Welcome to India

An irreverent and different view of India and Indians that you will not find in guide books.

 

India can be bewildering. Not only for visitors, but also for Indians. Here are a few observations which may help you understand some of the cross-cultural differences and idiosyncrasies that make India what it is--charming, loveable, different, frustrating, beautiful, intense, overwhelming and diverse.

Walking Cheek by Jowl

Image Courtesy network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/francis/arc...
Image Courtesy network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/francis/arc...

The Concept of Personal Space

To the Westerner, personal space is inviolable. An unknown person is not permitted close physical proximity. To an Indian, this concept does not exist. There is so much physical closeness involved in everyday life in India. We jostle one another in market places, on buses and trains and aeroplanes, at cricket matches and religious ceremonies, everywhere. A poke in the ribs, an elbow nudge, a smelly armpit right in front of your nose are all accepted with equanimity.

I am sure that even if there were just two Indians on an open ground, they would find a way to brush against each other, if not bang into one another. If they were a gang, it could well be called a gang bang.

Living Cheek by Chawl*

Image Courtesy www.indiabuzzing.com/.../
Image Courtesy www.indiabuzzing.com/.../

Any Open Space Is My Space

A passageway is designed to allow people to move unhindered. Not so in India. Here, passageways are places, like most open spaces, for people to stand and jabber. And not just stand and jabber. A good Indian will stand as close to the centre as possible with the objective (unprofessed ofcourse) of ensuring that other walkers have to duck and bob and weave their way around. Why would any sane person want to walk in a straight line, for God’s sake?

40 years ago, a friend and I decided to travel from Calcutta to Kathmandu, accompanied by an English couple, Rod and Mary. The first leg to Raxaul was to be undertaken by rail. We were travelling in the cheapest, unreserved cattle class. Rod was assigned the onerous task of holding on to our seats, while the rest of us went looking for drinking water and eatables to take along. I suppose it was difficult enough for Rod to hold on to one seat, forget about four. By the time we returned, one intrepid fellow traveller had perched himself on the inch of space beyond the reach of Rod’s widespread legs. On seeing this intrusion into her space, Mary shouted at the hapless Rod, “Why couldn’t you stretch your a*** a little wider to keep this fellow off our seats?"

Driving a Car in India

"In India, you need three things to drive. A horn, a brake and courage" – a driver to Bob Hoekstra, CEO of Philips Software Centre, Bangalore, after a near-accident.

I have not met many foreigners willing to risk driving in India’s chaotic traffic. The concept of “any open space is my space” applies to driving as well. Simply put, it means that if you see any open space on the road, occupy it before someone else does. The other drivers then have to find their way over, under, behind or ahead, or to the left or right of you. If you understand this principle, driving in India will be a pleasure. Well, it may not be a pleasure, but it will be an essential first step to understanding Indian road traffic.

Watch This Carefully and Don't Get Dizzy

Another feature of driving in India, as a wise observer put it, is that this is probably the only country in the world where the decision to stop at a red traffic light is optional and left to the driver. Well almost. Chances are about even as to how a driver will handle the irresistible pull of breaking a red light. Go-no go. You can almost see the driver debating the pros and cons furiously. So stay alert even when the traffic light is green.

The Car Horn

Ah, are you one of those who honk only to express unhappiness with someone else’s driving skills? Obviously then, the inventor of the horn would not be very happy with you. The horn was made for the express purpose of making a sound to alert other traffic or pedestrians. In India, the raison d'être of the horn is well-accepted and horn-blowing has been raised to a fine art. We have musical horns, plain loud horns, and horns designed by audiologists just to improve their own business prospects. Believe me when I say that standing at a busy street corner in India can do unimaginable things to your eardrums.

Indians are also astute enough to realize that respectful silence will not get them far when confronted with a herd of cattle on the road or a sleeping dog for that matter. If you let sleeping dogs lie, you aren’t going anywhere.

Take a look at the rear of any truck you pass. In bold letters will appear the words “HORN PLEASE”. A newbie will ask."What is that supposed to mean?" Just what it says, mon ami. Please blow your horn so the truck driver knows you are behind him and wish to overtake. Now isn’t that easy?

