Over the past three weeks we have been shocked and surprised and downright disgusted, but recently we have learnt that some of those things that are ridiculous about India, are also quite endearing. Those things, I will miss as we leave this place for our next destination, and then there are some things I will definitely not miss… Here are some things about India that I will never forget:
The song of the Chai Wallas as you walk past them on a street or in the corridor of a train, singing: Chai chai chai chai chai chai in a monotone, and then they stop and say it once more in a higher pitched question to make sure you didn’t miss out.
The Good Day “Rich Butter Cookies,” a staple snack for Westerners and Indians alike.
The colours of the clothes that the Indian women wear. No matter who it is, from young to old, they wear the brightest and most ornate saris and cloths…and they look beautiful in them, something I could not pull off without looking like a Christmas tree.
The animals, from cows to ponies to donkeys to camels to every kind of mutt you can think of, the animals rule the streets and they never cease to amaze me.
The way the Indian people set up camp in the railway stations and bus stations: they arrive, lay out some blankets, sit/lie down in the middle of the platform, pull out their food and drinks and settle in for the long wait…and there will be a long wait, no matter what time you arrive.
The endless stares from everybody, wherever we go, whatever we do, they stare. From the tiniest two-year-old to the oldest grandmother, men, women, they indignantly stare right into your eyes, and then turn around to have another look, as if you’re an animal in the zoo.
The way many people come up to us and ask for a photograph and then thrust a baby into your arms and say, “smile.” And its not over yet, then its one with the aunty and one with the uncle and one with the little children too.
The plea of the shopkeepers, “Looking is free, no buy, just come inside and look” and then once you step inside and look around (if you dare), they start to bargain, “only Rs100, how much you pay, Rs80, cheap price, no expensive.”
They way the people latch onto English words and use them endlessly. For example:
“German Bakery”: A place that sells croissants and cakes, of any kind.
“English Beer and Wine shop”: If you’re lucky it will sell beer, sometimes only whiskey, and never wine.
“Share Jeep”: Any type of SUV or just a car that you can buy a seat in to travel from one city to another, mostly in the mountains. Note, middle seats are pricier and if you want to have a back seat to yourself, you pay a premium.
How we are pushed aside and pushed in front of in any queue. Whether you’re at the bank, or the airport, don’t bother standing in a queue because some one will just walk in front of you and ignore you.
The way the officials have a system, that they probably don’t understand, but they do it anyway, because it has always been done that way. The worst part is that they won’t tell you what the process is, or why. They will just take your passport (and you later find out that they went to the next door shop to photocopy it), while you stand there mouth gaping, wondering if you should go after them or if they will ever give your passport back.
Lastly, but certainly not least, the one thing I will always remember about India are the smells. From the sweet, cinnamon smell of chai being brewed on the street; to the smell of incense wafting out of a roadside shrine; to the stench of sewerage water running down the gutter…India has the most complex mix of smells of any country I have visited before.
If you start to build a picture of India in your mind from these idiosyncrasies, then I hope that this makes you intrigued enough to visit the place one day. Although a tough place to visit, India has taught us so much about ourselves and the world, an experience we wouldn’t pass up for all the Chai in India
The past couple of days we have been on the move, getting ready for our next move to Thailand. We flew from New Delhi (out of a beautifully clean and sparkly airport) to Kolkata (a not so beautiful and not at all clean airport) and this morning we left Kolkata again to arrive in a pristine clean (well, compared to India anyway) Bangkok this evening. We were sad to leave India after all, but ready to experience a whole new culture in Thailand.