Coronavirus and Indian racism

Nurses in COVID-19 protection Cochin

On the evening of the 18th of March, having been nearly 2 months in India and in the midst of full scale coronavirus panic, I flew to Bangalore for my return flight to the UK on the 22nd.

On the plane out of Cochin I was already beginning to miss the shops and little restaurants of Azad Rd in Cochin’s suburb of Kaloor. I’d made many acquaintances and enjoyed their company. They are a friendly and generous lot.

The hostel that likes to practise racism

PK and I arrived at our Bangalore hostel and checked in. We’d stayed in Social Rehab Downtown before and it was close to where I needed to be for appointments, so we stayed again.

Due to the universal panic over COVID-19, the coronavirus, I tried to check my return flight. After a short lifetime on hold I was connected with an Air France agent who informed me the flight had been cancelled. He could either refund the money or book me out on the 31st, if it was flying. If I chose the flight of the 31st I would not be able to claim a refund if that flight was cancelled. No brainer really – “Give me my money back”.

As the ticket was an eTicket I couldn’t understand why a notice hadn’t been sent out via email informing passengers that the flight had been cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions. It would have been polite and simple enough.

On the night of the 19th India’s Mr Modhi gave a speech at 20:00 local time to the nation. During the course of which he (like everyone else in the world) recommended that people stay put, try not to go out etc etc.

Following that, the owner of Social Rehab Downtown told all white-skinned travellers that we would have to leave the following day. The Indian residents were welcome to stay as was a mature French lady of about my age who happens to be dark skinned and appears a bit Indian to the eye. It doesn’t take a lot to realise this was a racist decision that directly contravened the health authority’s recommendations and was probably illegal.

More panic set in. I tried to appeal for help from my friends down near Mangalore. A million excuses. Busses out of Bangalore being cancelled. Eventually I found a flight back to Cochin. We enquired on the airport customer services line whether a UK citizen would be allowed to fly and were told “no problem”.

Booked the flight!

Get the hell out of the racism. I was wrong. The taxi driver that took PK and I to the airport asked in kanada (the local language) where I was from. He was told “UK”. At which point the man looked at me in the mirror and said “put mask on”.

I got a tad annoyed “Oh what? I have white skin and I come from the UK so I must have coronavirus? I think that’s a racist remark”.
“Put mask on.”
“I haven’t got a mask.”
I was all for stopping the car and getting out.

The driver shut up and directed his unwanted comments at PK.

90% of Bangalore airport passengers had masks on. Would have be a great day to knock over a few of the restaurant cash tills. The flight back to Cochin was uneventful.

Kerala state are screening all people entering the state. I’d found that out on the Consulate’s website. If there was going to be a problem, this is where it would be.

Boarding card stamped with health authority VERIFIED
Boarding card stamped with health authority VERIFIED

The screening was done efficiently and fairly rapidly. Indian passengers passed directly through after their screening, foreigners had to fill in a form detailing nationality, address in India, contact number – that kind of thing. One question was “what countries have you visited in the last 28 days that has coronavirus?” I put “India”.

The medical officer told me that I was free to enter and that there were no restrictions on me. Also I was to try and avoid large crowds and to keep contact to a minimum. All logical and the same as every country is saying.

The Uber cab dropped us at the house. We dumped the bags. The neighbour (normally a nice man) stuck his head out to see who was entering the flat. He appeared angry and fired off some malayalam (Kerala’s language). PK said it was rude and knocked on the man’s door to see what the problem was. The man declined to answer.

As I’d been told that there were no restrictions on me, we went down to our little dhaba for some much needed grub. Rajkumar, the owner, was delighted to see me back but also saddened that the flight had been cancelled. I had wonderful light fluffy chapatis with a channa dal curry (chickpeas, garbonzo) and bought water to take home.

During the course of the supper PK got a phone call from the house owner “what are you doing back and what’s he doing back?” He’d received a phone call that his white, corona carrying tennat was out on the streets. It was explained to him that we are paid up until the 11th of April and that my flight had been cancelled due to the general pandemonium and that we’d been screened at the airport. He wasn’t a happy bunny, and I suppose he thought I was having a ball? “Tell him to stay inside.”

Now let’s look at the logic: I’ve been here in this flat for slightly over 6 weeks. I’ve eaten in the local hotels, I’ve shopped in the local shops, I drink chaya at the road side. I’ve talked to the people I regularly bump into. They interact with me and are friendly.

Suddenly people that don’t know me are reporting to the owner. There’s a white man on the streets and he’s got coronavirus. The landlord (who is a prick in my opinion), instead of saying “don’t be silly, he’s been here for a couple of months and well before this panic” has ordered me to stay indoors. And yet the medical officer at the airport told me that I was free to enter and that there were no restrictions on me.

Today (Friday 21st March) a lovely man called Suresh Narayan ordered up my breakfast and PK went and collected it. See… there are some human beings around. I also popped into another café this evening where I normally have breakfast. The owner wanted to know why I was back. He told us that there is a nation wide lockdown tomorrow and that the military are going to be spraying the whole city with… who knows what. I haven’t found any information on this on the net, only one reference to it being fake news.

From my reading there is not a vaccine in full production yet and even if there was it wouldn’t have been tested sufficiently. The way I see it is, if it is true medicate the entire population with some untested substance.

I wonder how many problems that could bring? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow?

Kerala and its capital, Kochi

Kochi or Cochin or Ernakulam

I am down in Kochi now. Sometimes written Cochin. I asked why. Apparently the town is really Cochin but Fort Kochi gave its name to the town so it’s called both. It is part of the district of Ernakulam in the state of Kerala. This means the town is often called Ernakulam too. Confused?

Kochi in Kerala
Kochi in Kerala
Kochi is situated on a vast network of (not quite lagoons and) waterways. The definition of a lagoon is:

an area of sea water separated from the sea by a reef, a line of rocks and sand.

In fact Kochi is a port with a vast inland area of sea water and small islands separated from the Laccadive Sea by a narrow entrance. You can see it on the map detail.

