Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Driving 101

So, add to the list of my moving adventures my latest project: Driving!!

Driving in India is CRAZY, I mean cuckoo bananas, psychotic, rambunctious, hysterical, unorganized, unpredictable! Everytime I would visit the motherland and watch people drive, I would be in complete awe as to how can any one ever predict what is about to happen next. It's like a roller coaster ride but with no fixed route. Just goes. Ha.

Since my move here I have been deliberately postponing my "driving lessons" secretly hoping that I will be better prepared to blend in the craziness over time. Turns out the time was a few days ago.

I have been taking driving lessons and it was my third lesson today. I remember taking driving lessons when I was 16 in Valparaiso, Indiana. There was so much attention to detail in something as simple as a driving class. We had to take hours of lectures and finally got the pleasure of taking the car out with an instructor who gave us his utmost attention while we were learning. Mr. Johnson (that was my instructor's name) took the painstaking duty to explain every traffic rule or sign or crossway that I passed as I drove so that I understood the significance of making a wrong or premature move.

Well, fast forward nine years later to my driving lesson in New Delhi and its a 180 to say the least. Of course, the cars here are manual. So aside from the fact that you need to pay more attention to the reckless, non traffic rule abiding drivers that account for 98% of the drivers on the road, there is the gear box, clutch, and the right hand side driving to pay attention to. It was amusing to me though to notice that my instructor didn't even ask for a learner's permit or even have a brief conversation about my experience with driving before he handed me the keys.

He simply put me in the drivers seat and literally threw me in traffic. Instead of explaining the rules of the road, he simply gave me 'pointers' such as "every time you see a cycle rickshaw, move over" or "if someone is in your way, just honk and push your way through". If this wasn't chaotic enough, it was hilarious when he would answer his cell phone while I was 'in class'. Being on your cell while driving is a ticketable offense in India so I would think that a driving school instructor doing it while training has got to be illegal as well. Oh well. It wasn't a brief 30 second conversation either. He took his time to make sure the person he was talking to was completely satisfied with the conversation and would occassionally turn to me to make sure I wasn't hitting a pedestrian or something.

Bottom line after my sessions so far: Nobody is obeying any traffic rules whatesoever, so you best watch your back! There is no organization in traffic rules here, its simply defensive driving ALL the time.

Watch out Dilliwallas, I'm about to join the wacky driving club!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Down the Street

Coming from the land of giant supermarkets where there is a one stop shop for everything grocery and kitchen related, it is quite a transition to adjust to the bustling street vendors in Delhi. Instead of having to go through dozens of aisles and shopping carts and choices, it's quite opposite here. When you leave the house, for the most part, you know what you need to purchase. You also know that even when you are done with your shopping for the week, and suddenly realize you need some immediately, there is always the option of just walking down the street and picking up whatever you like, since there are specialty stores for virtually any item you could need. The convenience of street shopping in the motherland is a boon to say the least.
Or is it?
The local street bazaar accommodates for everything a household requires without having to shuffle through thousands of products. There is an electrical store, a vegetable and fruit vendor, a local dairy store, a "chemist" or drug store, a doctor (or two or three or more!), a cigarette pit stop, video rental store, etc. A couple turns from any apartment building, there exists a local market that will contain all of these facilities and more. However, as convenient as they appear on the surface, they can be detrimental to the local consumer as well.
The false pretense of having a doctor so close by at your service might seem like a blessing, but each physician is available only during their local hours of operation, with long waiting lines, that barely understand the concept of an emergency. These doctors don't think you can really get too sick aside from their regular visitation hours and if requested, usually refuse to service their sick customers, aka patients.
The vegetable vendors are indeed selling fresh vegetables, but they all buy from one source that injects their produce with various fertilizers and growth boosters that are actually detrimental to our bodies.
The one pit stop cigarette or "paan" shop is selling cancer sticks with the great convenience of round the clock service. You might not be looking to buy cigarettes, but they are right in your face even when you just want to buy tomatoes. Good luck quitters!
Other stores that make shopping look easier also come with similar side effects. Chemists are selling various strong allopathic medicines that are often self prescribed by patients and don't require a prescription for most medications. So much for the patient turned doctor trying to eradicate the symptoms of maybe a much bigger issue at hand than what seems obvious.
I don't believe the solution to this dilemma is opening various Walmarts across India, but I guess it's just a realization and to proceed with caution. It is important to realize that take everything just for what it is, and rely on such conveniences on a need basis only. Going on a shopping spree down the street is accommodating, but sometimes is harmful as well.
Everything that glitters is not gold, indeed.