What the HONK!?

Kolkata traffic can be summarized in a few words as “Honk, honk, honkity-honk, honk honk honk.” Puncuated liberally by the yell, shout and the sound of the rickshaw blow-horn, which I swear, was invented to emulate a dog’s yelp.

natWhen I landed in Kolkata airport that morning, I took a deep breath to smell my country. And I got the familiar aroma of singara, kochuri, luchi aar aloo’r dum.

And the whiff of urine someone had relieved himself of. Smoke, beedi, diesel, petrol and lebu-cha (lemon tea). 🙂

City of Joy.

In the taxi ride from the airport to my residence, to put it simply, I was sh*t scared. The driver was maneuvering through traffic like a complete maniac, with barely a few inches margin between the car and the object of terror. Brrrr. Pedestrians and bicyclists were treated like maggots. And the incessant use of the honk to get into that little space between the bus and the road divider. Oh wait, THAT’S NO ROAD DIVIDER! That’s ANOTHER BUS! May be the bus was used in the 1942 Quit India Movement. Those things should not be on the road. Really.

Anyway, in retrospect, may be Indian driving has always been like this. May be I always needed to cross roads like that because everything on wheels was out there to kill me. May be because I have seen a different kind of driving in another law-abiding country, lawlessness on the road is more pronounced. Meanwhile, I wonder… before getting used to the US style of driving, I wondered… when I used to drive in India, did I drive like a madman too? Probably.

Photo courtesy: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20061223/nat.jpg

Why did the chicken NOT cross the road?

Crossing the road in India has over the years developed into a talent that exhibits a commendable amount of agility, tact, tolerance, diplomacy, unagi, love, presence of mind and also the ability to count the wheels of an oncoming vehicle. Yeah, because more the wheels of the vehicle, the harder it’s gonna come and hit you. That’s why standing in front of a moving train is often frowned upon.
It has been a little over a year since I have been in the US, and I have am greatly used to the driving rules and system followed here. Driving within lanes, keeping distance between vehicles, NOT crossing any solid lines whatsoever, stopping at stop signs etc. The most important one – YIELDING TO PEDESTRIANS! Yes. The oncoming traffic will stop for you to cross the road and the driver is going to wave at you wishing you a good morning/evening/weekend/Christmas. And you wave back with a smile.

I came from a country where pedestrians are treated like maggots – the drivers don’t want them on the roads, so they might as well knock them down (and run away, as many have). It took me and my friends quite a while to get accustomed to the US system of road regulations. No matter how big the vehicle, it’s going to stop. for you to cross the road. Trust me. Unless it’s a train. Or an aeroplane. Or if you are being really adventurous and are attempting to cross the freeway or the interstate.

I think the rule is – Lesser the number of wheels, more the respect you’ve got on the road. Bicycles are next to pedestrians. But then unicycles are above pedestrians. Because even pedestrians stop to look at or look out for unicyclists. Unicyclists are funny.

After obtaining a license for driving in the US, my American colleagues often asked me if I had trouble getting used to driving on the right side from the left side of the car. To which my reply had always been “Naah, that was never a problem. In India they drive on both the sides of the road”. Another day, I searched for Indian driving on YouTube and showed it to my American research colleague and the few minutes of screening were punctuated heavily by
“Oh dear God”
“What the…”
“Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod…”
“Aren’t they scared?!”
“He’s gonna die! He’s gonna be roadkill!”

Anyway, now I think I have got too used to the US driving, which according to some people, is boring, because nothing happens. It’s made me soft. Now I am going to India for a couple of weeks to a city with one of the most understanding, accommodating and affectionate traffic personalities ever – Kolkata.

My story published! :)

I had written this story a couple of years back, and it got published in Chowk today! My roommate introduced me to this, and his story got published last month.

We are family

‘Yes, I shall go and arrange for the papers in my office.’ The doctor retreated with the nurse from the room. There was a huge gush of hospital noise when the door opened and the pneumatic door closer slowly put the door back to its original position.

A child was crying somewhere. An injection, perhaps.
Trays with surgical instruments were being handled. Metal on metal.
Someone was calling for the janitor. Clear intercom system.
Lots of footsteps. Nurses with high heels.

The door closed and the room was once again filled with a low hum. If one strained the ear, the London November rain could be heard splattering on the stone benches in the lawn outside the room. Curtains were drawn, contributing more to the loud silence in the room. The periodic short and sharp beep of the instruments in the room made the silence even louder. It showed signs of life in the room.

Read complete story>>>

Human rights

I was witness to this conversation some time back.

“I wish there was an IKEA in State College… the nearest IKEA is all the way in Pittsburgh. The furniture stores here are so expensive!”
“You could always try Wal-Mart… the furniture there is pretty good from what I have heard.”
“Yeah… I know… but, considering where they came from, I guess it’s China… with the low wages and all, there’s no way I would want that in my house. I would rather own something made by someone who has been paid well for making it.”

This conversation had me thinking about the attitude of people here in the United States. They respect everyone – no matter what the job is. Be it the postman or the clerk who does the paperwork, the bus driver or the janitor, the guy who fixes the drain or the woman who cleans the glass windows – they are respected, wished and smiled at with goodwill all the time. Hard to believe? You have to be here to feel it.

Giving respect also earns respect. Respect for the fellow being. India needs this.

Educationalists suffer from dementia

The CBSE syllabus in India has decided to mellow down the sex education in their syllabus. Wait a minute, did they have one to start off with? Or was I not paying attention in class when they were covering sex education?

