As 2018 and our time in India comes to an end, it’s time to say goodbye and reflect on our stay in this amazing country. From the stunning spectacle of the Taj Mahal, to the backstreets of old Dehli, from our encounters with a tiger and leopard to our visit to Kerala’s tranquil backwaters, from meeting local people on the trains and buses to the craftsmanship and spirituality of the ancient temples of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka….it has been wonderful. I’m unable to pick out a favourite moment. Everywhere there is colour, ordered chaos and an energy which makes this country which is so full of history and tradition, feel so alive.
In amongst all this wonder there are some customs and cultures which are puzzling and I thought I would share just a few;
- The Indian head shake
This endearing gesture, a cross between a nod and a shake, is usually silent and had us utterly confused…. does it mean ’no’, or ‘yes’, or maybe a ‘maybe’! Our guide has told us that the head bobble is the non-verbal equivalent of the Hindi word achha, which means anything from ‘good’ to ‘I understand’. So, it seems that there can be many interpretations and speed matters, with a faster bobble meaning ‘yes, I agree’ while a slow shake could mean ‘I’m not sure’ and then as the bobbling continues, ‘ok… I understand now’. Its quite infectious and I now often find myself joining in.
- Cement adverts
They are everywhere. In the cities on big billboards, on the side of bus shelters and the walls of small shacks in villages in the middle of nowhere! ‘Start strong, grow stronger’, ‘Indulge in the joy of building’ they say. There is certainly a lot of building in India, whether it be new roads or bridges, or simply patching up a village shack or house. I find an article online from the Hindu Times; ‘Emotional ties are trying to be a strong adhesive for cement manufacturers, who wish to bond with their customers’ they say. But I’m still not getting it……it must be a culture thing!
- Toilet etiquette
I’m sure you will have already heard some horror stories about toilets in India, so I’ll try not to dwell too long on this subject! I usually send my trusty toilet checker, John, in first before deciding whether to hold on a bit longer or not. There’s a flaw in this plan though, as he has a very poor sense of smell! Squat toilets are still common, and I usually avoid unless desperate. There are a few other things which still puzzle me, like … why are the toilet rolls individually wrapped and stuck down with sellotape? and why is there a tap with a bucket/jug and drain in the toilet? and why is the toilet floor often completely flooded? These mysteries of toilet etiquette remain unsolved…. perhaps to be unravelled on my next trip to India!
- Impossible roadside shacks and dodgy wiring
As we travel through India, we pass many a cheery roadside shack advertising anything from a tea shop, to a hotel, a garage, to an A&E department with MRI facilities. How does this work, they look just like shacks? I get the tea shop, but an MRI…really? Another memorable shop in Jaipur proudly displayed a glass cabinet full of 2nd hand spectacles, false teeth and glass eyes……. is there really a market for 2nd hand dentures? And then there’s the electrical wires which adorn the streets like tinsel draped around a Christmas tree, with their various connections hovering just above our heads. It’s got to be seen to be believed, and is it safe?
- Bike culture
There are motorbikes everywhere. They seem to be a replacement for the family car. One scooter can easily take 4; a toddler standing up front, dad driving and mum riding side saddle, baby clutched in one arm and the other holding on to the bike ….and there’s only one helmet between them! It really is quite amazing what you can fit on a bike/scooter…. luggage, furniture, a 4-foot Christmas star decoration, or a passenger with a bandaged foot and his Zimmer frame! With so very little space, and the manoeuvrability required to navigate the roads in this country, the motorbike seems to be the perfect solution.
So, as I sit in Dabolim airport in Goa finishing this blog on the first day of 2019, we are leaving amazing India, home to the weird and the wonderful. We are sad to be leaving, but we are ready for our next adventure.