Deciphering the horns and settling in...
Since arriving, I’ve tried to find books written in English by Indian authors, and I’ve just finished one where the main character is from Bihar state. In the last chapter, he travels to New York and is stunned by the ‘silent’ roads – he can’t understand how traffic can function without people using their horns. Safe to say, we’ve had the opposite reaction when on the roads here, and I’ve come to realise that a ‘beep’ can mean a multitude of things. Here’s what I have so far:
· I’m about to overtake.
· I’m coming round the corner.
· There’s enough space for you to get past.
· There’s not enough space for you to get past.
· Move out of the way.
· You idiot.
· I refuse to slow down.
· Get out of the way, cow. (Or pig, donkey etc.)
· Thank you.
· Don’t move. / Stay where you are.
· I disagree with your last manoeuvre.
Our current home is in the small town of Barnala in Punjab. Having grown up in possibly the flattest part of the UK, it seems we are now in the flattest part of India. Since arriving in Punjab 4 weeks ago, I haven’t seen a single hill or inclined slope, but that’s not to say there aren’t any bumps or uneven roads around. There is a cow round every corner, and a pig in every pile of rubbish. Dogs wander the streets by day, occasionally getting into scraps with each other, and even the odd camel can sometimes be seen making its way through the town. We also seem to be sharing a room with three resident geckos.
After living in Tokyo, where 10 minutes to download a film is considered far too long, we now seem to be living in a country with the most temperamental internet I've ever known. Slow speed - that I could cope with. But 2.5 hours on 6 computers in 3 different locations to book one train ticket - that goes a tad past my patience level.
Our first venture out of Barnala was to the ‘safest and cleanest city in India’, Chandigarh. The capital of two states (Punjab and Haryana), and designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, the city has quite a different feel from other Indian cities. After spending the day exploring the sights, we went to find our hostel for the night. Luckily for us, jumping on a local bus and looking confused seems to attract the help of extremely kind people. Unfortunately, even with a copious amount of help from locals, it turned out the hostel we booked closed down a month ago, and all other hotels in the area were about 6 times our budget. Perhaps the well maintained roads and cleanliness justify the comparatively high hotel prices. Long story short, we found a place within our budget, without air-con, and with a complimentary pair of dirty pants left in the bathroom. We didn’t stick around the next morning…
Being in a small town without frequent bus or train connections, we never imagined we could fit in a trip to the Taj Mahal in a 2 day weekend. To our surprise, we found a train leaving Barnala at 6pm and arrived in a deserted Agra at 3.30am. After exiting the station where people were sleeping in every nook and cranny, we milled around the Taj next to sleeping dogs, rickshaw drivers and a very large, awake gecko (which turned out to be a rat).
While waiting for the gates to open, we had some tea and coffee from a street stall. When I say coffee, I mean the seller realised after 5 minutes that he'd given me black tea, and so came back to pour a coffee sachet into the tea. Waste not want not. At sunrise, the gates opened and our bags were searched as we entered the World Wonder. It seems biscuits are allowed but playing cards bought in Japan are not. We spent the afternoon battling the heat in Agra fort, before heading across the river to catch the sunset from the rear side of the Taj.
The next morning, on the advice of the hostel owner (who was of the firm belief that all trains to Delhi are at least 3 hours late), we bought the cheapest tickets on a train leaving at 6am. Leaving at sunrise meant I was able to witness an ordinary part of a few hundred people's lives. It's probably what most people do when they wake up in the morning, just not in front of a train jam-packed with onlookers. Between 6:00 and 6:15am, not a single person within sight of the train tracks was standing or walking - everyone was squatting. On the grass, on the dirt, on rubbish and just a couple of metres away on the tracks, every bum was hovering millimetres above the ground. Women congregated in groups, having a natter over a morning dump, while men spread themselves out. I think the memory of seeing hundreds of bare bums from inside a moving train might stay with me for a while.
While the sun continues to produce temperatures of 38 degrees, our days consist of teaching in classrooms without air con, cooling down in the staff room and showering after every venture outside. As all our delicious meals are cooked for us, our daily chores are now hand washing laundry and emptying the bucket of condensed water vapour from the air conditioner (about 10 litres a day). We should be starting Hindi lessons this week, so hopefully there'll actually be a small amount of understanding when talking with the school maids. Actions and gestures can only communicate so much...