While words like masturbation, arousal and sexual intercourse have been deleted from the revised version of the training manual for teachers, diagrams which describe the journey from puberty to young adulthood have been done away with. This modified version is set to reach schools in a few weeks.

This is what the “educationalists” have been saying in defense. My reaction to each of them was “What the…?”

[…] Don’t impose degenerate western culture on Indian schools […]

[…] India has not given HIV/AIDS to the world. If the world had followed the Indian tradition of one wife or one husband, this disease would not have developed at all. […]

[…] if the sex education was introduced in any form, episodes like Nithari village would repeat in every school and locality of the country. He said just withdrawing students from the schools where sex education is being introduced is not enough, we need to firmly ensure that it is not introduced at all in any school […]

[…] It is claimed that the objective of imparting sex education is protecting the students from HIV/ AIDS, but the syllabus prepared for it is so much indecent, damaging and obscene that it will increase the disease on a much higher speed. We don’t want that abortion centres should be opened in schools like that in Britain, morning pills need to be given to teenage girls like that in France, increase in number of unmarried mothers like that in America and teachers sexually exploit their students like that in New Zealand […]

Source: Organiser

Face the nation (hosted by Sagarika Ghose, CNN-IBN) has the script of the debate between, as I put it, realists and educationalists.

To put it mildly, I am outraged. Are these “educationalists” idiots or are they idiots? More importantly, in their childhood, did they look down at themselves and figure out there was a “branch” growing out of them that stiffened on its own accord?

UPDATE: Sree narrates an incident in her life that took place recently. Death of someone because of AIDS – her husband was infected. May be it could have been avoided if people knew more about HIV/AIDS than they do now. How unfortunate.

Of cultural sentiments, hugs and kisses

From The Daily Collegian, 27th April 2007

This news article appeared in the daily published newspaper (The Daily Collegian) of my university – staring at everyone in big bold letters.

Click to view larger image.

Aaaargh! Don’t publicity seekers (the judge, in this case) in India EVER realize what a big fool they are making of themselves voluntarily? A silent satirical mockery has been made of “publicity seekers” and frankly, many of us are plain EMBARRASSED that it has been printed in a paper with a readership of over 40000 students from all over the world. I actually tore it off and scanned it so I could just put it up here… my emotions are a mixture of ludicrousness, sympathy and embarrassment at the same time.

Spotted in this article –

“their kiss at a public function transgressed all limits of vulgarity and have the tendency to corrupt the society”

What tendency to corrupt is this judge (the one issuing the arrest warrant against Richard Gere) talking of, in a society riddled with fiscal corruption, rape, child trafficking and atrocities to womankind? A playful peck on the cheek to compliment someone is NOT corruption of social customs! Don’t even get me started on that age-old argument of “hurting the religious customs and culture of India”. Who gave them the license to rule what is the right culture? Isn’t culture and open-mindedness a relative thing?

It’s a wonderful world. Not.

It is becoming an increasingly disturbing trend as to how Indians are now seeking out reasons to show agitation, grief and discontent – and bringing public life to a grinding halt.
Fine. That is acceptable to an extent.
But unprecedented deaths in these situations cannot be justified under any circumstances. Whether the public grievance is real or imaginary, it is provoking a riot and an apparently inevitable death of a number of people, that cannot be ignored. The bottomline is that this is a practice so wasteful, so pointless that it is hard to believe that the people involved are not realising it!
Frenzied fans of the thespian Rajkumar went on a rampage in Bangalore, pelting stones and targeting vehicles in and around the stadium where his body had been kept. Six persons, including a police constable, were killed in the violence.
Why? Why did the people have to resort to violence because someone died of perfectly natural causes? Why did they have to resort to burning down buses and stalling everything? What is the whole point!?!
The latest this is that now, residents of Vadodara are rioting because an old dargah that is two centuries old was demolished by the local municipal corporation. So far five people have been killed and several injured. Curfew was imposed in the area to put a stop to the gruesome killing, especially after an unruly mob of 1500 set ablaze a car burning alive a muslim gentleman, late on Tuesday night. In the Vadodara incident, the government bodies claim that they were only going ahead with a well-announced demolition drive aimed at all kinds of illegal structures, including shops and temples as well. The demolition order was preceded by an effort from Muslim organisations to have it declared as a heritage structure, which was refused by the mayor of Vadodara. The mayor’s justification was that there is no dearth of such places of worship that spring up on public land and that they should be treated like any other illegal structure.
A weird incident – A couple in Gujarat exchanged wedding vows over the telephone after the bridegroom could not make it to the ceremony due to violent clashes in the bride’s city.
What all this really tells us that Indian people are not capable of managing discontent without having chaos on the streets and public areas, which leads to the pointless and tragic deaths. It is as if mobs looting, damaging and burning public property and stalling a normal life have become the symbols of protests and anger in democratic India.
All the sane and probably more effective methods of raising objections or debating have become useless and irrelevant. Killing, violence and unrest have become the first choice of the aggrieved!

The irony of it all? While all of this is claimed to be in public interest, it is the public that suffers the most.

What a pity.

Other blog entries in Mostly Pointless related to recent happenings in India

India Files: This is outrageous! (April 4th, 2006)
Textbooks in Rajasthan compare Indian housewives to donkeys, and call the latter more loyal.
Living in a box (March 30th, 2006)
The proposal for 50% reservation in premier institutes in India – a few quoted reactions and a proposed solution to the issue.

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