Sunday, June 6

India First Impressions: People, Trains, Traffic, and Animals

Before I traveled to India a few days ago I had heard my friends talk about this place with varying degrees of imagery, warnings, eagerness, and despair.  What I now know is that India cannot really be captured with words.  I can understand why my friends speak of it with enthusiasm, often searching for the right word, usually a suitably extreme adverb, and find that none seemed to fit their memories.

As I walked down this street, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of excitement to finally be in a place unlike anything I had ever seen:
It seems to me that India is a place of extreme conditions.  Though I knew that it is a country of 1.2 billion people, it is impossible, as a Westerner in general and an American in particular, to have any inkling as to what that might actually look like.  To say that it is crowded does not convey a clear picture.  Waiting in line to buy a train ticket yesterday from the Santa Cruz station to CST in Mumbai, there were lots of people in line, people milling about selling things, and the general hustle and bustle of a train station.  I am certain that I looked confused.  I also looked very non-native, being white, blonde, and several inches taller than most locals.  So I was only mildly surprised when, as it became my turn at the ticket counter, a woman snuck up on my right, money in hand, to cut in front of me and buy her ticket before she had to wait behind my fumbling questions and delay in the general efficiency.  She was pushy but her eyes conveyed an apologetic explanation that she simply did not want to wait behind me.  In most things in India it seems that if you wait, someone will cut in front of you, whether it is at the train station, at the airport baggage claim, in a car, at a restaurant, even buying water from the local kiosk.

Here is the car I eventually got into:
 And a woman enjoying the breeze (somewhat dangerously, in my opinion!) from the moving train:
Given all the people here, India does seem to be remarkably efficient.  For example, there are a ton of cars here in Mumbai and traffic ought to be a mess.  But in both the auto-rickshaw and a regular taxi, my driver has been able to sneak, amble, zoom, and bully his way through a seeming mess to get me to my destination surprisingly fast, often in a sea of honking.  I'm not sure if these signs accomplish their goal:
Here is what the standard taxi looks like:
And this is a very tame image of driving in Mumbai:  Lane lines are for sissies, I guess!
Crossing the street as a pedestrian is probably the most dangerous adventure I have undertaken thus far.  Just now, on my way back from a terrific late lunch, I waited for a nice break in traffic to cross the street to my hotel.  But before I was even half-way across, a car was bearing down upon me, laying on his horn the whole way.  I don't think there has been a crossing yet where I have not dashed at some moment.  And the rule seems to be: "Pedestrians, get out of the way!"

Here are some photographs from my first day exploring Mumbai:
 I visited one tourist attraction, the Gateway to India:
Here is the inscription:
This field offered a nice change from the congestion of the city and I settled in to watch a pick-up cricket game.  I did have to get up rather quickly at one point as it suddenly became clear that I was sitting in center field!  
In the distance of the cricket match is a tower which turned out to belong to the University of Mumbai.  I managed to snap these photos from inside the University before a guard told me no pictures were allowed.  What is it with the Indians and their government buildings?  At the airport they made it very clear that no pictures would be tolerated.
This awesome gargoyle was the last one I took before the guard interrupted me.
After that, I did not even question whether I might take any pictures of the High Court, which is right next to the University.  (Plus, the armed military personnel out front at regular intervals dissuaded me from even pausing.)

In my wanderings I came across a Catholic church that looked pretty, so I wanted to explore it and thus very nearly crashed a wedding in progress.  If I had been paying attention, I might have noticed this getaway car parked out front!
In my wanderings I have obviously been meeting lots of animals.  The dogs are quite friendly and come to me when I make my go-to-move kissy noise.  They put their ears back and wag their tails, grateful for the kindness and attention.  More than one person has stared at me with surprise and skepticism as I greet the dogs, and I am hoping that my actions will wear off on the locals.

Here are some of the first-day-wanderings animals:
This kitty has a very nice life in a park and I caught her hissing at a crow before she lay down for the nap:
The farm animals, cows, oxen and goats, seem to have a bad go of it in the city.  The cows are often tied to something on a very short rope so that they cannot turn around and can only lie down right where they are standing. And they often cannot lay their heads down because of how they are tied:
This poor fellow was standing in his own urine, so I am sure he was not looking forward to lying down:
For the dogs, there is some progress being made toward adoption of street animals, as evidenced by this sign which gave me a lot of hope:
There is also an effort at a cleaner environment, something drastically needed in India:
Overall, I must have walked miles and miles yesterday and tired myself out completely.  But it gave me a chance to rest today and compile this blog post!  That's all for now.  Thanks for reading.  Please comment or ask any questions!


Eileen Weintraub said...

Great post Abigail, its so hard to imagine life there when we are here and when you are there its hard to imagine life here. Does that make sense - translation - its just so different. Yes everything does work in India on another level - its life times 10! As to helping animals its at least 10 times the number to help.... so gives us all lots to do!

Amy said...

What, you're in India?? That is exciting!! Well I'll tell you... you are not missing any good surf here. :)

Beyond said...

Thanks for being at my home. Yes, we'll try to improve in some areas but didn't you find it an amazing place.

snehakoilada said...

This is fun! :) Esp, the part about the woman cutting in front of the line. Funny to hear it from someone outside :P Oh yeah, I'm all for cutting queues.
I'm Sneha btw. D VSPCA volunteer Eileen was telling you about. Hope you have more diverse experiences here and hope I get to read them all!