2016, Cheap Travel in India, Foreign in India, India: the unexceptional, Indian bureaucracy, The Ordinary in India, Travel in India, Unromanticized travel

The Brown Paper Man

GOA–

My thousand-rupee note ($15) was torn..

I hadn’t noticed the quarter-inch imperfection at the top of the bill, just left of the declaration in Hindu and English, “Reserve Bank of India,” but the waiter at a dismal Palolem Beach restaurant brought it back, holding it gingerly, as though it had fallen in the toilet.

It was no good. He showed me the tear and made a sad face.

Of course it’s good, I said. It’s all there. Christ…

“Not good.”

I found other rupees enough to pay for the beer and the worst steak I’ve ever had and tucked the torn note back in the zippered big-note compartment of my Hugo Boss wallet.

A couple of days later, on a morning ride south, I parked my scooter next to the trash-strewn verge in Chawdi, just across from the State Bank of India.

State Bank of India, Chawdi

 

 

The manager at the Agonda Beach branch of HFDC Bank had directed me there. Yes, he said, the bill was good. I was correct. Unfortunately, he could not give me untorn money in exchange. State Bank would take it.

Inside State Bank, a large sign in English instructed all newcomers to take a token and wait until that number was called. There were no tokens. The token tube was empty. Each of the tellers had a lighted “20” below their window.

Twenty-five expressionless customers sat shoulder to shoulder on rows of soiled chairs, their backs to the tellers; others milled as though the train were due. It was a solemn group, not a smile in sight. A policeman with a double-barreled shotgun sat on a stool by the front door, already sleepy.

Teller number 4 was loudly officious in a lilac shirt and tie and was nearly free. He finished with the tiny man peering  at him over the counter, waving his hand in dismissal. He continued scowling at his screen when I spoke to him, then sprang to his feet, athletically avoiding an empty computer-paper carton and  consulted with teller number 1, a thin, twitchy man in a white shirt and Buddy Holly glasses all askew.

Teller 2 was absent.

Teller 3 was a fashionably-bloused woman of 30 with penciled eyebrows. She was displeased with her customer and showed him with a tapping purple nail where to sign the long document stretching between them in multiple copies, sighing her exasperation.

In three minutes, my teller came back. I showed him my torn bill. Could I exchange it?

“No brown paper here,” he said.

I didn’t understand.

“We are not having brown paper here,” he repeated loudly, then said it again, “no brown paper.”

“See this man.” He was displeased with my slowness. He pointed to a portly bank man of authority at a crowded desk back toward the front door. The man’s stacks of folders and loose sheets of paper leaned precariously.

I showed him my bank note.

He had been napping and had no work in front of him. He eyed me by peering upward, his head on an unchanging downward tilt. “See her,” he said. He fluttered his hand in a weak diagonal across the bank toward a heavy woman in an orange top.

She saw me coming and made a little face, a your-zipper’s-open-you-idiot moue. Her finger was stiff and humorless. She pointed at a managerial woman in an inner office, conversing heatedly with an elderly man who repeatedly pushed up his slipping and smudged glasses and a dejected village woman in a cheap purple sari.

I sat on the chair outside and waited. My guess was that the old man wanted a loan to marry the much younger village woman.

The woman in the orange top was talking to another bank veteran in a long-sleeved white shirt. His folder and document stacks seemed from his work pace to guarantee years more of work, perhaps all the way to retirement, even with no new papers added. Neither he nor orange woman looked at me.

After five minutes, the woman inside gestured to me, then, when I hestitated, waved me in, frowning.

She was middle-aged, brisk in a linen suit and in command, apparently, of the bureau I needed: Bill Vandalism and Lecherous Loans.

I showed her my bill, feeling a flash of shame at its condition. She frowned at me again, then held it up to the light. She examined the tear carefully, as though looking for evidence of illicit behavior. Then she handed the bill across the desk to the elderly man with the dirty glasses. He, too, I saw now, was dressed as a manager of some sort. He didn’t look at me but pushed his glasses up and began measuring short strips of brown paper.

He was not a petitioner. He was the brown paper man.

I asked the brisk woman if I could have my new bills in hundreds.

“Hundreds?” She was incredulous. First I tear a bill; then I want hundreds?