Cochin used to be known as “Queen of the Arabian Sea”. It was an important spice trading centre from the 14th century onward, and maintained a trade network with Arab merchants from the pre-Islamic era. Originally colonised by the Portuguese who then shifted their base of operations to Goa in 1503 CE. If you want to read more about Kochi visit this link.

Kerala, arrival in Kochi and the North Centre Hostel

So I arrived in Cochin at the Ernakulam Town station having spent about 10 hours on a sleeper train from Mangalore Junction. I’d booked the North Centre Hostel online. Without knowing it, the hostel ended up being about 200 yards from the station. Couldn’t be better. North Centre Hostel turned out to be a hotel in which they have converted a few rooms into backpackers hostel bunk rooms. It’s super clean and quiet, the staff are friendly and the street outside – well you’re spoilt for choice for good food. It’s pretty close to Fort Kochi and a lot of the things that tourists want to see. It’s easy to get an auto-rickshaw at the station. The only drawback it that, as it’s a hotel, there is no communal area for backpackers to meet up and chat. That said, I’d recommend it none the less.

Marine Drive in Kochi
Marine Drive in Kochi
My friend PK took me to the Marine Drive area where I took a few photos that you can see below. This area is the mouth of the port. The main body of inland water stretches from here to Alappuzha (Aleppy) in the south to beyond Vypin in the north. We hung around for a while and waited for PK’s girlfriend. What do you call a group of girls hanging out together? I think the answer is a “a giggle of girls”. Yes – she giggles a lot.

A bit later, back at the hostel…

…we set out to get some work done. I’m not really here on holiday. I’m here to open 2 businesses with PK. Together we want to open a hostel and also a specialist decorating business which is what I trained to do. PK is a good painter and all I’ll have to do is bring him up to speed painting BIG instead of on canvass. Pricing and quoting for jobs, organising and estimating paint quantities. There will also be a bit of a learning curve while he gets his head around some of the techniques that the specialist decorator uses. The Indian people love colour so what better place to go painting?

Beginning our property hunt

We need to find a couple of things quickly.

  1. We need some rooms, as a base of operations.
  2. We need to start searching for a property to rent to change into a hostel.

PK got on the phone and started with the rooms. It seems logical to find that first. Somewhere where we can unpack and dump our stuff and leave the cameras and computer securely. The prices for unostentatious rooms seem to go for about 5,000/- to 10,000/- per month (about £50 – £100 including bills). I can live with that. We also got on the internet and started looking up estate agents (realtors in the USA) to search out properties to rent.

The train to Aleppy

Aleppy house boat
Aleppy, in Keralal is famous for its house boats
We then took an exploratory visit to Aleppy. It’s about 50km south of here. The train tickets cost the princely sum of 75/- for both of us (say 80p). Aleppy is gorgeous but it’s also a known tourist area with all its houseboats and water attractions. It’s jungle territory on the sea. I could imagine a Tarzan movie being filmed here. (Yes I know Tarzan was in Africa but Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn’t to hot on geography so…) I saw more westerners there than I’ve seen to date. So it looks like that would be a good area to investigate. The main problem is that the town’s folk are hip to the tourist industry and the prices are inflated accordingly.

Together we’ve decided that it’s probably best to site ourselves half way between Cochin and Aleppy. That way any backpackers we do get can enjoy the countryside while being on the main rail and bus routes to Cochin or Aleppy. We took the normal train down there, it took about an hour. On the way back we took the Superfast Train that goes to Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It took half an hour longer. Go figure.

Estate Agents in Kerala and Indian websites

Our estate agent search, while being frustrating, has actually yielded results quite quickly. Indian websites tend to be a directory of services and it’s hard to find a real estate agent with an actual website. Mostly they want you to put your email and or phone and they’ll get back to you. I find that absurd as I’d like to SEE what’s on offer before being inundated with calls at inconvenient times for properties that simply don’t suit. Never the less, we contacted 8 likely property owners and the first interview is tomorrow (10 Feb) down in Aleppy. The house we both like is in a place called Cherthala (H is silent after the T). Cherthala is pretty much half way between Cochin and Aleppy. At the time of writing this we are waiting for the owner to contact us. It is Sunday so I’m hoping that he’ll be in touch early in the week.

There is such a thing as a free lunch

I also visited Fort Kochi. I took the ferry there. No one told me that there are two stops, so I got off with the crowd only to find I was on the wrong island. It wasn’t too bad though. I got a few photos and ended up walking about 5km towards the island on which Fort Kochi is situated. It was midday and hot. A nice local man stopped and picked me up on his scooter which was lovely for the last 2km. A bit of a breezes to cool down.

I then walked over the bridge to the other island and was about to start to look for an auto-rickshaw to take me to the area called Fort Kochi, when a gentleman in his mid fifties (I’d guess) asked me where I was going. His name is Stanley and he’s a travel advisor helping with the big cruise ship passengers. I was taken under his wing. He was absolutely lovely and wouldn’t let me pay for anything, including lunch, much to my embarrassment.

The temperature here is about 33ºC (USA you do the maths – you use an antiquated, illogical system) and to be honest I was getting tired. I bought a 1·5 litre bottle of water and sunk most of it in one go. I wandered around taking photos of the Chinese fishing nets (which you can see in the photos below) and a few other subjects but to be honest the spirit was willing but the legs were getting weak. So I decided to cut my losses and head back to the hostel where I drank another litre of water and lay down with my feet up to let the blood run back to my head.

This evening we go check out some rooms to rent. We can’t stay in the hostel much longer.

Cochin photos

Aleppy photos

Fort Kochi photos

The route to Subramanya

areca nut farm near subramanya

Subramanya bound, and fresh air.

Having been kept awake all night by the hostel’s party animals going out nightclubbing and noisily returning at all hours between 03:00 and 05:00 without any consideration for the other hostel guests, PK and I arose at 06:00 and headed for the Majesty bus station in Bangalore for the journey to Subramanya.

We had dosa with curry and chutney for breakfast at the bus station. I love dosa. The portions were so big it defeated both of us, but it did set us up for the seven hour journey to Subramanya. The morning was cold and I needed my sweater on. By eight o’clock the sun is up properly and the sweater was relegated to the rucksack.

