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Indian homes exhibit immaculate cleanliness. Even the poorest home in the slum, will have its mud floor swept daily, saris regularly washed and out on a line, and teeth – everyone has  pristine glistening white ivories.  All, apart from those who sleep on the streets, are the epitome of clean loveliness, an advert for mr sheen or mr muscle or colin the surface cleaner (it is true –  there is a surface cleaner called colin with the tag line it cleans it shines – hmm).

 

However, take a family portrait of one of these, lovely shiny, families out on the street and you would be hard pressed to find a backdrop that does not consist of a huge pile of rubbish and general crap.

 

No public space seems safe from this onslaught of household waste, festooned with its mandatory dogs, pigs, goats and the lowest caste bird, the crow. Children too vie for a piece of this culturally accepted domestic fly tipping…

 

Anthropologists put this down to the historical effect of the brahmins, the highest amongst the caste order. Brahmins can only be pure because the dalit, lowest order of caste, is polluted. A pure body is not to come in contact with impure substances; the pure avoid impure foods and impure people. In the West much effort is expended in masking the dirty inside, however in India it is directed to shifting the dirt outside. *

 

It is interesting to note  that the largest set of prohibitions in interactions between castes  have to do with food, and the first thing any caste trying to raise its status does it to publicly announce its uping the game in its food habits. *

 

Getting the crap out of the body is of such high importance to the Indians, nowhere else has such high sales in tongue scrapers,  small devices for removing the furry bit off the tongue. Every day I am awoken to the morning chorus of phlem being hacked up and expelled from the body by my many neighbours. Rickshaws have stickers proclaiming “Do not spit, it spreads TB” and yet spitting is commonplace.

 

The general ethos is: Get this crap out of my body and onto the street where it belongs. Shift this crap out of my house, it does not matter where, as long as it isn’t in my house and is not polluting me with its impurity.

 

 

·          Ref page 35, The Indians, a portrait of a people by Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar

 

Note: Caste is not what it used to be in the good old days of the Raj, where the British Empire were laughing because it had a work force in place to do every possible job and nobody moaned because it was their place in life to do every possible job. But it still lingers in more subtle ways. I am sure I will find plenty of examples to question as this trip continues.

 

Remember “Use Colin, it cleans, it shines, it gets the crap  out of your house and raises your social pecking order”.

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Indians find it difficult to say a frank ‘No’ to requests they are unable or unwilling to grant.  *

 

This is a phenomenon that I have encountered many a time on my travels in the sub continent. It most commonly arises when I am asking for bus times. A typical conversation will go something like.

 

“Excuse me, what time does the bus leave for such and such”

“Oh that will be 8.30” with a certain amount of head wagging.

 

Not convinced I ask somebody else.

 

“Excuse me, what time does the bus leave for such and such”

“Oh that will be 7.30” with a certain amount of head wagging.

 

Still not convinced.

 

“Excuse me, what time does the bus leave for such and such”

“Oh you have missed the last bus, there it goes now” with a certain amount of head wagging.

 

Ok, so maybe I should learn the language, then I could read a timetable, a fair cop. But if you don’t know, tell me, it is far more productive than just pulling a random figure out of the air.

 

The other thing that amuses me is that you will get the direct answer to the question that was asked. For instance, if I say “Is there an ATM down here” and indicate down the road. I will receive the answer “Oh yes” with more indicating down the road.

 

Anyway, 2 miles of blistering heat later, I come across the sodding ATM, only find that it has run out of rupees. Walking back the way I have come I discover that there is an ATM literally yards away from where I initially asked, in the other direction. But that is not what I asked. I indicated the direction and everything why on earth would I expect somebody to counter my request and say “Oh no, that one is 2 miles away, it is near a casino and always runs out of rupees, why not use that one just over there”.

 

The expression “Be careful what you ask for, because you just may get it” comes to mind.

 

It appears that these phenomenon exist because of the cultural obstacles in giving or receiving negative feedback. The preservation of relationships being the primary principle governing the actions within an interpersonal situation.

 

It all comes down to saving face by not admitting ignorance and does not introduce any negative vibes in the fleeting relationship that just happened.

 

I actually love this phenomenon. It is so much more fun than saying “I have no idea what you are talking about” or “I haven’t got a clue” – just make something up, complete random drivel – brilliant.

 

Colin Laidlaw doctorate in Astro Physics here I come.

 

 

·          Ref page 19, The Indians, a portrait of a people by Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar

 

 

With a tag line like that I am sure I could do copy for the Sun newspaper.