The Front of an Indian Truck

Image Courtesy www.eoinfinnyoga.com/blog/index.php
Image Courtesy www.eoinfinnyoga.com/blog/index.php

And the Rear

Image Courtesy indianautosblog.com/2009/01/truck-sales-in-in..
Image Courtesy indianautosblog.com/2009/01/truck-sales-in-in..

Horsing Around

Image Courtesy Isabel Wiesmann
Image Courtesy Isabel Wiesmann

An Indian Road

The British with their motorways, the Germans with their autobahns and the Americans with their highways have got it all wrong, I am sorry to say. Their understanding of a road is that it is a means of getting from Point A to Point B. Period. Gross underutilization if you ask us Indians. Take a look at the innovative Indian brain. Roads are made for the following uses:

  • Putting up small shops, eateries and weekly marketplaces.
  • Allowing cattle, stray dogs and assorted animals (including camels and the stray elephant) to walk on and sleep, should the need arise.
  • Crushing agricultural produce under vehicle tyres.
  • Parking vehicles and handcarts.
  • Only incidentally for enabling movement from Point A to B.

 

Queuing up and the Yellow Line

Although the zero may have been conceptualised in India, straight lines and geometry do not interest Indians. Observe queues anywhere. They will always snake around, even at the most modern airports.

The yellow line one sees at service counters is another superfluous Western concept. Research in India shows that the multi-tasking ability and the powers of concentration and hearing of the service-provider improve if eight or ten flailing arms and loud voices engage his or her attention simultaneously. Imagine how boring it can be handling just one customer at a time. Do we want our people to be good multi-taskers or not?

 

Starers Galore

You won’t see many Indian world champions in sport. The reason is the world has not yet adopted the sports at which we are most adept. Indians would make worthy world champions at staring. We must be the biggest starers of them all. Part of it is curiosity, part plain lewdness. But very few actually mean any harm.

So be prepared to be openly and aggressively stared at, especially if you are of comely mien. And if you wish to react, do so by staring back and then winking. This is bound to make the other person look away sheepishly most of the time.

 

Spitting Out the Red Stuff

Another sport at which Indians would be undisputed world champions is spitting. I would challenge any other nation to send their most qualified spitters to face us in open competition. It is the birthright of every Indian to chew betel nut and then spit the red juice in seemingly endless streams from buses, trains, bicycles, while walking, while singing and any which way they like wherever they wish.

Staircase corners are a national favourite. Ingenious solutions have been found too. One brilliant idea was to put pictures of any of the thousands of Gods from the Hindu pantheon at frequently used corners. So there is a real chance that red corners may become history. 

 

Even Cobras Do It

Image Courtesy http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/staticfiles/NGS/Shared/StaticFiles/animals/images/800/Snake%20gallery%20images%20800/mozambique-spitting-cobra-sw.jpg
Image Courtesy http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/staticfiles/NGS/Shared/StaticFiles/animals/images/800/Snake%20gallery%20images%20800/mozambique-spitting-cobra-sw.jpg

We Are Going

We are going,

Heaven knows where we are going

We will know we’re there

We will get there

Heaven knows how we will get there

We know we will–Osibisa in the music album Woyaya

 

In any Indian town or city, you will see hordes of people rushing around throughout the day and most of the night. This will make you wonder, “Hey, where are these people going? Shouldn’t they be in offices or homes or wherever?” But rest assured, most of them are not just wandering around aimlessly. It may amaze you, but they do have specific places to get to–and they overturn the odds and get there.

Cleanliness and Godliness

India defies the conventional saying of Cleanliness being next to Godliness. Indians score high on personal hygiene, but collectively we are a disaster. Godliness you will find aplenty wherever you look. Cleanliness? Aha, a little more difficult to find. Individual homes are clean but our public areas are a mess. We just dump our muck outside and pray to God for someone to remove it.