The bus journey to Subramanya takes about 7 hours. Initially across the relatively flat-lands of the central portion of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Then it takes a downward route with hairpin bends and spectacular views as it descends the Western Ghats towards the coast and the Arabian Sea. The roads aren’t bad, no worse than some of the country roads in Eire or Wales. The same can’t be said of Indian drivers. Overtaking on the worst possible bends, driving three abreast, the journey can be nerve wracking. I just relax and work on the principle that if my time is up, it’s up.

After a couple of rest stops to get the rectangles out of the backside we reached Subramanya, home to the famous temple of Kartikeya, the son of Shiva.

[quote from Wikipedia] In this temple Kartikeya is worshipped as Subramanya, lord of all serpents. The epics relate that the divine serpent Vasuki and other serpents found refuge under Subramanya when threatened by the Garuda.

Kartikeya is also know as Murugan, Skanda or Kumara. He is the brother of Ganesha (known as Ganapati in the south of India).

Now it’s time for a local bus and then a short trip in an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) to PK’s parent’s farm down by the river Kumaradara. The Kumaradara flows through Subramanya too, and the religious pilgrims bathe in the holy water. I just swim in it.

Down on the farm

areca nut trees near subramanya
areca nut trees

PK’s parent’s were delighted to see me again. They frequently ask after me when PK is home and on the messenger to me. “When is Q coming over again?” I would love to be able to speak to them without needing PK or his brother Rathan to translate. I have to learn the Kannada language, or at least enough to have basic communication.

rubber milk collection
rubber milk collection
PK’s father farms. Principally areca nuts that are used as a stimulant that they chew in much the same way that western people used to chew tobacco. He also collects pepper from the vines on various trees and taps rubber. You can see the areca nuts drying in the main picture. In the photos there is a picture of PK’s dad at the rubber trees and the milk collection bowl. It’s hot an humid here; probably in the high 20s or low 30s celsius (USA friends do the math 😉 )

After a couple of cups of tea we, PK, Rathan and I, head for the river for a swim. The water is beautiful and warm. Warmer than the air temperature in the UK at this time of year. I hate cold water but this is lovely and refreshing. PK’s dad is going to go fishing tomorrow and I’ll head along with him to take some photos. I had assumed that they’d be fishing with rods and poles but I was wrong, they’ll net the river.

Supper is of curry and boiled rice of a type that I’ve never seen or tried. The grains are huge and fat with little black flecks. It’s surprisingly light. PK’s mum seems to want me to get fatter – she fed me way too much. So we had a giggle as I stopped her from mounding my portions daily. Out here in the countryside the food is served on a banana leaf instead of plates. I would have liked to have taken a photo or two but I felt that maybe they would have been a bit embarrassed. I’ll try and rectify this later in a roadside café.

The milk in the tea is straight from the cow. It’s lovely tea but as I have a slight lactose intolerance I requested milk-less tea. The tea is strong, so strong you could tar the road with it. A little sugar is needed.

The nights are quiet with only the sound of the odd night bird and night-time insects. No traffic noise whatsoever. The sky is crystal and the stars are so bright away from the light pollution. I can see Orion and Taurus easily and much higher in the sky than they would be in Wales. Gemini is over head and Leo is just fading into the trees and the horizon. To the south are stars that I don’t know. They’d be below the horizon in the UK and invisible. Ursa Major and the Pole star aren’t visible because they are so low on the northern horizon here. I don’t even know if they would be visible from this latitude. I have seen them in Uttar Pradesh but U.P. is about 2000 km north of here.

In this little valley near the village of Yedamangala 4G connection isn’t really available. A climb up the hill soon rectifies that but it does mean that communication and writing this is impossible. In a couple of days I’ll be back in Perlampady where the connection is permanent(-ish) albeit a bit slow.

Rubber tapping in Karnataka

A few pictures from down on the farm

Bangalore 2020

Chaya or tea in Bangalore

I arrived in Bangalore (Bengaluru) at 00:35 on the 23rd of January. The Air France flight was 25 minutes late. Due to the coronavirus that is running in China at the moment the immigration hall at Kempegowda International Airport was a nightmare. Queues everywhere. Lots of officials wearing masks doing… well not much.

I joined the queue. The wrong queue. None of the officials saw fit to try and direct the weary passengers from multiple flight to the proper lines. I was in the line for the health questions for people coming from China and Hong Kong. Obviously I needn’t have been as I’d arrived from the UK via France.

Having waited all the way to the front of the queue I was informed that I’d joined the wrong queue, so I headed for passport control and joined that line. Yup – it was the wrong one too. I have an e-Visa. Different queue.

Two hours later and about three aircraft’s worth of baggage on the baggage claim belt 10 I finally have my biometrics taken (I’m not a criminal but I’m subjected to having fingerprints taken and a facial scan) and I’m free to collect my rucksack.

PK has now been waiting for me since 00:10.

Bus to Bangalore

The bus ride into the centre of Bangalore was uneventful but lengthy enough to be a literal pain in the arse having been sitting down, effectively, since 20:45 on the 21st of January.

At nearly 04:00 PK and I exit the bus at Cubbon Park in the centre of Bangalore. I know we are near the hostel but as I don’t have an Indian SIM and PK’s credit is out we wander around for a good while without Google maps help trying to find Social Rehab Downtown Hostel. The place isn’t going to open until 08:00 so we have time.

Finally locating the hostel we are faced with a 2 hour and 40 minute wait until the doors open. PK leans on the bell and we are let in at about 05:20. We both fall asleep on the sofa in the social gathering area of the hostel for a couple of hours. It’s ok, this is India and it’s pretty normal to crash out when and where possible.