 

The rain has not stopped now for 5 days running. The roads are flooding and everyone has left the office early before the tide turns. The rain goes between a light shower and heavy downpour with little reprieve in between.

 

Strange, skinny, worms are sneaking under my hotel room’s door and creep across the tiled floor, in the way that worms on a mission to survive do, only to be found in the morning as dried up husks of a worm. I have to question whether to shoo them outside or flush them down the toilet. Either way death awaits these least noble, but necessary, creatures. I prefer to allow their fate to be dictated my their desire to survive and the shooing seems a far more apt approach.

 

Mosquitoes on the other hand, well any Buddhist inkling goes out the window. These blood suckers flourish in this weather and were born to die. Unfortunately, they are not of the sluggish, hang around on the walls, variety here. Once you spot them, they have vanished. Where do they go? I envisage a nightclub for mosquitoes, where Laura Ashley is the fashion and blood of Laidlaw is the Red Bull and vodka of choice.

 

I saw a snail the size of house, well a large snail’s house anyway. The thing could fill your hand. I also saw a dog chasing a huge centipede.

 

The rains bring out all sorts of creatures. I wonder how many people are injured from slipping up on worms or tripping over snails. How many dogs receive a nasty sting on their nose and how many toes are stubbed chasing that illusive mosquito.

 

Please do not allow me to be reincarnated as a mosquito……..floral dresses are not my thing……

 

Will the rains ever stop?

This sign sums up why I love India.
This sign sums up why I love India.

 

 

Commuting in Bombay is hardcore. London during rush hour has nothing on this. Firstly, to get on the train you realize why God invented elbows. There is no consideration for people getting off the train, it is every man for themselves. I say every man, because women get their own carriage, and I imagine it is the same process for them. I say carriage, but what I really mean is a sweaty, stinking, human, cattle wagon.

 

So once on, and you are comfortably crammed and jostled against your sweaty fellow man, the only thing you can think about is who is rifling your pockets at that very moment. Lets face it they are all blagards and scallywags your bigoted colonial gene cries out.

 

The lucky commuters hang out the door and take in the air, which is a pulsating sine wave between urine, vomit, excrement and dead dog. The railway line is home to thousands and the tracks – well if you didn’t have a toilet where would you go.

 

So then there is the issue of getting off. This requires more planning than D day. At least 3 stops before your stop you need to be making your way towards daylight. However, you must contend with the people that, cunningly, have the same idea as you. Furthermore, you must also contend with elbow wielding people that believe it is their god given right to get on the train.

 

Often, at particularly popular stops, a mini riot breaks out as the masses ejaculate onto the platform like the sperm from a Blue Whale. I saw one guy with henna died hair (A topic within itself), repeatedly striking a fellow passenger because he dare be in his way, before marching off towards the proverbial Blue Whale egg.

 

Beware the masses, for when they act as one, they loose the rational thought of the individual. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free yoga in the meditation room the sign purported. Ok, so I do a bit a Yoga, a bit of Ashtanga a bit of Hatha, a bit of this could not hurt. The meditation room was in fact a room in a nursery, it’s walls adorned with poorly painted effigies of Mickey and Minnie Mouse and at one end of the room  a shrine covered in boxes of cakes and the effigy of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi. A tad more spiritual than her American counterparts or so I am led to believe. Shri Mataji is the guru for Sahaja yoga meditation. The clientèle, a bunch of guys in their 70s, a smattering of house wives and this lanky white guy, yours truly. Hmm, I should have got out then, but heh it was free. However, I could not see much of what I call yoga happening in this crammed space.

 

So after a brief introduction I am placed on the concrete floor and sit through an hour and half of chanting, odd hand movements and a poor tape recording of Shri Mataji herself, complete with background traffic noise. Now meditation has never been my strong point, and my mind begins to wander. Have they cleared copyright on Mickey Mouse, is it safe for my leg to go to sleep for this long without gaining deep vain thrombosis, can the anus really get pins and needles, what are the cakes doing there. I am then prodded by one of the old guys, because my hand posture isn’t right.

 

After this agonizing torment we carry out a ritual of rubbing left and right hands above our heads and are asked if we feel hot or cold emanating from our foreheads. And I tell you what, my right hand felt warmth and my left felt cold. Spooky, have I just experienced some spiritual awakening or was it the location of the fan behind me. We are then told to focus on the effigy of Shri Mataji and our minds will clear. And again for the briefest of moments I feel it, for the briefest second my mind is not fixated on the cakes.

