India Re-Discovered

Day 3

Delhi is an interesting city, like most cities emerging in India. On the one hand there are the high-rise apartments, like the one I am presently in, the metro trains reminiscent of a transport system in a foreign land and restaurants serving beer as if it were water. On the other hand, Delhi has its small lanes leading to smaller lanes, a system which only the Cycle Rickshaw driver can navigate through. The cycle rickshaw, the act of one person physically pulling another, makes you realize what true service to someone really is. This part of Delhi for me has a striking similarity with cities like Hapur and Amroha, cities which I later visited, where much the cities looked and felt much like what you feel in Old Delhi. This led me to believe that in these cities, there is no fuel which can fire economic growth, and economic growth mainly comes through agriculture and small industrial businesses.

After a hectic day of travel, we couldn’t wake up in time (530 on a winter morning) to catch the train to Hapur (the city I visited later that day). We woke up a little later and decided to experience a journey by bus. A lot of facts in India are learnt through experience, you have to make a mistake to know an answer. We arrived at the Bus Station at Kashmere Gate only to find that buses to Hapur do not leave from that bus stand. After this, we took a bus to the Bus Station in Anand Vihar, a more distant locality in Delhi. At Anand Vihar, we were welcomed by the usual touts whose job is pretty much undefined. Neither do they direct you to a bus you would want to take, nor do they take you into the bus they seem to be touting for. While we were figuring out which bus we were to take, we got mixed responses. Some people kept directing us to a Bus Stand from where we could get a “dream-like” private bus, while others directed us to “rustic-looking” private buses. The gentleman who was incharge of handling inquiries also told us to take the private bus, which makes me wonder what vested interests all the different players have in this business.

We finally for into a government bus headed for Hapur, and further. We got in, and heard the “bas paanch minute aur bhaiyya” for the next half hour, which was when we finally departed. We then stopped at a bus stop, perhaps a few kilometres ahead, where the bus driver, in what seemed to be purposely, stopped right behind another bus. After endless honking, the bus ahead finally left, which was when our smart bus driver decided to stop behind another big bus. By this time, the half empty bus was brimming with passengers who were boiling with rage. When one passenger finally demanded his money, the bus driver was forced to start the bus, and we departed. Much of the rest of the journey was spent by me in blissful oblivion. The rest of it was spent in a constant struggle with the gentleman next to me, who too intrusively, was trying to take my share of the cramped seat in the bus.

Hapur is around 60 km from Ghaziabad, and the money from Delhi seems to be flowing into the place. The city has more than one broad road and lacked the prominent Islamic touch present at Amroha. The cycle-rickshaw here too is a very common mode of transport. The charges of a cycle rickshaw seems standard all over North India, based on data from more than one place where I have traveled in it.

A striking feature of these small places is the lack of a decent restaurant, somehow indicative of the spending capability of the population in that place. A decent restaurant is one where there is a Menu Card, a waiter who takes you order and a bill presented to you at the end of your meal. While I find no necessity of such a meal, the lack of such an option is deserving of a mention.

After finishing our work at Hapur, we returned to Delhi, the same day, by bus. The end of the journey was an end of a long day. Travel is tiring, you want to just sleep at the end of it. Some people in our country do this everyday, travel so much, and work for much less. They do so, day in, and day out. I think they deserve their due.

 

Day 2

Even in the smallest towns in India, the minimum amount I would need as a traveller for food expenses would be 50 rupees. Its impossible for me to imagine a family of 4, eating, sleeping and clothing themselves for 250 rupees a day, the minimum wage a labourer earns in our country. That is the state of many families in India.

So many people work so hard to feed themselves. Today, I rode a tractor to travel a distance of around 5km for 5 rupees. The ride was amazing in its own way, to be on top of a tractor with hay on the tractors floor, and to see the fields go by on all sides. The value of the same money in rural areas of India is far more than that in the cities. Economically, this is a problem in India, especially when people in the villages have to compete with those in the city. For example, half the money I spent on the ticket from Amroha to Delhi was the cost of the ticket from Delhi Railway Station to Gurgaon. Naturally, the quality of the journey in the first case was far worse than that in the second case.