If public cleanliness is absent, can unique smells be far behind? Our champion city in this respect is definitely Mumbai. Every kilometer offers a different smell depending on the wind direction. This will surely keep your nose twitching busily.

So What Should You Do before Visiting?

These little bits may help you prepare for the culture shock. And remember, what they say about Romans applies as well to Indians. Perhaps you could consider learning the following arts:

  • How to spit accurately to get your own back in case some spit hits you.
  • How to blow a horn to create maximum effect to disperse a herd of cattle.
  • How to stare back and wink at men who stare at you.
  • How to stand in the middle of a passageway and converse loudly while gesticulating wildly.
  • How to maneouvre your body so it squeezes tightly into a mass of other bodies.

But don’t let all this scare you. India is still glorious and Indians are warm, friendly and hospitable. Once you’ve learned that you can actually keep your eyes open without fear while sitting in a car, half the battle is won and India is yours to enjoy. Just let the adventurer in you stand up and be counted.

* Chawl-a type of building with single-room tenements, generally in crowded localities.

My thanks to Sally's Trove for her masterly finishing touches to this Hub.

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Comments 28 comments

Sharing Insight profile image

Sharing Insight 7 years ago

Sabu!! How glorious a read during my yummy cup of coffee! Inida is prominently displayed in my Wish book of places I plan to travel to(especially due to my love of Yoga), and so I definitely plan on visiting. So you see your Hub has been embraced completely by lil me. Thanks so much for your details and fine fine writing style... I LOVE IT!!! I laughed out loud repeatedly! Thank you for bringing sunshine into my day, and broading my expectations at a lovely personal level...WOnderful wonderful HUB!! Please keep them coming...

p.s. Your description of the roadways or "transit system" reminded me a lot of the dominican republic --the driving is hysterical..and to use the public transport..5, 6, 12 people stuck in a tiny cab on top of one another...but you know what? Always fun!! Everyone telling stories and laughing..also bracing themselves and their lives at the same time because for the cab drivers -there is not such thing as obeying Red, green, much less yellow lights ...and right of way? No such thing!! Honk go! Honk Go! Open space get in get in!! Too funny!

Thanks again Sabu...much much appreciated.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thanks so much Sharing Insight. Your comments are such a reward. You are absolutely right - our people keep smiling inspite of adversity and great challenge. I saw the same thing in Kenya. The Dominican Republic sounds much like India. Thank you for reading. Whenever you decide to visit India, let me know if we can do anything. BTW, did you see the video clip? Amazing isn't it?


kiran8 profile image

kiran8 7 years ago from Mangalore, India

So very true !What more can one say about Glorious India . Very honest article thanks a lot Sabu:)


Sharing Insight profile image

Sharing Insight 7 years ago

Thanks Sabu! yes, I've just watched the video clip...unbelievable...!! It's funny from that view, I'm sure the perspective while being in it is a lot less funny! Also its interesting among the chaotic, and it seems unruly driving there is however a sort of rhythm?...everyone on the same page..go! It had its moments of easy flow...but then again...lol

Thanks again, and I will keep you in mind whenever in India...:)


jiberish profile image

jiberish 7 years ago from florida

SABU, how very intersting and charming. I have in the past had the pleasure of working with many Indian and I find them to be such intersting and kind people. So what if there is a little chaos? It's like the saying goes: act like a duck, calm and poised on the outside, but paddle like heck underneath. Thank you so much for the insight.


Connie Smith profile image

Connie Smith 7 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

This was a very interesting and insightful article on your country, Sabu. I got a good laugh out of the video, amazed that your countrymen are so skilled in driving that not one accident took place in the 2:18 minute video. Here in America, the intersection would have been tied up for hours with the rescue workers and tow trucks of the 80 car pile up. I also noticed that the busses just kept on driving, no matter who was in the way.

I would love to see it all in person, but I have a weak stomach and spitters (and strange smells) make me violently ill. Unfortunately, we have many spitters in America as well, but not as many, I think, as in India, according to your article. Thank you for the wonderful and descriptive hub so that I was able to experience a small part of it with me having to add my own muck to your public spaces lol.


