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Archive for the ‘My India’ Category

I woke up twice last night, it was raining that heavily.

With a month delay, winning once again against global warming, the monsoon is back in town. Exotic, wonderful. And discomforting.

When I woke up this morning, late because of the dark sky outside, it was raining inside my bathroom too. The ceiling failed once again.

It happened last year as well, and although I paid for it to be fixed, six months ago, I wasn’t really expecting the ceiling were going to make it through the monsoon. It’s one of the first things I learned here: you must try to get things fixed – because you must – but you also must not expect that they will be – fixed.

A year ago the first sight of a ceiling shower in my bathroom caused me a mix of distress, anger, sense of impotence and a tiny bit of incredulous amusement.

Today I emptied the bathroom, locked the door, and almost seamlessly proceeded to my morning tea routine.

Roads in Delhi become rivers after fifteen minutes of regular rain. Monsoon showers are just too much for the city’s poor drainage system.

For days, after the rain you’ll see papers, chairs, tables, computers covered in mud and water emerging from flooded basements, carried in the sun by people who don’t really hope to save anything, but are simply following the rule: you must try to get things fixed, because you must, but you also must not expect that they will be – fixed.

In my block. It took three days to empty the basement.

Drenched paper always breaks my heart

Walking out of your home is out of question. Well, unless someone you know and trust talks you into a walk in the rain in shorts and slippers, but that is a whole different story (and one whose memory will have the power to disgust you for years to come).

Anyway today was no day for adventures, nor for auto-rickshaw rides. So I called the taxi stand to learn that “Today is very jam day, sorry”.

No taxis. Again, what would have made me angry and restless a few moths ago didn’t really hit me much. I hung out in my living room, enjoying the unusual fresh air that was coming in from the balcony.

When I finally – not too long later – got into a cab,  it wasn’t for a smooth ride. Traffic was blocked. Broken cars would jam the roads.

Broken, yes. Cars, even expensive imported German cars, break here, when it rains. That is a mystery I will never be able to solve, and a reality I will never believe.

Slowly, I made it to the office. Past pools of mud and rain in which half naked children were -my goodness- playing. Past goats, and cows and calves (cows always seem to multiply, during the monsoon). Past the stray dogs. Past crowds of people seeking shelter under bus stops. And past all the street people that were, instead, just staying there, under the rain that no longer that heavy. Getting wet. With their polyester pants. And their polyester bright saaris.

My drive was like a slow-motion tour of the chaos. Dreadful but somewhat wonderful.

It made me remember something I was told about India, way before I moved here: “There’s so much life, there. So much. Most of times, there isn’t much more than that – a lot of life. And it’s beautiful”.

And it is – beautiful. In the only way I have ever experienced in which beautiful has nothing – nothing at all – to do with pretty.

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Picture by someone else

Picture by someone else

I was in Ladakh a few weeks ago. It’s the most incredible place I have ever seen in my life. I reached it by jeep from Manali, driving over the highest (and scariest) motorable road in the world. My car crossed streams on the edge of the mountains, climbed up above 5000 meters and jumped and bumped on roads that you can’t really call such, while the landscape around became progressively deserted. Ladakh is a high altitude desert.

At a point my car drove up and up along the side of a mountain, and when it reached the peak I was naturally expecting a descent. Instead, it was like the entire valley had come up: on the other side of the peak there was a huge flat desert, and while the altitude sickness made my head lighter, I felt like I was on the moon, for I had never imagined a place like that could exist on Planet Earth.

This just to give you a vague idea.

Anyway, while in Ladakh I visited the Nubra Valley, which is a desert. Above 3000 meters. A real desert, with sand dunes.

On that desert it rained, while I was there. I saw one rainbow, two rainbows, two rainbows and a half. It felt unreal, as if something – someone – was looking over my life and nodding at the perfection of that very moment.

But back to the real desert. There are real camels there, too. Bactrians not dromedaries, silk road leftovers with two humps, a furry head and a funky smell. They hang out in a group, right at the beginning of the sand dunes, and wait for tourist to go ride them.

Funny animals, those camels. Lazy. When they’re not carrying anyone they lay down and roll on the ground until, with their belly up, they release the biggest farts. Loud, hilarious camel farts.

It’s funny and almost cute (if you can say cute of something that involves a fart). A group of camels lazying about, chewing on grass, rolling around. Some twenty camels, small, big, and very big.

Twenty camels, and a donkey.

A donkey, yes. He hangs out with the camels, shares the slow life of the group, only he doesn’t carry tourists around because they don’t find it interesting enough (their bad, I say, because donkeys are very cute creatures, with those eyes).

