Going native/rant

When Mood Music
2006-05-08 15:52:00

GOING NATIVE
For men there seem to be two ‘uniforms’ here

  • collared shirt and long dark trousers
  • collared shirt and wrap-around skirt made from a single rectangular piece of cloth. If the skirt is check or coloured, it’s apparently called a lunghi. If it’s white, it’s called a dhoti. Quite often wearers fold them up so that they’re knee-length. I think they always wear shorts or underpants but I’m not making many enquiries…

I’ve been feeling a bit self-conscious in shorts. It’s too sunny to go far while exposed and until I had lunch just now, I’d been feeling tired and out-of-sorts. I thought I might cure the self-consciousness if I got into ‘native uniform’. So……

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Of course, the looks a whitey in Indian uniform gets are even more intense! However, it feels much cooler and it’s quite nice to have a garment that doubles as a bed-sheet and towel. Yes, I am wearing socks: it’s either that or have my feet chafed by my sandals.

Most women here wear sarees – I’ve only seen a handful in shalwar khamise. Probably due to the sun, rather than religious affiliation, often the piece that loops over the left shoulder and down the back is arranged over their heads. I’ve also seen this piece used to cover all the back and then tucked in at the front. All styles look lovely and the material is so often beautiful. So tell me why they use the end as a towel or wash-cloth or sweat-cloth? It seems a sin to mank such lovely material. (Most men carry a towel or hanky for these purposes.)

RANT
While I’m in the mood to criticise my host country, here’s a few things I’d like to get off my chest:

  • India is an environmentalist’s nightmare
    It’s not just the open sewers, it’s the fact that people will throw out anything anywhere, often blocking the sewers. On Colva beach I found a light-bulb. I picked it up to take it to a bin so that no-one could stand on it. I was firmly told to just throw it on the floor (in a place where many people walked barefoot) because this ‘is Indian culture’. As far as I’m concerned, this sucks, so I didn’t. The concept of ‘dustbin’ is known but not widely applied. Also, bottled ‘mineral’ (i.e. drinking) water is very common. I have to admit I’ve drank a lot myself. I do have a filter bottle (thanks Peter D!) but it doesn’t hold enough to last. Officially, you’re meant to crush the bottles so they can be recycled butI haven’t seen any plastic-collection places. Also, in Goan bus sations I’ve seen state government proclamations that plastic bags made from recycled material are dangerous and so shouldn’t be used. WTHF?
  • Early marriage
    I’ve been told that the legal minimum age for marriage is something over twenty. Yet I’ve met quite a few women who were married before they were 16 – usually their husbands were around ten years older than them. One woman I’ve spoken with told me she had to get married at 16 because her father was dying and so she needed a man to fulfill important functions in this society. Fortunately she’s married to a man she loves and who loves her and it’s worked well for the past ten years. Also, she’s been able to carry on studying after her marriage (and despite having a young child). Quite a few people have suggested I remarry, usually to an Indian woman. (Only one has offered to procure a wife for me and he’s been told – by Indian friends – to back right off.)
  • Personal space and privacy
    don’t expect them unless you lock yourself in your room! For example, I’ve had to explicitly ask folk several times to not look at stuff I’ve already said or implied (by saying ‘this is my personal banking details’ etc) is private. Also, last night I was sitting, on my own at a restaurant table, reviewing photos on my camera when someone came to stand behind me, looking over my shoulder at the camera display and then asked me where I’d taken the shots. Folk in Colva would often pick up my camera and without asking whether they could look, go through the shots. (Since many of the shots were of them, this wasn’t too unreasonable and I had no actual objection to them seeing anything I’d photographed.) On sleeper trains, your bunk is exposed to anyone who wants to look.
  • Driving/traffic
    They’re all mad! No-one wears a helmet on a two-wheeler. (I’m now used to taking lifts on the back of bikes without a helmet but I was scared shitless the other day when my driver answered his cellphone without even slowing. Fortunately we were on a deserted road, late at night.) There’s no concept of lanes – each driver does his or her very best to advance , cutting up, down and round and round anyone else. Pedestrians have to dodge around this too as best they can. Bus drivers are suicidal: they’ll overtake through impossible-seeming gaps. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought I was about to become stawberry jam in a head-on collision between my bus and an oncoming HGV. To warn other drivers to get out of the way, bus drivers use incredibly powerful airhorns almost incessantly. I’ve been very near to telling drivers that if they use the thing again, they’ll end up wearing it internally.
  • Train and bus decorum
    Train and bus doors are almost always open – I like this because otherwise they would be too hot and I wouldn’t be able to photograph the countryside I’m passing through. However, this enables passengers to alight and board as the train train or bus is moving. Many folk alight as the train is moving which seems both homicidal and suicidal. However, it may be better than waiting for the train to stop when passengers will barge on, pushing and stepping all over each other and without waiting for others to alight. I have no idea why boarders can’t see that there’s no room for them until other folk have alighted.Also busses and trains are almost always crowded beyond operational safety. For example, in my train to Ottapalam, there were 20 people in a space built for 10: folk perched on luggage-racks and sat two to a seat.
  • Electricity dodginess
    In many cities there are regular powercuts. The most ironic was in Mettur Dam last week. This town has a bloody huge 1960s soviet-made and apparently well-maintained hydro-electric power station. (I got a guided tour because one of my hosts worked there.) Hydro-electricity is based, er, water. So why in the name of sanity was the power cut when it started to rain? (I did check: this wasn’t a coincidence.)
  • Stomach dodginess
    I’ve managed to have both diarrhoea and constipation. I think I’m due a prize for the latter.
  • Facial hair faux pasAround three-quarters of adult males wear moustauches. I don’t get it: if you’re going to shave the rest of your face, get rid of the hairy caterpillars on your top lips, PLEASE!

OK, so what are the good things about India?

  • Incredible hosts
    giving me always what they see to be the best chair or bed, even to their discomfort. Total strangers will guide this random bozo where he wants to go and people who I’ve got to know quite well have given me a great time (with a few, ahem, misadventures along the way) without asking for anything in return other than if I see jobs in the UK that would suit them, to let them know and tell them how to apply.
  • Fantastic food
    OK, not always vegan and I have had some indifferent meals (such as my evening meal yesterday and my breakfast today) but most of the time it’s amazing. I could live on iddly sambar and masala dosa for a long, long time. Onion uttapa (thick pancakes made of dosa batter and lavished with chopped raw onion) are also wonderful. Wada (doughnut-shaped deep-fried pieces of dosa flower) and dahl fry are hard to beat. I’ll have a hard job weaning myself off chai. And finally, the best possible dessert is a fresh juicy mango, available for tiny amounts of money just about everywhere I’ve been.
  • Clothing
    Sarees and shalwar khamises are almost always made of beautiful material and really enhance the images of their wearers. Men are very, very rarely untidy: if they are it’s because they’re doing a manky job. Lunghis and dhotis are very cool, in my limited experience.
  • Countryside
    fascinating to watch flow by from trains. Around the hill-stations, it’s beautiful and lush. At times I’ve been surrounded by rich nothingness and it’s been lovely.

 

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