Breakfast, lunch and supper

Vegetarian restaurant Bangalore
Anna Kuteera veg restarurant

Very much refreshed we head out looking for an Airtel shop to buy me a SIM, recharge PK’s phone and to find some chaya and grub. The phone shop opens at 10:30 so… grub first. Anna Kuterra (only vegetarian food) provides the grub. The food there is so good that we’ll end up eating there every meal time. I’ve been missing dosa and idli. Two cups of chaya, two plates of dosa, sambar and chutney 120/-Rs. UK money, about £1·50. Stuffed to the gills. You’d be unlikely to get a coffee back home for that!

Lovely food – all vegetarian

SIM purchased and installed and I’m connected to the net at last. 289/- Rs (£3) for 28 days and 1·5Gb of data daily. More than enough for me.

We have a meeting in town at 15:00 on the 24th – more on that later. So now is the time for a quick explore of the local area. I don’t want to stay in Bangalore, I want to get out to PK’s parent’s farm near Yadamangala. His mum and dad ask after me frequently and I want to visit them again, breathe some fresh air, have a swim in the river Kumaradara, sleep with only the noise of night birds and insects (and the occasional dog barking).

Beer in Bangalore

Many people I know think that India is dirty and covered with rubbish. In some places it is. But Bangalore is a modern city, it’s kept clean and tidy and has some lovely architecture and great food. PK and I discovered a bar where they brew excellent beer on site, and I mean excellent! Yes it was a little pricey but, sure, I’m used to UK and Europe prices so… what the hell. The Bière Club wouldn’t be out of place in any major European city. Their choices are

  • Blonde Ale
  • Lager
  • Stout
  • Wheat Beer

I had a couple of the blonde ales, PK a Lager and a blonde ale. But I also had samplers (chupito/shot size) of the other two.

We are leaving Bangalore on the 25th. So no more beer and back to the hostel for an early start.

Indian cultural decisions

India is a country, like many others, that doesn’t really give a flying f**k about it’s citizens. I am told that the corruption is rife but I have to admit that I’ve barely looked at Indian politics. Indian cultural decisions, to me as a western observer, seem way out of date, they subjugate and repress the people through strictures and mores that really no longer should apply in an up and coming nation of the 21 century (in the Christian calendar).

While the cost of living in India is low, the wages are worse. As with any country the vast majority live from hand to mouth, struggling daily to make ends meet and pay off the debts that the society has forced them into. While the politicians promise the world, deliver nothing, accept their various bribes and incentives from their crony capitalist friends in the world in which we currently live.

Democracy is an illusion, a preset program long installed by the powerful, to make you think that you have a say in society, have a voice. You don’t. The world is currently dictated to by banks, big corporations and their political pals who hand down control and perpetuate the illusion of freedom of choice whilst exploiting the citizens and making them poorer.

Control through Indian cultural decisions

But that’s not all… The Indian cultural decisions are oppressive and repressive. Most of the Indians I have talked to will tell you “It’s part of our Indian culture, it’s been like this for thousands of years” like that’s an excuse for being oppressed, subjugated, downtrodden and repressed. Yet their age old culture doesn’t include cheap tatty LED decoration, bling bling on cars, mobile phones, digital TV, T-shirts, Brand name running shoes or any of the other accoutrements of the age and western introduced capitalism, but they are accepted into the way of life… now. So culture is also a pre-programmed illusion to which these lovely people acquiesce.

The main thing I’m thinking about are arranged marriages, caste separation, segregation of the sexes, dress codes, dietary restrictions, and the list goes on.

Marriage is an Indian cultural decision too

I know a young girl. She’s just eighteen, at the time of writing, and at college in her first year. She’s just been told that she will be getting married in a few months to a lad of twenty two that she doesn’t know and that lives in a different country. All this is because he’s from a good family and because it will bring prestige to the parents. So feel free to screw up your daughter’s life so that your social standing is approved of by colleagues and neighbours?

I’ve seen plenty of wedding invitations since being here. They will frequently include the qualifications of the people about to be joined in this draconian match-making. Ajith Patel Ba Eco is marrying Swati Kumar BSc. This is about social standing too. Who gives a rat’s ass about their academic qualifications when at a wedding? Only the parents, it raises their profile. “Didn’t they do well to get their daughter married off to a doctor (or an airforce captain or a government offical)?”

To return to my 18 year old friend… If this proposed marriage goes ahead she will have no choice in anything. She will have to give up her education and move to a foreign country, totally alien to her, with a western type culture for the most part and a way of life that she’s never seen. Admittedly some things she will enjoy. An infrastructure that actually works. There again, due to the sexual segregation and the moral upbringing in India, she’ll be like a fish out of water and pregnant within very few months and probably again within the year following the birth of her first child. There is a good chance of more children too. Effectively she’ll never experience being young and having a bit of freedom of youth. When eventually she stops popping out babies and finishes minding them she’ll be in her mid to late thirties with no qualifications except having babies and halfway through a wasted life with no chance of a career of any standing because her education was curtailed for the sake of image. This, apparently, is a successful marriage!

I have met two girls in this position. The one described above has asked her parents to at least allow her to qualify and get her degree and after that she’s prepared to marry whomever they choose. Acquiescence. The second is a 27 year old who has been living with a girl friend in Delhi for a few years. Just recently on a visit home she was told that she’d be getting married to an old childhood friend. I saw her just after this bombshell had been dropped. She was obviously preoccupied, worried, pensive and not that happy. That said, a few months later the situation has been accepted and she seems more at peace. She too will have to leave her country, family and friends for the sake of a “good marriage”? It’s a Indian cultural decision you see?

And the Indian youth blindly follow this social illusion and allow their parents to dictate their lives because it’s a leftover from thousands of years of Indian cultural decisions and oppression that once apon a time had a reason. Had my parents tried that I’d have been the other side of the world with no forwarding address in very short order.

Friendship and cultural divisions

Indian cultural decisions
Forget it
Another Indian cultural division that I’ve witnessed is… while it is perfectly ok for an Indian woman to know and be (a little) friendly with a man from a different race, but there is no contact. However there is little chance of them having a romance. That would be frowned apon by the village, the colleagues, the friends and relatives. So again, personal individual happiness means nothing to this collective non-empathic Indian culture. It’s all about image and it would be deeply infra dig for the community if the poor woman were to fall in love with her racially different friend. She would be ostracised, abused, suffer petty gossip, be labeled as a bad woman (probably a whore) and maybe lose her job because of her feelings. This is something that, thankfully, western races have nearly abolished, cross racial relationships and marriage are fairly normal now. Naturally the system would tolerate a man falling for a blonde bombshell. It may be frowned apon, for a while, but it would be ok in the end and seen as its own social status. If you are gay – well that’s simply seen as revolting and disgusting and not talked about.

