This Is India

A couple of years ago when I was in Tanzania, we coined the phrase “T.I.A.” or “This Is Africa” (from the movie ‘Blood Diamond’). It is an expression for those inexpressible moments when the absurdity of the circumstance is overwhelming to the point that you are left hanging, helpless and paralyzed, by it’s incongruence to your rational frame of reasoning. Well, India is not Africa, but it is definitely absurd. There are innumerable moments when all you can do is to shrug your shoulders and admit, This Is India. Today was just another day, abound with those T.I.I. moments, that make every day a challenge and an accomplishment. Another day alive. Another day survived.

102_6162This evening myself and Jacek took it upon ourselves to solve another crisis that has arisen in our house lately. Since the gas is not piped here, but stored in large cylinders, it needs replacing every now and again or you are left with no stove to cook on. This has been the case for several days now, after the gas ran out in the middle of cooking a celebratory meal for the Diwali festival. So, with a 15kg empty gas cylinder wrapped in a bedsheet on my lap, I rode on the pillion of Jacek’s bike to the landlord’s house in Phase II. We took the usual shortcut, across the middle of the road into oncoming traffic and a few yards along the wrong side of the highway. Needless to say the landlord was obliging and even offered a cup of chai, before making the trip back with a full gas cylinder on the pillion. If I am not Indian now, I never will be.

There are a few other T.I.I. moments I would like to share with you. I remember a while back, my first month here, relaxing at home on the sofa with a good book. I became aware of an itch on my neck and I go to scratch it, but am unable to alleviate it. Without warning it begins to hurt, so I ask my house mates, “what is up with my neck?” Gasps of cussing in their alarm, it turns out that a giant ant has embedded itself in my neck. I say giant because it was three to four times the size of the ants I am accustomed to in the UK.

I’ve always wondered if the countless weedy security guards that parade the entrances of offices and food complexes have any purpose beyond appearances. Once, on the way to work, a guard was perched on the pavement with his gun pointed toward the sky resting between his knees. Curious, we glanced over to get a closer look at the weapon, only to find that the end was stuffed with cotton wool. We laughed, and when the guard realised the source of our amusement, he laughed with us.

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Another bizarre sight that takes a while to get used to is the numerous cows that roam free in the street due to their status in Indian culture as sacred animals. Once, on my walk home from work, I rounded the corner to our house and there was herd of eight or nine cows and bulls, walking in single file down the road. The hilarious thing is, they have no owner or herder. They were just hanging out, as they do, with some sort of mutual purpose since they seemed to be going somewhere.

Another day, I caught a rickshaw home with Safiye and we got off at the top of our road to avoid engaging in the inevitable confrontation over price with the rickshaw driver, in view of our house (Jacek’s window was recently broken, I think by a disgruntled rickshaw driver). Anyway, upon rounding the corner we suddenly met with the savage sound of a pack of wild dogs in the distance. They were barking ferociously and although not yet in sight, it sounded like they were running in our direction. Be sure of one thing, we didn’t hang around to see what was happening.

One of the strangest nights I had was during one weekend when the girls were away traveling and Jacek was back in Poland. I had just returned from a night and was home alone, which is never a desirable thing. If you’ve been to our house you will know that we suffer from frequent power outages and water shortages, so that very often when our friends come round they find us huddled around the dining table in candle light, exhausted and thirsty with no drinking water or means of showering. Added to this the strange noises at night, from the cat jumping on the roof or the upstairs neighbors dragging their chairs along the floor. On this particular night I came home to an empty house with no electricity. There were eerie noises coming from the whistle blowing of the security guards and who-knows-what animal in the back yard. I lit a candle to find my way to my room, only to discover a splattered trail of blood, leading from the backdoor through the kitchen and dining room. It was equivalent to a scene from a horror movie.

Needless to say, we figure that the source of the blood must have been the cat, which frequents our house on a daily basis when we forget to close the back door. On the subject of the cat, it recently got itself stuck on top of the geyser in Safiye’s room, and we were forced to live with constant meowing for a couple of days. Turns out that it fell four floors from the rooftop, with no means of escape. After a failed attempt with our neighbor to lure the cat into a bucket lowered down on a piece of string, I think the neighbor must have called someone to resolve the problem. Because the following day the cat was back in the house, gazing at me with its piercing eyes, hoping that I would relent and sacrifice some food. I never do.

There are many other T.I.I incidents that I can recount, such as the time I nearly fell into a six foot hole in the middle of a zebra crossing, because you have to run to get across the road at rush hour and at night there are no street lights. Don’t ask me why there was a six foot hole in the middle of a zebra crossing, but the rickshaw drivers perched on the side of the road were astute enough to give a warning shout before it was too late. I had just come from a session at the gym, during which I recall lying on the bench mid-exercise watching a family of rats fighting in the air vent above me.

Another thing that astounds me is the marketing strategy of the local optician. Whenever I go to the market, I always walk past this place and my eyes are naturally drawn to the poster on the shop front. The graphic displayed on the poster is deliberately distorted and out of focus so that when you look at it you immediately become paranoid that your sight has deteriorated and, since you are standing outside an optician, feel compelled to call in and book an appointment.

Me & Safiye, riding the rickshaw Indian style

Me & Safiye, riding the rickshaw Indian style

Last week, on the day we celebrated Diwali festival at the office, I shared a rickshaw with Safiye to work. We were dressed in traditional attire for the occasion, which was novel in itself. But then the rickshaw punctured a tire, and we were forced to walk to the office dressed in kurtas. It must have been a sight, judging by the glances we got from passers by. Later that evening, I walked into the gym in my traditional wear. Head down, I was trying to avoid eye contact with my workout buddies, who thought I looked hilarious. Then my trainer walks into the changing room, takes one look at me and says “nice dress Mr Simon.” I guess I should’ve thought through the whole traditional-wear-to-work thing a bit more.

Then at the weekend, I answered the door to an Indian transvestite. A man dressed as a not-so-convincing traditional Indian lady. She was collecting money for something, I really don’t know what or why. But I didn’t have a clue what to say, I just stood there until a security guard from outside was so helpful as to move her on, sparking an argument between this weedy security man and an eccentric door collecting transvestite.

Later that day we had the privilege of sharing Diwali with a colleague and her extended family. They had prepared fire crackers for the occasion, as everyone seems to do here. The first fire cracker they got out was described to me, very aptly, as a bomb. I stood a few yards back, expecting a colorful display of dazzling fireworks, when all of a sudden there was a series of deafening bangs. I looked down at the floor and covered my ears whilst my legs were pelted with debris. Everyone else had long since retreated, I just stood there in utter shock and surprise. I should mention that Jacek, who was standing many yards behind me, got one in the face. He lived to tell the tale, and has a scar to prove it.

So I haven’t really done justice to the amazing weekend I shared with friends and colleagues celebrating the Diwali festival. It is bigger than Christmas here, and is more than worthy of a mention. But I shall leave that for another post, because this ones already kind of long. And I haven’t even mentioned the family of pigeons nesting in Jacek’s bathroom. But by now I think I’ve given you enough anecdotes to know, what I mean when I say; This Is India.

Attempting a fire cracker

Attempting a fire cracker

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