When I first arrived in India I was mildly appalled at the garbage lying aorund all over the place. I was taken aback by the dust and pollution (I spent my first three days in Delhi!). I was forewarned about the cows, but still it seemed odd that they should be given the run of the place. Then there are the poor, mangy-looking dogs that look like they’ve been in some awful scrapes in the course of their miserable lives, and the altogether-too-many people who look like they can barely make it from day to day, and the crazy driving and the constant blaring of horns.
Funny thing about the litter is that I'm getting used to it now. I’m completely accustomed to seeing cows in odd places, leaving evidence of their passing here, there and everywhere. I’m still sad for the dozens, probably hundreds, maybe even thousands of dogs running wild and fending for themselves. It’s going to take longer for me to get used to that. But for the rest, it’s all now no big deal. I don’t mind it at all.
The dust’s clean, dry soil that’s gotten fluffed up a bit; it settles down eventually before it’s fluffed up again. The air in Tirupati, especially on the outskirts where I live, is as clean as can be expected in this polluted world of ours. The crazy driving—and this is scary to think about—actually seems normal to me now. Back in America it’s all going to seem so boring out there on the roads.
The horns? Why, that’s necessary. How else are you going to tell whatever it is in front of you to get out of the way? And as for the poverty, the poor people still have their dignity. OK, so they don’t have much, and they look down-at-heel, but they don’t bother anyone, they go about their business, they make their way. Occasionally, I’m asked for money and I gladly give it. In fact, I collect small notes and coins for just that purpose. No big deal. I notice other of my Indian friends here do the same thing. Professor Ramamurti keeps his coins in his shirt pocket and the only time he reaches for them is when he’s going to give them away.
The driving conditions are awful, though. Traffic lanes are in the eye of the beholder. If there’s room to go through, it’s a lane—even if it’s on the wrong side of the road. If you can get away with it, do it. Professor Ramamurti’s driver, Nagraj, is a real daredevil. He scares the wits out of me. It didn’t take me long to figure out why Professor Ramamurti always sits in the back seat and has me sit in the passenger seat up front.At first I thought he was just being polite, but now I know he’s even more scared for his life than I am.
Yesterday, the car I was in had to drive around this huge cow that was just wandering down the middle of the road, against the traffic, quite unperturbed. But I've yet to see an accident or anything get run over, which is a miracle in itself, considering the Indian disregard for traffic signs and rules.
They routinely drive on the wrong side of the road, like I said, or go the wrong way round a roundabout. Imagine you were going the wrong way around the Ligonier Diamond, for example. They do that all the time here. My theory is that, precisely because everyone drives so outrageously and erratically, everyone is on their guard against the untoward. The untoward becomes the norm, so they're always on their guard!
How's that for logic?
Everyone has to be very alert, even pedestrians, because there are no sidealks. I'm serious. Disaster lurks every few seconds. Overtaking is done on a wing and a prayer. Drivers just assume that ongoing traffic, if it's smaller than you, will yield and move out of the way--even if that means driving off the road.
But no one argues with buses or trucks. They do whatever they please.