After quite a few rants about American politics, upcoming presidential election, the sad state of gender equality and women’s rights, and why I sometimes hate India, I think it is about time for a more upbeat positive post, and particularly a positive post about India. It is sometimes easier to get motivated to write about things that I think are wrong, that upset me, things that make me mad or that I don’t understand, because in a way, writing is a way for me to work through those things and process issues that are difficult. I think it is about time to get inspired about good things again, especially given the endless number of positive and beautiful things I have in my life and should be more thankful for. So, here it is – my take on what I most love and like about India so far. I am sure this list will expand as time passes on, since every day seems to bring some new experience or event into my life in this magical, weird, uncontrollable and fascinating country I am in, but I will start with these five things that I have come to love and enjoy during these past couple of months in India.
1. Crossing the street in a big crossing with traffic lights and more importantly – a pedestrian light
Okay, so. I am utterly fascinated by the traffic here, and it never ceases to amaze me. A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a crossing that is incredibly chaotic and hectic, even on the Indian scale. The place is called “Trinity Circle”, and it is basically a crossing where five big roads all come together into a crazy, tangled, horn-honking, swirl of traffic. While called “circle”, it really isn’t – but it does have traffic lights, and it does have a separate light for pedestrians, which in Bangalore (and in India, I presume) is still quite rare.
So, there I was, watching the chaos of the traffic with buses, trucks, rickshaws, vans, cars, motorcycles, and the regular cows all somehow moving around each other, barely avoiding collisions, when suddenly I hear an ear drum-breaking sound, like an ambulance or fire truck siren, right next to me. First, I can’t figure out for the life of me where it is coming from, until I notice something else that is happening – the mass of people that had slowly accumulated around me, also waiting for a moment to cross, had started to rush – and I mean, rush, as in RUN – across the wide road to the other side. Turns out, the “siren” basically equals green light for pedestrians – but the light is green for pedestrians for an approximate time of 10 seconds. It basically signals: “RUN, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, GET ACROSS NOW OR YOU NEVER WILL!” The thing is, that the army of cars, trucks, rickshaws, motorcycles, buses and other vehicles that now have the red light know that once the pedestrian siren howls, the next green light will be for them – and they usually prefer not to wait for their signal to actually turn green. As the siren screams and people start frantically rushing across, the traffic also starts to slowly – and then not so slowly – come towards the pedestrians. I understand now why the siren is as loud as it is – it is literally counting the breaths you have left, should you not make it to the other side in time. So far, I have – and every time, it is just as much fun. Who knew crossing the street could be such an adventure.
2. Pimped Auto-Rickshaws
Auto-rickshaws are one of the most common mode of transportation in this city. Available in abundance, and relatively cheap, they are a nice alternative between having your own car and using public transportation, i.e. buses, which can often stand in traffic for hours and get extremely crowded. I take an auto every day to work and back – and in my short time in India, have seen quite a few variations of autos that seemed to have participated in an episode of “Pimp my Rickshaw”.
There was one that had an IPod dock installed inside, which was pretty great. Even greater was the fact that the driver blasted Beyonce and 50 Cent the entire ride. Many of them have blinking lights, like Christmas lights, inside and outside – it’s almost like being in a mobile disco, especially if you would combine the lights and the IPod dock. Autos also have stickers of slogans or images on the outside, often of religious meaning such as a picture of Virgin Mary, a prayer or an image of a Hindu God – but at times, you will catch a gem like the one my husband recently spotted, which had an image of an Indian dude with amazing mustache and a joint the size of a cucumber, with the text: “Love is not life. Gaanjaa is best life.”
During religious holidays such as Dussehra which we just celebrated yesterday, autos are often decorated with flowers, paint, and – this is my favorite – branches of banana trees. These are often tied to both sides of the auto, which, in my opinion, makes it look like the auto rickshaw has bunny ears. I just love it. It also makes you feel like you’re in the jungle when you’re sitting in the auto, covered in leaves and flowers – or, just traveling in a really big flower pot. Either way, I like it.
3. Change is Not There – But Candy Is
Change, by which I mean small money, so basically anything below 500 rupee bill ($9.3), is in short supply in India. “Change is not there madam” is one of the most common sentences I hear on daily basis, for example when I try to give 100 rupees for an 80 rupee auto ride. This is of course also a convenient way for the driver to ensure a tip – but, the fact is, that very often change is just not there.
When this happens in stores or shops, change might not be there – but there is always candy, and candy is used to make up for the missing change! Let’s say I go to a small grocery store, and my purchases come to 185 rupees. I give the cashier 200 rupees. In stead of my change of 15 rupees (less than $0.30), the cashier will give me one, two or three small, wrapped candies – mints, fruity candies, toffee – to make up for the change! I find this amazing. Who doesn’t want to get candy instead of stupid little coins? I bet kids love to go to the store for their parents in India.
4. Colors, Colors and more Colors
They are everywhere. In beautiful sarees, salwar kameez suits, scarfs which are called dupattas, flowers in women’s hair, bangles that women and girls wear on their wrists, beautiful necklaces and earrings, and festival decorations that are made on the ground with colorful powders. Colors are in abundance in India, and I never get tired of the spectrum of vibrant, bright, beautiful shades of every color of the rainbow, and then some, that surround me every day. I am doing my best to fill my closet with as many different colors as I possibly can while here, since in Finland and in the US I easily fall into the shades of grey, black, white and brown. The use of colors in India is invigorating and energizing, and I honestly feel like I have much more energy too when I am dressed in bright red, yellow and purple, then when I am wrapped in dull and dark colors. This is something I hope to take with me when I leave India – a colorful closet and the balls to wear bright pink.. or fuchsia, at least.
Often, I do not share a common language with the people around me here. Many people I deal with on daily basis, such as auto drivers, shop keepers, etc. do not speak English well, or at times not at all. So far, this hasn’t stopped me from always getting to where I want to go, and always figuring out a way to get across what I need or what I am looking for. This is largely because in most cases, Indians are extremely helpful and willing to assist to the best of their ability, even if they do not speak a word of English and I do not speak a word of Hindi/Kannada/Tamil/whatever language they speak.
I would have to say that for every infuriating encounter I have had with Indians, there has been a positive experience, if not two. I have already met some wonderful, talented and passionate people here who I now consider friends and hope to keep in my life for years to come, and passing encounters with people like curious auto drivers who speak enough English to have a conversation about where I am from and what I am doing in India, or young women who sometimes just come up to me in stores or malls to ask about my background, always make me smile. I learn about them, and they learn about me – and while I am almost 100% sure nine out of ten Indians think I mean to say “England” when I respond the question of “where are you from” with “Finland”, even the smallest of cultural exchanges are useful and educational for me, and hopefully for them too – even if they do think I just made up a country, or just can’t pronounce “England” properly.
So, here is the first list of things I love about India so far. There are many more, but I will save those for another post – and I am sure I will keep finding new things to love and to miss, once it is time for me to leave. I do have one bonus thing to add to the list, though…
6. Your Good Name
That is how Indians ask you for your name. “What is your good name?” I LOVE IT. My good name, from what I have gathered, could be either just my first name, or my first name and last name – it basically refers to your given name, or your “auspicious name”, as opposed to, for example, a nick name. I usually just give my first name, but I absolutely love the fact that in India, my name is always good. My Good Name. Makes me smile every time.