Last Thoughts from India


I’m on the flight back from Mumbai right now, so I thought I’d write down a couple of things I noticed over the course of the week but haven’t jotted down yet:

1) It’s illegal to advertise liquor/beer in India, so brands get around this by essentially pretending that they sell something else and not mentioning booze.  For instance, Black Dog whiskey shows a man making barrels in what is obviously a distillery, but says nothing about being alcohol.  Instead, small print says “Oak Cask Cabinets.”  Similarly, both Chivas Regal (extolling the “Chivas Life”) and Johnnie Walker are “CDs and Cassettes”.  Smirnoff is more exotic at “Asian Restaurants” (I defy you to find one) and Kingfisher Premium is “Packaged Drinking Water.”

2) Everywhere you go you see ads for cement.  I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world where cement is so aggressively advertised to consumers.  And speaking of advertising, the State Bank of India has an ad that features the Toronto skyline; I could see my old apartment.

3) Traffic rules are nominal at best.  In Mumbai, we saw instances where a two lane road became three lanes in one direction and one in the other simply because people became tired of waiting.  Similarly, sometimes intersections (even with cops directing them) seemed governed more by critical mass than anything else: once enough people began creeping through the intersection the cops would let them go, otherwise nothing.  And finally, during dusk the taxi drivers motor about with their lights off so that they can use them to flash people to get out of the way rather than signal their presence to oncoming traffic.

4) Indian men pee outside all the time and many do it in a most unusual way.  They crouch down on their haunches and unzip.  The urbane men of Mumbai have adopted a more Western approach of urinating in public while standing up.

5) Fascinating to see the local female attire.  In Rajasthan it was all colourful saris.  In Mumbai it was a flowing shirt over pants (sometimes traditional, sometimes western).  Mumbai was also the only place where we saw women in western clothing e.g., jeans and a blouse.  You never see anything revealing.

6) If you ever get a chance, order a Govind Gatta or Malai Kofta.  They’re incredibly light curries with a fried potato/vegetable ball in the middle.  We only ever saw them in Rajasthan; the cuisine in Bombay was completely different.

7) Mumbai is officially the craziest city ever.  Everywhere you go there are people.  Every square inch of space is either used for driving, selling or walking (or urinating).  There are so many people that commuters are literally hanging out the open doors of the packed subways and trains.

8) Check out the countries we flew over to get to London: Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany and then the Netherlands.  I couldn’t see too much of Iran or Afghanistan as it was cloudy, but both looked like dusty, foreboding places...

9) Cab drivers here are so poor that they turn off their cars/tuk-tuks whenever possible.  In Jaisalmer, the tuk-tuk drivers would coast from the top of the fort to the bottom while in Mumbai our driver would simply turn off the engine whenever traffic was stalled.

10) I went into an airport that had sit-down toilets (i.e., the ones you see in North America).  There were instructions there on how to use them; most people are used to squatting.

Finally, I also made it to a beautiful place in Jodhpur yesterday called the Jaswath Thada.  It’s a marble cenotaph (read that again: it’s all marble) built to commemorate one of the Maharajah’s.  The only unfortunate thing about it was that I tried to walk there and was followed half way across town by a crazy schizo who basically forced me to jump in a cab to escape him!  Here’s a photo-of the cenotaph, not the psycho:


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

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