The paper man had settled on three strips of brown paper, like old-fashoned butcher paper. One went on the serial number. He placed it carefully on the bill to measure, trimmed a bit more with what looked like moustache scissors, then turned it over, gummed it meticulously from a glue pot and patted it down.

I left with my dirty handful of hundreds. The brisk woman said nothing. The village woman had not moved. The papering was unfinished. The brown paper man was holding up his second strip, scrutinizing with a specialist’s eye the tear on my bill, which was not straight, but curved.

 

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Finding Christ in Kananagar

In the slums (Finding Christ in Kananagar). (A cleaned-up version.)

JANUARY 14, 2016
JOHNBRIGGS926
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Kananagar, Kolhapur–Kolhapur, sometimes spelled Colapore, is an ancient city ruled until Independence as a princely state. It’s at the southwest edge of Maharashtra less than a hundred kilometers from the coast, and this January, at least, the weather has been beautiful: sunny mid-80s during the day, low 60s at night.

Indian cities, sadly, are much alike: noisy and filthy, with few amenities such as sidewalks or–laughable–crosswalks for pedestrians.The main roads are clogged with unregulated traffic. The air is foul.

Kolhapur pedestrian in streetPedestrians walk in the street in Indian cities

But enough of that. I prefer the slums. For one thing, they make me feel rich, a new and pleasant feeling. And no traffic. Life spills into the street. Women wash clothes by dipping them in soapy water and banging them on a flat stone. They get water from the common pump and hear what’s going on, and they stare in groups, not unkindly, as I walk by. They bathe their small children outside from a bucket; the old men sit, and the crones. Workers wash in their underwear with dippers of water over the head, and children in uniforms make their way to and from school in the neighborhoods where school is affordable.

The little kids look at me with big eyes. Cows and goats, listless dogs, an occasional cat, chickens, all go as they wish. A cow pinned me softly with her huge head today against a dumpster. I smacked her! Again! Holy Cow, hell! She turned away as indifferently as she’d come.

Washing dishes,The age-old squat of the woman at work, Kananagar, Kolhapur

That was this morning. I’d walked back into Kananagar (“nagar” approximates what we would call a ward). It’s poor, ringed with sewage trenches, and the streets are dirt. I was there last week, just walking, taking pictures and talking as I could.

I met Agnes Francis that trip, and her neighbors. She invited me in for a cup of tea. Pictures of Christ looked down in Hindu array. The room otherwise was nearly bare. I took my sandals off at the door, as one does, and sat on one of two plastic chairs. Eight or 10 neighbors casually came in to get a look at a foreigner. Agnes Francis was quiet, and the others liked her. She touched them with kind pats.

Agnes Francis and neighbors, Kananagar, KolhapurAgnes Francis, left, and two neighbors

The neighbors were curious, but they didn’t gawk, nor did they ask questions. My story is that I’m a journalist traveling around India talking to people, writing about what I see and taking pictures. I use it though I’m writing only for myself. It gives me an excuse for wandering into neighborhoods where tourists never go.

I was drawn at first because Indian slums are spectacles, but they have become familiar. They are a refuge from the trafficky outside, and the people are far more pleasant than elsewhere.

I generalize, but here and in the States and Europe, though not in the Middle East, the poor are nicer than the rich. Here, they are a relief. India head-on is not otherwise a polite or hospitable country.

Today, mid-month, I met a gaggle of teenage boys, all with a hoodlum air–unwashed hair, dirty shirt, sunglasses dangling, a Brando sneer, gaudy watch band. They, too, have become familiar, so I said hello and spoke my little spiel, slowly. One of them told a little boy standing nearby in an orange hoody to go get someone, maybe the gang leader.
(Please share. These people are invisible here…)

jbriggs926

Kananagar, Kolhapur–Kolhapur, sometimes spelled Colapore, is an ancient city ruled until Independence as a princely state. It’s at the southwest edge of  Maharashtra less than a hundred kilometers from the coast, and this January, at least, the weather has been beautiful: sunny mid-80s during the day, low 60s at night.

Indian cities, sadly, are much alike: noisy and filthy, with few amenities such as sidewalks or–laughable–crosswalks for pedestrians.The main roads are clogged with unregulated traffic. The air is foul.

