Being my first time in India and unfortunately staying indoors most of the time as I was attending a short course, I was left with a few moments to explore this colorful country. Nevertheless, in a span of 10 days, I found myself amused with unique facts about this country and its people. But more than this, this trip has found me contemplating on some of life’s important lessons.
Here goes the 10 things I learned from spending 10 days in India:
1. What the Indian nod or head shake mean
Indians have a unique way of nodding or shaking their head or should I say wobbling? It’s a sideways shake which differs in speed, depending on their meaning. I am just decoding its meaning based on my observations. I hope I am right. Haha!
A fast one means “Yes, I understand” or “I agree”
A medium speed wobble means “Alright” or “Fine”
A slow wobble means they are in agreement, but with some degree of uncertainty or they are not fully convinced.
2. Why I would never drive in India
As I write this, I’ve only been to Pune and Mumbai in Maharashtra but I’ve witnessed how driving or riding a vehicle (and depending your life on your driver’s hands) will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s like watching an action movie, but this time, you’re part of the scene. A traffic enforcer probably doesn’t exist in India, where traffic lanes and traffic rules, if there’s such, seem to be disregarded.
Horn is blown as a weapon when the driver wishes to disperse anything on its way. Or when the driver is doing a stunt of passing through the oncoming lane even when oncoming vehicles are heading right at you, and shifting to the proper lane at the last minute when you are close to collision and a heart attack.
On a lighter note, I’ve observed that many auto rickshaws in Mumbai are already using CNG as fuel. That's a cleaner fuel compared with the diesel-run tricycles we have in the Philippines. (Updated: A year after my work-related Mumbai trip, I went back to India, this time in Rajasthan, to explore more of India as a tourist. Somehow, my impression of rickshaw driving in India changed when I took a tuk tuk tour of Jaipur and found a friendly and safe local driver.)
Traffic jam is an opportunity for "bus photography" (taking pictures while in a bus)
At an Indian highway toll gate
Auto rickshaw, the cheapest mode of transport for short distances
3. Why cows freely roam around the streets of India
From what I’ve read before, cows are worshipped in India and feeding them is an act of goodness that gives good karma. Also from pictures I’ve seen of India, I am already expecting to see cows roaming around the streets. However, I was still surprised to see a cow crossing a busy intersection. Considering Item #2, the cow did not look bothered at all. He just crossed the street slowly in his own sweet pace. In other words, cows always have the right of way.
But the question still is, why are they allowed to freely roam around? I’ve learned that these cows aren’t stray cows. They have owners who let them roam freely to search for their own food because feeding the cattle by themselves could get quite expensive. The cows get free food from people they come across at. The cows then return to their owners and owners get milk from them. Add to that the alleged medicinal benefits they get from cow dung and urine. Looks like a profitable business, huh!?
Another issue connected with cows roaming on the streets is the conversion of agricultural lands into urban areas leading to the loss of natural pastures where cows are supposed to graze. It’s one of the sad drawbacks of urban development.
4. Why house crows are abundant in India
I’ve seen a lot of house crows in Nepal but the density is higher in Mumbai. Crows are practically scavengers. They feed on garbage, insects, plants, eggs, etc. Does it mean that they thrive because of the “sustainable” supply of municipal waste found in the environment? I’d like to think that crows somehow help reduce the cost of waste disposal in India. However, the presence of crows can also lead to the prevalence of improper waste disposal practices in households.
5. How large numbers is written differently in India
The numbering system in India differs from the English system. It was a source of confusion during one of our lectures. 100,000 is written in India as 1,00,000 and is spoken as lakh. 1,000,000 is written as 10,00,000 or 10 lakhs. 10,000,000 is called crore, written as 1,00,00,000. Got it? Confused? To eliminate confusion, just remove the commas and both numbering systems will be the same. 🙂
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6. What sensory overload means
Seeing India for the first time puts your senses on steroids. You can genuinely feel, hear, see, smell and taste India. Women wear colorful saris. Imagine seeing them in busy places and saris displayed on markets and you have an explosion of the brightest colors.
