A passage to a (fictional) India

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Streets over there are not exactly paved with gold!

 

Imagine you know India only through Bollywood: what will you expect to see when you actually go there, walk its streets, talk to poor and rich Indians, eat spicy food in leaf bowls, and take masala chai? Perhaps you would expect happiness, magic, colorfully dressed girls and boys singing and dancing, tapori language and heroes defeating villains. Would you?

However, if you expect to see these things in India, while going there, you might get disappointed. So get ready for surprises! Wherever you will go, you might say to yourself: “Oh, where I have come. I never saw this in any Indian movie.” At least my 15 group fellows on a recent Indian trip could not decide which India was more fictional: an India they were touring or an India which they used to see in movies.

This feel you get while crossing border on foot. Like their Pakistani counterparts, Indian officials also ask many questions about your travel: the questions which are totally irrelevant and the questions which are asked to scare you—or perhaps, the questions which are asked to make you an instrument of keeping your eye on your movement in India.

Let us come back to what you might see in India. While entering any city on a police reporting visa, as a Pakistani, you have to get yourself registered with the police, most probably at the Superintendent’s office. You will most probably go to a dusty old room where an ancient police clerk will ask you to bring more photos, more photocopies of your visa, and will manually register all of your data in the thana register. You might wonder why manual entry was necessary when multiple photocopies were submitted. You might also wonder why you would need to stay in the thana for manual recording. If you will travel in a group, each of you might be asked to appear either before the ancient clerk so that the back of your entry form can be stamped. In this exercise, which will normally take three to four hours, you will have to be patient and careful, not to talk loudly, not to laugh so that you do not come under the gaze of the police. To avoid additional questions or delay in stamping, just be silent in the thana. Do not complain at all!

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Once you will be cleared by the police, you can go to the city and can see some places if it is not dark already. From Delhi to Agra, where there was grandeur for many centuries, you might come across dilapidation, stink, mud, and congestion, and dust now. You might feel uncomfortable experiencing the stink at roads and streets of Agra just like the streets of Muridke or Sheikhupura or Bhaghbanpura stink with the smell of sludge after the monsoon floods. Open drains with mounts of sludge besides them will not be pleasant. Just like you observe at Railway station of Karachi, you will also observe roadsides, stairs and corners and corridors red with paan spitting. You will see many Indian people spit and release themselves publicly, at least in north Indian cities. There are hardly any toilets except the paid public toilets constructed on Indian NGO Sulabh International’s design, which remain deserted as most people do not afford to pay Rs. 10 per visit. Spitting, pissing in public, and loitering are the most convenient forms of protest available even to the poorest, especially when the quality of the public works and public service is highly poor.

Despite this, you will feel happy about the good maintenance of historical monuments. You will envy the cleanliness maintained at Golden Temple in Amritsar. You will also be happy to see well cared for pink city and Amber Fort in Jaipur. You might feel yourself in the time of Emperor Shahjahan when you are inside Taj Mahal: It seems as it is until you look at Yamuna River which is nothing but sewer drain now. You will not miss visiting Taj Mahal museum. You will not believe finding no scratches and no inscriptions of names of the visitors on Taj Mahal walls. You will surely compare Taj Mahal’s walls with what you have seen at the tarnished walls of Lahore Fort by the visitors. But Jamia Masjid of Delhi was not as maintained: just outside it, dumps of plastic bags, and litter. Perhaps maintaining ‘religious’ monuments don’t fit well with the secularism of Indian state?

You will find the traders of Jaipur’s, the Pink City, wonderful orators. If you are just window-shopping, don’t look into their eyes. They encourage you not to buy anything from them but to have only a look at their products but once you are in their shops, they will convince you to buy everything from them. They have perfected the art of selling. They will sale you at even less than half of their quoted price and do that happily.

You will find shopping as easy as in Pakistan. However, other things are not as easy as shopping. Using internet or making a phone call out of India are especially difficult. It will be difficult for you to use internet at internet café. You will be required to produce a passport photocopy and write your details in the register as you did in the police stations. Few of my fellow travelers were refused to use internet by the café owners in Jaipur because they did not carry photocopies of their passports along. To make a call to Pakistan, you will be required to show your passport to the Public Call Office proprietor. You might be asked to explain to the proprietor the purpose of your call.

The security related announcements through big loudspeakers from Chandni Chowk to South Extension market might trouble you. The recorded messages played loudly and continuously suggest the property owners to get police verifications before giving their properties on rent to the people, or before selling or buying vehicles. Ostensibly these recordings establish the primacy of protecting the propertied class and create prejudices against the poor and the migrant. None of these messages were geared at protecting the poor, the homeless and asset-less.

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The physical mobilities of the rich and the poor are very different. The only means of transport for majority of the people are bicycle rickshaws and scooters. Though relatively good transport such as Metro and Mass Transit Bus are available in Delhi, only a tiny fraction of people can benefit from them. While moving through the markets and roads, you might feel sad for the bicycle drivers, most of them thin, undernourished. While driving, they even don’t sit on the driving seat because it is too difficult to peddle while sitting. They bend on the handle to save energy to keep peddling. While crossing the overhead bridges in Amritsar, your bicycle driver will request you to get off as it will simply be impossible for him to pull you to the bridge. In Amritsar, a driver told me he earns Rs. 200-250 per day out of which he gives Rs. 50 to the bicycle rickshaw owner. He spends Rs. 20 on beeri everyday. Before the Parkash Singh Badal’s government, bhang was cheap. Now it is unaffordable. He told me no bicycle driver could peddle all day without beeri or bhang.

What you might feel comfortable with is that Indians, like us—the Pakistanis, talk a lot. From Amritsar to Agra to Jaipur, wherever you stop for chai, people would be talking negatively about politicians. At a tea stall in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, five men, while warming their hands with burning plastic bags and wasted clothes, were cursing politicians for being responsible for their poverty. One of them was telling other how a politician has misappropriated millions of rupees before elections. If you tell them of being Pakistanis, they would again start cursing politicians for being the source of discord between the two countries. You will be amazed to see how non-elected institutions in both Pakistan and India have been successful in portraying politicians as mischievous.

6 COMMENTS

  1. A nice piece of information… Thanks for such a great article but this too looks one sided as you only portray India in a negative light like they do to us… There must have been good things like there are many in Pakistan instead of garbage, sewerage lines etc.. Looking forward for another article showing different side of India…

  2. This is a tremendous article which really portrays a real picture of India which is totally different a s we imagine. Thank you for sharing this good one after visiting India…………Waiting for next article and also for teaching me ……………Best of Luck

  3. Good writing !!!! India has many colors. Different parts of India will give you different picture. Places related to Islamic society and religion are generally maintained by Muslim themselves through Waqf board. Historical monuments are also maintained by ASI. Garbage around Jama Masjid has nothing to do with secular character of India.
    Secularism and Democracy are two main pillars of India. No country around it can boast these two characters.

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