Kolhapur pedestrian in streetPedestrians walk in the street in Indian cities

But enough of that. I prefer the slums. For one thing, they make me feel rich, a new and pleasant feeling. And no traffic. Life spills into the street. Women wash clothes by dipping them in soapy water and banging them on a flat stone. They get water from the common pump and hear what’s going on, and they stare in groups, not…

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American fascism, Donald Trump, Travel in India, Travel in Maharashtra, U.S. from afar

From India: Donald Trump and His New Niggers

Kohlapur, Maharashtra

I met a big man in Saskal Badali, a village in western Maharashtra south of the Dickensian grime of Phaltan. Someone told him a foreigner was in town taking pictures, and he came out to tend to his interests. The villagers who had clustered around me and Babu, my tuk-tuk driver, made themselves smaller as he walked up in his shiny whites.

He had a small retinue, unsmiling. His swagger was Trumpish, or it just reminded me, for Donald Trump is visible, moreso every day, even from here.

He is not so famous in India as chest-pounding American wrestlers on morning TV, but his threats have drawn attention. In an analytical piece about North Korea’s proud claim to have exploded a hydrogen bomb (Indian Express, Jan. 11, 2016), Andray Abrahamian mentioned the worrying distortions of American foreign policy in an election year. “The multiplicity of remaining candidates will have a chance to talk tough about North Korea,” he wrote, “criticizing past administrations while offering implausible solutions, if they offer any at all. If current patterns hold, Donald Trump will say something particularly ridiculous and everyone else will have to react.”

India has one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, so Trump’s promise to close the borders to them has also stirred unease, as did his comment that he could gun down someone in public and not lose a vote.

The village big man’s broad face was deeply lined and an unnatural color from lightening chemicals; his hair was glossily black. Up close, it looked as sticky as shoe polish, and his Phantal stylist had colored even the skin of his hairline, making it black as well. The overall effect was that sought by Chinese politicians: a virile Las Vegas agelessness.

He was the local money lender, “very wealthy,” Babu said later in a hushed voice, and even I, who was flush and didn’t need a loan, felt his menace.

Reinhold Niebuhr speaks of “the little amenities which have always veiled the nakedness of the lust for power,” and the nod and friendly smile of the thug (late payments are discouraged here with beatings) was one. I was a passing spectacle, something to give to his beholden at a bearable cost—a Christmas goose, a year-end bonus, a common enemy.

Unexpected encounters on these Indian backroads stir analogy. If he lived among us, the money lender would wear a business suit and a thin smile: he has become wealthy by exploiting weakness.

America’s hallelujahs in support of our central myth have room for him. We have believed in Progress—change, bigger, better—a gospel for the left and the right, the one expecting human advancement, the other demanding ever more efficient systems.

Atomized as we have become, each buzzing within a cubicle, the tribal abbreviations of who we are offer vital comforts: Packers fan; second amendment frontiersman; Catholic; senior citizen; quilter; patriot; corporate gee-whizzer…. They cloak our fears with illusions of community.

We are frightened. We’ve become a timid people, afraid to walk at night; afraid of losing our job; afraid of missing the game; afraid of strangers on the block, and we yearn, more fiercely now with our flickering screens always on, for inclusion and for salvation.

Beyond the usual celebrity adulators, our self-abasing needy seek the heroic overturner, and in our country, which reads no more than is necessary, a champion: Shane, Dirty Harry in new clothes. The savior blows in as a remedy for incompetence or injustice: Barack Obama was a repudiation of the dumbness of the lesser Bush, as Dwight Eisenhower provided post-Roosevelt calming and John Kennedy relief from Eisenhower dullness.

Trump’s confidence seems from his staging as reassuring as a revival: he is the newest prize in the cereal box. George Wallace, a 60’s bogey-man, promised to curb Washington social engineering when the unfamiliar uppityness of blacks and the irreverence of hippies threatened the foundations of known America; and Gene McCarthy promised a return to the prudence of the Eisenhower era after a decade of Democratic militaristic recklessness that has altered, as he and Eisenhower warned it would, the American psyche.

We’re always on the lookout for a champion.They come and then fade away.

Trump, from that perspective, is perhaps most analogous to Louis Farrakhan. He is without experience in government or public service of any kind and promises not restoration but an uprooting that would replace the clumsy compromises of government with his certainties. He promises war and a further bolstering of the police and the military, which he holds close as a personal militia. And, unambiguously, he urges the exclusion of large groups—Mexicans, refugees, Muslims and all who question him—from the social compact.