Traffic jam, the crowds, intricate architectures, plus cows and birds on the streets – there’s so much to see, you don’t know where to look first. Relentless blowing of horns on the roads, the distinct sound of Indian music, the smell of incense, the heat, the smell of sweat (the good thing about this is that you don’t have to worry about smelling bad because whatever smell you emit can easily be masked by the person next to you), the smell and taste of Indian food rich in various colorful spices. India is overwhelming, to think I’ve been out on a limited time only. Anybody who had been to India will know.
7. How we are all different and yet the same
The short course I attended was participated by people who are on a similar field as mine, from Asia and Africa, and facilitated by European instructors. We came from diverse cultures and ways of life, and interacting with them is the best education I had in my 10 days in India.
In spite of the diversity, I became more aware that we are also all the same. In my 10 days in India, I recognized even more that we experience common problems on a personal and national level, and we all share the same goals for the environment. Come to think of it, we all inhabit the same planet, we breathe the same air and we are all humans regardless of religion or beliefs.
I love the distinct high bridge nose of Indians
8. How to appreciate the ordinary
In my 10 days in India, I only had limited time to go sightseeing. In fact, I only got to see the tourist attractions in less than a half day. What I saw instead, as part of the short course (it’s about solid waste management, by the way) were composting facilities, waste sorting, landfill and anaerobic digesters for organic wastes. How fun is that, huh?
I don’t feel sorry for myself, however, because it has helped me found beauty in the mundane. When I travel, I plan to see the historical and cultural sites, the beautiful landscapes, the off the beaten paths. Given the limited time to see all these, I learned to appreciate the people around me, how beautiful the sky is from my hotel room, the simple acts of kindness from strangers and how everyday life in India seem extraordinary for me. Most of all, it has made me want to go back to India more than ever.
9. How to work with dignity
We had the opportunity to interact with the waste pickers in a small community in Pune, Maharashtra. They were organized by SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling), a cooperative of self-employed waste pickers/waste collectors and provides waste collection and management services.
The story of SWaCH is so inspiring in that they were able to change the notion that most of us have on waste pickers. In Pune, waste pickers collect segregated household wastes door to door and deposit it at designated waste collection points by the municipal government to send off for trading or recycling. We saw how waste pickers are now doing this work as a decent source of living, being able to support their family. They were able to exemplify mainstreaming of their sector in the waste management system of Pune.
10. Why I believe that there is good in everyone
Most Filipinos have a funny image of an Indian. We usually call them “Indian Bumbay”. Filipinos picture Indians like these: a man in turban riding a motorcycle, prowling the slums and store owners in search of people desperate for cash and willing to bite the 5-6 loan scheme. The 5-6 method offers a very attractive scheme of borrowing money, where no collateral or documents are needed. It is termed as such because for every Php 5 you borrow, you must pay Php 6. In other words, about 20% interest rate.
Hence, Bumbays in the Philippines are unfortunately stereotyped as someone who takes advantage of people. Not only this, we are often told about tales of travel in India – the sexual harassment, the chaos, tourists getting ripped off.
Now let’s shift to this - “Everyone may not be good, but there's always something good in everyone. Never judge anyone shortly because every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Quoting this from a guy named Oscar Wilde. I began to embrace this message since the first time I traveled solo abroad.
After all the tales about India, I’ve come to realize how this quote is also true in India. Being cautious, of course, is of utmost importance. But if we start getting paranoid that all the people around us have or might have bad intentions on us, then that feeling of negativity might just happen because we let that idea flow through our being.
I was not out on the streets in those 10 days most of the time but in those few times that I needed help with directions or assistance, there were always kind people who genuinely helped. I learned more than ever to open my heart with trust and kindness and that emanating a feeling of goodwill will be rewarded with the same.
These are just some of the things I learned based on my 10 days in India. Have you been to India? I would love to hear from you what are your take about India and its people.
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