SEO Expert Kerala profile image

SEO Expert Kerala 7 years ago from KERALA

you always pointing negative sides of India ,there are lot of positive sides of India....Try to cover that too


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thank you Kiran, Sharing Insight, Jiberish, Connie and SEO Expert. Thanks for reading and for your comments and observations.

Yes Connie, I suppose you could call our drivers skilled. I would also add with high self-preservation needs!!!

As far as the positives and negatives of India are concerned, SEO Expert, I would suggest you read my Hub "10 Things That Make me Proud to be Indian, 10 that make me Sad".

This was not meant to be a brochure for the Tourism Ministry. Just an irreverent (meaning lacking seriousness) view of our country and its people. I think it is important to be able to laugh at ourselves both as individuals as well as nations and not take ourselves too seriously all the time. I hope you agree with that. I would be happy to read a Hub from you on the greatness of India too.


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

As is famously said in India, "We are like this only"!

Very entertaining read, Sabu! :)


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Absolutely FP. Thanks so much for reading.

I am waiting for your next burst of inspiration.


jiberish profile image

jiberish 7 years ago from florida

SEO, I by no means thought this Hub was negative. I think it may just be how you perceived it.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Well said J. Thanks


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Another illuminating, engrossing, and enjoyable Hub about India from you. One day I hope to be able to practice your recommended six arts when I am welcomed to India. Of the 6, the most difficult might be the first and last, since I'm not a natural spitter and I loathe being in a crowd; but the one I might have the most fun with is the third--I'm pretty good at winking. ;p

Once again, Sabu, it's a pleasure to work with you.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thank you very much for your kind words, ST. They mean a lot to me. Thanks also for your time and effort to improve the quality of the Hub.


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 7 years ago from New Delhi, India

Great hub, Sabu. I can only repeat what the prophetic feline has stated earlier: We are like this only!

You've done a good job warning potential visitors about the excesses: crowded passage ways, congested roads, gross indiscipline, the starers and the spitters galore. But you have missed mentioning those essentials in which we might be found lacking: necessities like electricity, water, roads (without potholes), sense of time, etc. ?


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thank you for reading Jaspal. You are absolutely right there is much more masala. I thought I would leave it to the Prophet to take this forward.LOL


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

India is a country that grow up every year. Why I interesting with this country, because the people hold their religion and their believing. English is second language, why India is one of the country in Asia that trusted on internet. Someday I'll go to India. Maybe I can meet Sakh Rukh Khan...hahaha. great hub. thanks for share


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thanks Prasetio. All I can say is that you will not get bored in India. There is so much to see and experience, so much colour and action, sounds and smells. It is a different world altogether.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Sabu - what a super hub! Yes, we are like this only - but we manage to smile and stay happy through all the chaos and confusion!


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Shalini, where have you been, my first fan? I have been waiting for your comments. Many thanks for reading. Yes, we do manage to smile, even if it is through betel-stained teeth. LOL


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Hey Sabu - was in Bombay with my parents - better late then never - trust all is well with both of you!


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

That explains it Shalini.

Trust all is well with you.

We are like this only.


Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 6 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

Enjoyed this Hub as well, Sabu!

I've never had (or created) the chance to travel to India, but I almost felt I had a brief visit there this morning over my orange juice!


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 6 years ago Author

Thank you, Doc Snow for reading.

I would strongly recommend you create the chance to travel at least once to India.

You will love it or hate it, but you won't forget it.

Let me know if we can do something to make this happen.


Reiki 6 years ago

Wonderful Hub sabu!!


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 6 years ago Author

Thank you Reiki. Glad you enjoyed reading it.


Tubbs Merouge profile image

Tubbs Merouge 6 years ago from Louisiana

That was very informative. I experienced some of the same things when I was in Russia. Now after reading this I have a much better understanding. Thanks for that really good article!


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 6 years ago Author

Thank you for reading Tubbs Merouge. As you know, the real flavour of a country comes when you visit and see for yourself. We would be happy to welcome you to India.

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