Republican Party functionaries, stripped of an intelligible philosophy of government other than self-perpetuation but sharing his fondness for menace, pretend an equal fierceness, curs in his pack.

It isn’t necessary to question his sincerity or even to wonder overmuch if his pronouncements emerge from long reflection, as Nehru’s and Mandela’s emerged from long imprisonment, or if they are merely opportunistic.

When fear and insecurity, meanness, are widespread as they are now in America, the field is open to a skillful demagogue, and, like him or loathe him, Trump has found his fans. He dismisses cautions about complexity. That’s for wimps. His steely gaze, his years of experience in the financial back alleys of Manhattan and Jersey, have prepared him to shoot forward to a new era uncrimped by Constitutional niceties.

The social restraints enjoyed in Saskal Badali, the village traditions and expectations, are far in our past. The big man there knows the limits. But we left the village more than a century ago and are tethered to social order now only by habit: the game on Sunday, its rules; the requirements of job; the need for that job no matter how unsatisfying its gruel; family, often broken now and dispersed; the sad digital fantasy communities that engage millions.

Our politicians belong on the list, for they reassure us that the aptly-titled “system” which pays them generously still works despite the cracks in the floor, the gunfire in the streets, the undrinkable water, the wages that guarantee poverty, the schools that don’t school. And the worst among them take it a step further by identifying an enemy: the others.

This too is nothing new: Delenda est Carthago! We, the politically attuned, expect a calming lies ahead after the foolishness of the primaries, but it is prudent to grasp that we are not immunized by our myth of exceptionalism from real horror.

Sebastian Haffner recalls in his valuable memoir of the period, Defying Hitler, that as late as 1930, ordinary Germans, and he includes himself, dismissed Adolph Hitler as a low-class buffoon: “His personal appearance was thoroughly repellent—the pimp’s forelock, the hoodlum’s elegance, the Viennese suburban accent, the interminable speechifying….” Hitler’s bluster would soon be forgotten. Germany was dull, bureaucratized, clerk-ridden and politically incoherent, but it was not reckless.

Trump promises not horror, but relief and a return to better days, the days of our carefree childhood, with supper always on the table. Just step aside for a moment.

The little amenities themselves comfort us: the identical suits with the American flag cherry-on-top worn by American politicians, the public adoration of “democracy” and “freedom” regardless of the conduct the slogans justify, the good lighting for debates, the fawning network hacks, the careful hair, the doting family, the populist grin and wave of inclusion.

We should be warned. We have seen this play repeatedly, recently enough to be instructed: Mao’s cultural revolution, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, a series of thugs across South and Central America, ISIS, our own conflagrations to no purpose but death in Vietnam and Iraq, our acceptance of torture and the hideous living entombment of perceived current enemies by our home-grown, low-browed jailers.

The tissue of what we think of as civilized life is thin, and we must take seriously that an American Wannsee is not unthinkable, not when the entire slate of Republican candidates and the Democratic Party apparatchiki stand mute or softly clucking as Trump casually suggests deporting 11 or 12 or 13 million illegal residents.

The police presence necessary to pull that off would be pervasive. As the illegals are hidden, the door bangings and checking of papers would disrupt and terrorize many neighborhoods, including neighborhoods where the police are even now reviled as thugs. What would become of the rounded-up illegals’ property, and who would make such decisions, using what criteria? What to do with the American children of illegals? Would the legal rights of those rounded up be abrogated completely, allowing the trains to dump them at the nearest border, and, if not, would they be incarcerated while their case, just one of many millions, was adjudicated; and if incarcerated, where would those camps be, and under whose authority?

Haffner’s sense of the 1930 Hitler fits Trump, but Haffner wrote his memoir to berate, belatedly, his own inability to believe what his intellect and his moral sense had told him, that human evil was afoot and could thrive, despite its beer-hall coarseness.

Trump, crude and coarse, is easily dismissible, too, and we discount him because we have had regular stirrings of American fascism. They are seemingly short-lived.

Now, aside from Trump, it is the timidity of his opponents, Democrat and Republican, that is worrying. They may find him repulsive, but they fear alienating the unreadable, unhappy masses. They know their prosperity, too, requires a myth, and with Progress untenable, the discovery of new niggers might be the way to go.

