Snapshot of Crowded and Colourful India
Standing Out from the Crowd
In India for a couple of months, I had the privilege of experiencing a culture very different from Singapore's. Being fair in a sea of dark has its advantages. Because we stand out, the people here treat us special (besides the scams).
Unfortunately, being so different also makes you easy target for lechers. My friend got flashed at two weeks ago. She was stunned for a moment then ran after him whacking his back with her bag before he made his escape. This girl carries pepper spray with her all the time but grumbles that she always gets too stunned to use it when she needs to. Actually, I don’t think that is necessarily safe since the attacker could use the spray against you and you’ll regret the day the idea of pepper spray popped into your head.
Commuting through the traffic rush and seeing people dangling from the doors of buses, sometimes with one foot left swinging like a pendulum, is arresting to say the least but less dangerous than being overwhelmed in a marketplace. Out of nowhere, a cart came charging like a war chariot and I escaped by a hair’s breadth, jumping out of its way and right into a ditch. That is why it is sometimes a better idea to shop in a proper supermarket or provision shop.
At the Provision Shop
Actually, the provision shop is more like a mini wet market with LCD screens and scanning capabilities at the cashier. The receipts are still handwritten and the cash register is really a partitioned wooden drawer. Now, the cashier point can be a real drag. If you have experienced the Indonesian cashier’s speed, this is just a tiny notch better. You know, like a second snail that happened to take in a little more carbo in the morning. Sometimes the guy makes a mistake, or the shopper thinks he has, then the waiting time flips to infinity as they argue ceaselessly over whether he has scanned an extra bar of soap or another packet of milk. Being next in line after a woman who has only 2 packets of juice to scan can still mean at least 5 min of waiting. After kneeling on the floor to reach for something and nearly doing a split because it was so greasy, witnessing the hapless cashier being bullied can do more than bore: It wells up a caustic mix of sympathy and crankiness.
Crawford Market in Mumbai
Street Sellers and Touts
The Indians are a most enterprising lot - it's something you can't miss because every street and corner that you traverse, 11 out of 10 times, someone wants to sell you something every other step. Nevermind that the 64 people before him failed to sell you sunglasses, the 65th person (bless his spritely energy and optimism) will still leap into your path to promote his "cheap and best in the world!" sunglasses that will make you look "like a famous Bollywood star!"
On the Trains
Now, the trains in Mumbai are well-known for the maddening crowds. Yet, even as you - the hapless foreigner - are trying to cope, your frazzled nerves are constantly harrassed by men and women hawking hairclips, bangles, pen with invisible ink, fresh crabs... the list goes on.
By the Coast
After we've had enough of work in the precarious World Trade Centre that was receiving bomb threats every other week, we'd usually head to the Queen's Necklace - the coast that was so-named because of the beautiful effect of the street lights lining the gentle curve of the Mumbai coastline - in the evenings.
And there, two lovely girls selling flowers would find us enjoying the evening sea breeze each day, and deploy their usual "please buy our flowers" routine. I remember the first time they came shyly to this bunch of people who appeared so alien, probably wondering if we would be a profitable lot.
They hung around us, caressing our arms with the roses and imploring us to buy. One of them was in a pretty white lacy frock which might not have been washed for awhile or could have been aged because the edges were blackened and dull. I believed it was her work "uniform". They played with my braided hair and held the stalks to our chests again and again pleadingly. When we turned them away, they smiled and pleaded again in their slow smiling way. We watched to see how long they would hang in there, and a note to everyone is that their persistence is not to be trifled with, even if you pretend to go into a trance, rock back and forth and ignore their existence.
If they can scratch rose stalks against your arms, or bounce a balloon against your nose repeatedly, or tickle your back, or weave figures of eight around you to catch your attention, they will. They will also ascertain and point out to you quite confidently that any female next to you must be your girlfriend. Therefore, you should buy her a rose. Two or more preferably. Believe me, insurance salesmen could pick up a thing or two from them.
Traversing anywhere to catch dinner or just enjoying a leisurely stroll was invitation enough for street vendors.. "Buy some knobs, mám?", "Beeyoodiful shawls, mám!", "See my oil lamp, very excellent!", "You want to buy some telescopes mám?".....
So Much More about India
There is so much to experience and enjoy in India that it is simply not possible to cover them all in an article. If chaos appeals to you, I strongly urge you to make a trip to this fabulous place to see everything first-hand.