Monday, August 13, 2012

Observations of India (so far...)

For those of you who are from India or who have visited India, this may trigger some memories... But for those of you who have not visited this country yet, here are some observations that may entertain you.

Mobile GPS
I don't mean an app on your smart phone, or an in-car system- I mean every rickshaw (three-wheeled doorless taxi) driver you can flag down. After being here about a week, I've grown accustomed to being in a car and having the driver (in each scenario, a resident of the state) pull over and ask a random rickshaw driver for directions. There is no shame in this and no one minds- it is entirely acceptable and assumed. The drivers welcome the question and many times, his passengers (if any) will try and help. An overall theme of community help has become more than obvious.

Traffic As Usual
Imagine any major intersection in the US around rush-hour, then add a few more types of vehicles (rickshaws, trucks, carts, motorcycles, bicycles) and a few stray animals (dogs, cows, donkeys). Now take away the traffic lights, and any sense of discretion associated with them. Congratulations, you just imagined an intersection in Ahmedabad. It is madness- plain and simple. A honk is not cautionary as much as it is just to ensure everyone knows you're present. Given all this madness, I still haven't seen any accidents. Somehow, there is comfort in the madness and everyone is attuned to it's presence.

Sari Shops
I went to buy a few simple kurta tops for the program (see example here) and was reminded of the joy and humor of sari shopping in India. Generally sari's are sold by men and the whole scenario turns into a show. The shop is floored with mattresses covered in white bedsheets and walled ceiling to floor with shelves of sari fabric folded and sealed in a clear plastic slip. Shoppers (and their family or friends who have come to help them) sit on the floor, cross-legged, and the owner or workers (either way- a man) show different fabrics. The humor comes through the salesmen's tactic to sell the fabric- he drapes it upon himself as it would look on you. To add the humor, as soon as you say you don't like it or want something just a little different, he throws the fabric at a coworker who folds the fabric immediately to be restocked. This process repeats itself more than 5 times within the first 5 minutes you're there. It's all done in good fun and an entirely normal process. In either case, I highly recommended sari-shopping as a to-do for anyone coming to visit India for the first time- quite a fun, lively experience.

Bollywood Music Videos
Mom and I went to dinner with family in Anand (the town my father's family is from- also in Gujarat and about 65 km southeast from Ahmedabad) and just as you may have seen in Indian restaurants in the states, the TV's showed music videos from popular Bollywood films. This may be a little naive but, I'm still shocked whenever I see the costumes worn on the music videos. It's crazy to see the women dancing around in skimpy outfits, similar to hip-hop videos, and the focus of the video being on the movement of their bodies. Obviously, sex sells, but it's just such a stark difference to the conservative apparel and interactions seen everywhere else in the country.

A longer than usual entry, but some fun/interesting observations I've seen thus far.

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