Effective Living (Places) > India

Summary. This page offers impressions about India from Gregory Johnson during a visit to India from 4 to 13 October 2008, and a subsequent visit from 27 December 2008 to 14 January 2009. Because these observations are primarily from a visit to Lucknow, they can’t be taken as generalized statements about India as a whole. The act of traveling to India is to go forward in time. Traveling from Iowa, I knew that I would be going forward in time by 10.5 hours flying east at about 600 miles per hour. What I wasn’t expecting was that, upon landing, I would find myself in a futuristic world that is about 20 to 40 or maybe 100 years ahead of the United States in many respects. More about time travel is written below. The photo shown here is of a flowering plant growing horizontally from a very small crack in a cement wall. Contrary to gravity and seemingly without the nutrients offered by soil or an abundant supply of water, this plant thrives, and produces beautiful flowers. This plant reminds me of India.

Photos. Because Internet access is sporadic, the GregoryCam Live Feed updates are few. However, high resolution photos are usually posted daily to Google Picasaweb. I’ve found it difficult to take photos in India since I usually frame pictures to contain the entire subject of the photo. Since everything is very connected and intertwined here, it becomes difficult to take a picture. It seems like one is always taking an incomplete picture of some larger thing. Yet, I’ve tried to do my best. Dates are provided here as year, month, day and are based on the India time zone.

  • 20090114we. There are now photos online from Gregory Johnson’s recent India trip from 25 December 2008 to 15 January 2009. (20090131sa1808)
  • 20081011sa. Horses grazing along the road. Thin bricks have been used in some older construction for greater flexibility of design.
  • 20081010fr. A flowering plant grows horizontally out of a cement wall. Photos of the large (Bara) and small (Chota) Imambara historic Muslim sites were added.
  • 20081009th. A sink on a wall, a bull in the streets, ants in the park.
  • 20081008we. Various photos from on and along the streets of Lucknow, fruit stands, colorful embroidery (Chikan), a shopping mall.
  • 20081007tu. Meeting a cow along the road, visiting a temple.
  • 20081006mo. Flowers at the Ashram, photos from along the road, cows in streets, festivals.
Recently Added Topics. Topics are organized on this page below alphabetically. For those returning to this page for the latest entries, they are listed here with the most recent at the top. Dates are provided as year, month, day and are based on the India time zone.
  • 20081012su. Alcohol, Beggars, Farmer’s Market, Housing – Shower, Television, Transportation – Veins of Society.
  • 20081011sa. Topics added: Foreigners, Housing, Motorcycle Ride. Smells. Topics modified: Garbage.
  • 20081009th. Topics added: American Sentiments, Garbage, Love of Country, Tobacco, and Water. The writings on food and travel were modified.
  • 20081008we. Cows, Food, News, Service Delivery, Time Travel, Transportation.

Alcohol. In Iowa City, the town that I’m from, there are over 20 bars located in the small downtown area of just a few blocks. Most evenings toward the end of the week, and on weekends, it is common to see people staggering from the effects of alcohol. On Saturdays, when there is a football game, drinking prior to the game is a common practice. Alcohol is available in grocery stores, bars, alcohol stores, and at gas stations. The effect on a community of having such a focus on alcohol consumption is an increase in noise, pollution, drunk driving accidents, and alcohol related crimes. Advertising by the alcohol industry is prevalent in the U.S. By contrast, in Lucknow, I’ve not seen any alcohol, alcohol ads, bars, or bottles/cans thrown about in the streets as is the case in Iowa City on a Saturday when a football game is being played. Bars may exist in Lucknow, but I’ve just not seen them.

American Sentiments. Upon arriving at the domestic airport in Dehli, I had a brief conversation with a woman from Mongolia who was quite friendly until she asked me where I was from and I told her I was from America. She looked to the ground, and then began to tell me that she really didn’t like our war-like imperialist “judge of the world” policies. In another circumstance, someone, smiling, asked me where I was from. When I said I was from the U.S., the person smiled and then walked away. During my stay in India, I heard of a student who was asked if they would consider studying in the U.S. and the student replied that they would not consider coming to the U.S. because as a nation it doesn’t agree with his principles. It’s embarrassingly clear that world opinion of the U.S. is at an all-time low. In the future, when asked where I’m from, I’m thinking about saying that I’m from south of Canada, or in the general region of Mexico, but just further north, or I might say that I’m from west of Delhi, very far west. Yet, I don’t like being dishonest. Perhaps if I plan on future travel outside of the U.S., I may simply want to change citizenship to Canadian.