And – this is the story I heard – he believes he’s a camel. Same laziness, same rolling around, (almost) same farts. The camel owners don’t seem bothered by the stranger: if the donkey feels like a camel, he has the right to live as one.

This reminded me of a similar story, which is the first funny Indian story I heard when I moved here.

As everyone knows, there’s no better place in the world than India, if you’re a cow. You’re respected, somewhat worshiped, and people really do take care of you. So much that there is a thing called Gaushala, which is a home for “retired” cows, that are old and no longer make milk.

One of this Gaushala is right outside Delhi, and I had just landed in India when a friend told me about it. I must say the thought of a shelter exclusively for cows amused me quite a bit back then, whereas now it feels like another of those Indian things that are just normal, even if maybe they aren’t.

Anyway, I asked whether the shelter seriously only admitted cows. My friend confirmed that yes, only cows were allowed. Well, with one exception.

In the shelter, together with all those cows, lived a deer. Just one.

Because the deer believed he’s a cow.

And the people at the shelter respected that. If you feel like you’re cow you should be free to behave like a cow, live with cows, and be treated like a cow even if you don’t look like one.

It’s not bad, is it, for a conservative country?

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Slippers in Delhi

Black, cheap, dusty summer footwear. In this city, it has a life of its own.

I see a slipper, alone in the middle of the busy street. It’s melted by the sun and flattened by hundreds of cars, bikes, autos, cows, eventually elephants running over it.

And I see a slipper, alone, hanging from auto-rickshaws or trucks’ bumpers. A lace around its tip, it swings back and forth, it jumps up and down, exhausted and weak in the noisy traffic.

I wonder. Are they two heart-broken half-apples? Did they use to match, were they walking side by side, until one disappeared, leaving a naked foot and an inconsolable partner behind? Which destiny happened first, if ever the two were connected, the hanged’s or the run-over’s?

Look in the middle of the road, for a wandering slipper. And under the bumper of the truck you’re stuck behind, for a hanging one. A trivial Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare’s feet will never care about.

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Behind this.

The India Tube

The India Tube

Part magazine, part community, part media gallery, The India Tube is a space for everything that’s incredible about India. With its daily updates, it’s the directory for the inspiring and the unbelievable, the cutting edge and the bizarre. We have new stories and pictures every day, go check it out!

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Z for /zɛd/

India, English is British English.

Colour. Analyse. Fulfil. Centre. Catalogue. Mediaeval. Cheque. Licence. Judgement. Excelling. Pyjamas. Spoilt. Aubergines.

It’s not weird, it’s refreshing. For 1.2 billion people, American spelling, and words, and -in the end- language count nothing. And the language has a nice vintage and classy feel. Just like vests. Or polo. Or a gentleman (he’s not a man, nor a guy).

British English – of fifty years ago- just makes people sound nice, and polite. Just like /zɛd/ sounds so much better than /ziː/. It’s more proper, in a way.

Of course, the truth behind this /zɛd/thing is that I have nothing to say about Z.

Z for nothing. No ending. No closure. Call it imperfection. I call it potential.

It took me almost one year, and the whole alphabet, to walk my way to a scary, wonderful love for India.  A love that’s lucid and fool at the same time.

I should have known better. Yet here I am, thinking this place is just beautiful, in a way that has nothing to do with pretty.

And I am glad, oh so glad, that there’s no Z. That my India is still open ended.

Just like this:

A to Y. Why?

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Y for the five Y

I wish I had something interesting to say about the Y. I really wish, and I say it with all the guilt of a western girl in India who is too lazy to do Yoga for more than a couple of weeks in a row. Give me one more year, and I might provide a serious Y for Yoga for the pleasure f all of you, my friends who come here and to go A for Ashram-ing.

Meanwhile, I’ll dedicate this post to something that any tourist knows very well. But something that never ceases to amaze me, and I will never stop to find irresistibly cute.

As journalism has the five 5, India has -at least- five Y. They are questions that your daily life must answer to make any sense.

1. Yes madam/sir? – Yes is not an answer. It’s a question. This question: “How can I sell you something you don’t want nor need and possibly ask you for twice the right price?” (Actually, despite what I said a few lines above, this question isn’t cute, nor amazing. Just annoying, but in a funny sort of way).

2. You from? or, extended version, You from which country? –  Any answer will lead to a smile and an appreciative “Oooh”, followed by a repetition of the name of your country. If you come from Italy, as I do, most time the “Ooooh” will  be followed by a “Sonia Gandhi also”.