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2016, Cheap Travel in India, Foreign in India, India and public health, India: the unexceptional, Indian bathrooms and showers, Indian filth, Indian government incompetence, Indian Hotels, Indifferent Indian government, Kohlapur, Maharashtra photos, Sanitation in India, The Ordinary in India, The poor in India, Travel in Maharashtra, Uncategorized, Unromanticized travel

Keeping Clean in India

KOLHAPUR–I made it back to my hotel, just, stomach churning from the hotel’s plain omelet this morning, I think. The kitchen is mediocre at best, but I haven’t had a problem before with an omelet. Today, I could take only a couple of bites. It was rancid.

Whatever. Maybe it was one of a hundred other things, or just a malevolent stray bacterium adhering to something I touched–a tea cup rim, or the silverware lying flat on the omelet, placed there neatly by the unsoaped, sweet-acting waiter, a wall outside, a public monument.

I am fond of India, but it is overly mild to call it exasperating.

I had taken a tuk-tuk (which this miserable uninstructable auto-correct always wants to turn into yuk-yuk) west to the celebrated Gandhi Maidan, a dusty open area just east of Lake Rankala. The lake is a a 400-acre waist-deep body of water presented on maps as blue, though it is a stew of sewage and trash. But, legs crossed and breathing shallowly, I made it back, and safe at last, relieved, I was soon sitting as usual after an excursion on the plastic stool in the shower, scrubbing my feet.

My shower, Hotel Pearl, Kolhapur

I lather them with soap and wash carefully between my toes with my indispensable fingernail brush. The bottoms are more difficult, and though I do this at least twice a day and scrub my sandals, also with bar soap, or laundry detergent or shampoo, my heels remain nearly black, even after the fingernail brush. When I rinse the suds off, the water runs dark to the drain.

I wear sandals instead of shoes because I can kind of clean the sandals. The shoes, after my months of walking in Indian cities, down slum lanes and the much dirtier main streets, would be poisonous by now. I keep them in my pack, all clean, and I’d turn to my flip-flops before lacing them up.

I make these notes because in a few months, back home, I will have forgotten how dirty it is here. It may seem unnecessary to mention, comparable to pointing out that Saudi Arabia is intolerant or that the dog pound at Cleveland games lacks a sense of fair play. But the filth is deep and pervasive and Indians are oblivious to it. That’s interesting.

I’ve seen squalor in many places, including individual apartments in our inner-city slums, or in the Middle East, where trash and garbage is pitched over the wall and forgotten. In Kuwait, the rats scurried in the piles at night, but the Kuwaitis hired workers from Bangladesh and Yemen and Egypt to pick it all up. Here, it just moulders where it falls.

Northward on public road adjacent to Rankala Lake, Kolhapur

The trash–the plastic bags and sugar cane stalks and wires and discarded flip-flops, more plastic, snack packaging, broken machines–is everywhere. It fills the parks and the sewage trenches, blows across the maidan, and rims  the lake, which has crumbling pavilions and battered fences suggesting a cleaner past; and grotesque as it is, the trash is the most bearable of the dirt.

Public road at Rankala Lake, Kolhapur

The streets are uncleaned, except with whisks, and the sidewalks, the public walls, every empty lot. I don’t mention this just to be an impolite visitor but to highlight the self-imposed degradation to which humans can become accustomed. As I sit in my hotel room now, writing, the room smells of burning garbage from the lot next door.

An image I can’t push out of my mind is from relatively clean Baramati, Swiss-like in comparison to Bombay or Pune or most of Tamil Nadu. I stayed in the plush Baramati Club in a wealthy neighborhood. It was about a half mile on narrow streets past new apartment buildings to the main road, where I could catch a tuk-tuk into town. Returning one afternoon, I saw two professional men standing on an apartment balcony, talking. One finished a Pepsi, and without looking or pausing in conversation, he pitched it to his left down into the empty lot next door. I glanced over the wall. He had done it before, often. He was a pudgy man who apparently drank a lot of soft drinks and ate chips and other snacks, and the rest of the building’s garbage was there as well, a corner of it smoldering, a nasty smell that even beyond the urine smell from convenient walls and alleys across the country is the most familiar smell of India. India is burning garbage, urine, and fumes from millions of scooters and cycles and tuk-tuks and fuming buses with slick tires, spit, uncleaned public toilets, raw sewage. Pigs were rooting in the Pepsi drinker’s heap.

