A Few Quickies
There are some things about India which are so close to the world we come from, but different in just enough of a way to remind you that you are in a different country
- Newspaper English. I’m mightily impressed with the quality of newspapers I’ve read. We get one delivered each morning and it’s either the Hindu or the Times of India. Both are good, though my preference is the Hindu. You get a full page of book reviews in each once a week, plus one or two reviews each day. The news coverage is in-depth and relatively partisan and both have excellent cartoonists. This one in today’s Times is beautiful, combining all the elements of the complex political situation in Uttar Pradesh with the wit and elegance of classic Giles
Basically the CM Mayawati is looking to cement her 5 year dominance by dividing the state into 4 new states. As her support will be evenly spread, she stands a good chance of getting her acolytes into controlling positions in all 4 new states. The election is in May 2012, but is crucial as a testing ground for Rahul Gandhi to prove himself an able politician, for the BJP to revive itself and for the young pretender to the Samajwadi Party crown(one of the regional parties I referred to yesterday) to establish himself. You don’t need to know all of this of course, just admire the detail and beauty of the work of one of India’s greatest cartoonists, Neelabh Banerjee.
What I love is the slightly Ealing version of language in the stories. “Cops” hope to “nab” villains, new clubs are a “hit with the happening crowd” and clubbers party “frolic” into “the wee hours” while people “feel the wrath” . I fully expect to see words like “rozzers” appear at some point.
2. Cutlery. Most South Indians eat with the their hands. I don’t mean sandwiches, but curry and rice. It’s quite disconcerting at first and fortunately people make concessions for us and provide us with cutlery. Knives are non-existent though unless you go to an upmarket hotel, so I’ve become adept at eating with a fork and spoon (though most often, it’s just a small spoon).
3. Coffee is served milky and nuclear sweet. It seems to actually be prepackaged sweet! Tea is also made with boiled milk unless you ask for black tea and cold milk.
4. Mobile phone etiquette. If you think people in the UK are obsessed with their mobiles, India is literally a wake up call. Ringtones blare out everywhere:in the cinema, in meetings, in the middle of the night and Indians feel they must answer them. Meetings are very difficult to control as people are constantly taking calls and trying to whisper into their phones, or leaving the meeting to continue the discussion. There’s definitely a cultural thing going on here. I assume it is considered impolite not to answer. Perhaps someone can shed some light on this?
One other observation: many people will carry two or three mobiles as they will have a SIM for each state that they have regular contacts in. Tariffs vary enormously here, so it makes sense to do this, but it’s quite funny watching everyone unload their collection onto their desks each morning.
5. Arguing. Many of the Indians I come into contact with are hesitant about disagreeing with you. I don’t think this is just because I’m a Westerner, though, I am undoubtedly treated with a great deal of politeness and patience as one. It seems to be more of a status thing. Very often, somebody will agree to what you are asking them to do, even though they are unclear as to what you really want or have a piece of information that might be important in your decision-making. It takes time to get people to understand that holding a contrary opinion is not a problem as long as can both debate it. I’m gradually getting the hang of it and it’s a useful learning process.
I have seen some real ding-dong arguments though and one scenario has been repeated a few times now, so I think its archetypical. The scenario is this: one person berates someone else during a debate by asking them to explain how they would resolve the situation. It goes something like ” So, tell me boss, how would you make this happen. Eh, just tell me” All delivered in a sarcastic tone. The use of “boss” is wonderful, one of those words that can imply subservience, but so often is an insult (i.e. if you think you are boss, then show me) and it takes the argument away from the issue straight into a powerplay between personalities. It’s a bit of a shock when you first hear it done and the temperature can quickly get out of control. When you see the daily occurrences in Indian politics, you see how vicious this can be, with fights quite frequent. Fortunately it hasn’t got to that, this has been quite rare, but you can see why arguments so quickly spin out of control at times.