Friday, February 11, 2011

10 Things Found in Abundance

1. Modes of transportation. The streets are cluttered with cars, busses, mopeds, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, bicycles, horse-driven carts, ox-driven carts, and even camels. I’ve seen it all, which leads me seamlessly to my next point…

2. Traffic. The traffic in Hyderabad is like nothing I have seen before. It is not your typical traffic with cars patiently sitting in line behind one another, waiting for their turn or exit. Imagine space for four lanes (except there aren’t any lanes because there are no painted lines) stuffed with six or seven cars/busses/autos. Not to mention the herds of motorcycles and mopeds snaking between them all.

A glimpse of traffic from an auto. Plus there was five on one motorcycle!

I see the roads here almost like a flowing, tumultuous river. Everyone is moving the same direction but with no real order. When entering a congested road or trying to change lanes, cars kind of have to flow into the mess as soon as they see an inch of space, hoping the person behind them stops.

Now this mixed with no cross walks, stop-lights, or general adherence to traffic rules make driving, crossing, or even walking close to the street feel risky, not to mention unpleasant. This is especially the case considering the incessant beeping that follows traffic everywhere.  I’ve learned a few key lessons about crossing: walk one lane at a time, walk confidently, and when all else fails just put your hand up to the on-coming traffic and scream.

3. Mustaches. They are a sign of masculinity and thus India’s most popular fashion trend. Thick, thin, bushy, or handle-bar style-- men of all ages sport the ‘stache. You will rarely see a Bollywoood or Tollywood star without one.

4. Colors. I never thought I was a dull dresser until I came here. All women, no matter their age or socio-economic status wear the most brilliantly colored, bright clothes. The brighter the better. When women are not wearing their saris they often wear kurtas—longer shirts with slits up the sides— with high-rise leggings and a scarf. Often times the kurtas will come with “matching” leggings or pants that are equally as bright as their tops. For example, I purchased a striking red shirt that came with orange pants and an orange scarf with red stripes. I wear my black pants and gray top to work and feel self-conscious not about showing too much skin, but about looking too drab.

5. Tiny people. Indians are small. Not just short, but petite too. So much so that everywhere I go I feel huge. This “giant-syndrome” becomes particularly obvious when in close quarters like my office elevator. It feels like I take up half of the elevator and cower over everyone. This does come in handy in certain occasions, like taking group photos. When everyone else is a head shorter than you, it makes for easy group picture posing because you don’t have to search for a spot to be seen.

Just to demonstrate "giant syndrome."
6. Men peeing on the street. The concept of public toilets hasn’t fully permeated Indian culture yet so the sight of men peeing on various walls throughout the city is a common sighting.   Women have it rough because you can’t just squat anywhere and the aforementioned lack of public toilets makes travel to unknown places a little bathroom-challenged.

7. Roaming animals on the street. While this may be a stereotypical image of an Indian road, it is absolutely true. On my street alone, I regularly see dogs, pigs, goats, cows, buffalo and chicken. Although this is not the extent of it. I have also seen camels, horses, donkeys, cats, monkeys, and onetime even an elephant (although he was accompanied by a handler). The strangest sight is to see the buffalo and cows meandering around the city, seemingly with no home. While I am still confused about this issue, I think they have places to return to every night. One of my tour guides in Delhi said that they like to stand near the street though because the passing cars help cool them off from flies.

8. Masala.  What would a blogpost be without the mention of food? It’s a mixture of hot spices abundantly found in just about everything. So much so, that when servers see a white face in a restaurant they often times assume we want food “no spicy.” Even after this firm “no spicy” warning, the food somehow always manages to clear out my sinuses, making me sniffle by the end of most meals. I determined that this is the reason Indians tend to not only wash their hands after a meal, but also rinse their faces. After all, they have runny noses.

9. Ads with white people. This may be the strangest phenomenon discovered yet, but ads all over town feature white people. The Shopper’s Stop by my house—a big, high-end department store—has a few huge advertisements hanging on the face of the building featuring little white kids wearing Western clothes. When the models aren’t white they are always very light-skinned Indians. This speaks to the stigma against dark-colored skin here—everyone wants to be lighter than they are and will wear lightening cream or bleach their skin to appear so. A darker coworker of mine, one of the most beautiful woman I have ever seen—wears a sweatshirt outside in 90 degree weather just so her skin won’t get any darker.

10. Non-verbal communication. I have learned how to have a conversation here solely through bodily gestures and grunts. A deep “ughh” sound means “yes.” A popular one is the head wobble. Moving your head from side to side, making discreet figure eight motions when someone is speaking with you means something like “I hear you,” or “Agreed,” or “You understand me?” And my personal favorite, the raised pinkie. Or, “Where is the bathroom?”