Posted by: Tommy | April 6, 2011

Tommy’s India Wrap-up

Normally, Anna does the wrap-up posts for each country because she’s better at being thoughtful and reflective.  And I’m sure she will do one this time also. But I left India before her, so I felt compelled to give my thoughts and impressions after 5 weeks in India.  Plus, I have to share my haiku before I forget it.

India is  the most unlike-America place I’ve ever been.  Yeah, part of that is the rampant poverty.  The standard of living for the majority of Indians is not something you’d find in America outside of the homeless population.  The lady who taught Anna’s cooking class has a thriving business, yet she shares 2 rooms with her 2 grown sons…and hosts cooking classes 12 hours a day in those 2 rooms.  While I was inside getting Anna signed up, Shashi was teaching a class where 2 students sat on the edge of the bed and one of her sons slept on the other side. While there are signs everywhere of poverty, there was not as much begging or as many crippled children as Slumdog Millionaire had led me to expect.  There were some, but they were not everywhere.  I had envisioned not being able to walk around without seeing them, but that was not the case.

Another startling difference between India and home is cleanliness.  I have never, and hope to never again, been anywhere as filthy as India.  The people bathe in the rivers, but they also throw their trash in the rivers.  It was not at all uncommon to see people using the bathroom (#2)  outside, in the grass, as you passed by in the train.  Once, we saw a boy, pants off, squatting on the roof of his house.  When he finished, he just left it.  Weird – and not at all sanitary.  Early on in India, I had some trash from eating a meal on the train.  I was looking for a trashcan with no success.  An Indian woman said something to me in Hindi, took the trash from me with a smile…and pitched it out the window.  As we spent more time in India, I realized this was totally normal.  People finish something, they throw the trash on the ground or out the window.  That’s just how its done.

Adding to the lack of cleanliness is the constant presence of farm animals.  Yeah, we had one scary encounter with a monkey – but we saw a lot of monkeys in Africa and there’s not a lot you can do about them.  But in India, there are cows and goats just walking around, everywhere.  If you ask an Indian, they’ll tell you the cows belong to people and that the owners keep track of them.  But that can’t be true.  Hundreds of cows wander the streets of cities with 2.5 million in population.  And with hundreds of cows comes a lot of cow poop…which mixes with all the trash to create a giant mess.

Cow eating trash

A few other random thoughts about things that stand out to me about India:

Hotel workers seem totally happy with their jobs.  Hotel employee is probably one of the best jobs in India.  But hotel workers can generally be found working, whether you are looking for them at 7am or 11pm.  If you do find them sleeping, it’s outdoors on the roof or the front steps of the hotel, outdoors, on a thin pad.  And if you need something, you just wake them up.  They are essentially at work 24/7 and usually doing something, rather than sitting around.  You really appreciate a 40 hour work week when you see people who truly work ALL THE TIME.

You’d have to be Indian or crazy to drive in India.  We saw a dozen stoplights, total, in 5 weeks.  The accepted method of crossing an intersection is to blow your horn as you approach it and continue honking through the intersection.  It’s no coincidence that India has the highest number of traffic fatalities in the world. When Anna and I were trying to sum up our thoughts on Indian traffic laws, we boiled them down to one truth – Indian drivers USUALLY drive on the correct side of the road.  They don’t do anything else consistently, except honk.

I know it's blurry, but its 50 people riding on top of a bus. Notice the guy standing up. Also notice the camel in front of the bus. This can't help their traffic fatality number.

The final thing to note about India is that the people, despite facing circumstances that most Americans would find intolerable, were incredibly friendly and incredibly generous.  Many of the shopkeepers would see our white faces and want us to buy something, but a great many just wanted to welcome us to India. They have a lot of pride in their country.  It was a unique experience.  It was Anna’s favorite location of the trip so far – I wouldn’t go that far, but the Indian people were certainly my favorite.

India haiku:

Horns blowing, trash stinks

An assault on the senses

Sights, smells, tastes and sounds.


  1. The people and food sound wonderful as would the differentness — but not the filth. I may just be too, too American for that. But I would like the opportunity to try to get over it.

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