Saturday, 21 May 2016

Discovering India on the road

A little more than three months have passed since my arrival in India and I feel a bit more entitled to give a personal impression about this country. Unlike other visitors who may come here only with the purpose of travelling, coming to India to work means that in order to explore a bit of this vast country, there’s a lot of travelling to do in short periods of time. It’s like we live two kinds of lives: a relatively (sometimes very relatively) peaceful lives in our villages and motion-based and frenzy lives during the weekends we choose to travel. Popular destinations are in average 8-10 h of comfortable and relaxing government bus away from Harike. So, much of the knowledge I gathered about India has come on the road, a kind of window-based discovery.

First thing I believe anyone notices is the crazy driving on the roads. On the CIEEL induction course we were shown this really cool TED talk where it is argued that roads are more organized than it seems, that practically everybody and everything is allowed because spaces and boundaries are negotiated on site and at the moment. By living here, I understood how these boundaries are actually negotiated: through honking real hard and imposing your will over the others’ in a survival of the fittest style. Except for the Cow, of course. It’s unreal to see how Indian drivers slow down and stop to let the Cow cross the highway from one lane to another. Even the honking stops as if the drivers were showing their respect and bowing to it.

If you negotiate hard enough you might even be able to travel on the rooftop of a bus.

Second thing that I noticed is the amount of developmental constructions that are in place – as you would expect from a rapidly developing economy – but how every project seems at times paralyzed for a long time or just directly abandoned. There are countless buildings and roads half-built and no one seems to be working on them. Just like in many of our projects, it seems like there is a lot of excitement when the idea and the design is presented and everybody shows a lot of initial support but the hard part is to keep engagement and consistency. It’s awkwardly funny and a bit scary to see that not even the Government can materialize its projects efficiently. 

The other major thing that one notices is the crazy amount of waste that accumulates everywhere, specially concentrated in rivers, canals and open dump sites.That’s really not a cool sight.Perhaps because of my SWASH-focused thinking, I can’t avoid to see the environmental issue as one of the major problems in the development path of this country. It seems that India is following the same way as the West: economic development at the expense of the environment. Certainly directing the effort in improving social equity and infrastructure is an investment for the future and a real need of this country. However, a complete disregard for their environmental resources is putting a long-term mortgage on the society too and it should be acknowledged.

A typical open dump site in India.

Finally, one of the activities I enjoy doing to amuse these long hours of travel is looking out the window for titles and names of stuff. Indian people have a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit and a determined marketing attitude: ‘the best of (insert location), my friend!’. However, they are extremely bad at achieving orthographic rigorousness regarding company names or food menus. We’ve seen funny spelling mistakes such as “barger”, “braquette”, “crossiant” and many more. Sometimes it’s so shocking that I can’t help believing that they are doing it on purpose to give us customers a good laugh. 

Anyway, India might not be the most organized, constant and attentive to detail country but I think that most of us Westerners who visit would agree that it has a lot to teach to “our” world. It all depends on how you want to see things; what could be seen as a lack of boundaries/organization can also be seen as tolerance and freedom for example, and the lack of attention to details could also be seen as a sign of a more essentialist and less superficial approach to things. What I don’t find any “softer” or positive side to is to the environmental mess. It is always the same reaction when I see it no matter what mood I’m in. In fact, despite all the honking and the long hours spent on a bus, I find that travelling is a good remedy for helping me recover energy and motivation and to push harder my project back in Harike.

Pau Vallvé - Spain
SWASH Project Coordinator/ Project Manager in Harike

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