Saturday, January 12, 2013

Finally resorting to this

(Late afternoon view of Varkala Cliff and beach: midday this is a sea of beach umbrellas
Note restaurants and shops along the clifftop and sample litter in foreground)
(some of the smaller fish available - and one huge one)

I wonder how many people here in Varkala feel that they are in India. Geographically of course they are but culturally they are on Planet Tourism, that place where the home culture barely intrudes but life is lived in a indeterminate multi-national melting pot. There are places to stay, places to eat, particularly places to shop and a beach. You can rejoin India by going beyond the margins of the resort, as I did almost as soon as I arrived, in reaction against leaving India prematurely. Within the core, the population is of such diverse origins - Russians, Israelis, Germans, Brits, Americans, Australians, Canadians, Scandinavians, Spanish, Portuguese, as well as the more local Tibetans, Kashmiris and Keralans - it could be seen as a localised manifestation of that Global Village we once heard a lot about.

Fortunately within a little while I remembered another of those back ways into India and was soon out there again ordering a delicious and authentic thali and eating it overlooking the temple "tank" i.e. large pond or reservoir, while locals swam and washed themselves and their laundry.

Phew: I was beginning again to feel a bit pathetic, dipping out early. Now I can keep at least one foot in India till I leave. 

(fisherman sorting a huge catch of sardines)

Ragbag of impressions 

The last time I was here I did a blog called "India is ...." and really the only way I can see to summarize things is to give a ragbag of impressions of the myriad things you see as you move around - which is a significant part of the enjoyment of being here. As Forster showed in A Passage to India, and particularly in his description of a temple festival, the only way to summarize chaos is to give little bits of it.

 Anyone's ragbag is likely to include examples of the Indian way with English, not least some wonderful misprints.
(a little Eductaion might have been useful)

(What was meant by "weary?") 

(Still, the basic issue is a common UK error too, among those people who spell seperate etc.)

(again the UK seperate brigade also use alternate for alternative every other day!)

(very suitable if you know Osho)

And then there is the different way the Indians have with our common tongue. I saw a mobile phone advertised for its quality of "pocket-friendly sleekiness" (well, you can see what they mean) while a bus shelter is a Waiting Shed, which is a bit more accurate, really. Or slogans:"Full cream I scream!" - quite good use of an old joke. "A One Chicken Stall" (I completely missed this but of course it's obvious when the penny drops).

(the things that get advertised)

Or strange contraptions . . . I saw one "Boadicea scooter" - a reversed-T shape vehicle with two wheels added either side of the back one, making three in line: lethal for scything through traffic - and I thought it was a one-off until I saw more and more. But what is it for apart from added stability? I never saw the back stabilisers being used for load-carrying or extra passengers.

Trees by the roadside sequentially numbered - by cutting back the bark in a square, painting a background (usually yellow) and then numbers in black. Again, why? Perhaps to discourage theft of trees from the highway.

How do Indians drink from bottles? They treat them as jugs and pour the water from a small distance into their mouths. More hygenic, in fact - especially if a bottle are shared - but it takes some skill on a swaying, bumpy bus.

Seen around, from the train: a man ploughing with oxen followed as in England by flocks of white birds - but not gulls here: egrets!

Seen around, on Varkala beach, a poignant vignette: young Indian wife hangs on her husband's arm and nuzzles his shoulder while he, half-turned away, stares at the bikini-clad sunbather not that far away. Easier to read his mind, perhaps a cocktail of lust and disapproval, but what thoughts were going through her mind, what feelings through her senses? Perhaps I should have gone up and taken their photo?  It's a bit complex: this is a Moslem area and westerners are encouraged to cover up out of the water but then again .. this is hardly India, as I've suggested. And I'm not comfortable with the argument that sunbathers bring the unwanted attention upon themselves. Discuss!