Beggars. In Iowa City, the town I am from, it is common to see beggars in the streets downtown. In Lucknow, the number of beggars per capita seems to be lower than Iowa City.

Cows. Something I really like about Lucknow, India is that cows are in the city streets, walking or resting along the road and sometimes in the road. They aren’t property of someone, but residents of the city. The cows have a very peaceful presence. They watch with assurance, patience, and calmness as the world spins around them. Their gaze is one that understands, judges and yet forgives, knows all.

Farmer’s Market. In my home city of Iowa City, we have a Farmer’s Market that gathers on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. In Lucknow, the equivalent of a Farmer’s Market seems to happen every day, almost everywhere in the city where local neighborhood markets are common.

Food. I was warned by many people before traveling to India to be very careful about the food in India. Upon arriving, I hesitantly began eating the local food, and to my surprise, contrary to what I was told, nothing adverse happened. It’s not difficult to find vegetarian food in India since many people are vegetarian. Foods are typically grown naturally without pesticides or herbicides. In Lucknow, organic foods are economically priced and delivered door to door by vendors pushing carts. Using push carts is good exercise, makes less noise, reduces pollution, reduces dependency on foreign oil, and keeps production and delivery local.

Foreigners. During my time in India, I’ve seen only one Caucasian person – a student near the touristy Muslim historical sites. Otherwise, I’m the only Caucasian in large crowds of Indians. Even so, people don’t look at me as if it’s unusual that I’m here. They don’t even seem to notice me or pay attention. So, this helps me feel more at home.

Garbage. Before traveling to India, I was told that Lucknow does not have a formal garbage removal service. I know what happens in large cities when trash collection workers go on strike. It’s a smelly mess with piles of garbage everywhere. For this reason, upon arriving in Lucknow, I was surprised not to see garbage – other than some biodegradable litter along the streets in some areas. Some snack foods sold along the street are served in cups or cones made out of pages from old magazines or newspapers. Spoons are made of disposable biodegradable wood. Biodegradable litter either decomposes or gets burned. On the plane, I read an article in the airline magazine about this topic that described garbage free cities, such as Mawlyngnong, in India (Air India’s Namaskaar Magazine, October 2008, Meghalaya’s Eco Homes, Page 138-140). Having spent some time in India now, I can begin to understand how the no garbage lifestyle works. Homes generate a small amount of waste that can be incinerated or composted. I’ve not seen anyone with the two or three large trash cans of weekly waste that are typical for an American home. The possibility of garbage-free living intrigues me. It’s another example of how the future might be. Foods are purchased in local markets, so there is no packaging waste. There are no large factories buying foods, then processing foods, then expelling waste, then sending the canned/boxed foods to grocery stores in semi-trucks. Instead, foods are grown locally, sold locally, prepared at home, and served on washable dishes. Welcome to the world of zero waste.

  • Update: I’m subsequently told by people who live in India that some areas have garbage dumps and as consumerism increases so has the problem of trash disposal.

Housing. In India, as with any country, a diversity of housing innovations exist. I’ll attempt to write briefly about some common aspects of housing that seem noteworthy.

