October 16, 2008 – Impressions: The “New” India

October 16, 2008


Well, in two days I will be in Rishikesh.  It’s been a long but interesting number of days and has given me a new perspective on the “new” India…the globalized India…the India which in many ways is the same as every other place in the world today and which in some ways is sad, but obviously this progress, this move forward, is inevitable, and there is a certain segment of the population which is definitely benefiting from it on a large scale.


Just some various thoughts as they come to mind while I sit here and write….no special order to them…


Although there is a large up and coming and very successful middle to upper-middle class here, there are still enough others needing work and willing to work for a low wage to make it possible for these people to keep servants…cleaners, cooks, launderers etc.  It even seemed horrible to the women that I actually ALWAYS do my own shopping, laundry, cleaning, cooking.  When I mentioned that I will be looking for a room with a kitchen for my stay in Rishikesh, the husband asked me – “will you be able to find proper help?”.    When I said I wouldn’t even be looking for it and that I wanted a kitchen so that I could cook for myself instead of eating in

restaurants all the time, he simply replied “Why?”  It didn’t seem to make any sense to him.  This family is a third generation of well-to-do (not rich, very far from it)  meaning the grandfather already was in a position to provide university degrees for all his children, sons and daughters alike, and the children (his grandchildren) are typical children of this era.  Needing more, wanting more, demanding more….the son has already petitioned for a car as a motorcycle is not enough for him (and he will probably get it from what I can understand) and now is working on getting a laptop (he has a regular PC).  He is 23 years old, works as a golf pro, lives of course with his family, as does his 28 year old sister, so has no expenses to speak of  but is still provided for by his parents, who work VERY hard.  Shopping is one of the biggest leisure time pastimes, much as it is these days in Israel, and closests are bursting with unworn clothing and shoes and commodes are full of unused cosmetics of every type.    It is a true consumer generation and one of many signs of the times of a changing India.

Another thing to note are the roadworks.  There are highways being built everywhere and the toll road which was completed about 3 years ago connecting Noida and Delhi is an 8 lane highway with divider and cars zoom along at the speed limit of 80 kph (some faster), and these cars include many compacts like Tata, Suzuki, Hyundai, Renault etc., as well as larger 4×4’s and full size cars.  I drove in such a 4×4 the other evening into Delhi when we went out to the Big Chill.  Later I will write about it.

Shweta explained to me that cars are not very expensive here (they are just about ½ the price as the same car would be in Israel), as ALL of these cars are produced in India.  Suzuki, Hundai, GM, and many others. They therefore do not have to be imported which makes them fairly reasonable in price and payment plans are easily available, so that there are MANY new cars on the road, and it seems that many families now have 2 cars.  (on their way to three it would seem).  There are now many women drivers on the road, something I did not see as much of in my previous trips.  Times are changing for sure!

Quick note on the restaurant “Big Chill”.  I’ve been there before, with Abdellah, a few years ago, and even then it was expensive, but now I was really embarrassed to order food, although my hosts thought nothing of it.  For example:  glass of pineapple juice – 100 rupees (small glass).  Chocolate milkshake – 150 rupees or 250 for special flavors.  cheapest simplest pasta was 250 rupees. The simplest pizza was 200, and some main courses were over 800 rupees.  Desserts were 150 and up.  The others had no trouble ordering milkshakes, fruit shakes, and expensive main dishes…I ordered a pizza (which was really delicious) as it was cheap, but it was a good choice…and the others shared it with me.  And Banofee pie at the end for one person…I don’t even know the price of it.  No one seemed to think it was expensive or unusual to be eating there, and the place was so crowed we had to wait on line for a table…all this after 10 in the evening.  

Women are freer than they used to be, but I still see them coming here to Suman to buy new clothes (there is a Festival tomorrow so everyone MUST have something new to wear), and they spend ages choosing the perfect fabric and design, sometimes 2 or 3 outfits, but then always call their husbands to ask permission and to describe what the have ordered before actually buying.  And if the husband disapproves, they begin the same process all over again. Some even come WITH their husbands who give approving or disapproving looks as each fabric is viewed.  It is a very time consuming process, and even harder than going shopping for ready made clothes.  But they all seem to really enjoy it.  Money talks everywhere!

Working in the house right now are at least 5 people.  A young 10 year old boy (son of the cleaning lady) – [when I asked why he doesn’t go to school, I was told that “those people” think a few extra rupees a week is more important], and he basically does whatever is needed…brings water to all the customers, tea to them as well and to all family members at regular intervals (including me…hard to say no…I will float away on tea soon!), washes the floors after the meals are cooked and eaten, clears the table, does the dishes, helps wash the fabrics if necessary, in other words, anything which is not specifically done b someone else…ah yes…he answers the door whenever the doorbell rings, much as a butler would! Then there is his mother who comes only in the mornings, to do the cleaning, bed changing (every day), laundry, both machine and hand, and she also makes breakfast and even lunch sometimes.  Then there is the helper of the tailor/cutter who works from about 8 AM until 10 or 11 at night, standing in one position, over his cutting table.  The helper is the one who works with Suman when she shows fabrics, pulling out the pieces, reforlding them afterwards, keeping things neat, washing the fabrics before ironing and cutting, also answers the door, makes tea etc.  Then there is the regular paid guy who is her “right hand” in the business, but works soooooooooo hard it is difficult to imagine how he can do it day in and day out.  He seems to never stop ironing and cutting for hours and hours and hours.  Later in the afternoon comes the lady who pretty much just comes to make dinner, which is eaten between 9 and 10:30 at night (you can imagine how difficult that is for me).  And then she goes home with her husband, who is the cutter.

The meals here are lovely, especially since I eat very similarly at home.  Dahl, rice, chapatti, subji , raita and an absolutely delicious pickle chutney (not spicey) which Suman makes herself.  I’vve never eaten such delicious chutney…it is usually too spicey for my taste, and this is just perfect.  She says she will give me a jar to take with me, but this is again, an Indian promise, said out of courtesy but unlikely to occur.  I’ve learn to deal with this and understand where it comes from and why it is done…but I have also learned to take each thing with a grain of salt, say thank you for the gesture, and not have any expectations of results.    The two outfits I ordered several days ago were promised to me before I leave on Saturday morning.  It is now Thursday and they have not even been fitted yet before cutting.  So, I will see what happens and be happy either way.  If they are done, I will have two really high quality and beautiful Indian suits, and if not, I will have saved money! 


But since meals are eaten at such strange times, there is a lot of in – between noshing done…something I am not used to but have realized is the only way of staying alive here…fruit (that’s OK) , but lots of sweets, tea, and tea and more tea, with biscuits if you want or toast and honey….and just an example of a meal…one not very good for Vata, which was dinner yesterday…channa dahl (made with chickpeas), aloo gobi (subji made with potatoes and cauliflower), rice, chapatti, raita, chutney…it was delicious, although difficult to eat at 10:30 at night. 


12;18 – I’m off to market with suman…will have more to tell later.

Well, it was extremely interesting, and as usual with me, I should have been there with my camera.  Being without, means I have a lot more writing to do to try and describe what happened at the market…so I will end this post now and write more later today or tomorrow.




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