3. Your good name? – No, this question doesn’t mean: choose the good one of all the names you have. And it is not an advanced compliment to your name. Good name just means name, and if someone knows where this expression comes from, I’d be happy to know.

4. You are husband/wife? – The question is not if you are a husband or a wife, it’s if you have one. Needless to say, the right answer is “Yes”. But feel free to be as honest as you want.

5. You’re having how many children? – Pretty straightforward, but the question doesn’t refer to future offspring. It’s about how many children you have. At the moment. And again, it’s up to you how honest you want to be.

So prepare answers for question 2 to 5, and a lot of patience to deal with question number 1 and you’ll be set to have many interesting conversations. Of course, the interesting part comes when you ask the questions back: the interviewer is most of the times much more interesting than yourself. No offence, it might just be exhotic charme.

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Maintaining security in a country of over a billion people is obviously no piece of cake. And the way India deals with it reflects two of the strongest forces in this country: boureaucracy and individualism.

I’ll begin with individualism, which here is much different from our western faber-est-quisque. It is not about concentrating all the energies on yourself to achieve some goal, it’s about taking the uttermost care of your family, your friends, your stuff without paying any attention to whoever and whatever is out of your own business.

I am not talking about egoism, but of a very complicate balance of love and egoism, that Indians master to perfection. Because, actually, Indians love to love. So they will ignore you, try and get your place in a line, scam you in a shop and so on, if they don’t know you. No courtesy rule applies. But if they make a minimal connection with you, if they get to know your “good name”, then you become, right away, their good friend.  And they would be ready to starve themselves to make sure you get a proper meal. It’s a paradoxical, but I guess it’s the result of the struggle for survival amongst millions.

The way this applies to security is: everyone thinks for himself. Roads are insane, checking in train stations are almost nonexistent, because they technically belong to none. But in front of every mall, theater, hotel there is a metal detector, a few (unarmed) security guards, and sometimes a x-ray machine. Do you want to bring your helmet inside a cinema? Forget that. Keeping your laptop case with you in the supermarket? No way. Sorry sir, sorry madam, it’s the rule.

Of course there is a metal detector at the entrance of every market. But it doesn’t really work. Because the market, really, belongs to none. But, inside that same market, most of the stores will ask you to deposit your shopping bags at the entrance, ad after a purchase you will get up to three receipts: one for yourself, one for the guy who hands you the purchases, and one for the security guard at the exit.

Try and enter the airport without a printed copy of your ticket. Just try. Tell the guard at the entrance everything about paper waste, and confirmation numbers, and passengers lists. Seriously, try. If you’re lucky, the guard will go through the passengers lists of all the flights taking off from the airport, and you can just hope that he will find your name, and that it will be correctly spelled. It might take a while. You might miss your flight.

Now, this request for printed stuff leads to point number two: bureaucracy. No, it deserves a capital, Bureaucracy. From getting a simcard replaced to making a wire transfer from your bank account, everything requires an insane amount of paperwork. In at least three copies. Passport pictures are needed continuously in the most improbable situations, and in multiple copies. Just venture inside any government building: you’ll find rooms, walls, columns of papers.

To give an example, if you loose your phone and want your number back, you need to present a police report. You lost it abroad? No problem, just present an Indian Police report. But you lost it abroad, what has Indian Police to do with it? No problem, go to the police station. Ask for a report. Then come back. With passport. And passport pictures. Multiple.

Another example. The way wire transfers work in most of the countries is: you enter your online bank account, and make the transfer. Sometimes, you need to confirm the transaction online.

Here, you fill four forms. In three copies: one for you, one for the bank, the other for who-knows-who. They will ask you to write the same information (stuff such as account number, reason of the transfer) up to four times. Then, a smiling clerk will hand you a list. A list of documents you have to provide to make the transfer: three salary slips, a letter in which you write that you can support yourself without the money you are transferring out, and a letter from your company saying you work for them and make this much every month. Try and tell them you already deposited the same letter, and the contract, when you opened the account. No, really try. Maybe I’m just being unlucky, here.

Once I asked where all that paperwork goes, when it leaves the bank. Because it obviously can’t fit in the branch. Answer? They end up in a town, not too far away, which is full of warehouse, existing with the only purpose of containing paperwork. A whole town. It sounds so surreal that, of course, I fully expect it to be true.

Can you imagine that place? Something inside me really wants to see it. And something else is just terryfied by the very thought of it. And, I would say, rightfully so.

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