A Bridge

Prima

India was extraordinary, giving me a reason to write. Italy, or rather an Italian an Italy, is much more ordinary, and I’ve always believed that blogging should be done when you have something interesting to say.

So I’ve had to find something interesting. There’s plenty of choice, but the thing I feel I’m most qualified in is the gap, the similarities and difference between English (or perhaps Anglophone) and Italian cultures. In the last decade, I’ve spent far more time in the English speaking world than Italian, even when IN Italy. I absorbed it like a spunge, and I’m still in love with it.

On the other hand, while I dislike going by national identities, I AM Italian, and that is the foundation of pretty much everything that makes up my own little world.

There are conflicts.

But then there are plenty of interesting, hilarious and thought-provoking things which only become apparent to someone astride of the two worlds. I’m not saying I’m the only one to see these skewed, mangled, odd bridges that join the two cultures, nor the depths between them, but it seems now that won’t stop me writing about them.

Also, I’ll be writing about them in Italian, in parallel. Often, the two texts won’t perfectly coincide. That makes me one of those bridges too.

 

 

L’India era straordinaria, nel vero senso della parola. L’Italia, o piuttosto un Italiano in Italia, e’ molto piu ordinario, e ho sempre creduto che pubblicare scritti ne valga la pena solo quando si scrive qualcosa di interessante.

Quindi ho dovuto cercarmelo. C’e’ molta scelta, ma una delle cose per la quale mi sento piu qualificato e’ la differenza, e le similitudini, tra il mondo Italiano e quello Inglese (o forse Anglofono). Negli ultimi dieci anni, ho trascorso piu tempo nel mondo Inglese che non in quello Italiano, anche quando ero IN Italia. L’ho assorbito come una spugna, e me ne sono praticamente innamorato.

D’altro canto, purche’ mi dia fastidio usare identita’ nazionali, io SONO Italiano, e questa e’ la fondazione per piu o meno tutto quello che costituisce il mio piccolo mondo.

Ci sono dei conflitti.

Ma ci sono anche tantissime cose interessanti, divertenti e provocatorie che possono essere viste solo quando si e’ a cavallo dei due mondi. Non ritengo di essere l’unico a vedere questi distorti, strani ponti che uniscono le due culture, ne le profondita’, ma sembrerebbe che questo non mi fermera’ dal scriverne.

Poi, scrivero anche in Inglese, in parallelo. Non sempre i due testi saranno uguali. Questo fa di me uno di quei ponti.

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Google’s humour

Yesterday, someone searched for “picture of indian culture for welcominfg strenger in india“, and Google brought them to my blog.

Clearly, Google has sarcasm coded into it.

The man-eater

Here’s an article appearing on the front page of the Times of India today:

Man-eater of Kumaon felled after killing 6

LUCKNOW: A forest warden on Thursday shot to death a man-eater that had created terror in and around Kumaon’s Corbett Reserve, stalking and killing at least six people in the last three months. The animal had killed and eaten his latest victim — a 27-year-old man — earlier in the day.
Forest officials launched an extensive combing operation to trace the nine-year-old man-eater after mutilated remains of the man identified as Puran Chand were found and the 10-feet-long big cat was finally felled around 2.30pm.
Initially, there was confusion whether it was the same man-eater which had stalked victims around the park for three months. But Uttarakhand forest officials confirmed on Thursday evening that the tiger shot by them was indeed the killer of villagers in and around Corbett since November.

That’s the extent of the text that appears on the front page, though the actual article is longer. At the end of the print version, it does say ‘Tigers often stray, P.14’, and this is next to an article about tiger cubs (though it doesn’t say so in the article’s headline).

It’s a shame they specified the man-eater was a tiger after three enticing paragraphs where I hoped upon hope that the mysterious animal was a Bearsquidshark

A journo can dream...*sigh*

The Muzzled Piranha

Recently, Tim Radford of the Guardian wrote a piece in which he quoted his Manifesto for The Simple Scribe. 25 Rules for journalists to write news and reports properly. I was immediately hooked, as since I started in journalism (and I haven’t moved that much further on), the main concern drilled into my head has been simplicity.