Caste driven discrimination

Then of course there is the caste system that I mentioned in this post. Marrying outside your caste used to be illegal. In many senses it may as well still be. I met a young man of 22 years who had fallen in love with a girl, who admittedly was of the same caste, but he is Tamil. Can’t have that. For some reason Tamil people are ostracised. Maybe it’s their language? Can’t see why though, there are dozens of languages here. So the Indian society has dictated (even though the caste system is illegal under current law) that Ajith can’t marry Swati after all because she’s Brahmin and he’s Vaishya. The Brahmins are the upper priestly caste and the Vaishya are the merchant caste, effectively two social strata lower. The fact that there is a chance that Ajith the Vaishya will possibly enjoy financial success and wealth isn’t important. Have to keep that illegal caste inbreeding going.

Public shows of affection

agains Indian cultural decisionOn my wanderings I have noticed that you practically never see a young mixed sex couple walking through town holding hands. It wouldn’t be right. You do see boys holding hand with boys and girls holding hands with girls, but mixed holding of hands isn’t really seen. Sex of course is quite simply out of the question until your parents have married you off to a stranger or you are a bad girl. (For boys again it sort of ok.) But I have also seen, in a few towns, parks where the young do go to hide and kiss and cuddle. In fact some of these parks would probably get the name “knocking shops” in the UK because of the number of people snuggling, and except there’s no knocking going on. Just a bunch of repressed young Indians trying to have some fun with their boy or girl in opposition to Indian cultural decisions and before the folks marry them off to someone from a “good family”.

Dietary restrictions

Dietary restrictions are mainly religious observances and you are free to adopt whatever you want. Again, in general, it’s how your family brought you up and what your parents want. In the north of India the people lean more toward vegetarianism due to their Hindu way of life. It doesn’t stop them getting drunk as skunks on the local rum though. The strange difference comes in the south of India where the Hindus seem more religious but will eat meat and fish. It tends to be white meat and not red meat but wild boar is highly prized in some areas. It goes without saying that you don’t get beef. The cow is sacred. Effectively you do what the community wants or acquire yourself a label. I know one Hindu that doesn’t eat meat – except when he’s drunk.

The weirdness of the Indian beach

Indian Cultural decisions - sarees on the beach
Indian women in sarees on the beach
On the beach are loads of young lads. By far and away the greater percentage of the beach crowd. They’ll be larking around in the sea, maybe surfing or in a few cases showing off and taking risks with the bathers on their jet-skis in ways that would be illegal in the west under health and safety regulations. Women? Hardly any. And the few that there are will go bathing in their full saris. You do not see Indian women in bikinis or bathing suits – well at least I haven’t seen any. Maybe in Mumbai, a more cosmopolitain city, you may see a few modern, rebellious young Indian woman giving the moral strictures and Indian cultural decisions the big finger, but mainly if she’s in a bikini she’s western.

Bathing in a sari is absurd! Yards of wet fabric just waiting for a wave to pull you under and hold you there. As aquadynamic as a house brick. Positively dangerous. Should the woman get into trouble the poor life guards have to risk their lives with trying to deal with a ton of wet fabric as well as a flailing woman (who is probably trying to push the man away because they shouldn’t be touching her). A recipe for disaster. In Mangaluru I witnessed a woman, knocked over by a wave, struggling to get up and a half dozen of her friends laughing and trying to help her to her feet. The waves weren’t much above two feet tall.

Cultural decisions from a western viewpoint

India is a strange country. Very friendly people that are firmly rooted to past centuries and obsolete restrictions that (maybe) made sense a thousand years ago. The youth, while awakening a bit, sadly still obey mindless Indian cultural regulations based on archaic thinking and dubious parental judgement. A young Indian is taught to respect their parents because their parents gave them birth. Therefore it follows that you do what they say and provide for them in their old age as they provided for you in your childhood. Then you get to impose the same narrow inhibitions on your children so that the repressive Indian cultural restrictions can carry on as it has for millennia. And whatever you do – don’t mix the caste even though it is illegal to differentiate. If you are born gay, emigrate, if you can, run away do anything that will save you the burden of being married to a stranger to whose gender you aren’t even attracted.

Translating websites

Translating websites

I’ve not been translating websites

Google analytics
Google analytics
The more observant of you will have noticed that I haven’t been translating websites or the blog into Spanish recently. I gave up. Google Analytics shows me that no more than 3 people read the Spanish and I really can’t be bothered to spend a few hours translating websites and laying out the pages for the sporadic views I was getting. Most of my views come from here, India, and then the UK. I guess the Indians are reading in english but I figured that if Hindi was included I might get more viewers.

So to that end I decided to see if I could find a way of getting Google to do the translating websites chore. And I found a PlugIn that seems to do the job. It’s called GTranslate and it can be installed on most WordPress setups. I’ve installed it on SuperSnail and here, with a few language options. I’ve been told that the Hindi is good enough to understand. The Spanish isn’t bad – not the way I’d write it because it’s Latin America spanish with usted and ustedes where I’d use and vosotros, but is saves me time and at least those of you that do want to read in other languages have the option.

Down here in Karnataka they speak a number of different languages but the State language is Kannada. Google makes a complete mess of it. Frequently generating the complete opposite of what is being translated. Sorry but that’s down to Google. If Google Translate’s Kannada translation was a car – it would be scrapped. And that’s what I’d suggest Google do as it’s pretty useless and in some cases positively dangerous.

Guaranteeing results?

