Things you probably didn’t know about India (and reasons why I love this place)

There are a bazillion languages

When you think of India, what language do you think Indians speak? The answer is: all of them. There are 31 ‘official’ languages spoken here but up to 880 languages are still in use. While Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India (50%), English (thankfully for me) is the second most common (30%). Every state has a different language. Here in Karnataka, the language is Kannada. In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, they speak Tamil. To varying degrees, each state is proud of their native tongue and you’ll find the auto drivers, the street stall owners, and the maids will speak only their native language. While a lot of Indian languages are based around Sanskrit and Devanagari, they are still different and knowing one doesn’t guarantee understanding another!

However, most Indians speak multiple languages. While they will speak their native tongue from their home state, they will also speak Hindi. They also likely will speak English. And often, to round it off, they’ll speak another language or two.

A good example of this is the staff at my local supermarket. I started off being giggled at and watched from the end of the aisles as I shopped. That progressed to a head wobble acknowledgement, then they got brave enough to speak to me, and now I will chat to them when I see them. The vegetable man cornered me the other day.

Him: ‘Ma’am, Kannada?’

Me: ‘Sorry, no’

Him: ‘Hindi, Ma’am?’

Me: ‘Very little’

Him: ‘English only?’

Me (feeling like a knob cos he can speak at least three languages and I only have one): ‘Yes.’

I remember a quote from Sofia Vergara, a woman best known for being utterly beautiful and playing a role where she’s a bit brainless. ‘Do you even know how smart I am in Spanish?’

And every day, as I get an Uber, buy some vegetables, speak to a call centre employee, I am reminded that their English might be accented or a bit patchy, but it’s one of many languages they speak… and I know one language.

Trees are much loved

This is more a Bangalore thing I think (but, please correct me India). Bangalorians love trees. Like, chain-yourself-to-a-tree-to-stop-it-being-cut-down kinda love. Not too long ago, there was a very flash overpass being planned to the airport. People got SO UPSET by the 112 trees that were going to be cut down, that the plans were axed. There are rules around cutting down trees, you have to apply to do it and it’s almost impossible to get permission.

Roads here in Bangalore go AROUND trees. It’s not uncommon to find trees in the middle of the road. House and fences are built around trees. Totally normal.

Why the tree love, especially in such a polluted country, where being environmentally friendly is way down the list of priorities? Trees clean the air. They provide shade. Pigeons and squirrels like them. They are vital to the wellbeing of the city and when I first arrived here I was blown away by how lush and green Bangalore is.

School lunches are a thing

For kids, schooling is free (because education is the most important way to drag a country forward). But loads of parents weren’t sending their kids to school as using them as free labour was more economically viable. Couple that with the fact that kids were turning up to school starving, and there was a set of fairly dire circumstances. So, guess what the Indian government did to resolve this problem? In 1995, it implemented free lunches at schools (the ‘Midday Meal Scheme’). In 2001, it became law that you HAD to provide a midday meal. So now, every day, every child gets a free lunch, paid for by the government. So the government knows that kids are getting at least one good meal a day, and parents are more likely to send their kids to school.

Great idea- and let’s just run the numbers. That’s 120,000,000 children. 1,265,000 schools.

120 MILLION children are fed for free every weekday.

Ed Sheeran on repeat… repeat…. repeat

Indians love to party. They party (and find excuses to party) like no other country. Part of this, is music. They love it, loud, all the time. While Bollywood is famous world-wide and produces some songs that even I am familiar with now, each state has it’s own culture and music. The older songs seem to be the discordant wailing and really irritating bells that make me feel nauseous, but newer songs are more acceptable to my Western ears. While the Western influence here isn’t strong, it is here. I hear a lot of 80’s songs, and there are restaurants that seem to play ‘Paula’s highschool hits’ all the time. However Ed bloody Sheeran’s song ‘Shape of You’ is the MOST played song I have heard since I’ve been here. It’s on the radio, it’s in the Ubers, it’s in restaurants, it’s everywhere.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obMviWQTTtY

Ed, you’re lovely, but I’m over it.

Indian traffic is mad

I think I’ve alluded to the fact that traffic is the single most bat-shit crazy thing about India. Hands down, the volume, horn use, and complete disregard for road rules (or, as a lovely local lady politely said the other day ‘un-disciplined driving’) makes every journey stressful to varying levels.

I can’t even begin to describe the utter madness of Indian traffic. A friend says that Indians drive with their eyes closed and use their horns like sonar!

But, I can describe the good-natured way it’s tolerated. Life happens in vehicles. I’ve seen a woman riding pillion on a motorbike, eating her breakfast from a container in her lap. With a spoon and everything. It’s not uncommon to see four seriously skinny Indian boys on one motorbike (no helmets), one navigating, one driving, and the other two providing comedic relief. I see trucks pull up next to other trucks at the lights (2-10 minute wait) and the drivers are complete strangers, but start chatting, sharing food and jokes til the lights change. Motorbikes pull up next to each and chat. I’ve seen traffic so bad that the motorbikers have abandoned their bikes, their helmets, and just stand round talking in a group.

The road rage is real, but so is the Indian acceptable of the status quo. Can’t do anything to change it, so just have to live with it and make it work as best we can. Woe betide the cars at the front of the intersection when the lights change though- those horns blast you through!

Rain

Yeah, it rains here, like everywhere else. But the rains here profoundly change the streets. You wait out the first drops, hoping it will disappear. Then those first few fat drops of rain start to hit the streets. The vegetable carts pack up and quickly disappear down alleyways like rabbits down warrens. Shop owners frantically move everything from the front of the shop to under cover.  Pedestrians hurry, seeking shelter. And then the rain hits. It comes suddenly, a great warm wet shower that soaks in seconds. Any shelter is taken- trees, awnings, shops. People stand in groups, watching the rain teem down around them. Those who brave the rain have an array of rain protection devices- cardboard or newspaper hats, shawls and scarves, bags of shopping or bits of rubbish.

As the roads get wet, the motorbikes and scooters lessen. Being on a bike in the rain feels like angry ants are biting your exposed skin, not to mention you get seriously wet. So you’ll find the underpasses are half blocked with scooters and motorbikes, waiting out the storm. Groups of wet mournful looking Indian men stand, watching the water hurl down from the sky, flooding the roads, soaking their ankles.

And, we wait.

I love to sit on my 9th floor balcony, watching the storm clouds roll in. First, the sky darkens… then you can smell the rain approaching. Then, the birds start flying past, all heading away from the rain. Then the bats swoop through, outpacing the rain which follows seconds after. It hits, quickly building until the water is sluicing off rooves, washing dust away (or, as I say ‘giving Bangalore a bloody good rinse’), and then…. As quickly as it came, it’s gone.

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