Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hello Sir Banana Pineapple Papaya

Disclaimer: The formatting of this post is at the mercy of the "Zenith PC" brand computer I'm currently using, and any irregularities should be disregarded.

First to address the questions:
Tea
Tea is extremely popular, but it's a very different animal from back home. The popular and most commonly available tea is chai tea mixed with generous amounts
of sugar and milk. It's delicious and cheap, somewhere between 1 and 10
rupees (www.xe.com)
depending on where you are and how big the glass is. Coffee is almost
as popular, at least in the south. It is powdered but you won't know
the difference after all the milk and sugar is added. In touristy
places, you'll usually be served tea and coffee without sugar, to the
annoyance of those who have developed a taste for the local concoction.
Alcohol
The
availability and price of alcohol varies widely from state to state
within India. In a small town you'll typically have one or two "Wine
Shops", the local
term for liquor store, presumably because wine sounds classier. I
strongly suspect the beer, whiskey, rum, gin, and vodka outsell the
wine by far. The beer is decent. Local brews include the popular Kingfischer
as well as Cobra, Knock Out, and a half dozen others. On the cheap side
you'll pay RS 35-40 in a wine shop (So far I've only found this in Pondicherry, which has an autonomous government outside the reach of the Tamil Nadu alcohol tax) while in most other areas it's RS 60-80, which could be the cost of your hotel room.
Of course if you're really daring and not too attached to your sense of sight, you could content yourself with some uber-dodgy local spirits, probably brewed from cow's piss and coconuts, and save yourself a few dozen rupees.
In some places alcohol is forbidden (Hampi),
while in other places it is frowned upon. Going to the wine shop
sometimes feels like going to the methadone distribution place, with
passersby casting disapproving looks as choose your brew. In contrast,
here in Goa wine shops are abundant and the stigma around alcohol is
all but non-existent. Still, you won't find people drinking outside
publicly in parks or on the street (with the exception of foreigner
tourists), though I presume it is legal.
3) Religion Just being inside the inner sanctum of a hindu temple certainly feels like being a part of an intense ritual. I haven't cast aside all possessions and gone to live with the sidhu's
just yet, but religion is such an integral part of Indian life that
it's really impossible to be here and not have contact with it and feel
the people's devotion.

After one night on Anjuna beach in Goa,
where the prices are double to triple what you would pay a few
kilometers away, and tourists outnumber locals 3 to 1, I've moved
inland to the capitol city of Panaji . I feel I've returned to the real
India now, though Goa has a very different character. The Portuguese
certainly left their mark in the religion and architecture. It's
cleaner here than other cities, and more people dress in the western
style. People speak English very well, and there is more of an
indifference to foreigners rather than the fascination with them (us) in other regions.

Recently
I've been thinking about the influence of tourism on India. In places
with a heavy concentration of tourists, the people have adjusted to a
new economy based almost exclusively around extracting money from them.
This makes sense given the difference in purchasing power between the
rupee and euro, pound, dollar or yen. Something which is nothing to us
could represent a few days of hard work in the rice fields. The locals
in these places can embrace the lifestyle, open a restaurant serving
lasagna, or be left in the dust, and probably be driven out of their
now-prime property by someone with more ambition.
A
few people have confided to me their nostalgia for the way of life in
their village 20 years ago (more in some places), and I suspect whether
consciously or
not, most people led richer, more joyful lives before the arrival of
the white man.

That's ludicrous! The dollars flowing in
could be saving people from starving, providing much needed income for
education,
and health care, and giving people who would otherwise have no
opportunity to travel the chance to interact with people from vastly
different cultures and even
learn their languages.


Well
I can't really argue with that, but when I look at the smiles on the
dirty faces of the poor families in the rural villages and compare them
with the scowls of the
restaurant owners in tourist centers, unhappy because they have no
customers with so much competition, I can't help but think that some of
our obsession with commerce and our greed has rubbed off on the people
there.

Well
if you're such a fanatic about preserving the people's way of life how
can you yourself travel and exacerbate the so-called
problem?


oops.

1 comment:

pj said...

Granted that they are old, but my two world atlases show only a couple of the places you have been. From what little I can tell, Goa is on the west coast near the border of Karnataka state, putting you over 500 miles from Chennai. Are you traveling long distances using India's famous railway? If so, how is it?
Following the pattern of question asking, do you like Indian popular music? Do you hear much music? If so, how would you describe it?

Do you see men or women who are dressed as monastics on a regular basis? If so, how do you know they are religous? By their clothing? Hair? Other?

What is your current favorite local food? I have heard that southern Indian food is particularly hot. Is that what you have found? Of course, you can't really say if it is hotter than authentic northern food but you can guess.

I enjoy your discussion with your conscience or alter ego. We all go through something similar most of the time, trying to figure out what to do.