So far I’m pretty impressed with GTranslate and it may be a way for bloggers and small businesses to increase their page hits. But I’m not guaranteeing results. For example: in Spain it might be a good idea to add Catalan, Galician and Basque too? Naturally most of these languages I can’t speak but I figure that those that are interested will probably be able to get the gist of what’s going on. Besides, many of you are used to Google Translate’s whimsical (and often wrong) translations. But if it generates an extra sale… it’s got to be worth it.

There is a free version – the one that I’m using – but the paid versions add a lot more functionality.

Having got this far some of the more observant of you again are possibly wondering “what has this got to do with India?”. Well, I’m bored and I want something to do. There is no social life where I am, which you will know if you read the last entry. Also, as I said above, I got fed up with spending the time writing for few spanish language viewers.

Multisite Language Switcher

Multisite Language Switcher
Multisite Language Switcher
I had a plugIn installed called Multisite Language Switcher that is really good but you have to set up a WordPress Multisite and manually put the translations into sub-domains for each language. Not too much of a problem – I’ve set up lots of multisites. It works brilliantly except I had to spend the time writing the blog twice. And of course I can’t write in Hindi, Kannada, German etc. This way I can add whatever language I want and leave it to dubious Google for translating websites. It also means that I don’t need to use up disc space doubling up lots of images. (It’s the way WordPress works). There are PlugIns that will allow that but they are more expensive than buying extra hosting space.

There are other PlugIns that can be used and a short list can be found here.

The Indian enigma

Sari fabrics

Indian experiences and observations

India is a strange but lovely place. I refer to it as the Indian enigma. It’s beautiful. The people are very friendly, polite, talkative and above all interested. A lot of them speak very good, if a tad antiquated, english. English you might have heard in the 1940s or 1950s. Clothes are referred to as “dress”, which in its way is correct. He was in formal dress. But in english english we don’t really use it any more. I am instructed to “get my dress for washing”. It makes me smile. I have tried to explain that we would use the word “clothes” now, and that dress is really only used as a verb or as a woman’s article of clothing. She looked nice in her new dress. Or I dress myself in the morning. (We wont go into dressing wounds here, or how one can give someone a dressing down.)

I am staying in a village. A village of predominantly rubber tappers and associated types of agricultural work. I am the odd man out. Many of these people have never seen a “white man” in the flesh before. Some necks crane so much that I fear the individual will fall off his motorbike. I’m a source of interest and gossip. Sometimes I find it a bit intimidating or off-putting but on the whole I don’t mind. I like the way young children stare or hide behind mummy’s sari. When the realise I’m not going to eat them they are usually the friendliest.

Everyone, or nearly everyone, asks “what country?“. What do I tell them? I have an english passport, I feel more Irish than English, I was born in Kenya and I live in Spain. Maybe a bit too much on the first meeting? A lot of the younger people want to know how they can go and work in Europe. I ask them “why would you want to leave a country where a cup of tea is 10 rupees” (about £0.12p or €0.14¢)? When I tell them that in the UK you’d be lucky to get a cuppa for under £1.50 or to them 125+ rupees they are shocked. Naturally I have to then explain that to catch a bus or train is absurdly expensive compared to here. Rents – well forget it if there aren’t a few of you. And yes the wages are higher but the cost of living is exorbitantly high. In general you’re better off here.

Smoking kills – so does life

Gold Flake cigarettes in India
Gold Flake – still in 10s
A pack of 20 ciggies here are about £2.50 where as they are knocking the £10 pound mark in UK and Ireland – in Spain they are a bit cheaper but still twice the price of here. Mostly they are sold here in 10s or singly from the stall. And here you have the other India enigma, the beedis, the funny little Indian cigarettes rolled in a leaf that actually have some flavour (yes I had a lapse – but I’ve stopped again). They come out at between 19/-INR and 25/-INR for 20 – 25 depending on brand. To us that’s less than £0.30p. Up until recently the beedi wasn’t taxed but now the packs appear with the same anti-smoking photos to which we in Europe are well used and tax has been levied.

The India enigma – the beedi

Europe in the 18th century

The culture is so different – again an Indian enigma! It’s probably akin to Europe in the 18th century. Aside from the towns, women do not wear short skirts, they still wear traditional saris and the salwaar kameez. Even in the towns you don’t really see women in shorts or mini-skirts. Yes the younger girls will wear jeans and T-shirts, but nary a leg is seen, and they usually have a “scarf” that is draped across both shoulders and hangs down the front. Why? I think it’s to hide their breasts. The boys mostly wear long trousers, long sleeved shirts and a vest. (I haven’t seen a vest in years.) In the south the men wear lungis, which are sarongs to you and I. Guys in shorts are seen but they are the more “hip” of the crowd. And you don’t go out anywhere without getting dressed up. That buggers me up – hey? 🙂

Girls still wear saris, the salwaar kameez, churidaar and lehenga choli (skirt and blouse), and a few variants with odd (to me) sounding names. Wikipedia has a good entry. Ok, the examples I have picked as the images illustrating these fashions are particularly beautiful and some are wedding apparel, but they are a riot of colours and I’m going to miss this when I return to Europe.

Gagging for a beer

There are no bars. Well that’s not strictly true. In the towns there are but women don’t frequent them (few women smoke either). The women that do go to the bars are probably not the women you want to meet. On second thoughts – maybe they are? In the village where I am staying there is no bar and the closest one is a short drive away. It’s mainly full of men having a beer or rum after work or getting pissed up. Rum is the most popular spirit but you do see Indian whisky or maybe it’s whiskey – who knows? The normal beer is fierce strong at about 8% but I mentioned that in this post. I have been told, but I have no proof, that normal beer is brewed and then ethanol is added to bring it up to sledge hammer strength. They do brew a “light beer” which weighs in at 4·5% or “normal strength” in Europe.

So, what this is leading up to, is that social interaction is effectively nil. There is no “popping down the boozer for a swift half” and getting to meet the locals. Result is that I’m glad I have this blog to write and my uke, or I’d be bored out of my tree or be getting into trouble. I’ve tried 4 Indian beers, the first mentioned here called:

  • White Rhino – nothing special.
  • Hawards 5000 – silly strong.
  • Kingfisher – easy to find. The normal one is 8% and the Premium 4·5%.
  • UB Export – I had the weak one, 4·5%

And don’t even think of trying to chat up a woman. You’ll be run out of town or knifed. Go to a club or disco, that’s your best bet for girls. But you’ll find that it’s mainly boys dancing together from what I’ve seen.