The Indian head wobble: seen a lot especially in the south. There's a lot of rubbish about it on the internet - I believe it's something much subtler than just "maybe"! My version is that it is a gesture of placation, used when you're giving uncomfortable information (forest ranger talking to underling, both wobbling, the underling perhaps indicating "I understand: it's OK." or the internet woman reassuring me about a slow computer: "Next time take number 4" wobble, wobble. It can also mask prevarication, as when giving bad news evasively!

Down here in the South, at least, nearly all Indian men seem to have a moustache, a paunch - and a tailored shirt, however informal the lower garment may be: quite incongruous. (Perhaps we Brits are responsible for that one, among other issues, like the levels of bureaucracy that still persist.) Maybe the moustaches explain why there's still no kissing in Indian films (I'm led to believe)!

Infinite tolerance for high noise levels: e.g. on Madurai station a huge compressor was proceeding slowly along the platform, driving a high pressure jet cleaning the tracks. The noise was phenomenal, far worse than a pneumatic drill, and yet people went on sitting, no-one moved away or covered their ears. India is a good place to be deaf in! And yet it was me alone that felt I just had to shift!

And of course the traffic is a quintessential reflection of India's apparent chaos. Auto-rickshaw drivers typify this in the way they weave around and squeeze through minimal gaps. Turning right is accomplished by cutting across the junction at the earliest opportunity and then tacking, weaving and barging through the legal flow until "safely" back into the left hand lane.

Aggressive male transvestite beggars have a very different style, not supplicant at all, but clapping their hands loudly and poking people, or touching them on the head, in a demanding way: their dress may be feminine but their techniques aren't. 

Littering is utterly shameless. One man I saw did restrain himself from throwing a plastic bottle out of the train in a statio - he waited until we got out into the countryside before letting go. To me that was utterly illogical: at least the station get cleaned up periodically and some scavenger particularly target plastic bottles. (Later a Nepali explained to me that people get nicked for littering in stations - so the countryside gets the result.) Overall, littering is simply worse than before, what with the accumulation over time and the fact that more rubbish these days is non-biodegradable.

Money: the problem with having/getting enough change persists and you have to be ruthless in proffering the largest note you can get away with if you are to avoid being unable to pay the rickshaw driver the agreed amount - for he will never have change - or claim he hasn't. Ditto the man selling chai (Indian tea). A more recent problem is with coinage: issues of new coins have created several sizes for the 1 and 2 rupee coins, so that even shopkeepers have to examine the coins before accepting them or giving change. Not a country to be blind in  (although it has to be admitted that at least the notes are sequentially graded in size).

Laterite: ever since I was in Ghana on VSO I've known the value of laterite - soft in the ground but hardened on exposure to the elements, it makes good roads if you can't afford tarmac.  But what about laterite bricks? How have I missed the fact that here in South India they predominantly form the basic building block for smaller constructions - and some quite smart ones, too. Cheap, I guess, effective and, when no longer needed it can be crushed into road surfacing material.  It doesn't even need to be rendered - it can look quite smart - a russet-brown textured surface. It's a kind of tropical Thermalite block - but usually we would render Thermalite, wouldn't we?

No ticket inspectors!  This is different from before, I'm sure.  In 8 long trips, my ticket was not checked once. Hmmm! Of course, in reserved coaches one's ticket is a useful proof to other passengers of one's right to claim that particular seat. (Still, I'd like to be able to do a head-wobble while insisting. It would be the appropriate gesture!).  Train hawkers seem to do a poor trade - except for one: the chocolate bar kid - he was doing a roaring trade. (Invest more - sell more?)

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Well, there you have it - or bits of it! And  Mysore toe is nearly healed!  At 11.30 p.m. tonight it's a  taxi to the airport: take-off 4 a.m. Monday.

Landed safely at Heathrow. Temperature -2 C - a drop of 32 degrees!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hallo grumpy old grammarian uncle in India!

Am much enjoying your blog. My how India has changed. My how India hasn't changed.

Enjoy the rest of your trip, and try not to take my advice about buying yourself out of discomfort too frequently!

Best wishes


Sun Jan 13, 05:12:00 pm GMT  

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