (an hopefully not ... [Continue reading this entry]

Mr. Singh’s Rickshaw In Udaipur

Sunday, July 21st, 2002
We take the offer of Mr. Singh, the Sikh driver of an auto-rickshaw, a small, noisy, three-wheeled motorized contraption with no doors, to take us around the narrow streets that are filled with cows, people, dogs, pigs, men in dirty ... [Continue reading this entry]

Udaipur India

Sunday, July 21st, 2002
July 18-21 2002 To make it easy on ourselves we left at 4am for a one-hour flight north to Udaipur in the state of Rajasthan. When the taxi pulled out we noticed the food stall down the street was still ... [Continue reading this entry]

Ghandi-India To So Africa

Thursday, July 18th, 2002
In my last story, I mistakenly said that Gandi was born in South Africa. He was not. He was born in 1869 in Porbander in the Indian state of Gujarat where his father was chief minister. He attended law ... [Continue reading this entry]

Four Taxis to Dinner In Mumbai

Thursday, July 18th, 2002
In Mumbai one night it was so ludicrous we just had to laugh...afterward. Taxi number one only got us to the end of our street before Bob, realizing the driver didn't know where the hell to go, jumped out of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Our Mumbai Neighborhood

Thursday, July 18th, 2002
We watch India swirling with life on the street below our hotel window on the Colaba Causeway-the stretch of land that the English filled the Bay with that turned Bombay, now called Mumbai, from an Island into a peninsula. I ... [Continue reading this entry]

Migrants & Beggars In India

Thursday, July 18th, 2002
Continuing our taxi tour with Asane, he takes us to a part of Mumbai where we will see many migrants and beggars...and the red light district. As is happening all over the third world, migrants from rural areas make their way ... [Continue reading this entry]

Asane’s Taxi Tour

Thursday, July 18th, 2002
In Mumbai, we took a three-hour government sponsored tour in an Indian-made Ambassador car with "Indian A/C" which is a fan that sits on the dashboard. While we were waiting for Bob to run back to the hotel for the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bhuleshwar Bazaars

Thursday, July 18th, 2002
Kalbadevi You would love this area if you don't mind being scared out of your wits by long lines of honking taxis and motorcycles behind you and worker after worker coming at you from the front with loads of goods ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bombay Renamed Mumbai

Thursday, July 18th, 2002
July 13-18, 2002 India forces you to look beneath the surface of things...there is more here than your eyes see...a midnight ride into the city from the airport in the non-A/C taxi with hot humid squalid air blowing the aroma ... [Continue reading this entry]

Sleepover In Soweto

Friday, July 12th, 2002
S12J2pKbmw6zVZyRvmb7L0-2006193181305721.gif A Sleepover in Soweto-Africa's largest township On our way to India we stopped in Johannesburg for two days to stay with Lolo Mabitsela in her Bed and Breakfast in Soweto-a township about 30 minutes outside ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bo Kaap or Cape Malay Quarter

Monday, June 17th, 2002
The next day we take a minibus for 3 rand each (10 rand to a dollar) to look for an apartment. The buses are many and frequent with no schedule-you just wave one down when you need it-very ... [Continue reading this entry]