India: A way of life

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As I enjoy wonderful first world amenities aboard Turkish airlines I find it interesting to ponder what awaits me in India. Out of the window, as we fly around the Middle East no fly zone, I can see the oil refinery fires lighting up huge tracts of open land with their glowing magnificence. Someone too has a green laser pointer and is targeting our plane. An ominous thought crosses my mind for a moment, but then remember how fun laser pointers are. 
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I arrive in India without much incident going through the normal airport checks and duties. The immigration officer forgets to stamp my passport, but begrudgingly fixes his mistake. I negotiate my first haggling of a taxi when my new friend tries to get me a whole 6 person for myself which is beyond expensive. I locate a normal taxi man for all I can tell and still get taken for a ride, but what a great ride. I am in a shoddy little metal box and driving through the amazing traffic of Mumbai. India is just what I expected of a third world country and my fears dissipate. I need to learn the ropes, but today I have only one task. Ride my first day high all the way to Pune where I will reside for 3 months and figure it out. So I don’t mind when I overpay for my taxi, or when it breaks down 5 minutes later. I am smiling and enjoying it all. His friend picks us up and takes me not to my desired destination, but a bus station to Pune. The price for the bus is correct, but now I super overpaid for my taxi to a far away destination, but oh well. He asks for a 50 in tip and I just have to laugh at India. I’ll get my chops quick enough and I’ll enjoy doing it. Meditating on letting go of the few dollars wasted I realize that all my desired experiences have occurred and I must thank the universe. Above all else I wanted to easily, quickly, and with great joy secure passage to Pune. Well accomplished indeed. I’ll manifest cheap later. For now I am intact and on my way to Pune for 4 hours. Within my first day I will discover just about all I need to understand India.

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There is trash everywhere and while it assaults my mental concepts of aesthetic beauty, I find it almost to be more honest. The world is full of trash, more being made each day, whose fate will be the same. At least the Indians have the truth staring them in the face and are resolved to its presence. Perhaps this “in your face” approach would spur western public opinion to consider more our mass produced and disposable way of life more critically. We can keep putting it out of sight, but it still remains. This leads to the first realization, that the east has put more emphasis on developing the inner world than the outer beauty.  Each person is very friendly and has a peace about their life that isn’t found in the west despite all our outer appearances.

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Layers of beliefs are shedding as they come to the surface. Are these people suffering? What is daily life, work, the point to anyone here? I know nothing, but looking at anyone they seem to be in their place, doing whatever they are doing and not resigned with an air of defeat at their fate, but rather embrace it as life. I struggle with my conceptions to place this way of being. What drives it? Is it even real or an outsiders quick understanding?  To sell chips and chai on busses all day, can one really enjoy that life? I look around at life and it’s multifaceted functioning and the beautiful mess of it all. I see people totally fine with the way the world is here. I was told to not try to change India, but embrace it and that’s the approach I’m taking. I look at the world and remember this isn’t the world. This is what man has made, the world is nature. So to ask myself the question of “could I find contentment in this system?” This question shows that we forget that this system is a choice and the natural world still exists. I don’t have to choose between this society and that society.  I am choosing to live life rebelliously and choose something different and authentic to myself.

The Indian head wobble is a very amazing and astoundingly confusing motion to a western mind.  As they stand there shaking their head no, they are completely agreeing with you.  You know they are saying yes, but still the conditioning of a yes being a forward nod, instead of a side to side no, is hard to let go.  You also learn right away that if they don’t know what you just asked, the answer is always “yes, yes”.

Is this food vegan?  
Yes yes.
So does it have any milk in it?
Oh Yes! (This is India you idiot)

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I remind my friends that they probably have no idea what the word vegan is.  So everyone learns to ask simpler questions if they really need to know something. Everyones english goes down a degree, because less is more and you just want to get the meaning across.

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Begging is a profession here. It seems a necessity as well for many people, whom have horrendous injuries or missing and twisted limbs. There is the magic show men who have a special flower that opens at your touch. There are the maimed and old sitting in the street. There are the street venders selling all manor of things that seem useless to me. There are the thin ladies who all look the same, carrying a small child in their arms, miming the movement for food or grabbing onto your shawl. Forever conditioning their young to be beggars their whole lives as well. 

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*credit Nicholas Powel & Adriana Le Blan
There is another group of beggars, that includes the various animals that share the streets.  Along with the packs of dogs and holy cows eating the daily garbage, i’ve seen camels, horses, donkeys, cats, rats, elephants, and monkeys moving through traffic and stealing oranges from street venders who don’t have a keen eye. Its quite a zoo at times, but always interesting.  However, you do always need to watch where you are walking as there are no zoo keepers cleaning this cage.

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Then there are the countless little shops everywhere that all sell about the same things every block.  There are also people selling fruit and vegetables on the street every block it seems.  How can this system work?  Who goes to these people to buy their oranges?  I suddenly realize this is decentralization.  In the west we travel many miles to visit a supermarket to buy all our foods and items; by a reputable source and as far as we can tell. In India, you have to walk no more than a few feet and most of what you need is there. Today its this man with oranges, and tomorrow it may be someone else with papaya. You go into the little shop and perhaps they have 1 of the item you want, and like mothers pantry will fill it again with what seems like odds and ends when they get around to it.  Surprisingly, I find everything I need easily and so does everyone else, otherwise this system wouldn’t work.  The ideas of east and west are so different, I am sure when I step into a western supermarket for the first time, I will be appalled once again at how many useless things there are in 10 slightly different variations all competing for your attention and money. This decentralization is also the reason that you may leave a bus station heading toward a major city, only to be dropped off at an out of the way parking lot with hoards of taxi drivers jumping for your business. Everything from fruit and household goods to finding taxi drivers is setup to support hundreds of middle men all making their daily wage. 

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Then there is the haggling of course. Most things are negotiable except for items with the price stamped on them. Rickshaws charge the day price and the night price. Anything you want is always marked up for the unknowing person to overpay.  Somedays you just don’t feel like fighting the whole system and just want to know the damn price so you can plan your life and shopping. If you don’t know what number to fight over, you feel so lost and wonder if your number is insulting or just part of the game. Walking away instantly drops the price, but even then you never know what bottom dollar is. I figure out the prices for rickshaw rides without ever turning on a meter, and once I know that, I know exactly how much to haggle and stick to my prices when someone wants to charge too much.  This makes life easy and fun.  Give me a few ground rules and then ill have a good time.

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I can say without a doubt that India teaches you how to live life.  Life goes on and with a few social skills you can achieve just about anything. From housing and transportation to food and entertainment, while having some good laughs in between, India is an experience in what constitutes daily life without all the gloss and glam covering the person to person interaction that turns the world one more day. It may look very different (and smell very different), but India is a unique experience in the world and despite all my fears before arriving I have found the ground beneath my feet and everyone can learn to stand up here.  Blessings to everyone on their journey.

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