Every time I am crossing or riding in Indian traffic, John Buttler’s ‘Wrong way going down a one way road’ pops into my head. Unlike other Asian countries I have travelled to where the traffic seems to be organized chaos, India appears to be just chaos. There is however, one rule I have noticed that everyone seems to abide by: If it’s bigger, get out of the way! And if this means driving on the opposite side of the road then so be it. I can’t believe I paid good money to ride the shot over jet in New Zealand when I could have just taken a bus ride in India.
Speaking of buses, we took our first bus ride to Adampur (the town Brent is supposed to be volunteering at but that is another blog!) the other day. Being the giants of the road compared to cars, rickshaws, scooters, bicycles, motorbikes, horse and carts and donkeys pulling wagons – buses don’t move for anyone. Instead the driver seems to lean on the horn which is never just a toot or a honk but rather a comical song or melody that lasts 10 seconds or more each time. I’m embarrassed to say that when we get on the bus people stand to let us sit and despite our insisting that can stand like the other few hundred crammed on, the Indians are always more persistent.
Our main form of transport so far has been the rickshaw – similar to Thailand’s tuk-tuk , it is an open three wheeler vehicle that is made for two passengers. This rule of two however rarely applies and the other day we found ourselves riding in rickshaw with seven other men. The driver even tried to coax an additional passenger but we managed to convince him otherwise.
The most amazing, horrible and heartbreaking form of transport for us has been the railway system. I say this because long hours of gazing out the trains window exposes you to an India you may never see otherwise. Poverty is magnified along the train lines where thousands of people take refuge under cardboard or plastic. It is truly heartbreaking to see scantily clad children and babies stand inches away from the train shivering in the icy wind and screaming from starvation. I feel a mixture of hopelessness, anger and guilt. Only moments before was I complaining about the filth of the chilly train carriage, but now as I watch a young child walk alone rummaging in knee deep litter, I am brought back down to earth.
As the train pulls into a station I watch on as a young girl, clearly mentally disabled rock a very young baby in her arms. The girl is laughing hard and her rocking gets faster and furious. She begins head butting the baby and tossing it in the air. An older woman sitting nearby slaps the disabled girl on the head and rocking slows again. I can only imagine what damage has been done to the baby and I turn away in guilt and sorrow. Further down the track an anorexic dog feasts on the carcass of a half eaten dog. The situation is overwhelming and I guiltily will the train to leave.
It is not all dire though. Riding the train lets you see how resourceful the Indians are. Dotted along the train lines are these amazing huts of different shapes and sizes that appear to be made solely of straw and cow dung. They are perfectly shaped and sturdy looking. We often see groups of men squatting on their haunches around small fires outside these huts laughing and drinking chai and playing cards.
It is necessary to find the positive.