Poverty, dirt, misery, despair, you name it. It's all there. Anybody who's seen the Slumdog Millionaire pretty much got the idea. But that is not what I want to talk about here. As a matter of fact, India is fucked up on so many other levels worth mentioning that it'd be a shame not to write this blogpost about those.
Jonathan picks me up at the airport. He works at a local university near Delhi administrating an MBA programme for his home institution the University of Lancaster, UK. So the Toyota comes with a driver, too. First things first. Before we go to the campus, he takes me to his favorite bar. Upon swallowing our second Indian beer I notice an Indian girl that's having a date at the table across the room. Our eyes meet, she smiles, I reciprocate. Soon, I need to go to the bathroom. While there, the attendant greets me three times. He hands me paper towels and bows at least twice. I am guessing he would wipe my ass without a blink of an eye if needed and I hesitate whether or not to tip him. No change in my pockets so I get out. And she's there, leaning against the wall. She's got very pretty eyes, so I tell here that (among other things). Phone numbers change hands and I go back to Jonathan. Couple minutes later, I get this text:
Aahna (name was changed) here. Let's catch for Holi. N dat douche bag with me is no one.
Now, should I feel flattered or sorry for that pour guy who took her on a date? I'd done nothing except that I was born white. And that takes you a long way in India. Still. 65 years has passed since independence and the artificial superiority of white race is still felt at every step. If the reader doesn't trust me on that, let me just remind him that our Indian driver is waiting for us in the car, while we are pouring beers down our throats.
White skin takes you a long way in India
And it doesn't end there. The subordination is so deeply imprinted in the minds of Indian people that you can't get rid of it. Like in that guy Jaha, whom we met in a restaurant in Varanasi. He was sitting alone, so we invited him to our table to have couple of beers with us. Jaha was in his early twenties working for a big corporation like so many Indian graduates and wandered into the restaurant in the evening at the end of his business trip. Initially, this guy called me sir. Sir Pavel. Now, that was ridiculous! We were the same age, same social status. I told him to drop the sir. He agreed but in the flow of conversation occasional "mister" slipped out of his lips. Unintentionally. He was confused and blushed on occasions probably embarrassed for himself and his nation pretty much the same way we Czech people are embarrassed when we catch ourselves checking our wallets when we spot gipsies. Too powerful of a habit to ged rid of or at least control.
And that's not all. As soon as we arrive on campus, I experience the weirdest thing - the guards stand up and salute. Who the hell am I? A freaking officer?!
Of course, it has its downsides, too. Everywhere you go you pay the "white price", which can be as high as twenty times more of the price for locals. And you would be surrounded by beggars all the time. Kids as little as of five years ago will automatically reach out with their arms when they see the color of your skin.
"As soon as we arrive on campus the guards stand up and salute. Who the hell am I? A freaking officer?!"
English makes a big difference
Sandeep is 10, his little sister Pria 8. They have two other siblings, too. We meet them by sunrise on the bank of the Ganges in Varanasi. They try to sell us a candles in a little bowl decorated with flowers. Ten Rupees each (eqv. of half a dollar). "Why are you not in school, Sandy?" is the natural question to ask. And Sandy answers with calm thoughtful explanation that Holi (big national holiday) is coming soon and there's no school. We end up chatting with him for good ten minutes. We are absolutely struck by how good his English is (unlike that of most poor people here). Jonathan tries to emphasize the importance of education to Sandy. He nods and agrees. But he lost plenty of time with us already. So he cashes his ten rupees and off he goes to use his English to impress upon other tourists.
English can be good for you in other ways, too. On a boat trip, we learn of a relationship of our rower whose name is coincidently also Sandeep. This young lad got a girlfriend from France. She regularly sends him money with a vision of him taking French courses and coming to France to live with her one day. What does he spend them on in reality? Well, local brothels, among other things. Later that day we see another such example: A handsome Indian guy in his twenties dining with a very chubby fifty-year-old white lady who pays the bill in a hotel restaurant and who knows what happens next.
"Sandy's French girlfriend sends him money in hopes he would learn French and one day come to France to live with her. Well, he spends the money in local brothels."
While it is impossible to avoid stepping into dogs cows and even human feces everywhere so that soon you stop caring at all, not everything in India is poor and dirty. A lot of people are incredibly wealthy and nowhere on Earth I saw so many huge business centers popping up everywhere around the main roads (of course accompanied by slums with poor shags right next to them).
Jonathan teaches marketing at the local G. D. Goenka World School. It is a place where rich Indian kids go to get their MBAs before getting to work in their parents' companies. The tuition is 475 000 Rupees (eqv. of $ 9350) per semester. "My schoolmates are incredibly rich. Like this one guy. One day he totals his BMW on the highway and the next morning he comes to school with a brand new Mercedes. It is ridiculous," tells me Ritwick one of the very friendly local students in the lobby of his male-only dorms while helping us with getting through a very complicated local railway booking system. His English is grammatically speaking perfect but even though he'd spent most of his life in the UK his accent is still recognizably Indian. As we speak, a receptionist from the dorms brings me a glass of water. Not any for Ritwick. He might be the richer out of the two of us but it's my skin that shines white.
Don't get me wrong, servants are not a privilege of the whites in India. Jonathan tells me about a recent incident between two students on campus. They got into a quarrel about something. Not important. That happens all the time all around the world. "Anywhere else, the two guys would end up fighting. But not here. They don't do it themselves. They have their drivers to fight for them. The first guy got his driver to kick the other guy's ass. But he called up his driver, too. And soon other students did. It was a mess," Jonathan recounts.
"These rich Indian guys wouldn't kick each other's asses. They have their drivers to fight for them."
One thing you can't escape: arranged marriage
Now, something unexpected: You can have a fleet of cars and a fleet of servants who would beat up your rivals for you at your disposal, fly Delhi-London regularly and live a luxurious life but your parents will still get to decide who are you gonna marry when the times come.
I am not kidding you. I got a chance to see a few emails as an account of a dramatic story of a girl whose both parents are doctors (that means very well-off in India). Apparently, she was dating a guy in the US but then her parents basically kidnapped her, took her computer, cell phone, locked her up and tried to force her to marry a mate they chose for her.
And of course, even such an old institution as arranged marriages is online now. There are few huge dating sites in India where parents post their kid's profiles that usually read like this:
My daugher grew up in Mumbai, India and move to United States. she have u upbringing of a Upper middle class family... [and so forth]
Just choose age, religion and caste (still a big deal in India) and find your groom or bride today. Try it now with Shaadi.com. Trust me, as a white guy you are very desirable.