Saturday, June 09, 2007

Driving in India

I've been a passenger or driver in several countries including the US, Mexico, Japan, Spain, France, Morocco, and India. Until I visited Morocco, I though Spanish driving was scary. Now that I've been in India, I think Moroccan driving is child's play.

Shreya, an Indian woman I know from the US, told me that she used to ride a motorcycle in India; about half of the vehicles on the road there are motorcycles. Since I used to ride a motorcycle back in college, I was actually thinking about renting one to travel around the city. After a few minutes of watching Indian traffic, I decided that I could find less painful ways to commit suicide.

As I rode in the car in India, I saw a narrowly-averted accident an average of about once a minute. After the first day, I honestly expected that by the end of my trip I would have witnessed several accidents in which a motorcycle or bicycle rider would be killed or maimed. I just didn't see how I could ride around in that traffic for ten days and not see such things.

It was so bad that at one point, I asked someone why there were lane markings on the road since the markers seemed to have no significance. Even the center lane line meant to keep oncoming traffic separate received minimal consideration. If the guy in front of you is going too slow, you go around. If there is no room on this side of the road, you just drive into oncoming traffic. And once you get your vehicle about half-way past the slow vehicle, you just merge back in and he has to slow down or get side-swiped. If the other vehicle is a motorcycle, this amounts to threatening their life to force them to let you in.

Another thing: if you stop for a red light when there is no cross traffic, you can expect a traffic cop to wave you through impatiently. No one stops for a red light unless there is heavy (and I mean HEAVY) cross traffic. If it's just light or medium cross-traffic then you edge your nose out there and force traffic to flow around you until you are through the intersection.

And yet, to my great astonishment, I didn't see one accident happen. The only explanation is that there are, all appearances to the contrary, some rules of the road that people follow. I couldn't figure them out entirely but one rule seems to be an extreme form of the last-chance rule in Arizona. In Arizona, if there is a traffic accident because someone broke the law (say they didn't stop at a red light, for example), the responsibility for the accident doesn't necessarily fall on them; it falls on the person who had the last chance to avoid the accident.

In India, it seems that you can do pretty much anything you want in traffic as long as you give the other vehicle a chance to avoid an accident. And it seems to work. Who'd a thunk it?

Monday, June 04, 2007

libertinism in India

There are some striking ways in which Indian culture reflects American culture of a few decades ago. In India, you can still get in trouble for kissing in public. Families are very strong and parents are respected. Women wear dresses (very colorful, beautiful dresses), and men wear slacks and dress shirts.

Another striking similarity is that you can see the media in India striving to change Indian culture toward libertinism just as our media did (and does). It seems to be working; if you bring up this subject with Indians, they will usually describe their culture as being "behind" the US, implying that they think our culture is more advanced.

Is that sad or what? The sexual revolution has been a social disaster. The bed-hopping search for "true love" has led to far more broken hearts and ruined lives (and ruined children's lives) than life-long commitments, and those life-long commitments are always disillusioning for people who thought their life was going to be like a Hollywood romantic comedy.

But the media knows better than everyone else, and they are going to use their power to change India. In the newspaper, I read a review of a book. The book was an autobiography by a woman from southern India who concentrates on how mean her mother was to her. The reviewer takes this opportunity to pontificate on the "disgraceful" conditions of this conservative area of India. Presumably, one mother that didn't care about her daughter's feelings (assuming you take the book at face value) proves that there are no mothers in southern India that love their children. It's just one huge semi-continental cauldron of child-hating mothers.

The entertainment pages sported stored that could have been copied with minor changes from the entertainment pages of my youth --actresses being interviewed about their love scenes and partial nudity on screen. Just like American actresses of decades past, these Indian actresses insisted that they don't enjoy the love scenes and it's all business, and they only do those things when "the character calls for it". Meaning that if you are a screenplay writer and you want to have your actress doing partial nudity or a love scene, then you better make your character a slut because an actress playing a chaste character would refuse to do it. Unless you can make it compelling, of course. In other words, "the character calls for it" is no limit at all. These actresses are invariably --invariably-- treated by the newspaper as courageous heroines for flaunting traditional modesty. Sound familiar?

And then there was the Entertainment Tonight ripoff show where the hostess effused over slutty women from India and around the world, talking about how smart and powerful and popular and just plain wonderful they are. The clear message to all the twelve-year-old Indian girls watching the show: if you want to be smart and powerful and popular and just plain wonderful, you should be a slut.

It was sad watching India follow the steps of the West into the bleak morass of libertinism. I wanted to yell at them: "Don't do it! I've tried it and it won't make you happy. Don't let the libertines control the media here like they do in the US, your entire nation will suffer horribly for it." But they don't see the dark side of libertinism. All they can see of the American sexual revolution is the movies that the libertines want them to see. They just don't know.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I just got back from India a couple of weeks ago. This wasn't a vacation; it was a business trip, but I still have lots to say about it (assuming I can get back into writing).

First thing you need to know about India is that they have this stuff they call "pickle". It isn't anything like an American pickle. It isn't even pickled (that is, preserved in vinegar). It's just a mishmash of peppers, spices, salt, and (in the case of mango pickle) diced mango. This stuff is really, really good. You spread a small amount (the word "small" is significant here) on these Indian cracker-like things or mix a small amount (note repetition of "small") with a bit of rice and eat it.

Indian pickle is spicy, but not so you would notice it once you've been eating Indian food for a week. Just yesterday I tried some homemade chili from a friend and a few minutes after I ate it, he told me that it has habanero peppers in it. I said, "Really, you must not have used very much because habanero's are really hot and the chili wasn't spicy." He looked at me like I'd suddenly grown a third eye. So, I tried some more and paid attention this time. And, by golly, that chili was pretty spicy. You just stop noticing it after a lot of exposure.

So it was the same with the Indian pickle. The flavor is really tremendous, so when I sat down in my hotel restaurant and they put a jar of mango pickle and some of those cracker thingies on my table, I just went to town on it. After all, why did they give me a whole jar if I'm only supposed to have a small spoon full? So, I ended up eating half a jar of the stuff in addition to a lot of other spicy food that meal.

Now, you might recall earlier that I noted the significance of "small amount" when describing how one is to consume mango pickle. The significance of this term is that mango acts as a gentle but forceful laxative and peppers act as a not so gentle laxative. The combination is ... well ... impressive.

I think I should skip further details except to note that the hotel staff asked me to fill out an evaluation of the hotel to help them improve their service, and I took the opportunity to complain bitterly about their miserly rolls of toilet paper. Seriously, Indian toilet paper rolls have about a fourth (rough estimate) of the paper of normal American rolls, and they only gave me two rolls. After half a jar of mango pickle, this is really not adequate coverage.

After that experience, my stomach was so sensitive to spicy food that I had to avoid Indian cuisine for the remainder of my trip, a real disappointment because I love Indian food. And their interpretation of American food leaves something to be desired.