But not at HT.

I’ve been ‘accused’, twice, of writing ‘too much like agency copy’. Dry, 5Ws in the first paragraph, to the point and with little atmosphere. The style expected here is much different – I’ve been told I need to ‘capture the mood’.

There are times and places for it. One thing I have noticed in Indian media is the continued shattering of rule number 17 in Radford’s piece:

17. Metaphors are great. Just don’t choose loopy metaphors, and never, never mix them. Subs on the Guardian used to have a special Muzzled Piranha Award, a kind of Oscar of incompetence, handed to an industrial relations reporter who warned the world that the Trades Union Congress wildcats were lurking in the undergrowth, ready to dart out like piranhas, unless they were muzzled. George Orwell reports on the case of an MP who claimed that the jackbooted fascist octopus had sung its swansong.

So I’ll be scouring the news here for the best examples of that kind of infraction. I’ll be avoiding blogs, as by definition you can write whatever the hell you want on them, but on occasion I’ll point out newspaper columns – a treatise on one’s persuasions and leanings, informed by contemporary events and pertaining to the context in which the auteur finds himself, do not give a license to obfuscate the true meaning of what is being expounded.

Behind the curtains

WordPress is pretty good at blocking Spam comments on this blog. Here’s one that made me laugh.

I wonder if he uses any of his own products?

The sociology of Delhi Metro?

Below is the standard distribution of people in a metro carriage in Delhi.

Why?

As I’ve said before though, the really puzzling behaviour is when everyone tries to get on as fast as possible, shoving others out the way and not letting passengers get off first. I’ve had a number of locals try to explain this to me.

One explanation given to me is that, traditionally, trains in India didn’t stop to wait for passengers, and when they do it’s not for very long. The doors shut and the train is off and if you’re still on the platform because another hundred people were in front of you, that’s that. You have to push and shove to get on, and this has translated to the Delhi Metro system. It makes sense, but I’m not sure how such a behaviour would carry through after the first time you see that the metro is much more… forgiving?

A friend tried to give some context: because India is such an ambitious and up-and-coming place, where people really do want to better themselves and move forward, everyone wants to get on the train first, get the better seats, make sure they reach the destination. It’s a manifestation of a very positive mindset, if a slightly ruthless one.

A colleague of hers explained the same behaviour differently – the rush is not ambition to be first, its fear of being left behind. It’s not a race to the top, its a scramble to not be at the bottom.

Every trick in the rickshaw

I’ve written the guide on Delhi Rickshaws before, but now I wish I’d waited, as my most recent ride would have been a much better medium to tell how the drivers try to rip you off.

As I approached the rickshaw driver, outside the foreigner’s registration office, he waved and nodded at me, despite there being a number of available rickshaws between myself and him – these guys are very proactive.

Having told him where I needed to go, the flat rate came out – 120 Rs. I said no, I wanted the metre. “No metre, metre is broken” he said shaking his head. “No it isn’t. Chalo (let’s go)” I replied as I jumped on. He turned on the perfectly functioning metre and we set off.

About 50 yards on, he started to make a U-Turn. This is fairly standard in Delhi, as the carriageways are often separated by walls and fences, so simply finding a turn to go in the opposite direction can take up to a mile. But we were already going in the right direction, so I shouted ‘SIDA!’ (straight), and the speed at which he changed his course was telling.

“This is old metre!” he shouted over his shoulder after a minute. These start at lower fares, and have a lower Rs/Km rate, so the drivers who haven’t installed the new metre carry a conversion chart.

Once arrived, the driver looks around – the tally was 10.5 kilometres, or around 50 Rs.

“100 Rupees”

“Show me the sheet please”

The driver pulls the sheet out and the fare is actually about 90Rs. If I’d been riding between 11pm and 5am. He was showing the side of the sheet for night charges. Turning it around, the actual day time charge (this was around 3pm) was 76 Rs. I hand him 80; “Sorry, no change”.