  • Bedding. In the U.S., beds are typically very soft and raised up off the ground. In India, and elsewhere around the world, a bed consists of a thin futon roll mattress that is easily placed on the floor at night and then stored during the day. This allows the room to be used for other purposes. A firm mattress on the floor has the benefit of providing correct support, using less materials, and offering better exercise when getting up and going to bed. Increasingly, it’s becoming common for people to adopt western bedding with a frame, box-spring, and soft mattress.
  • Electrical Outlets. In the U.S., electrical outlets are placed at about 31 centimeters (12 inches) above the floor, usually behind bookshelves, couches, or desks. In India, electrical outlets are placed at desk/table level and/or at the level of wall switches that control overhead ceiling fans, and lighting. All wall-switches are clearly labeled from the manufacturer to indicate what the switch controls (fan, lamp, or outlet). Because each outlet is switch controlled, it is typical for people to turn off the entire outlet when done using it. This ensures no wasted electricity leaves the outlet to be drained by low power transformers of other electronics.
  • Multi-Use Spaces. Because extended families are common, it’s typical to have multi-use spaces. For example, a single room might be comfortably used as a dining area, bedroom, and office. This allows all available space to be utilized more efficiently.
  • New Urbanism. Mixed in with housing it is common to have easy access to parks, shops, public transportation, food, and business areas. Agriculture is also blended in. This makes it much more practical to walk or ride a bicycle for most commuting. This also means that the per-capita pollution from travel is reduced even more. Having everything easily accessible reduces the need to stockpile things at home. This results in simpler living.
  • Shower. In the early 1980s, while studying urban and regional planning in South America, I stayed with some students from our program at a hotel that had a very unique shower. The shower head was in the middle of the bathroom sharing the same floor where the sink and toilet were. The bathroom had washable walls and floor and there was a drain in the floor. So, each day when taking a shower, the bathroom would be cleaned as a result. This configuration saves considerable space by eliminating the need for a separate bathtub or shower area. I’ve found this same system is being utilized in India. While a standard showerhead is available the preferred method of bathing is to use a pail that is dipped in fresh water in buckets. Then the pail of water is poured over one’s head or body where desired. This seems to use less water, and it is somehow more relaxing.
  • Toilet. It’s hard to imagine how one could build a better toilet, but apparently millions of people have discovered a better system than the common U.S. above ground toilet. The design common in India (and elsewhere around the world) is a ground level self contained ceramic toilet with no moving parts. This makes the complete area around the toilet much easier to keep clean and sanitary because the entire floor and toilet can be washed. A larger drain hole in the toilet reduces clogging. No moving parts means zero maintenance. Because there is no toilet sticking up out of the ground, the toilet room can be accessed by having two or even three doors if desirable. This saves considerable space and offers better access. Rather than smearing oneself with a dry piece of paper, it is common to use water for cleaning up after using the toilet. This practice is more sanitary, reduces paper waste, and makes waste water less cluttered with paper products. The toilet is used by squatting rather than sitting and therefor is ergonomically more effective and more healthy. Although I couldn’t tell what mechanism was used, the vapor trap presumably was a typical u-shape in the pipe to block vapor and gasses from the sewage draining system.

Love of Country. To develop a love for a country is similar to loving a city or region. The experience is much like the love that we develop for a person. As with interpersonal relationships, my preferred approach is to know as little as possible (positive or negative) from second and third hand sources about a country, and instead learn about the country experientially first hand without any preconceived ideas. As with interpersonal relationships, the best experience with a country will be to approach that country with a loving optimistic attitude at the outset. By taking this approach, one looks for the positive, and perceives all things with greater understanding and a willingness to see the positive in all things. There can be an initial infatuation or fascination with a place, that later dissipates. To keep any relationship fresh, new, and passionate, requires effort. With love of a country, an ongoing practice of further study, appreciation, and understanding is important.

Motorcycle Ride. On Friday night, 10 October 2008, I went for a ride on the back of a motorcycle through the streets of Lucknow, and it was an amazing experience. Not wearing a helmet, it’s possible to see more and smell the unusually fresh air of the city. Weaving through bicycles, dogs, cars, cows, trucks, pedestrians, bicycle rickshaws, and other motorcycles, I was comfortable and relaxed. Deep potholes are randomly scattered in the streets. At times street surfaces change from cement to gravel or large stones. Manhole cover entryways stick out of the road surface by about 10 centimeters (several inches) in areas where road work is being done. Despite all of this, my motorcycle ride was very relaxing.

