India through the Window of a Bus
India on the Move
On the Delhi-Matura road heading out to Agra, as our pristine luxury bus merges into the sea of dusty, meandering trucks, lorries, buses, cars, scooters, cycles and the occasional camel, it is possible to see life being lived in the open.
From the window of this secluded and privileged world, I can see India whizzing by: ramshackle paan bidi shops; one man – one table entrepreneurships selling chole matter for Rs.15; dingy snack shacks bursting with bottled water, chips, and of course Pepsi and Coke; helmet stands with colorful helmets positioned on the sidewalk; a sign ‘Hell or helmet’ which tells of people’s growing awareness of road safety; a mini roadside temple to the God Hanuman festooned with marigold garlands; and of course, people, people and more people everywhere.
At a faster and faster pace, India whizzes by my window: There’s the famous Apollo Hospital, a must stop for medical tourists and comparable to the best in the world; then come the unending showrooms for brand name automobiles – Jaguar, Toyota, Audi, Hyundai and many other brands which my eye can’t quite catch. I see enormous flyovers and rushing trains which now connect Delhi.
India’s Traffic Carnival
I see a sign ‘Horns Prohibited’ and wonder if I’m going to see a different, quieter India than the noisy one I saw back in 2000. But soon the cacophony of horns starts and the guide jokes, “Signs are just signs.” On we go, crossing over to Haryana, and you see the never-ending drama of India running parallel to the highway. You see the billboards for luxury goods and resorts, magnificent apartments and Bollywood stars. There’s Shah Rukh Khan and Don 2 promising surreal fantasy. And then there is real life, teeming real life being lived on the streets. Open air markets, whole families sqooshed on scooters, and banana sellers with their life’s assets in a wicker basket. In a patch of greenery I spot a man lying with his head on the lap of another man, idly watching the bus go by.
India on My Mind
As India whizzes by, I see laundry everywhere – hanging from lines on open verandahs, outside small huts and on vacant lots. You see small business enterprises – a barber shaving a customer in the open, in a small park adjacent to the highway. I wonder what his day will be like as he seems to whiz past my window. I will of course never know him, and he is oblivious of me flashing past in the white bus. Will he have a good life? Will he be happy? He is ust one of the billion plus people who call India home.
I wonder if I am counted in that billion plus? After all, I was born here and though I left many years ago India still speaks to me, still sings to me and still appears in my dreams. I am part of these multitudes – some of whom, like me, are now dispersed to the far shores of a new land. Can I be part of India and part of New York too? In an increasingly global world this no longer seems a foolhardy plan. In fact it is increasingly doable.
As the bus gathers speed, New India rushes by on countless billboards for everything from Levis jeans to Royal Challenge Whiskey; malls, hotels and new buildings; construction everywhere adding to the dust of India. Cement seems to be the new god of creation with several cement companies competing for public attention. In fact cement seems so important to this new, developing India that one of the makes has splashed its name across small structures in the villages on the way to Jaipur.
Ah, the drama of life on the road! Cars, auto rickshaws, scooters, tractors and lorries – and always spectators. Wheels get changed, business transactions happen and there’s respite in the roadside dhabas set up with plastic lawn chairs and enormous pots of simmering tea. Villages and small towns fly past and the dhabas, which grandly call themselves ‘hotals’, are a constant, the comfort zone of the harsh highways.
It is ironic that to reach the grandeur of the Taj Mahal and the getaways of the lush five-star award-winning resorts, you have to pass through the drama of mundane everyday life – but really these lives are quite happy, with ups and downs, just like yours and mine.
(All photos (C) Lavina Melwani)