Thursday, April 2, 2009

People We've Met In India

Our driver in Rajasthan, Singh, is most likely the person we will get to know best on this trip. Now that we've finished our Rajasthan tour I thought I'd write a little bit about the people we've met thus far.

Singh is from a village near Delhi and his family has a farm. He went to school for 5 years and then left because it was too expensive (nowadays he wouldn't have been able to leave school this young, but Singh was born around 1973). At age 13 he moved to Delhi with his cousin and got a job cleaning taxis. His family fell on hard times and he had to get married at 14. He didn't want to get married and he has never lived with his wife. He learned all of his English (which is excellent) and French by driving tourists.

Singh had a few favorite subjects, but the most obvious one was the conflict with Pakistan. The closer we got to the Pakistan border, the more it came up. The army occupies the last hundred kilometers before Jaiselmar, and there are jeeps, towers, soldiers, etc. everywhere. After Jaiselmar is a buffer zone the Indian army is not allowed to occupy. Singh didn't really have any strong opinions on the conflict, he just worried about it and wanted peace.

He got a huge kick out of the things people do on the roads in India, e.g. a family of 5 on a motorcycle (4 people on a motorcycle doesn't get much of a response, it's too commonplace), people driving around with a small cow in their car, 12 year old motorcycle drivers, etc.

Singh loved Steve's phone, which has a data plan. He would use it whenever he had the chance, but he had no idea how to use it - imagine how difficult a touch screen phone would be to use if you had never really seen one before. He would spend minutes and minutes figuring out how to navigate to his personal webpage, and I found it frustrating to even watch, but he loved every minute of it. He was a man of incredible patience.
Singh, swapping in his car for a camel. From 20090327_RoopangarhFortJaiselmar_Starred

Another person I can't forget was our tour guide in Jaiselmar, I think his name was Saurab. He seemed like a reasonably friendly guy, and he was a so-so tour guide. While he took us around town he told us about the caste system. Twice he stopped 5 feet away from a fellow Jaiselmar resident and said "See, this person is an untouchable," in such a loud, clear voice it was obvious he was heard by all. I have no idea what was going on through the "untouchable" person's head. I am certain that they heard and understood what Saurab was saying. We read an op-ed that says it is no longer acceptable in middle class India to openly discriminate based on caste, but obviously this isn't 100% true. As a point of reference, the op-ed said India has had a member of the Dalit (untouchable) Defense Minister.

Finally, I got to know the breakfast host at our Delhi hotel a little bit. We bonded over the breakfast food - they had a great variety, including Indian specialties. I asked a lot of questions. The strength of our relationship waxed and waned according to my attire. The first day I wore a knee length skirt. It covered most of my knees and some of my calves, and was not horribly indecent, but I quickly realized after one day of wearing it around that it called for undesired attention. The second day I wore a long, Indian print skirt. The host complemented my skirt warmly, and I was happy. The third day I felt settled into our hotel and wore my soccer shorts. Big mistake. The host was noticeably distant and glanced down at my legs twice (not so much in a perverted way, but in an embarassed way). Sigh.


  1. Ah.....the right clothing. I guess "When in Rome...." became a universal saying for gor reasons. You are getting around.

  2. It looks like you got some unique insights on India by getting to know these people. I enjoyed reading the profiles.