View from a bus, Street Life 20:32, New Manali, India 28th July 2010

SHIVA

Untameable, vibrant, the view from this bus, the streets of India. Both wild and peaceful, chaotic yet working in a form of order. The concepts and models of the Western mind cannot fully grasp and appreciate the complexity of these streets.  The culture and society work on a totally different level.  6 months is nowhere near long enough to disappear and discover this land. Its a whirling, fantastic kaliedescope, a hallucination of life.  Reality stranger than fiction, challenging the imagination, inspiring at every turn.  A lifetime visa is needed (any ideas?).

People are all over India, more than a billion, doing everything, seemingly in the street. Cows impede pedestrians, sheeps swarm around traffic. The flock blocking my progress (as usual). Indian life glows warmly, full of energy, no dark sarcasm in this classroom.

Concrete monstrosities are being thrown up (buildings, bridges, walls, pavements……) by hand, under glaring flood lights.  Foundation supports are held in place by four men.  In the darkness and humidity the other buildings gradually crumble and decay.  Architectual nightmares.  Peculiar how humans can create such monstrous eye sores, such disregard for anything aesthetic.  Lumps of abstract concrete.  Existing amongst a jumble of electrical wiring, open drains, pot holes.

A thickly moustachioed man, with T-shirt stretched over his pot-paunch claiming, ‘this is what cool looks like’, flicks his bidi and it finds its target, a fresh cow pat.  Shop owners dust down their cigarette displays with little feather dusters.  Tinny Bollywood soundtracks float in and out of earshot.  Lord Shiva appears on rugs, posters, mugs, calendars and walls.  Omnipresent.  His blue face projecting blissful beauty and ambivalence.  When the going gets tough, the tough get mystical.  Spirituality, the pantheon of gods, governs and directs all.  Healing, saving, bringing wealth, protecting the traveller. 

Light bulbs hang down from the overhead powerlines, giving off a white light that taints everything.  All becomes black and white, a ’20’s movie feel.  Chai-wallahs look like ghouls standing over their bubbling pots.  One boy sells mixed nuts, the other cleans and repairs shoes, another is selling leather whips and drums.  Resourceful, bright, astute.  Many stand around, look around, squat down, laughing loud.

Rickshaws cut and buzz through the chaos like a knife through ghee, their drivers great dreamers.  Mainly dreaming up prices to charge the hapless tourist.  A young learner driver (12ish max) accelerates into a wall, wrecking the front of his new silver Suzuki 800 and almost wiping out a restaurant terrace area. The initial shock subsides almost immediately and the diners return to their animated chatter, occasionally looking over in a mocking fashion towards the hapless lad.  After a brief assesment of the damage (the front of the car is hanging off, the wall near collapse) there are handshakes and laughter, then his family of 6 pile into the car and they speed/ sway off into the melee.

A stick-like Sadhu with a steel trident, all grey dreadlocks, beard and peircing brown eyes, asks me for some money, then charras, then bananas, then my necklace….the mind boggles as to where these demands could end.  A three legged dog wobbles by, barking at the moon and stars, as a one legged man drags himself into the stuttering flow of traffic, riding a wooden cart with steel wheels (moving faster than my bus).  He takes exception to a Tata truck bumper, that narrowly halts before his head, and begins to rant and wave his arms.  Eventually he drags himself into a puddle and the waky race continues.  The sheep bleet, the cows moo, the pedestrians spit and the crescendo of car horns rises.

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