An Englishman in India

I was recently lucky enough to be sent to India by my employer, and whilst it was definitely work, it was also an experience. What follows is a bit of a stream of consciousness so apologies if I jump from topic to topic, but hey, that’s all part of the Indian experience.

Having been to Kenya with friends in the past I have to say it immediately felt like being in Kenya. It’s a strange mental transition to go from being a white male in the majority in the UK, to becoming a most conspicuous minority in India. It occasionally felt like I was on show whilst I waited for my bus each day, and it sometimes felt like a few people were pretending to be on the phone, but actually taking a HD picture of me to prove that they actually saw an English man at the local bus stop.

On the street, I made sure to pretend like I knew where I was going, a skill I picked up in Kenya. A purposeful stride and a look of intent was my normal mode of operation, though after a while I did actually know where I was heading, and even started to be recognised by the guys along my normal route.

So. What have I learnt? It may surprise you to know that I actually learnt the entire Indian Highway Code in just 3 short bus trips. Here it is:-

If you are approaching a red traffic light or an intersection with a main road whilst on a secondary road yourself, don’t slow down, it’s really a judgment call if you want to stop or not so you may as well just drive straight out.

Still approaching that red traffic light? HONK YOUR HORN!

Turning left or right? Consider conserving the life of your indicator bulb by HONKING YOUR HORN instead!



Taking someone over (you can overtake or undertake, it’s same same!)? HONK YOUR HORN!

Someone taking over you? HONK YOUR HORN!

Somebody cut you up? There is no concept of ‘right of way’ in India so just HONK YOUR HORN!

Have a new car? Consider putting some dents in it before everyone else does (HONKING YOUR HORN optional on this one).

Wing mirrors are optional extras on most vehicles. Instead of looking left or right HONK YOUR HORN then just turn!

Wing mirrors are optional extras on most vehicles. Instead of looking left or right HONK YOUR HORN then just turn!

Tried to drive in-between 2 HGV’s on a dual carriageway for no good reason but realise you are about to get crushed by them both? HONK YOU HORN!

Are you in no immediate danger and driving in a straight line with no one near you and not even approaching a junction. Just for fun HONK YOUR HORN!

You get the picture.

What have I seen? Well, on one Friday night in Noida, where I was staying, I saw no less than 2 amazing floodlit wedding parades going down the street. When I say floodlit, I mean they had huge floodlights in front and behind the parade (you know the drill, horses pulling a carriage, huge band, glittery clothes, dancing, an amazing site!). At least one of these weddings was being recorded in HD.

What else? Well, what better way to advertise a school than to put up a huge poster with what appears to be the passport pictures of all your pharmacy graduates complete with their exam score and name! If that’s not an incentive to pull your finger out at school, nothing is. Micheal Gove, take note! And yes, the girls were at top of the class. The head girl scored 97%, the closest boy had a paltry 93%. Must do better!

Everybody knows Friday night is pizza night, so I had a Dominoes tonight. The Dominoes menu (actually, all menus) in India is an equal split between ‘veg’ and ‘non-veg’ options. This should be brought over to the UK, along with garlic bread stuffed with cheese and jalepenos.

I always thought Dominoes was a take-away only, but in India, Dominoes is also good for a date night. If you do decide to order a takeaway, the Dominoes in Noida has no less than 17 individual Dominoes branded pizza bikes, not including the ones that were already out delivering (in Reading, you get 1 or 2 pizza bikes per pizza shop). Also, I noticed a street stall called ‘Uncle Chicken’. It was just down the road from ‘Papa Johns’, ‘Granny’s Place’ and ‘Mama’s Kitchen’, which seemed like a happy coincidence. The whole family had the block sewn up.

The company I work for pays for buses to take people to work and back home again, and if you work late you get fed a meal and can take a cab home which the company organises for you. This looks like a pretty good deal. Makes my £340 monthly train ticket seem even more expensive than it is.

Of course, I watched too much TV. Endosperm is apparently a major selling point of McVities biscuits. And there are infomercials on the special dieting power of a certain tea. Lots of soap operas too, I just can’t figure out what’s happening. They do have The Good Wife in India, but they edit words like “bitch” out. And there is no dubbing in Indian voices, it’s all still in the original English voices, but with English subtitles? What is that about????

I also saw what appeared to be the original Bollywood black and white film version of the ‘very very good, one pound fish‘ song . I didn’t catch the original song title, but I’ve no doubt that it was the same tune and that the one pound fish man should be paying royalties to someone else. Is nothing original?

And the bum gun? It was actually quite refreshing once you got used to it. I spoke about this bum gun with many Indian friends, one of whom surprised me with the strength of her opinion that the bum gun is more hygienic (I didn’t have an opinion on it at the time!), I can definately see the advantages. Being left handed and unaccustomed to eating food with a single hand, I realised a dew days into my visit that I was potentially offending my hosts and did my best to recover. I felt like I could be giving the impression of being a barbarian, and if I did nobody let on!

A few years ago the UK had a boom in city centre flats and an off-plan feeding frenzy. This is nothing compared to what’s happening in Noida right now. Housing is being thrown up at a rate of knots I saw enough high-rise flats being put up to put the UK construction industry to shame.

Language is a funny thing in India. English is spoken, but it’s a different kind of English which is hard to explain, but one example would be the major brand, Walls, advertising their products as “qwality”. More than just the Indian accent, students of dialect would probably have a field day try to figure out what’s going on in India. Also, I did catch myself developing some very Indian traits, in particular hand movements. It sometimes felt that body language was more important than what was actually being said and I’m sure I was missing social cues transmitted via body language alone.

It pains my Turkish heritage to admit this, but Indian hospitality is second to none. Nothing is too much. This is a country that uses a squad of motorbike couriers in the morning to deliver Danone. Enough said.

India is an amazing country, I’ll definitely be going back for pleasure rather than business.

Finally, you realise that you really haven’t really done anything approaching a day’s work unless you’ve been begging at a set of traffic lights from 8am until 9pm. And for some of that time if you had your 3 or 4 year old daughter, or wife, or mother with you, then maybe you’ve done something approaching hard work.

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