Archive for September, 2008

Q for Qwality

As everywhere in the world, most of items in India come in different prizes and quality, or to say it local, qwality.
With the exception that there is no “low qwality” here. There is not even “normal qwality”. Qwality, in local small shops, comes only in three types: “best qwality”, “very best qwality”, and “special qwality”.

Try and complain because you think something is expensive:
“Madam this is best qwality”.

Try and ask for something cheaper:
“Madam I have only best qwality”.

Try and tell the guy that the “best qwality” stuff doesn’t look that “best”:
“Okke madam I give you very best qwality. One minute.”

They will ask you to seat, they will offer chai, they will say it will just take a minute -it never does- someone will run out and come back after way too long with something that is not what you are looking for and then try and tell them the “very best” doesn’t even look “best”.
“Okke okke madam, just come”.

That is when you will have to follow one of the guys that hangs out apparently aimlessly in the shop. He will bring you to some other small shop, talk to someone there, then you will be shown something that is obviously not at all what you had in mind, and it is actually so far from it that it’s even funn. Now try and tell this other guy this really doesn’t look so “special”.

He will definitely show some incredible aspects of the product you would have never thought of, and he would sometimes even convince you that, in the end, that is not too far from what you need, really, that if it doesn’t look good it’ll at least do the work – for a very short time, you know that, because hardly any of these qwality items lasts for a decent time -.

He will almost convince you, but try and be tough and tell him that no, you are sorry, that’s not what you want.
“Okke madam I make you good price”.
“No, really, I don’ need it”.
“How much you pay?”.
“Nothing, really, I don’t want it.”
“Come one, hundred rupees”.
“What?!? No thank you”.
“Madam I am giving special qwality. This very costly”.
“Fifty? No…”
“Ok, nevermind, bye”
“Sixty, sixty”
“No no”
“Ok, fifty, take it” (Laughing, because they find it most amusing when a white person tries the bargaining game)

And this is how you end up full of special qwality things. After all one comes to India looking for experiences, right?


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P for Party

I am not a party person, but Indian parties are something else. They are not big, they are huge; they are not frequent, they are constant. People here know how to party since they come to life, they enjoy doing it, and they are better than anyone else anywhere else at it.

I have been at small get-togethers with DJ, I have danced until morning under the disco lights of a let’s-just-have-a-party party, I have brought small flowers bouquets to birthday parties that were much, much bigger than most weddings where I come from.

And in case you are wondering if I have been to one of those famous Indian wedding the answer is no: despite that being my second highest goal, right after being a bit player in a Bollywood movie, it still remains unattended (as does the first goal, for that matter).

But back to the party. About a month ago I went to a birthday party, and around me there were the usual one-hundred/one-hundred-fifty Indians. And there, while I was dancing Om-Shanti-Om soundtrack, in the south end of Delhi, I meet this big guy from Naples, who dances like a crazy.

We talk for a bit, both happy to be able to speak our language, he asks me why am I here, and I return the question. To which he gives the most amazing answer: “You knows,I just was curious to see how was it, the overseas”. He said it like that (in Italian, but it sounds the same), as if The Overseas were just one big foreigner thing spread outside Italy, or maybe simply outside Naples.

“Definitely”, I remarked, “this is quite an overseas”.

We went back dancing, but later, while sipping a precious imported wine, I went back to the topic, amazed by his idea of the outside to explore. “So do you like it, I asked, this overseas?”. The fat guy from Naples smailed: “Of course! Look at this party!”. He put down his empty glass and walked towards the dance floor.

“Of course”, I thought, going back dancing myself, “such parties in the Overseas”.

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O for Orthography

India is the land of writing. Indians love the writing. Partially because they love papers, and they love love love bureaucracy, they will always ask you to fill forms, write commentaries and suggestions, leave a note the guest book. But it goes much beyond that: a urge of communication affects any kind of people, from rickshaw wallahs to bus drivers, from small shops owners to employees.

And, to my personal immense delight, that communication need expresses itself through words. Whoever can write, writes. In Hindi, Bengali, Arabic, in all the amazing-looking dozens of languages this country hosts.

Plus one, why not?, English.

Now let’s calculate properly: the love for the writing equals words and sentences everywhere, spread over the walls, the back of the trucks, the sides of the cars, the least probable spots; the urge of communicating equals expression of pure Indian feelings, smart thoughts, mind-blowing ideas – at least for those who have them -; and English, well English in most cases equals the final twist, aka misspelling.

Sum it all up together, you will get one of the most entertaining and amusing features of this bizarre place. India talks to you though the writing, and it says amusing things. Restaurants will promise “very decent food”, shops will sell “best qwality only”, a fast taxi will say, on the side “it bowls you off”, the metro signs will warn you “please do not befriend any unknown person”.

And the back of the rickshaw that’s overtaking yours will state romantic, right when you needed to smile, that “love is sweet poisson“.

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N for Nature

I am not a Nature person. I get bored outside cities, I wouldn’t go on a desert island no matter how nice the sea is, I intensely dislike trekking. Nature normally doesn’t impress me.

It does, though, here.

Not as much in the big things (the Himalaya, the desert, the forest), but in the small. Nature here is something you really have to deal with in your daily life, something that takes you to compromises. Under the shape of monsoon rains or of ridiculous heat, it shapes your daily activities: the heat is hotter here, the rain is just more wet. Nature is in the dust you fight in your living room and the giant ants (and by giant, believe me, I mean giant) that are invading your floor. Nature is in the hundreds street dogs barking at nights, in the cows giving milk to her little calf in the middle of the traffic, in the bores (yes, bores) that sometimes hang on certain siewalks of Delhi.

And nature is in the fun exotic quality of so many things. I buy fruit and vegetables that I have never seen before and I have to search on wikipedia to know how to eat them (see okra and custard-apple). I see parrots flying over my head and peacocks, even, in the city. Monkeys are everywhere. Sometimes I meet elephant on main roads and camels. I am surrounded by absolutely unknown plants and trees. Here, palms grow even on high hills. I saw them.

And sure, this has interest for me because it’s new, unusual, funny. But beyond that, it’s just more intense: nature tries harder here to win its battle against civilization. Despite the pollution, the traffic, the development: nature still has a voice here, as loud as the cowing crows that draw circles in the sky over the capital city.

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