But it is the surfaces that are unavoidable, caked with decades of dirt, embedded grime, never washed–the streets, the buses, the walls, the rubbly roadsides.

The crumbling pavilion at Rankala Lake, Kolhapur

It’s fair to generalize about such things. The cleaning, in the hotels where I stay, on the streets, in the parks, in every public place, is done by the very poor. They usually have nothing but a whisk. They seldom have soap or other equipment. They have no training, and no supervision. If they’re workers on city property, they’re often hired by private contractors who take the contract money, kick back some to the corrupt officials who awarded the contract, and then cheat the workers of a portion of their tiny wages. The workers go through the motions, but they spend much of their  time sitting, having by their presence relieved other Indians of a need to look at what they’re walking in.

Most surfaces here, even in my cleanish hotel room, are infectious. I bought a couple of cleaning rags when I arrived and scrub as well as I can when I arrive in a new room. I do it daily, obsessed I suppose it might seem to the unexposed like a latter day Howard Hughes, and I use a sanitizing hand cleaner from Kroger and otherwise wash my hands again and again. My sanitizer is supposed to have a citrus scent, but when I put it on it outside it has a smell of urine.

I watched poor women this morning, all of them barefoot, wash clothes in the lake, just beside the happily gurgling water buffalo who were being scrubbed by their tender. I wash my own clothes here by hand, and I have a routine. I put my underwear and T-shirt from the day before, shorts if needed, in the five gallon bucket which is in every hotel bathroom. I add a small packed of Tide or Surf and suds it up for a minute, then go to breakfast. When I come back, after an hour, I slush for another two minutes in the suds, pour out the brown water and rinse for several more minutes under the running water. It works. I can do the same to myself.

Women washing clothes in lake

At Rankala Lake, Kolhapur

The women arrive with a large basin of clothes (never any bedsheets or towels). They wet them in  the basin, and some add soap such as I use, but they can’t take the time to soak. They would be there all day. They smack the shirts or pants or once-bright sari cloth on the rocks, or twist them up and rub them hard on the rocks, then rinse in the lake water. They work at it, but the clothes are never cleaned, and on the streets most people look dingy.

Because they have no space at home, the women often dry the clothes by stretching them out flat on the trash-covered, pissed-upon dirt by the lake, or, in other towns, on the river bank.

Washing buffaloes and clothes, Rankala Lake, Kolhapur

Another image, and a fair one, I think, is from Phaltan, a town of Dickensian grimness south of Baramati. Adjacent the pleasant Hotel Jeet Paradise in a relatively prosperous neighborhood, the kids play cricket on a rutted empty lot ringed with trash and piles of burning garbage. It doesn’t occur to anyone, the proprietors of the hotel, the fathers who take their children there to play, to clean it up, and so a boy running after the bouncing ball jumps without thought over piles of trash and skirts rubble and avoids as he can the piles left by the neighborhood cows.

And, interestingly, on Indian television, the streets are alway clean and the peasants newly washed, just as, I suppose, our commercial images–perky, bright acting employees of Wal-Mart or Burger King–depict what we want to be true.

I think it’s related, or it seems so from my perspective: In today’s Indian Express and Times of India, which often print the same stories, a small article mentioned that 80 percent of the graduates of India’s thousands of engineering schools are unemployable, because they have no useful skills. That’s deplorable, of course, and the papers clucked disapprovingly today–standards must be raised! They have the same tone when, as today, “a shocking incident,” arises, they conclude, from the stress of failed exams or college debt (three female students at the Yoga and Naturopathy college at Chinna Salem in Tamil Nadu, despairing at their inability to pay “exorbitant fees,” jumped into a well  yesterday and died). Tomorrow another two or three engineering schools will open, and more students or debt-ridden farmers will commit suicide.

Filth and and public graft are flip sides of the same coin (e.g., Flint, Michigan).