 

We then carry out some more chanting and the cakes are distributed. A collection of nut things, marzipan and sugary string. If I come again, I will bring a lovely Battenberg or some of Mr Kipling’s finest selection that I so used to enjoy on Sunday evenings in front of the Antiques Road Show.

 

A lovely bunch of people, with a good selection of sweet products, but i don’t think Sahaja yoga meditation is for me. I read once that the purpose of doing yoga is to gain the ability to remain in the same position for a long time. Well I love yoga, but my butt is just too bony for sitting still for an hour and half. on a concrete floor. 

 

It has entered my mind to take the opportunity to try any spiritual session, with whichever guru there is. I am not really fussy which guru, any will do.  As long as I bring a pillow and they provide cake.

 

www.sahajayoga.org if you like cake.

 

 

That heat thing, now that bugs me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It interests me to hear that many of the street kids that beg at railway stations do not want to be helped. They have become so ingrained into the life on the street or platforms. They have freedom and independence away from adults – this has become their home, this is what they know. Why would they want anything more?

 

Unfortunately though, if every morning you were to be poked in the eye, the only time that you know that something is wrong is when the poking stops.

 

Many of these kids have been sexually abused, bullied, robbed, raped and sold as prostitutes or as human traffic. They beg or steal to put food in their mouths and survive. But more often than not they are feeding the greed of their parents or beggar masters. Their esteem has been reduced to such a low level that many change their names, sniff glue or any other easily available substance. They partake in anything so that they do not need to address where they are at. HIV and Aids runs rife, and remember this is children that we are talking about.

 

They get here, by running away from something, a father that beats or abuses them. Or they get here by running to something, the lure of Bollywood – bright lights big city. What is certain is that kids are designed to be kids. They are not mini adults. They need to grow up in an environment where they are protected and allowed to understand the emotions that make up the human psyche. If this doesn’t happen then the emotions become mis placed and and the easiest way of dealing with this is to go under the haze of a self induced high.

 

I am here for 3 months helping this charity: www.therailwaychildren.org.uk

 

Mumbai 17.07.09

 

At first sight Mumbai, or Bombay as most of my, Indian generation prefer to call it, is a city full of dirt and filth. Its air thick with pollution from the gridlocked roads, piles of stagnant rubbish, fish, and an overflowing sewage system. The humidity is suitably graded to open the pores and ensure as much of this filth enters the body as is possible. Breathing is not good enough to ensure you have a healthy dose of your fellow, 20 million, compatriots.

 

On a second look though, Bombay, Mumbai to the younger generation, truly is a city full of dirt and filth. Its air thick with pollution from the gridlocked roads, piles of stagnant rubbish, fish, and an overflowing sewage system. However, all this shit comes from somewhere and it is this 20 million people and there extremities of existence that gives Bombay its character.

 

Because of its massive population, Bombay’s accommodation is terribly overpriced and of a suitably low standard. Four story apartment blocks, be speckled from concrete fatigue and a mold that is indigenous to concrete buildings be speckled with concrete fatigue, adorn the middle class suburbs and resemble something from a film where all humanity has died and the wildlife is re gaining its ground. A film, probably starring Charlton Heston, if Charlton Heston could star in any more apocalyptic visions of humanity.

 

If you are not lucky enough to live here, then it is the slums for you. Shanty towns, or zopadpatti, made out of the flotsam and jetsam of modern human existence. A thousand rupees a month rents you a pile of rusting corrugation and frayed tarpaulin with no water, electricity or sanitation. And they are the lucky ones, for the rest it is the street. A piece of  cardboard is your home. This is not like London or any other Metropolitan city where homelessness is seen as something that happens to the unfortunate few. This is homelessness on a grand scale and is a way of life for many of the workers within the city. The chances are, are that the man that is serving you your plate of dhal, roti, thalis or Domino Pizza spent the night huddled in a doorway on that very same pizza box. It is life here, pure and simple.

 

I guess this is the point whereby I am supposed to say something like: I will never complain again about the aircon being too cold, or that there was a pubic hair in the shower, or there was a smidging too much salt in the soup. But I will, why lie to myself for my own brief sense  of altruistic empathy. My god that would make me feel at one with humanity for about 20 seconds, 20 seconds before I go into a hotel and complain about the soup being too cold, too much salt in the shower and a pubic hair in the aircon.

 

It doesn’t matter who we are or where we are at, we just can’t accept that things could possibly be ok.

 

How dare somebody else have the audacity to infiltrate my concept of a good social standing by shedding a hair from their nether regions, while rigorously washing with inferior soap and the management just turned a blind eye. God forbid!! 

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