Wednesday, April 27, 2011
India Part I
I am trying to think of a way to properly write about my travels to India, from which I only just returned. The place is mad chaos. And I loved it.
I was sent to Mumbai by my company for 8 days. It was an intense trip. As I stepped out of the airport I was immediately hit by a wave of thick humidity and heat out of which I could barely breathe. Stray dogs scurried around, people dodged the careening taxis, it was dark, lit by dim, yellow halogens. I commented on my driver's cap, "I'm completely charmed....drivers don't wear caps anymore in the US." He laughed.
I've never seen a city so crowded, so dense, so utterly lived in. There is never a calm moment during the night or day. Millions of people out and about, doing something, even if it looks inane. I once saw a man hammering a sheet of metal with a large sledge hammer on the street. He was a small, scrawny individual; could barely lift the over-sized tool. And yet he would swing it over his head and come crashing down on the aluminum, over and over again. Occasionally he would turn it over, to expose a fresh space in the alloy to bang away at. Everything here can be done on the streets.
Goats everywhere. People own them, but sometimes it's hard to tell since the animals wander around the streets, loosely tethered, eating lettuce. Seems a good, lazy life. They are a future meal.
Driving around town is maddening. There is a hierarchy in place, similar to the caste system I suppose. Buses and trucks are on top of the chain, followed by cars, ceded by tuk-tuk's, trailed by motorcycles and ending with bicycles. Each vehicle cuts off the other, missing a head-on collision by mere inches. Horns blare constantly. There are different types of honks, that I think I could've translated had I stayed a few weeks more. But the beeping is pervasive, as if a part of the air.
The streets are filled with drama. I saw a man fly off his motorcycle, skid half a block down the street, get back up and re-mount, speeding away. A crazy-eyed old man threw a rock at our car and it slammed violently against the passenger door, thoroughly freaking us out. Beggar children would come and knock on the windows at traffic lights, "please sir, please sir, please sir." I could see entire families sleeping on the street, torn sheets barely covering their naked feet. Men get a shave on the sidewalk. One night I hopped into a tuk-tuk, asking the driver to take me to a restaurant that was only a few blocks away. Instead he drove up and down the crowded street in circles, laughing like a maniac. I jumped out of the moving vehicle for the relative safety of the sidewalk.
For the most part the people of India are very friendly. We would wave and smile at each other as I meandered down the crowded allies. They would ask me to take their picture, help me with directions, recommend their favorite place to grab a meal, and sometimes just approach me to shake my hand. Although the medieval looking streets and the sheer numbers of people felt intimidating at first, over time I felt quite comfortable and safe.
After a full week of adjusting to Mumbai's buzzing atmosphere, I was finally feeling more at home. I could discern true poverty from just the typical living standards. I could sense a motorcycle speeding my way before I could see it with my eyes, darting out of the way as if through premonition. I could see order in the chaos. That pile of trash isn't there randomly. The neighborhood has chosen that corner as their refuse deposit, for lack of garbage cans.
Sometimes I wished I could become invisible, so I could walk along these dense alley-ways unnoticed. See life without my presence known. On my last night I came about as close to my wish as possible. I walked along the beach at night with no moon in the sky. The people of India love walking the beaches after sunset, when the air is cooler, and the waters of the Arabian Sea froth about their feet. I was among my Indian brethren that night, in near blackness, enjoying the simple pleasures of life. They could not quite make out if I was a foreigner or not. I was a mere silhouette and felt more alive than ever. I walked down that beach happily; whistling a tune and feeling totally satisfied.