Considering how hard he tried to rip me off at every stage, I think he kinda deserves the extra 4 rupees.

 

Shattered Glass

One of the first things I ever did in Delhi was walk into a cement block and smash my iPod screen. A purely cosmetic break, as it continued to function, but not an easy one to fix – the screen is a high-tech piece of equipment, and Apple changed the design a number of times.

So I was rather apprehensive as, after having scoured the city for a replacement screen and demanding to see it before I installed it myself, I was taken into an anonymous, underground shop the size of a small bathroom near a fly-over in a run-down quarter near the centre.

Down the stairs and through a dark corridor, past a number of nameless shops, sat a friendly looking Sikh in a perfect, double-breasted blue suit, thick Calvin Klein watch and bright red turban. On the desk next to him, a 12-year-old boy wrapped up in a jacket probably bigger than him, the surface in front of him littered with glue, razor blades, pliers, tweezers and dozen upon dozen of iPod spare parts. The sign outside of the building said it was ‘government approved’, but all that requires is for someone to make a sign that says ‘government approved’. I was suspicious. I showed my iPod and immediately took it back, but the child was already going through his work cabinet to find the right parts. The reticence of the manager to give me a quote was also suspicious.

Within ten minutes, the boy had not only fixed a woman’s iPhone (3G), but had also fixed mine, with only a matter of fitting the screen. By the time I’d gone off to get cash and come back, the screen was replaced my ipod was entirely indistinguishable from a new one, scratches on the back aside. And by god, it works. They even threw me a free iPod protector case – though it doesn’t cover the screen. That’s good business strategy.

I’ll be going back to ask the manager a couple of questions, but what particularly struck me was, as he was ordering for lunch and juggling a blackberry and a iPhone 4 (there was an HTC charging on his desk), the roll of 1000 Rupee notes he pulled out.

Right on time, Rishikesh (pt. 1)

My trip to Rishkesh began with a little bit of a shock when I figured out that I had booked the carriage where only a floor, a roof and mattress are supplied. heading North-East, I soon began to suffer the cold, but fortunately had enough clothes in my bag to wrap up like a travelling tortilla and got through the night. Everyone else, rather more wisely, had brought blankets, pillows and general comfort wear. Lesson learnt.

Arriving in Haridwar at 6am, I did not expect there to be much activity, but the town was already bustling. The usual dozen taxi drivers tried to pick me up, someone tried to sell me peanuts, and woman rather forcefully attempted to paint my forehead while holding a donation box for Lakshmi – as much as I like the god of money, I still had to dodge her attempts muhammad ali-style. I found my way to the bus station, and the bus driver found his way to me: “RISHIKESH!” was shouted in my face, I paid my fare and completely passed out on the hour ride to the mountain village with a few other freezing locals.

Rishikesh was similarly busy, schoolkids heading to class in their uniform alongside cattle and rickshaws zipping past fruit stalls and vendors shouting their wares and best prices across the street while enjoying their morning chai. I came across a tributary to the Ganges, rather less impressive than the great river itself, but caught in the mist of my sleepiness and the morning, I think the first words I said were ‘is this it?’ before being nudged by a donkey to get off the street. It had right of way, to be fair.

A monkey stole my breakfast. While looking through the lens for the photo besides, this time of the real Ganges looking glorious in the morning, the bastard dropped down from the balcony and picked up some bread. Rishikesh is overrun with monkeys all over, and if you stop to stare, they will do a double take before facing you and opening their jaws. I tried to face one down but these guys are terrifying, and I doubt I can parkour my way out of a situation against a monkey somehow.

 

Look at how chilled it is. Can't compete with that.

Rishikesh

I realise most things I’ve written here have been quite negative. It’s partly me, partly culture shock, partly the fact that I’m just not made for big-city life (which invites the question “Why the hell did I go to the biggest metropolitan area in the world then?”. Good question). However, I’m told, completely fairly, that I should not judge India by Delhi. To that end, I’m going to Rishikesh for the next two days with, hopefully, better tales to tell.

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