Women’s lib – another Indian enigma

When I’m in the house I’m told off for doing chores that I take for granted in the EU. I’m not supposed to take my plates to the kitchen after a meal. I get scolded if I sweep the floor. I sweep the floor because this part of the world is a bare-foot community in the house and I hate walking on crunchy floors. This is still women’s work. The local village people say I’m a good man. Luckily I have earned a good “reputation” largely because I’m polite and considerate (something with which my daughter would probably violently disagree) and try and greet everyone with the correct “namaste”. And why not? We may be different colours but we bleed, cry and laugh the same.

So where does that leave us? In a beautiful Indian enigma, with its 21st century trappings of LEDs, mobile phones and the selfie, crap internet, auto-rickshaws or the tuk-tuk, and daily power cuts 😐 but firmly planted in a different century culturally and socially. This is the Indian enigma. Yes the towns are more cosmopolitan but, for example, I can not sit in the same row of seats on the bus as my hostess – just not done. I can sit with her daughter and son though. Tongues wag just the same as tongues wag in any country – especially about the white man.

Isn’t gossip a wonderful world wide phenomenon?

The caste system in India

Caste system causing human separation

India's caste system
India’s caste system
Since being in India I have noticed that the caste system, ostensibly no longer in existence and illegal, is very much still evident. Superiority, inferiority and difference are assumed simply because of an accident of birth (or reincarnation). Hindus are split into four basic caste groups.

  • the Brahmins (the priestly class),
  • the Kshatriyas (the ruling, administrative and warrior class),
  • the Vaishyas (the class of artisans, tradesmen, farmers and merchants),
  • the Shudras (manual workers).
  • Dalits is also a fifth division, often known as the “untouchables”.

Discrimination and employment opportunities can be biased because of this system.

Most religions about which I have read tell one that we are all equal in the eyes of God. However this is not practised.

Jiddu Krishnamurti – thinker and philosopher

Jiddu Krishnamurti
Jiddu Krishnamurti
The Indian thinker and philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, points out that when one says “I am a Christian” or “I am a Hindu” or “I am British or German or Colombian” one is committing a violence of sorts. One is immediately drawing a distinction between oneself and other parties. Often with a sense of superiority, but certainly a degree of separation from the fellow man is implied. The caste system fosters these differences. It is a 3000 year old system of discrimination that the British rule encouraged.

This is the full quote:

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.

I have met people that say “I am Jaat” or “I am Rajput” implying that they are a different type of human from the rest of us. In reality they are normal human beings stuck in outmoded ways of thinking that restrict their lives and possible spiritual advancement.

Krishnamurti also makes the point:
Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.

Strict adherence to tradition means there is no further room for improvement or diversification. Stagnation is the result.

These observations of Jiddu Krishnamurti strike me as fundamental elements of truth.

The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear. Is another observation of his.

The world will never know peace while these meaningless subdivisions exist. And it is my opinion that these meaningless subdivisions are fostered and encouraged in order to make control and rule for the élite easier.

Divide and conquer.

FRRO Revisited – visa violation

Bureau of Immigration FRRO

Indian visa violation

On my return from Sri Lanka I was held for a fair while at Bengaluru airport for an apparent visa violation.

One year multiple entry visa
Apparently it works out that on a tourist visa you have to keep moving, you aren’t allowed to spend too much time in one area? I have no idea what constitutes “too much time“. The fact that I have been visiting and staying with friends (who have been showing me around the country) means that apparently I should have applied for a visitors visa? Personally I don’t really understand the difference. A short phrase in english springs to mind and would run something like this:

The tourist entered the country and visited various points and areas of historic interest during his travel. During his tour he also went to visit some friends.

The “tourist” and “visit” are contained in the same phrase and imply that the tourist is visiting the country and friends. Finer points of english language and bureaucratic law I guess.

So I was passing through the immigration channel into the airport when I was stopped and a superior was called over. They asked my purpose in India and I went through the same rigmarole as:

  • I had on my visa application,
  • on leaving the country for Sri Lanka,
  • on exiting Sri Lanka for India.

I explained I was touring around, visiting friends, wanting to do some research into my grandmother’s birthplace and having some dental work done.

Plain-clothed official bureaucracy

FRRO secret policemanA further official was called. What I call a “secret policeman”. Plain clothed and completely nondescript, I guess he was either police, army or customs. He took my passport and disappeared for a while. I was beginning to look like I’d miss my connection flight to Mangaluru.

He returned and informed me of my visa violation. His check had been able to turn up that I had stayed at HOG Hostel in Delhi a few times. Apparently that isn’t allowed? Too many days in the same place or revisiting the same place. I explained that I’d been having some dental implants. Apparently that isn’t allowed either on the visa that I am on? I should have applied for a medical visa for that. Maybe two or three visas were needed? One for dental work, one for visiting friends, one for touring? And possibly a fourth for the research into my Grandmother’s birth – who knows?

He mentioned nothing about the various hostels and hotels in Rajasthan so maybe the check wasn’t that thorough or maybe he zeroed in on the Delhi hostel because it suited his point. He also said that he could see that I hadn’t been to Kolkata yet. I explained that my intention had been to work down the western coast and then up the eastern and yes, therefore, I hadn’t been to Kolkata yet.

We talked and I explained to him that I had been in touch with the embassy in London and explained my India visit to them and this was the visa I had been granted. I had to assume that the embassy had granted me the visa I needed. I also pointed out that as there are so many differing types of visa for India it is difficult to know exactly, without having some sort of expertise in Indian visa and immigration law, for which visa to apply.

He usefully informed me that there are 24 different types of visa for India. 24 different visas!

