Sunday, January 15, 2012

India-ness

India has a certain distinct quality (all places do really, but India's is maybe harder to describe somehow), and for lack of a better word, I will call it the 'ness'.    It is something that swings from one extreme to another, and I experienced two examples of this over the last two days. 
On Friday I had to go to Bangalore to take care of some x-rays for my Australia visa application, a trip there and back in one day, with a brief doctor visit so that the Australian government can be certain that with all of my travel in developing countries, I haven't picked up any tuberculosis along the way.  I could list numerous reasons why the need for an x-ray is a bit excessive but I won't.  The trip went smoothly, I had hired a car for the day and the driver was very polite and drove with a greater degree of care and caution than I am used to seeing in Asia, and it saved me the hassle of having to try and deal with rickshaw/train or bus/rickshaw-appointment-rickshaw/train or bus/rickshaw drama.  The medical center is where the real 'ness' started to show.  When I got up to the clinic there was a counter with many ladies sitting behind it (more people than desk space), and one waved me over, so I spoke with her, she wrote my name down on a scrap of paper and then told me that the doctor wouldn't arrive for another hour, so I should sit down and relax.  So I sat, and crocheted, and then when I ran out of yarn, I picked up the book that I'd tucked into my bag.  About 90 minutes later, one of the multitude of ladies behind the desk called me up and looked at the necessary paperwork, then sent me out the door to the security guard for a token (the take a number machine thingy is guarded by security... wouldn't want someone to mess with the system and take two numbers...), and then to the billing desk.  After paying I was the proud holder of an x-ray requisition form, so I went down the hall and round the corner for that whole procedure, where a lovely older lady who spoke absolutely no English fawned over me in the lab and made sure the technician didn't try any funny business.  Back to the main area, where there was more waiting, and then multiple re locations in the lobby.  "Madam, you come sit here."  10 minutes later, "okay madam, now you sit here." Repeat.  After about three hours total of hanging around the clinic, I got to see the panel doctor who has been approved by the Australian government; she looked at my papers and took a photo while asking questions, then sent me on my way.  After about 3 hours of waiting, a five minute doctor's appointment.  Joy.  And then the three hour trip back.  What a day.
Saturday morning I woke up early; even without the alarm set it is hard to sleep in when you get into the habit of being up at 3am everyday.  A coffee and some lazy reading in bed entertained me for a few hours, but when my tummy started to grumble, the secret breakfast place was calling my name.  A few text messages later, a posse of four was organized and ready to go, quickly meeting at the coconut stand and then we were off.   Two motorcycles, carrying two people per bike was a small SBP convoy compared to other days, but as a permanent passenger, I am used to checking back over my shoulder to make sure that whoever is following is still hanging on as we weave our way through the streets of Mysore.  We rounded the last corner and a moment later I threw a glance back to our friends, only to see them sliding in some dirt splayed across the road, tipping over and skidding sideways across the pavement with a crash.  We turned around and raced back, but in the mere seconds it took us to reach them, about 5 local men had rushed in to lift the bike and help get our fallen friends out of the road.  The speed with which they reacted, and the lack of hesitation to come to the aid of foreigners was really remarkable in contrast to my experience in Bangalore the day before.  We left those kind gentlemen with many thanks and gestures of namaskar.  Luckily, we were literally around the corner from a small doctor's clinic and pharmacy, so both fallen friends were checked and bandaged within minutes of getting up off the ground.  They were left stiff and sore with some road rash, but nothing worse.  No broken bones, no head injuries.  Phew. Also, when we reached SBP, there was beetroot sambar to go with the best idlis in town, so that made everything an awful lot better.   

India has this infuriating way of making you think that it is quite possibly the most inefficient and impersonal place on the face of the planet, but wait five minutes, and you are shown the humanity and haste that is the flip side of the coin (rupee?).  Multifaceted-ness is there Mother India; you are an experience in extremes.  

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