102. Going Back to India

Going Back to India: I’ve been with Amy in Ireland for a little over a week now and it’s amazing how India stays with me. As before, it was as exhausting as exhilarating and when I sat down to write a wrap-up on it, I kept coming across the little notes I wrote myself. There are hundreds of them, sweeping generalizations and anecdotes about culture and civilization, summarized like musings on poorly organized Post-It notes. Their sum was my experience and though there are far too many to reprint, here are a few.

1. Despite the most intense sunshine and a proliferation of street vendors selling sunglasses, 90% of Indians do not wear sunglasses. The most notable and incredibly fashionable exception to this are the older Sikh men, who tend to opt for Ray Ban aviators or, my personal favorite, vintage wayfarers.

2. I found that the best way to avoid attracting touts and beggars at major tourist stops was to camouflage myself in the middle of a large group of Indian tourists.

3. I met an American PhD student who was traveling around India and he gave me what may be the single greatest bargaining tool for dealing with rapacious taxi drivers – the blank stare. I tried it numerous times, and it always went like this:

Me: I need to go to the town center.
Driver: 200 rupees, come, let’s go.
Me: —–
Driver: Hello? Come, let’s go!
Me: —–
Driver: Sir?
Me: —–
Driver: —–
Me: —–
Driver: Ok, 150 rupees.

4. Local bus rides are something of a miracle and the perfect example of how India manages to work in spite of itself. The local bus is almost always packed to the gills, people hanging out of its every orifice and it never comes to a complete stop, only slowing just enough for aspiring passengers to grab a handhold and pull themselves in. Once inside, their money is collected by a man whose job it is to wriggle up and down the aisle all day, against all odds, to collect the appropriate fare for each person’s destination. For good measure, every now and then a food vendor climbs into the fray and fights through the aisle to sell samosas and small cups of scalding hot tea.

5. It is not uncommon, before a long road trip, to stop and purchase bunches of good luck weeds which you then stop and feed to a conveniently located holy cow waiting by the side of the main road out of town.

6. I saw three Bollywood movies, in theatres, on this trip. As the only white guy in the entire theatre, when the house lights went up at intermission, I became the entertainment. Even if I’d first entered the theatre under cover of darkness, someone invariably noticed the non-Hindi speaking Westerner in their midst and started a whisper-and-point movement that spread throughout the first act. When the lights went up, all heads turned simultaneously and most smiled when I waved. At the concession stand and in the line for the toilet, it was all handshakes and hey-friends.

7. The American Dollar is growing weaker by the moment overseas, even in India. Perhaps especially in India, because the economy is booming and the middle class surging in number. I shared a cab with a Bombay businessman who confidently declared that within a few years, most Indians living and working in the U.S. will see little benefit to sending money home because of the poor exchange rate.

8. Calcutta may well be my favorite city visited in Asia.

9. When Amy and I visited in January, we took only trains everywhere, charming but time-consuming. On this return trip, I took planes everywhere and it made an enormous difference in how much I was able to see. A rising middle class means a glut of new regional airlines and insanely cheap fares. It also means that literally half the plane can be loaded with skittish, awe-struck adults who are flying for the first time. Hilarity ensues.


  1. kingfisher airlines rules! I was pissed that my little gift bag had a broken zipper – it was a must-have fashion accessory for girls ages 13-20.

  2. Erin says:

    I LOVE it when hilarity ensues.

  3. Coral's mom says:

    wait…you’re back in India?

  4. S says:

    I’ve been in Ireland since July 6, although with very limited internet access/contact with anyone other than Amy. So you thought I went back to India? This explains the weird emails I’ve been getting from Dad.

  5. Coral's mom says:

    oops, must have been one of those gossip/rumor things turned wrong.