One must acknowledge that the same conditions exist at our own proliferating diploma mills, which hand out worthless degrees in return for a quick buck, though our diminished sense of public honor may lead less often to suicide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016, Cheap Travel in India, Foreign in India, India: the unexceptional, Indian hospitality, Indian sweetness, Kohlapur, Maharashtra photos, The Ordinary in India, The poor in India, Travel in India, Travel in Maharashtra

A Walk in Vicharimalnagar, Kolhapur

In Vicharimalnagar, a poor district in Kolhapur a half-mile north of my hotel, a walk on Saturday morning, Jan. 23, was uneventful. A man said hello, I stopped, and a crowd formed. I walked on. A man waved. I stopped. A crowd formed. Boys. Another crowd. A mother and her baby… Finally, back close to my hotel, the prosperous owner of an animation/rotoscopy business said hello and invited me in for tea:

Vicharimalnagar district, Kolhapur

Vicharimalnagar district, Kolhapur

Vicharimalnagar district, Kolhapur

Vicharimalnagar district, Kolhapur

Vicharimalnagar district, Kolhapur

Vicharimalnagar district, Kolhapur (Siddik, (L) and Svayam)

Vicharimalnagar district, Kolhapur

Vicharimalnagar district, Kolhapur

Vicharimalnagar district, Kolhapur

Ricky Jadhav, Prop. Creation Multimedia, New Shahupuri, Kolhapur (www.creationmultimedia.net

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2016, Cheap Travel in India, India and public health, Indian bathrooms and showers, Indian bureaucracy, Indian Press, Lack of toilets, Sanitation in India, Shitting by the road, The poor in India, Travel in India, Travel in Maharashtra

Kolhapur Hurrah! ODF!

I will be here to see it not happen.

Kolhapur will be the first Maharashtran city to “Achieve 100% Target,” the Times of India said yesterday (Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016), referring to ODF, with funding coming from “corporate social responsibility initiatives” (the city) as well as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It will happen by Republic Day on Jan. 26.

The Times of India, Jan. 19, 2016, p. 2

For those who have been living somewhere unplugged, “ODF” means “open defecation-free,” or, maybe, “open-defecation free.” Kolhapurians, by the end of the month will no longer PIP (Poop in Public).

The good word comes from Vijay Patil, Kolhapur’s chief sanitation inspector, who told the Times that four years ago over 1,150 families in the city of about 400,000 lacked a toilet, a number that has been reduced to 113 by “efforts undertaken through various goverment schemes and sensitising programmes.” He added that SBA (“Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” or “Clean India Mission”) money has been used to build public toilets for “around 27 families.” The story didn’t explain why that number was uncertain.

Public toilet, Kolhapur

SBA was begun by the Prime Minister a year ago and Kolhapur would have already made “the Smart City list,” but couldn’t last year, “owing to the open defecation cases.”

The story adds that 10 toilets for women have also been built on an unexplained BOT (“build operate and transfer”) scheme and plans are afoot for 20 more.

Mr. Patil didn’t detail the exact costs of each toilet, the drain on the city budget, the locations, or the style (Japanese modern? American standard? French pre-war?), and the Times didn’t ask. The story didn’t mention a CRPT (“Clean Reeking Public Toilets”) plan.

 

 

 

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Agnes Francis, Kahanegar, KolhapurVersion 2
2016, Cheap Travel in India, Foreign in India, India and public health, Indian Christians, Indian filth, Indian government incompetence, Indian hospitality, Indian sweetness, Indifferent Indian government, Kohlapur, Maharashtra, Sanitation in India, The poor in India, Travel in India, Travel in Maharashtra, Uncategorized, Unromanticized travel, Western tourists in India

Finding Christ in Kananagar

Kananagar, Kolhapur–Kolhapur, sometimes spelled Colapore, is an ancient city ruled until Independence as a princely state. It’s at the southwest edge of  Maharashtra less than a hundred kilometers from the coast, and this January, at least, the weather has been beautiful: sunny mid-80s during the day, low 60s at night.

Indian cities, sadly, are much alike: noisy and filthy, with few amenities such as sidewalks or–laughable–crosswalks for pedestrians.The main roads are clogged with unregulated traffic. The air is foul.

Kolhapur pedestrian in streetPedestrians walk in the street in Indian cities

But enough of that. I prefer the slums. For one thing, they make me feel rich, a new and pleasant feeling. And no traffic. Life spills into the street. Women wash clothes by dipping them in soapy water and banging them on a flat stone. They get water from the common pump and hear what’s going on, and they stare in groups, not unkindly, as I walk by. They bathe their small children outside from a bucket; the old men sit, and the crones. Workers wash in their underwear  with dippers of water over the head, and children in uniforms make their way to and from school in the neighborhoods where school is affordable.