The official pointed out that my visa stipulates that I had to register with the FRRO within 14 days of arrival. I pointed out that I had indeed gone to the FRRO in Delhi within the timeframe mentioned on the visa and was told to leave as it didn’t apply to me as I would be exiting the country within the 180 days stipulated on the visa and that this Sri Lankan trip was made to comply with that condition. I mentioned the FRRO in this post.

I was asked when I would be leaving the country? As yet I have no date but I assured him that I’d be gone before the expiry of the visa.

Visa violation and the black mark

So I’m being reported and apparently a black mark will be put against my name. I’ve no idea what this actually means but I guess it means that that India will not want me to start a business with Indian nationals and that that they don’t want me spending my hard earned money in their country? Personally I fail to see the logic – I travel in India I spend money on food and hotels. I spend more money on train and air tickets. Maybe I buy some clothes? Can anybody reading this explain the difference between investing money on the above items and buying some dental implants? My brain tells me that the Indian economy has benefited from considerably more pounds sterling and euros spent on my teeth than drinking a few cups of chai and staying in hostels.

So far this experience of Indian bureaucracy leads me to suggest that anyone wanting any medical or dental work done may find it easier and less frustrating to go to a country with fewer restrictions and with a more transparent visa system. India faces intense regional competition in the medical tourism sector, particularly from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Taiwan and Mexico. Maybe these countries should be investigated as alternatives for your medical or dental treatment? These headlines appeared online too: Kerala tourism lost revenue of Rs 1,000 crore since Nov 8: Tourism minister (See this.) For those that don’t understand the term CRORE. A crore denotes ten million in the Indian numbering system (see wiki)

I then also think about the two foreign yoga teachers that I have met here. Is their stay at the yoga schools for training also illegal under the terms of the tourist visa? And what about WorkAway? Is that legal – on a tourist visa?

Visa violation – In conclusion

India visa online - visa violation
India visa online
I have to say that the Indian government website that deals with the visa applications is one of the most confusing and incomprehensible visa application sites I have ever visited. It may be that someone should rethink the wording and layout of this site? I am fairly certain that inside the 24 differing visa categories there is plenty of opportunity and leeway for the authorities to come up with some visa violation should they so desire. However this seems counterproductive as we are told that India is an “up and coming nation“. One would think that making things easier would benefit their economy more? I think this is pretty much exemplified by Elon Musk and his Tesla Company choosing China over India in which to set up his hi-tech manufacturing plant. See [ 1 ] and [ 2 ].

Negombo in Sri Lanka’s Western Province.

negombo header

Negombo by the sea

Negombo is the last stop on my Sri Lanka tour. I chose it because it’s near the beach and closer to the airport than Colombo. My flight is at 04:00, therefore the usual 2 hours before for an international flight. I didn’t fancy a 35km taxi ride at 02:00.

Negombo town is on the Negombo lagoon which provides safe waters for the fishing fleets. Wikipedia has some interesting info on the Muslim, Portuguese and Dutch that have, over the centuries, held sway here. Negombo used to be the centre for a flourishing cinnamon trade.

Negombo red snapperThe area where I am is slightly north of the actual town of Negombo, about 2·3km. The main strip here is typical seaside town. Lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. The prices are what you’d expect in such a place. The two meals I have had in restaurants were the same price as they’d have been in Spain and a bit cheaper than the UK. The sea food is lovely. I’ve eaten red snapper and shark. The souvenir shops sell everything from fridge magnets to large sculptures of Sri Lankan elephants. I’ve no idea how people would get some of these items in their suit cases? Maybe they have them shipped home.

Negombo hostels are almost on the beach

I’m currently staying at the New Negombo Beach Hostel. will tell you “book now only a few places left“. I think this is a marketing ploy of theirs. I was the only one here when I arrived and I’m in a dormitory with 7 beds and I’m the only person in there. A few people have come and gone, but effectively the place is empty. The hostel is about 3 minutes walk from the beach.

beach litter Sri Lanka
Please keep the beach free from litter
The beach is a nice sandy yellow but poorly maintained. There is a superficial residue of the ubiquitous plastic bottles, bags, cigarette butts and packets and general rubbish that the unthinking and uncaring just toss on the ground. It’s hard to exclude it from photos. There are also the usual beach sellers and pimps but it’s surprisingly empty of people.

Shrimping boats in Negombo
Shrimping boats
The boats pulled up onto the beach I have been told were once shrimping boats (you can see them in the photos) but now cater to the holidaymaker. They want anywhere between 2000/-Lk and 4000/-Lk per person for a spin (say £12 – £24). I was on the beach for a few hours and only saw one boat go out. I wonder if they’d have more trade if they dropped their prices a tad?

The weather has been overcast and incredibly humid with temperatures of about 33°C, but the sea is refreshing. Being a seaside resort the place is swarming with tourists from all over but I’ve no idea what they do because as mentioned, the beach is pretty deserted.

Negombo town
Negombo town
In all honesty there is little to do here except eat and go to the beach. I took a bus into town (17/-Lk) to have a look around. Aside from the usual shops that you’d expect to find the place is fairly ordinary until you get down to the water’s edge where the canal meets the lagoon. Here you can see all the colourful fishing craft and fishermen fixing nets and preparing for the next outing.

More begging… and anger

I met a young Buddhist yoga teacher (28-32 years old). He claimed to be half Sri Lankan and half Nepalese. He’s apparently back here because he has hepatitis A and is seeking treatment. He offered me Kashmiri hashish, was friendly enough and chatted for about 15 minutes. I was simply waiting for the inevitable request for money. It came. When I declined he showed his anger and simply walked off. It seems that the Sri Lankan beggars think we caucasians have a duty to give them money. It made me wonder why he didn’t sell the hashish to raise the money he needed. It also struck me as odd that if he had the money to buy hash then presumably he has the money to pay for his blood tests. There are more beggars here in Sri Lanka than I’ve seen in India and they are super-pushy.

So now here I am at the hostel on the last day writing this up. I’ll push off for some food in a minute and then start packing for the return trip.

Sri Lanka has been interesting but, to me, not that enjoyable and I for one can’t wait to get back to India where the people seem more interested in YOU rather than the content of your wallet.