Travel

India: traffic, security and marble

Marble

In my hotel, the entire lobby is a really nice marble. The staircases and walls are all marble in the hallways. My whole bathroom is marble, too, which makes the shower floor a little slippery. I took the team out to a really nice restaurant at a five start hotel on Thursday. Their bathroom was all gorgeous marble as well, but the bizarre party is that they had the cheapest plastic toilets I’d ever seen. It was a really strange combination.

Just about all the marble is local, though some is imported from Italy. They make shrines out of the white marble, with two red swastikas on the inside. They’re different from the German ones in that they point in a different direction. Even so, it was eerie to see. They symbolize prosperity and happiness.

Security

India is very security conscious. There’s a security check point at every high end hotel and every office building that deals with foreign companies and also western style shopping malls. It consists of about three guys that surround every car that comes in. One guy has a mirror attached to a stick that looks underneath the car. Another looks in the trunk and a third makes sure you don’t make a rush for the building by standing in front of the car. Now, the number of ways to circumvent this boggles the mind. You could put your boom stuff in the middle of the engine, where the mirror won’t see. It’s even better at night, when the mirror can’t see in the dark. You could make a rush for it, running over the human speed bump, you could simply put your explosives in a grocery bag in the car, or (best of all) wait for the supervisor to finish his shift, in which case the guys meant to examine the car are staying inside and just waving you on. The guys that they catch must be the biggest idiots ever imagined. I feel so much safer now.

There’s also a metal detector at all the malls. You volunteer any bags you carry and your cell phone. They make sure that the brand of cell phone makes you sufficiently trendy, take the briefest of looks at any bags you might carry and then wave you on. The metal detecting gate is what mystifies me. Sometimes I set it off and sometimes I don’t, even though I’m carrying the same things. I just imagine that they have a filtering setting that varies depending on if the supervisor is present or not.

Many of the busses have signs that say, “Don’t let terrorism on this bus.” Same message appears in the malls. Does this change ANYONE’S behavior? Has one terrorist event been avoided with this message? It reminds me of the urinal splash guards that say, “Don’t do drugs.” Well, I was going to, but now that I see that sign while I’m urinating, I guess I’ll change my ways…

Traffic

Traffic is universally bad at all hours of the day, with “roads” that contain numerous craters and speed bumps for no apparent reason. This must be where all the New York cab drivers come from since everyone drives with about six inches between them. It’s pretty scary if you think about it for any length of time. All trucks have hand painted phrases on the back that says “Horn OK Please” which means that you are supposed to honk your horn if you approach on the right. Cars also honk if they’re behind you, approaching from any direction, or it’s been at least 20 seconds since the last time it was used. It’s important to know that your equipment is working correctly, unless it’s something like lights. Many of the automated rickshaws (two cylinder, three wheeled, low-end taxi cabs) have many of their lights out. Since they’re all painted black, it makes it all the more difficult to see. They weave in and out of main stream traffic without any fear at all and I’ve yet to see any sort of accident. My hat’s off to them.

My driver, Sameer, tells me that the vast majority of the drivers are Muslims. Whether it’s the rickshaws, higher end cabs or truck drivers, they’re almost guaranteed to be Muslim. He tells me that since education is not as valued, they tend not to get the higher paying jobs.

The day after I boast to my co-workers that the weather has been great it starts raining. All week I had great weather. When my predecessors were here, it was in the middle of monsoon season, which lasts from June to September. It’s miserable during that time with many of the slums being decimated. Traffic becomes a parking lot and the rain is intimidating. The rain came with a vengeance, with record amounts coming down in an hour. The water was six inches deep in some parts of the road. It was the front page story in the paper, near the one where L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology) gives advice about how to get over traumatic events in your life. Sameer took an alternate route into work because traffic was just not moving the usual way. It was a private road, owned by a big dairy in the area. You paid 15 Rupees to go along this fairly well maintained one lane in each direction road. I passed through some beautiful land on either direction. There was the dairy, a number of very well maintained kindergarten and grade schools and gorgeous and oh so lush landscapes. I found it pristine in many ways. In a slower area, there even appeared to be a guy just admiring the beauty of a stream near the road, until he just dropped his pants and squatted. I always have to remind myself about assumptions – they can ruin any ideas that you might have.

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