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Hacktreks 2

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Pete and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Colin Todhunter
Pete from America was adamant that the world functioned like a motorbike

Photo: © Carine Thomas

"Hey man, that’s the way it is. We live in a democracy and its all like a machine".
Pete from America was adamant that the world functioned like a motorbike. And this did not surprise me. His life appeared to revolve around one. He was touring India on an Enfield.
"Look at India. The whole thing might be antiquated but it is oiled and it works."
Well that is a matter of opinion. See if the poor, low paid or any other exploited group that you care to choose from agree. This was his response after having briefly read an extract from a book that I wrote, which described globalisation as a form of westoxification.
"If people choose to drink Pepsi or wear Reebok, then who are we to say that its wrong. It's not an invasion. It's their choice."

Pete was the type of person that grates - for me anyhow. Life was as simple as a the mechanics of a motorbike. And he was cock-sure of this.
But life is not a motorbike. And the notion of westoxification is not as simplistic as something invading the petrol in the tank. Sure, if people choose to wear Reebok and indulge in crass materialism as we in the West do, then that may be their choice. And that may or may not be an "invasion". But good old Pete failed to appreciate that most of products being aimed at urban middle class Indians emanate from the West, and that the underpinning values pay homage to the individual, the young and immediate gratification. This amounts to an undermining of traditional Indian values where older people, the needs of the collective and deferred gratification are respected. From where I was sitting, for Pete to reduce the whole thing to the art of motorbike maintenance indicated that he had experienced a zen overload.
"If Limca and people like that decided to sell out to Pepsi and Coke then that is their business. That’s democracy." He continued.

No, it is not democracy I thought. It is the rich and powerful deciding to make a quick buck by selling up. Pete did not recognise that local communities or workforces tend to have little control of the private firms based in their localities. It is true in the West and the world over. Maybe Pete would have responded with something along the lines of it just being bad oil in the engine. All that would be required is a little tinkering with the system - as simple as performing an oil change!
But it does not matter what type of oil there is - I thought that the whole thing needs stripping down and putting back together gain. Oh no, I was beginning to sound like Pete. Anyway, to borrow from Pete’s analogy, someone had made the motorbike, and likewise, someone is "making" the world we live in. And it is only the fortunate relative few who have the "choice" to spend their money on consumer goods. Many are protesting, rebelling or are "opting out" because they see through the motorbike mentality of it all as being "natural", and only in need of a slight tinkering with the oil, brake fluid or spark plugs.

Pete was heading down to Goa from Rajasthan on his machine. As he drive through rural India would he as an outsider be able to see the influences of caste on village life, the way women are treated, and the whole array of hardships faced by so many rural people. If I am to be unkind, and at this point I think I shall be, I would say that I doubt that Pete would have been able to recognise exploitative relations within his own country even if they slapped them in the face - so why would he be able to see them in India?

Pete reminded me of a lot of travellers. They become self-appointed experts on India (or on everything and anything for that matter) after having been in the country for a while. They adopt a kind of common sensical attitude, void of any serious analysis or insight into how the place (or even the world) functions. I suppose it becomes a case of "Hey man, go with the flow, that’s the way it is because that’s the way it is meant to be." After all, they are now wordly wise travellers. Quite an easy stance for the carefree, come day go day traveller/tourist. But then again, unlike so many others in the world, they have the choice and privilege to be able to travel.

© Colin Todhunter November 2002

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Read Colin's Collection of India Stories now available, with new unpublished additions in Hacktreks first work in print.

Colin Todhunter in India
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Colin Todhunter in India
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From Copenhagen to Byron Bay:
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"In India first you get married and then you work these things out", he said with amazing casualness.

Poison Kiss
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Colin Todhunter finds himself the unexpected 'star' of an Indian movie.

The unique experience of going
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Colin Todhunter

Me, God and Jerry Seinfeld: spaced out in India
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I got the impression that he thought he was a living God. He was lost in space.

Thirteen Hours to Midnight
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They spend their lives waiting for midnight.

More Travel Journeys in Hacktreks

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