Inside/Outside (Thoughts on India)

Two things that strike one very powerfully about India are (i) there is so much to be done, and (ii) there are so many people who seem to need something to do, who seem in other words to be underemployed, even some who have jobs of a sort.

I am not saying that people do not lead very hard lives here, They certainly do; many work a lot. The women office workers we met in Ahmedabad, for example, get up super early every morning to cook breakfast and lunch for the whole family (usually including mother and father-in-law) packing lunches in aluminum tiffins, little round stacked cannisters. After work, they must go home and shop and cook again–dinner for family and in-laws. Cooking, especially in a traditionally vegetarian context, involves several dishes–I do not think people typically use pre-prepared food, as they have very little refrigeration. (Hence, the fresh cooking twice a day–morning food will not last till night.)

Clothing must also take a lot of work. People, by and large, especially women, look immaculate. They are clean and super-pressed, all but the very poor and Western tourists who tend to look grubby, rumpled and mis-matched.

The homes and even hotels I have seen have not a speck of dust or grime or even much clutter. Inside floors are spotless. Everyone takes their shoes off to keep them that way.

And then one steps outside.

Let’s take Cochin. How shall I put it? There are limits to what a few wandering goats can eat.

That means that plastics and litter and crud line pathways, and roadways, and the parade ground, and any thing resembling a possibly public or unused space.

In the meantime, there seem to be a lot of people–men mainly–who sit or stand around much of the day. Watching the action. Or inaction. In one empty lot in Ahmedabad, for example, there was a security guard who sat on the dirt and grass and litter and moved his chair to follow the shade all day.

Am I saying that it would be nice if someone decided to pick up some of the trash?

If the hotel owners on this street in Cochin, right next to a large public field called the parade ground, for example, decided not only to keep their interior gardens immaculate but to occasionally pick up the parade ground itself?

Well, yes.

But there’s seems to be just an enormous divide here between inside and outside, between private and public, between what’s mine and what’s everyone’s, with seemingly not terribly much care about everyone’s.

The immense diversity – all the different religions and types of people–probably leads to some difficulty in identifying with “everyone.”

I also wonder whether there is not still some issue arising from latent concerns re purity and pollution. (In other words, that it is far more demeaning to pick up garbage than to walk around on top of it.)

(And it is hot.)

Sure, we have plenty of litter in the West. Just perhaps a lot more embarrassment and discomfort about it. It is the seeming lack of care about the refuse–this intense division between one’s own space and the greater world that feels so troubling, especially in the context of the really greater world.

PS – for any worried, I am feeling somewhat better, if not yet 100%, and very glad to have managed without antibiotics. Christina is a little worse for wear and for dealing with her mom. She is a trooper.

Below are some inside/outside pictures –Inside the gate of the little yard of our little guesthouse, and then some of the garbage burning just outside and the park/parade ground across the way.

I would note that you do sometimes see street cleaners. My sense is that they are very low caste people who are basically born into these jobs. In Ahmedabad, there was a woman sweeping up leaves with her hands. Touching anything on the ground would be deemed very low here.

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7 Comments on “Inside/Outside (Thoughts on India)”

  1. brian miller Says:

    it is very interesting the divide between the inside and outside…perhaps the inside is where the solace is found…a litle oasis away from the trash…that is intriguing though as they have to go out in it eh?

  2. hedgewitch Says:

    Those photos do show an interesting dichotomy–not all that different than what we have down here in the South-ish state I’m in. In my former life as a municipal parks supervisor, it was my job to keep clean parks and public areas, which are routinely pitted in unbelievably casual ways–not just fast food bags and beer bottles, but condoms, syringes, etc. Believe me, the trash crew was always drawn from the part-time employees, or the lowest status ones–I had a convict on work release *refuse* to lower his status by picking up trash, worried his friends might see him. So, not so different. Maybe it’s the heat. (Still, the trash did somehow get picked up.) Glad to hear you’re feeling better, and hope your daughter bears up.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      We are actually having a very interesting time. The sickness cast a bit of a pall over me and worry about the war (in Afghanistan) but trying to be a bit more disciplined about it. K.

  3. Mama Zen Says:

    I think that you’re definitely on to something about caste. If position is life-defining, you certainly wouldn’t want to do something that could be seen as beneath you or lowering that position.

  4. kkkkaty Says:

    …keeping an eye on your writing from India..and sympathize with the illness and the culture differences..learning from your experiences and interesting observations. As much as we want to assimilate or ‘know’ a country we may never be able to completely comprehend the life and morals/customs, ways of thinking, etc. I know you are visiting and not intending to do that, but I feel for you having the need to express yourself and say all that you feel – you and your daughter are both troopers! Take care….I’m sure you are looking forward to the new home in N Y when you return…never a dull moment it seems 😉

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks k. No, I don’t mean to seem any kind of expert. I spent a fair amount of time here a long time ago doing research on trade unions and traveled a great deal and still knew very little and now know even less. It is probably better to write more artistically. For some reason, this is rather difficult for me right now–it feels almost more presumptuous oddly. Or just plain meaningless. I don’t know. I am feeling better each day and we are going into more rural areas also. K.

      • kkkkaty Says:

        I meant only, in my experience, after spending months living and visiting 3 spanish countries and even thinking of moving there, I realized how I could never really understand the most subtle
        nuances of being one of them; for example, being born black is something I empathize with, too, but who am I kidding, I will never be able to understand it all, in the deepest sense…I wish I could..maybe in another lifetime..;)
        Your writing is wonderful! A book on the subject maybe? ..it is engaging insightful and so thoughtful…so much of you and your unique slant on everyday life there…I find it terribly interesting and powerful..don’t worry about being artistic..it already is!


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