Sunday, April 11, 2004
India was inviting to me on many different levels. An area that spoke to me most was hospitality. I was trying to put this into words the other day, but it was difficult because the sentiment is so strong. It was difficult to leave for this very reason. There was so much emphasis to welcome and host, "Oh, what do you need?...Can I?... What do you?" As a guest you it takes a while for this to settle as your role. From then on everything runs at an amazing pace. People often note the streets as one place they are completely out of place. Bombay had small streets with people and motorized vehicles absolutely positively everywhere. With some luck Delhi has wider streets from the development in their post independence days, but the streets are more likely to be shared by cows more than pigs. Lucknow has more of the pigs, and generally the traffic there is not to bad if you're not near the main market. Streets don't need paint because nobody complies with notions of lanes. This is something Prashast and I often disagreed about. He would drive up the left side to the front of the traffic then scootch a bit to the right to be in front and follow the right turn arrow. Though obnoxious the manuevers were rarely unsafe. There is a process of merging or turning which is confounding to me. In the states there are three rear view mirrors. In India, a car rarely has two; even if the second one is there (driver's side) it is often tucked in because of the perpetually nearly sideswiping passerbyers. So there it is, always looking forward, listening to what is happening. We almost always drove with the windows down, and there was no music system in the car. It was only in the last couple days that I understand better how this operation worked. Two cars passed by simultaneously, and Prashast explained how disorienting it was when the noise doubled like that. Otherwise, he's understanding where everything is by listening and seeing ahead. Somehow, even with all the mirrors I haven't figured out how to avoid causing serious damage to my own vehicles and unfortunately others' as well. I spent some time on the roads particularly in Delhi. It is something else compared to anything I have to use as examples. By far the most concerning was the rides through the mountains. Left Right Left Right Tires gripping the pavement for dear life, and you'd often see an accident or two. Amazing how the reckage of two trucks folded into one another with realities biting permanance. They often hit with such force that there is a play drawn out in their final motions. Any other kind of accident and the cars move along where possible. These I am recalling have nowhere to go. They seemingly become part of the landscape at least forever that way in my mind. There's an incident on the road I will likely take to my last days, and I still wonder how it turned out. Prashast and I were off to meet his sister Gayatri and her boyfriend Jayant. As we came down a flyover past the Delhi Golf Club we noticed a guy crumpled in the middle of the street. Without much confidence I asked Prashast if we should stop to help him in some way. We pulled off to the side backed up a bit then got out to see what was happening. Prashast went for the security guard, and I stood a couple feet away from this guy and guided traffic away from him. Judging from how close the trucks and cars were coming to me standing in the middle of the street directing people away this poor soul would not have lasted all that much longer. For whatever reason several more people now joined Prashast and me to assist this guy. One person came up to me and asked if the guy was still alive. I told the questioner that he was. This guy then proceeds to lift the man from the street by lifting up under his arms and crudely repositioned him to the sidewalk. I didn't want to move this injured person for fear of futher hurting him. The other guy explained to me that it was India. He tried to ask the guy a couple questions, and one that was later translated for me shocked me. He had asked if the injured man wanted more drugs. Shockingly, the police didn't have much more sympathy than this. When they arrived 20 some odd minutes after we called them they explained the injured was a beggar and a doper. They said no hospital would except him, and they were content to leave him there. Prashast and I didn't stick around through the resolution of the incident. We decided to head on to our engagement for the evening. I couldn't help the way I felt. I was grieving, and then somebody asked why I hadn't stuck around if I was so concerned. They asked if I had done everything that I could do. Jay was amazing for me that night. We left the loud music and drinks I didn't want to have any part of and we walked around to chat a bit. His words were healing in a time that I needed them so much. He said anytime I wanted to he would take me to parts of Delhi that would forever change my perception. I never took him up on the offer, but seeing what I did has had the same effect even if only a single incident amongst a billion people.