Today is my third day in India, and I have already done so much! There is a mixture of undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, translators from the Gujarati community, relatives of Dr. Jhala, occasional special visitors, and the staff at the palace (will explain this in the next blog). Dr. Jhala (Prince of Dhrangadhra) who all of us on the trip call “Bapa,” which is an endearing nickname for grandfather, has made sure that we are keeping busy with trips to the market, getting mehndi (henna), astrological sign readings, trips to town and local shops, desert trips, yoga, music and dance classes, and also attending an Indian wedding. I’d first like to reflect on the initial impressions after setting foot on Indian soil. Since the trip to India took about 3 days from start to finish (including a nine hour layover in Dubai) it is safe to say the long trip has definitely been made worth it with the experiences I have gained already.
Trials and Triumphs: Week One
The heat is going to take a lot to get used to! It has been averaging about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is only supposed to get hotter as the trip continues. The heat, along with the fact that there is basically no air conditioning anywhere, means that you have to either 1. Adjust, or 2. Adjust faster. It’s day three and I have already accepted that I will never not be sweating. However, with this I have already learned that by eating and drinking hot/spicy foods you cool yourself off, which is the reason why Indian food is inherently spicy and Indians drink hot chai. Americans have the presumption that chai is a type of tea (“chai tea latte”), however chai just means “tea” in Indian languages. Other types of tea are not served often at all, unless you are wealthy or staying in a hotel.
Toilets. While in the palace there are more Westernized toilets–everywhere else has Indian toilets, AKA holes in the ground and sometimes a hose and small cup to wash yourself off with. While I have learned that it is essential to carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer with me at all times, I have also decided that using these Indian toilets will be a great way to get a leg workout! Optimism!
Driving through India, through the essentially unregulated roads, has given me numerous life lessons and is what I will focus on for the rest of this post. Since the moment I stepped out of the Ahmedabad International Airport, all of my former perceptions of what India would look like instantly disappeared. In my head, the caste system in India meant that there would be super wealthy areas that would appear westernized, and then the poorer populations who would be living in makeshift hut-type houses. To my surprise as I walked toward the parking lot of the airport, stray dogs and people were congregating in masses lounging on the ground (mind you it was about 3am and still about 90 degrees Fahrenheit). Not what I was expecting!
This video captures the essence of driving in India. (Credit Robert Frohman)
Maybe I can take a hint from the Indian use of the horn. I can compare the Indian use of honking to my drive to learn whilst here. While driving, the horn is a communicator to others on or near the road. When everything is going well, you beep and advance flawlessly, smoothly, and without trouble. However, when the horn fails and the other drivers on the road do not take proper action, you have to back off, slow down and reroute. During this trip, I am sure to run into obstacles, this is certain. When these obstacles arise, I need to slow down and rewire my thinking, formulate a new plan to get to my goals while here. When everything is going smoothly, I need to take advantage and proceed, keeping in mind to always do so with caution.
The two-hour car ride to Dhrangadhra provided further insight. This trip from the airport to the small town was one of those moments that will always be minted in my memory. The whole driving experience was culturally shocking. I was taking everything in at once; the narrow two-lane highway, the fact that the driver was speeding down the crowded streets at 120 km, the sights on the sides of all streets. The rawness of all of this sent my mind spinning. Cows, pigs, stray dogs, people on foot, bicycles, mopeds, rickshaws (Indian taxi, without doors), motorcycles, in trucks, cars, all speeding on the roads without signs, laws, and rules. The only real thing that keeps drivers of all types at a reasonable speed is the placement of speed bumps about every half-mile. Furthermore, all vehicles used their horns like I’ve never seen before. In India, the horn is effectively the regulator of all traffic. The horn is used to let others on the road know you are there, needed to pass by them, or telling them to move (the beeping needs to be a bit more aggressive here). This means that every time you are passing someone, whether they are in your way or not, you beep at them. You beep at the cows, the dogs, and the people walking on the roads. Your horn is your best friend when driving in India.
Stay tuned-the next blog will be posted soon. I just wanted to cover the first reactions!
Aajow (Goodbye, but literally translated “Come Soon”)