Sunday, 6 November 2011

Only in India

A few recent events have led me to give this post that title. And it's theme. I'm going to dedicate this post to things you'll probably only encounter in India.

Since day one I've witnessed events that, in other countries, would be considered strange at the very least. Although I'm sure that many of these events do happen elsewhere, just out of the view of everyone else. I'll start off small...

One thing you're likely only to witness in India is someone else's morning ablutions... outside... in the gutter... of a busy street. Yes, sadly I've had to witness this. And when I say witness, I mean I was there when it happened. I didn't walk by later and see the evidence. It's pretty rough, and it's made even more rough by the fact that nobody else seems to notice. People seem blissfully unaware as to what is happening just a few feet away. I put this down to the fact that there are almost no public toilets to speak of in India. For example, in Mumbai (a city with a population of nearly 17 million people) there are only about 300 public toilet facilities.

Varanasi and the Ganges
Moving on. Varanasi is a very holy city for Hindus. Dying in Varanasi allows a believer to be freed from the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. It comes as no surprise, then, that Varanasi is a very auspicious place to die and death is very much a part of life (uhh...) in Varanasi. After a long overnight train trip I arrived in Varanasi and made my way through a warren of little alleys to the guest house at which I'd be staying. On my way I heard chanting coming from behind me. I turned around and saw a body being carried down to the burning ghat for cremation, wrapped in a white cloth, head bobbing as it was whisked off to the pyres. Only in India.

Staying on the topic of dead people - a boat trip on the Ganges... While most people who die in Varanasi get a flaming send-off, others are not so lucky. Young girls, pregnant women and lepers don't get burnt at the funeral pyres. I'm not sure why although a guy did mention it had something to do with the young girls and foetuses being innocent. I'm not sure about the lepers though. Anyway, those who don't get burnt have a somewhat different send-off. They get wrapped up in a white cloth, tied to a huge boulder and dropped in the deepest part of the Ganges. Nice. The ropes they use to tie the bodies to the boulders are notoriously weak and it's not uncommon to see a body floating down the Ganges. Which brings me to my boat trip. You can't visit Varanasi and get away without taking a paddle up and down the Ganges, and perhaps watching a puja along the way. I went on a cruise of the Ganges and guess what bobbed past...
Yes, you guessed it - a body. Wrapped in a white cloth and looking decidedly displeased about being released by it's boulder. But it had to make an appearance on Halloween, right?

This last one could happen anywhere, and probably does. But the fact that it happened in India, while I was watching, afforded me the opportunity to shake my head in disbelief and say, "Only in India."
I was sitting in the exact spot I'm sitting now, in an Internet Cafe. The lights started flickering and I wondered what might be causing them to do so. A flash of light outside caught my attention as the lights flickered inside. I looked outside, and saw...

Quite typically of an overhead electricity cable, it was exploding as the current passed through it. The cable crackled and lit up with a bright, white light as it cascaded sparks into a nearby tree. You'd think an event such as this would draw a crowd. Quite the opposite; rickshaws, motorbikes and pedestrians calmly passed by as the sparks showered down nearby. The only acknowledgement of the exploding, overhead cable was by the pedestrians who crossed to the other side of the road to avoid the sparks. Calm as you like.

Only in India...

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