News. As is typical in most countries, world news is covered very well, and the U.S. news is covered more comprehensively and objectively than is available in the U.S. The October 5 edition of the Lucknow edition of the Times of India included a report (page 3) titled US meltdown should not worry India. The report was based on a symposium held on October 4 in Lucknow. The symposium, Global Financial crisis and its impact on Indian economy, was organized by the Lucknow University Department of Economics. The report states, “Financial crisis in the United States is likely to have a negative impact on the Indian economy in the short run. But in the long run, it is likely to shift the balance towards Asia and the BRIC countries.” In layman’s terms, global wealth is shifting from the United States to Asia mostly as a result of the U.S. going deep into debt with China to finance its imperialist wars in Iraq and elsewhere that it really can’t afford while undermining education, social services, and other aspects of urgently needed domestic infrastructure. A similar imbalance of funding toward military initiatives was seen in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shortly before its collapse. The front page news above the fold on the Hindustan Times paper for October 6 was a story about the legal rights of animals in India. It’s not surprising that a society of mostly vegetarians would consider animal rights worthy of headline news.

Service Delivery. In the U.S., I choose to provide computer support by means of bicycle because it saves time, saves money, improves health, reduces noise, and reduces air pollution. This practice is fairly common in India. This week, I saw a man riding a bicycle with a spool of wire on the back rack. There was a man walking behind him. I was told, “That is the electric company.” Apparently this was the repair crew going out to fix the electrical system.

Shopping Mall. We arrived at the shopping mall parking lot and were greeted by armed guards. The security at the mall was more intense than what I’d seen a the local bank. After we got through the first check point, our car, like all those before ours, was searched with a mirror on wheels that was rolled under the car to check for explosives. When we reached the third security checkpoint, a weapons detection system scanned our bodies. At the fourth security check point we were frisked. Finally, we were able to enter the shopping mall. The security was even greater than what I’d experienced at the airport where I was allowed to carry onto the plane 16 ounces of fluid (water), a fork, and a knife among other things. Since the mall was more heavily guarded than the airport and local bank, I was very curious to know what was inside that would need to be guarded so carefully. Upon entering the mall, I quickly realized the reason for such heightened security. There was a McDonalds, a Pizza Hut, and stores with American products such as the latest Hanna Montana videos. So, this mall was the retail consumer equivalent of the American Embassy. The inside of the mall was a stark contrast to the streets outside. As soon as I started to take photos inside the mall, I was accosted by a security guard who informed me that the taking of photographs is prohibited. At the mall, the escalators had stopped. When I stepped close to them, they started again. Having motion activated escalators save energy.

Smells. I have not noticed any bad smells while in India. I thought a large city would have some “city smells.” So far, I’ve only smelled incense, flowers, and spicy foods while here. Even in the heat, in crowded areas where you might expect to smell some perspiration, there are no unpleasant odors. It’s a weird sensory experience to be in the midst of a city, but not have the typically negative city smells. In part, this is because the per-capita air pollution from transportation is extremely low with so many people using bicycles, or sharing rides on scooters and motorcycles. It’s common to see 5 or 6 people in a compact car that is designed for four people.

Television. From limited observation, I noticed that the television is treated like any other appliance. It is unplugged when not in use (which is most of the time) and covered with a dust cloth. Perhaps this is a practice that results out of concern about wasting time or wasting electricity. Instead of watching television, people read books and the newspaper to stay informed.

Time Travel. Over the past 5 years, I’ve engaged in many conversations with friends, colleagues, and associates about “the future” of sustainable living. In our dreams we imagine an idilic world of the future where people commute by bicycle, scooters, or tiny compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. Vegetarianism would be common rather than a rarity. High efficiency light bulbs would be installed everywhere in homes, businesses, parks, and public areas replacing more wasteful older light bulbs. People would rise at 5AM for Yoga and meditation before going for a morning walk in the local park. Homes would be smaller and more sustainable. There would be no garbage. For almost everyone, shopping would be down the street a few blocks rather than a long drive across town. Printed money, if it were still being used, would have the image of someone like Mahatma Gandhi on it. Arriving in India is like arriving in this idyllic future. What makes the experience even more surreal is that the various future technologies, such as CNG vehicles, were implemented years ago. Seeing a technology of the future, that is aging from wear, emphasizes the sense of being in the future, or beyond the future.