The little kids look at me with big eyes. Cows and goats, listless dogs, an occasional cat, chickens, all go as they wish. A cow pinned me softly with her huge head today against a dumpster.  I smacked her! Again! Holy Cow, hell! She turned away as indifferently as she’d come.

Washing dishes,The age-old squat of the woman at work, Kananagar, Kolhapur

That was this morning. I’d walked back into Kananagar (“nagar” approximates what we would call a ward). It’s poor, ringed with sewage trenches, and the streets are dirt. I was there last week, just walking, taking pictures and talking as I could.

I met Agnes Francis that trip, and her neighbors. She invited me in for a cup of tea. Pictures of Christ looked down in Hindu array. The room otherwise was nearly bare. I took my sandals off at the door, as one does, and sat on one of two plastic chairs. Eight or 10 neighbors casually came in to get a look at a foreigner. Agnes Francis was quiet, and the others liked her. She touched them with kind pats.

Agnes Francis and neighbors, Kananagar, KolhapurAgnes Francis, left, and two neighbors

The neighbors were curious, but they didn’t gawk, nor did they ask questions. My story is that I’m a journalist traveling around India talking to people, writing about what I see and taking pictures. I use it though I’m writing only for myself. It gives me an excuse for wandering into neighborhoods where tourists never go.

I was drawn at first because Indian slums are spectacles, but they have become familiar. They are a refuge from the trafficky outside, and the people are far more pleasant than elsewhere.

I generalize, but here and in the States and Europe, though not in the Middle East, the poor are nicer than the rich. Here, they are a relief. India head-on is not otherwise a polite or hospitable country.

Today, mid-month, I met a gaggle of teenage boys, all with a hoodlum air–unwashed hair, dirty shirt, sunglasses dangling, a Brando sneer, gaudy watch band. They, too, have become familiar, so I said hello and spoke my little spiel, slowly. One of them told a little boy standing nearby in an orange hoody to go get someone, maybe the gang leader.

The hoodsConfronted by teenage hoods, Kananagar, Kolhapur

It was a small, reserved man who appeared. He eyed me, I thought, as though I were fair game. I looked for a wall to back against. He introduced himself: Pastor Suraj B. Kamble.

He took me to his small house, along with the squad of  hoods, all eyeing my American stuff.  I sat on the bed in the front room and soon a pretty teenage girl brought two cups of tea, one for him and one for me, and a plate of new biscuits from the corner grocery stall. He had a bit more English than the boys, but he had to reach into memory to find the words.

He was concerned I am not a Christian but openly shocked that I am an unbeliever. No proof exists of God, he said, but just as we can’t see the wind yet know it’s there, we must acknowledge God’s existence from the evidence of the natural world visible to us. And Christ taking human form to speak as he did was further evidence of divinity.

Kananagar, 1

Pastor Suraj B. Kamble, Kananagar, Kolhapur

But he didn’t proselytize vigorously. He wanted me just to enjoy my tea and cookies. The boys, it emerged, were his–he smiled–disciples. They had become Christians in the last year and stopped fighting each other and making trouble.

The nagar was mixed: Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and one atheist. Everyone got along, he said. No problems.  It was a neighborhood of workers, manual laborers, which is what Agnes Francis told me last week. Day laborers earning $2.50 a day when they can find work. Carrying. Digging. It was difficult at times to make ends meet, Agnes Francis said.

The Indian Express this morning had an article about retirement income. They discovered that Indians currently need about 35,000 rupees a month ($530) for a secure retirement. The workers in Kanan earn about 7,000 rupees a month when they have work, but that’s hit or miss. The money must support the old, too, and the young, and workers wear out early here.

In India, different worlds live next door. Just down the dirt road from Kananagar is GreenField complex–high new apartments behind a guarded gate. The girls walking there all have shoes.

I took some pictures. They took some pictures, and then Pastor and the boys walked me to their church on the southern edge of the cluster of houses, fronted by an open sewage ditch. It was a small, bare and airless room at the end of a much-divided pole barn, rented from a Christian “aunty” we met as we walked to it. He has 40 to 50 parishioners and is raising money to cut a garage-door opening in the end wall for comfort.

I waved goodbye, they waved, and I headed on the lane west toward GreenField, jumping two sewage trenches on the way.

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The hoods, Pastor Kamble and me, Kananagar, Kolhapur

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