The International Writers Magazine: First Impression of India
for a passage to India
Sabhlok relates his holidays, as he delves into the often misunderstood
and misinterpreted sub-continent of India.
isnt just another place to go; its a learning experience
and a lesson in humbleness'.
is said that there are two types of India. One is especially for tourists;
the other is what many refer to as the real India. A land
of paradoxes, paradigms, controversies and contradictions, India possesses
mystifying beauty, and unspeakable ugliness. With an ancient history
thousands of years old, understanding Indias past is crucial to
comprehending the present. This is a country that lives for agriculture
rice fields are particularly abundant and 70% of its residents
reside in rural areas.
Within this vast landscape of geography, history and politics, lies
the undeniable Indian psyche, a mind state that has arisen more out
of necessity than deliberate intent.
Consider the following: a woman lay on the landing of a stairway at
a Mumbai railway station, forming an island between thousands of bustling
commuters, salesman and luggage handlers. She had one arm partially
covering her face, her hair was strewn to one side, and her eyes were
shut, her face lifeless.
Was she a homeless denizen of the streets taking an obtrusive nap? Had
she collapsed out of sheer exhaustion? We never allowed our curiosity
to turn into action, instead walking on with a quick glance, knowing
full well that the medicos would take their own sweet time getting to
the scene. The crowd nudged me along, and I went with the flow.
I was in India now, and in India, it is a common fact that the value
of life is almost zilch. This is one of the cold, hard truths that tourists
will never see through their agents, interpreters or friendly airport
staff. Speak to any local businessman about his wares, and if youre
observant, you might notice a glint in his eye. The shrewdness kicks
in now, as soon as foreign origin is detected, prices double and hard
bargaining along with skilled manipulation begin.
Travelling by train was an incredible experience. Along the way I had
plenty of time for visceral thinking, there was no shortage of topics
to contemplate. I spoke to a man from New Zealand, who had come for
a visit to one of Indias many tiger sanctuaries, and was amazed
to learn that he was surprised at how noticeable poverty in India is.
How could he not know that one-third of the population live below the
poverty line? He seemed to treat India as if it were just another holiday
destination, content to stay at five star hotels, and never really understand
the complexities. But India isnt just another place to go; its
a learning experience and a lesson in humbleness.
I absorbed much during my trip, including experiences in Mumbai, Delhi,
Kolkata and Bangalore. Delhi is a majestic city with a majority Hindu
population. You will notice that there are a number of illegal squatters,
some on army land. Another lesson, in India, anything and everything
can be bought the Indian Army has been known to illegally lease
government land to the poor, at exploitive prices of course.
If visiting temples, it is most important to remove your shoes, if required.
You will see that religion and spirituality in India is a business,
the shopping area in many temples is larger than the sacred space. Years
ago, my mother almost got beaten up by priests who overheard her criticising
the temple as a donation-taking exercise. So tread carefully around
religion, fanaticism is strong.
Photos © Sukrit Sabhlok 2004
Taxis are slow in India
Proof that elephants are heavy
is rife, as you will soon see from reading The Times of India.
In fact, customs officials have been known to take foreigners aside
and demand money in exchange for being allowed onto their flight. Keep
your money close and important documents closer. The security situation
in certain states, such as Bihar, is terrible. This small pocket is
practically in a state of chaos, in terms of law and order. All throughout
India however, major and minor extremist groups operate, sometimes in
harmony with the local authorities.
Because there are so many beggars, if you do feel compelled to give
alms, Id recommend offering money only to disabled poor people,
for example, those without limbs. This is because disabled people not
working in the government get absolutely no welfare, and without education
these individuals are at high risk of ending up among the hundreds of
dead bodies found each year in the street by police. Keep in mind however,
that many disabled children have had their limbs cut off on purpose,
for the specific "business" of begging. Sympathy is a powerful
The author is a Year 11 student at Melbourne Grammar School. Australia
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