Sunday, April 7, 2013

India: A Snippet from 1989

Tulips, Conservatory Garden, Central Park (2012)
Tulips (Conservatory Garden 2012)

From the archives -- the below was written about three months after I went to India on a work trip that took me from Mumbai (then Bombay) to Delhi then up to Landour Mussoori and Dharmsala via Chandigahr then down  to Pune and back to Bombay (somewhere along the way there was a stop in Lemonpur.  The photos are tucked away in hard copy someplace and so a few colorFULL photos in an effort to channel the visual vibrancy of India.

Crabapple Blossoms, Conservatory Garden, Central Park, 2012
Crabapple Blossoms (Conservatory Garden 2012)

I'd just gotten back from India -- a little weary, a little overwhelmed and a little unsure how to answer the question did you like India?  How to explain that I remain intrigued by India; that I want to see more of India.  Yet, I'm not really sure that I like India. 

India is nothing if not a land of stark contrasts.  The lush rice paddies and sugarcane fields of the Punjab give way gradually to the peaceful serenity of the Himalayan foothills as a roller coaster road winds up to Dharamsala, home of the Dali Lama.  The hot humidity of Bombay contrasts sharply with the
parching dry heat in Puna -- only a half hour plane ride away.  The dry, dusty plains of this state spread as far as the eye can see.  The grid pattern and neat bungalows with wide verandas left by the British Raj exist in the midst of a helter skelter maze of streets and alleys.

Tulips, W 69th Street Entrance, Central Park 2013
Early Tulips (W 69th Street Entrance, 2013)
Everywhere, the streets are a hive of activity and motion.  Beggars -- ranging from wizened lepers to the tiniest of children approach and retreat in their dance of despair.  Oranges, broccoli and bananas are piled perilously on wooden carts next to the neighborhood barber giving someone his daily shave.

Untouchables polish shoes for less than a penny a shine as the local pharmacist offers folk remedies for every known disease. The next stall down is piled high with silks and cottons flecked with gold and in vivid hues.  Dentists extract teeth at the side of the road and fortune tellers predict the future for a pittance.  In smaller villages, statuesque women walk with brass urns of water balanced on their heads.  In the midst of all this, the ugliest -- and holiest beasts -- I've ever seen wander aimlessly undisturbed by the melee. 

Every form of transportation is used.  Produce is loaded onto carts pulled by bullocks and ford tractors or onto bright green and blue trucks garlanded with tinsel.  People are crowded onto red buses with the overflow clinging to the roof.  fortunate few have cars and drivers or the wherewithal to hire one from the local TAJ or Oberoi Hotel.  Motor scooters, bicyclists and auto rickshaws weave merrily in and out of traffic. 

The driving style of most Indians is beyond description.  They are masters at producing gridlock so perfect that it would take Einstein to unravel the pieces.  It's every man, woman, and, I suspect, child for himself once behind a wheel.  Trucks are emblazoned with the legend "honk" and everyone does as they pass.  The roads are littered with abandoned car, truck and bus carcasses that look like they'd been driven over land mines and not just involved in mere automobile accidents.  Makes one wonder if anyone ever live through an auto accident in this country.

Hydrangea, Conservatory Garden, Central Park, 2012
Hydrangea (Conservatory Garden, 2012)
I know, it ends a bit abruptly. Maybe I got interrupted and never returned to write about the drive up into the Himalayan foothills.  We had hired an expensive car because, in my boss's view the more the car cost the better the driver.  And our Mr. Singh was good -- no doubt about that.   Yet it was still a terrifying drive.  I can remember that narrow road with blind curves, no guardrails, and trucks and buses and cars careening around corners as if it was yesterday.  It's a wonder I survived!

Roses, Shakespeare's Garden, Central Park, 2012
Roses (Shakespeare's Garden, 2012)

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