The train ride from Amroha to Delhi was indeed one of its kind. We got ourselves a general ticket, and hoped that we could somehow get a birth for ourselves in the general compartment, which in most cases is full, or in a reserved sleeper compartment. As it turned out, the train was a sitting train, and apart from the AC coaches, the rest of the train was pretty much unreserved. People got in and crowded every bogie in the train. We managed to squeeze ourselves in, and later managed to get half a seat followed by a nice place to sit. (The procedure for this is the following :You ask people in a seat of 3 to squeeze to accommodate one more person, and then you end up with a small portion of the seat which is probably more uncomfortable that standing. Its just that after that, you keep pushing and prodding to keep increasing your share of the seat). It seems more and more true as the days go by that when you travel with the common man, you find that the train has no place for you, both literally and metaphorically.

During the journey, the miseries during travel of people becomes evident. The endless hours of standing will make both your legs and mind sore. I wonder where these people find their solace, is it in the fact that there are hundreds around them suffering the same plight, or would it be outside the train, the endless array of trees and fields and small villages, which takes you away from reality for that small second ?

Day 1

The purpose of this blog for me, is to document my perception of what lies behind the facade of ‘ Incredible India’; a facade we so proudly show to the rest of the world.

I began my journey at the Old Delhi railway station. A general ticket bought 5 minutes before the train’s departure and a token of appreciation to the TT got me and my friend a place to sit, albeit squished. (My travels are with another intern from my college, we shall call him A).

In a crowded train on a cold delhi morning in the winter, with the cold wind hitting your face like a jet of cold water, and a fog which allows you to see the few trees nearby, and deceptively hides what are probably green field far away, gives you a sense of the cold beauty the world rewards you with. When we boarded the train, we were welcomed by the sight of a woman next to us, a woman whose appearance made me believe that she was from a rural part of Rajasthan, holding her baby out to the rest of the compartment, and without any sense of guilt both for the mother or the child, the baby sent a sprout of water on to the train floor. Welcome to North India I thought.

We reached Amroha, a small town to the east of Delhi, 200 km from Delhi. At first appearance, when we got off the train, the town posed the aura of a place on any train journey in India, a place you always wish you could get down at and explore but never managed to. Amroha is a Muslim town, predominantly. The value of commodities and services in small places in India seems under valued, even when you feel cheated in such places, the price you end up paying is far less than what you would pay after bargaining in a city like Delhi.  The city has a severe shortage of power, both electrically and economically. As a result, the efficiency of the people is hampered. The cycle rickshaw is the mode of transport for many. The city however is chaotic, with a large population crowded together in a small area. I felt that the city had expanded around its center over a period of time, in an unplanned manner.

The attitude of the people in the place is striking, in contrast to that in cities like Delhi or Mumbai. While this may sound cliched, the greeting meted out by the auto-rickshaw driver during every drive, the chat at the local tea stall or  the friendly chat with customers before anything is even bought made me believe that life in such places is slow paced. Time I sometimes felt remains still, with everything around you remaining unchanging for long periods of time.

The night however in such places brings with it a sense of depression. The gleam of the bulb’s yellow light, the dark streets makes you think that people around you are there to steal your heart and soul, but more importantly your money.

The city has a charm, a charm which has however been faded with the realities of poverty. My mother once commented that 7 out of 10 people in airports are out of shape. Over here, I have seen only 1 person who I can classify as overweight.

Some people would say that people living in such a slow-paced life would be happy, because in simplicity lies true happiness. But can a life deprived of luxuries ever truly leave you satisfied ?

Background

I decided to take up an internship with b-able, a social enterprise working to impart.vocational training to students who have dropped out from school. I was asked to survey centres present in various small towns in various parts of India. However, the details of the projects are unimportant with regard to what this part of the blog shall be about.

A other important tool I have at my disposal is a smart phone, without which it would be impossible to publish a post from a crowded train, while travelling on a general ticket in the middle of UP.

2 thoughts on “India Re-Discovered

  1. If you really wanna “discover India” I’d recommend travelling to places beyond what the guide book says i.e. Ladakh, Spiti, Valley of Flowers, Malana, Arunachal, etc. You’ll see landscapes and cultures you didn’t think existed in India. Trust me !

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