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India: First Impressions


”You are just going so that you can avoid responsibility. If you want to go to a third world country, why not move back to Kenya?”

I had plenty of time to reflect on these sentiments during my long, long journey  to Chandigarh. And ask myself, why, as my friends were applying for jobs, I was hustling another traineeship. In India.

My well had been poisoned.

Once I got to New Delhi, India hit me so hard I had no more time for self doubt and emo angst. I was soon relieved of a good part of my stupid tourist money, and instantly began to pay more attention to my surroundings and less to  my existential questions.

It’s been four days or so and I think I can make my first list of wildly judgemental and probably inaccurate observations about this  my new home:

1. Traffic rules are for tools: Everyone knows that driving in this country is sheer madness. What they don’t tell you is that road anarchy is a way of life. A philosophy, even. Motorists frequently drive into oncoming traffic to avoid making detours, pedestrians casually saunter across the road wherever they feel like, and everyone hoots ALL the time. Throw in the occasional horse drawn carriage, chilled out water buffalo/cow, bikes and scooters with nonchalant women perched on the side all sharing the same space, and well, it can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately for me, my city is quite well planned, so I’ve never actually been caught in a traffic jam.

my city on a good day (meetravels.blogspot.com)

2. Cigarettes are Satan’s breath: I have never been to place where it is so socially unacceptable to light up. At most, I have seen ten people smoking. I think this is specific to my city, but there are threatening signs in both open air space and closed ones, curtly informing you that ”it is an offence to smoke here”. Come on, what happened to the neutral ”no smoking” sign? Even our little dusty neighbourhood market is thoroughly offended by these uncouth beings poisoning everyone else around them with their demonic sulphur and tar (or whatever).

3. East meets west…on our terms: In my hood, there is a Subway sandwich shop. Squeezed in between Happy Singh’s general supermarket and a burnt out parking lot. And all over the city, you can see McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, KFC, United Colours of Benneton, Ralph Lauren, Polo and other over priced, pretentious clothing brands. You just have to find them, partially hidden by signs advertising ‘Spoken English lessons here ‘ , ‘Royal Real Estate Services’ and giant posters advertising skin lightening creams that will take all your problems away and help you find that perfect man.

4. The heat: I arrived in India during Summer. And my colleagues delight in telling me that I ain’t seen nothing yet, and that it will get hotter soon. Before it starts raining. And then they ask me, ”but it’s also hot in Kenya, right’?’

Well now, the glue in my wallet does not melt after four hours in a train in Kenya. My face does no glow in the dark from all the accumulated heat every evening in Kenya. I don’t feel the heat from the tarmac burning me while I’m on a bike in Kenya. I don’t sleep without sheets or a blanket at night in Kenya.

So no, it’s not the same weather in Kenya.

5. What are these chest appendages that you display?: I made the mistake of wearing a vest to the supermarket. There was a man standing behind me, looking all holy and guru-ish in his turban. We queued for about ten minutes, and in that time he must have caught up with ten years worth of ogling, as well as probably committing everything to memory to serve him for his remaining days, I don’t know. I was uncomfortable, but at the same time, did not want to make it worse by self consciously fiddling around with my clothes. So, yeah, kind of awkward.

So far so good, right? Well, I have to register myself at the government office in the next couple of days. And officially meet my boss  who is currently away on a very busy and important trip.

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