Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

INCREDIBLE INDIA!

Pizza arrives in 30 minutes, the ambulance doesn’t….

More mobile phones than  toilets….

Car loans are cheaper than  educational loans….

Foodgrain rots as people die of hunger….

Sex is everywhere except where it is supposed to be, in the bedroom. This last one requires an explanation, Upwardly mobile Indians (a small percentage of the population, to be sure) are so intent upon chasing the rupee/money dream that more and more married couples have no time in their busy schedule to procreate. The answer? Fertility clinics. To quote Prakash Kothari, “Couples don’t have either the desire or the time to have sex these days.” Sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it?

What I have just written was on the cover of the December 26, 2010 magazine, The Week, an excellent  news magazine that prints candid articles by outstanding Indian journalists about current problems in India…and they are many, from the garbage, plastic, environmental ones to the skyrocketing birth rate, to poverty, to the crumbling infrastructure. The country is growing fast and it is a bundle of contradictions. In this issue they celebrate their idiocyncracies and ironies. But they also take them seriously. One disturbing statement that, as yet, goes unanswered is that it is a country where rice sells for 40 rupees a kilo, but SIM cards come for free. It is a land where people make arduous pilgrimages to shrines of goddesses, but kill their daughters in the womb. It is a mindset that seeks out a fancy mobile in preference to a basic toilet.

I am seeing this in my everyday life here. The handsome young owner of our guest house laments the fact that he can’t find a wife, because there are ten eligible men for every woman…even when arranged marriages are the tradition. The gorgeous beaches are used, regularly, for defecation, but mostly by men, some of whom are pilgrims. They don’t even bother to cover it up. Plastic is burned all the time in the middle of town or in front of guest houses, the stench second only to what it’s doing to the lungs, the brain, and the environment.

But I try to be philosophical with the mantra…This is India, what do you expect? Still, thinking Indians resent that statement and are disturbed by the pervasiveness of their problems.

On the lighter side, I had an experience while walking to town. I’ve told you about the cows. Well, today there was quite a congregation of them and I walked into an altercation between two bulls, who were head-butting. What to do? The path was narrow and the bushes lining it prickly. I tried to sneak by, but they shifted just as I passed. You never saw me run so fast…even with my bum knee. I didn’t even stop for a photo!

I’ve been using a steri-pen to purify my water, so I won’t add to the plastic problem here. But a friend showed me the bottle he just bought. This was written on the side, supposedly as an ecological statement. You be the judge: Dispose of this container responsibly…crush.

I’ve also had some sweet experiences, like the time I walked by a fancy home on a back street in town. A cow was preceding me slowly. A beautifully clad lady was looking out her door. Just as the cow reached the door, she opened it, bowed, and the cow walked into her tiled parlor. She smiled at me and closed the door.

I may have mentioned this before, but more and more I am amazed at the openness and affection shown between men of all ages in this country. They put their arms around each other and walk hand-in-hand down the street. Seldom do I see Indian men and women eating together, except when there are children with them. The women go to town in pairs or groups, as do the men. Also, I was surprised to see both men and women doing their wash at the beautiful rectangular tank of azure water near the small temples away from the main street. It’s a lovely section of town and boasts many fancy homes meticulously landscaped. The washing place reminds me of the ghats of Varanasi. It’s a colorful panoply of activity. And the characters participating are a photographer’s dream!

As in my first ’round-the-world trip in 1987, the three predictable statements made in all of the Asian and African countries I visited remain the same. Those of you who travel will, I’m sure, recognize them: No problem; Trust me; and Don’t worry. It’s at this point that I start to worry!

Now I’m going to go back to the beach, wait for my dear friend from Sweden, Gullvi Eriksson, to arrive from Goa, and hope that those two bulls have settled their problems before I pass by.

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2 Comments

  1. Jon Pollack

    I think your time at the beach will be well deserved!

  2. Karen de Planque

    We’re so enjoying India through your present blog – Mic is here with me now for a few weeks.
    Harry died last week, and his family is now here. It’s so good to have Mic for company at this time- a number of funerals this week for dear friends. I really miss Harry and our regular times together.
    Say hello to Gullvi for me. and have a great time. Huge hugs from us both!

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