Tobacco Products. Upon arriving in India, going through customs in Delhi, I saw a foreigner bringing in some cartons of duty free cigarettes. On the cartons was a warning in very large print stating “Cigarette Smoking Kills.” After about four days in Lucknow, India, having seen thousands of people, I’ve now only seen one person smoking a cigarette, and I’ve yet to see any cigarette buts on the ground. It’s nice to not have so much second hand smoke in the air. For those who do smoke, “bidi” (tobacco wrapped in tendu or temburini leaf) is used. Some people chew on Paan. I was informed that, on 2 October 2008, smoking in public places was banned throughout the entire country of India. This is probably why I didn’t see people smoking.

Transportation. The transportation in Lucknow appears to be extremely efficient for a variety of reasons. Because bicycles and low emission vehicles are used, the air is quite fresh even during rush hour.

  • Accident Prevention. I’ve yet to see an accident in Lucknow, despite what appears, at first glance, to be a chaotic flow of traffic. Because the streets are shared by pedestrians, children, cows, bicyclists, and women without helmets holding infants sitting sidesaddle on the back of scooters, motorists are much more careful.
  • Bicycles. Various forms of bicycles are heavily used in Lucknow, including bicycle rickshaws and other variations of peddle power. This allows for a greater traffic efficiency with more people per square meter traveling than if cars were used. This also reduces noise and air pollution. It also promotes health, and reduces personal and GNP expenses relating to the depreciating and costly automobile ownership. As a result, the country is enriched by this practice.
  • Car Pooling. In India, car pooling is relatively common, as is scooter sharing. It is common to see three, four, or five people riding on a single scooter. Bicycles are sometimes shared by two or three riders.
  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Vehicles. A promise of the future for the United States is the possibility that one day we will drive small cars fueled by natural gas. An initiative called the Pickens Plan has outlined how this future might unfold. This hope and dream of a quieter cleaner world is already a reality in India where tiny natural gas powered cars are already in use. On the back of a CNG vehicle were these words, “Green Lucknow, Clean Lucknow.”
  • Full Service Fueling Stations. Except in some states, it’s rare in the U.S. to find full service fueling stations for cars. In India, full service is common.
  • Perfect Chaos. If you were to look inside a clock, you would see gears of various sizes moving in different directions, with springs winding, and spinners spinning. It would look very chaotic. However, by looking at the whole, one sees a finely tuned Swiss watch. This is what the traffic is like in India.
  • Pollution Reduction. Air pollution is reduced through the use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles as well as the prevalence of walking, bicycle riding, and using high efficiency transportation such as scooters and motorcycles. Through use of New Urbanism principles, it is possible to find housing, offices, parks, shops, food, agriculture, and just about anything you might need within walking distance or a short bicycle ride. For this reason, it is practical for many people to ride bicycles and walk. This further reduces the per-capita air pollution created.
  • Push Carts. Push carts are used to transport vegetables that are locally grown and delivered.
  • Traffic Flow. Many heavily used roads are neither exclusively one way, or exclusively two-way roads. The traffic flow dynamically adjusts depending on the traffic flow of the moment. In some U.S. cities this is done by having a middle lane that will change direction depending on the time of day. Yet, inevitably, lanes are unused much of the day. In the photo shown here, the road is shared by a cow, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, scooters, cars, trucks, all going in one direction. A single scooter is riding in a narrow path coming one direction while the rest of the traffic flow uses 70% of the road as needed. Using this peak demand dynamic flow traffic system, traffic signals are unnecessary on most streets. The basic rule is that you stay to the left and keep driving, merging and swerving as needed, applying the breaks if you are about to hit something. Drive responsibly. That’s basically it. Avoiding traffic rules allows police to spend their time on something other than issuing traffic citations. What may appear at first to be chaos, is upon meditative observation an exquisitely orchestrated flow like that of a Swiss timepiece. In Lucknow, one is by necessity, intensely connected to and aware of everyone around them.
  • Veins of Society. Roads are like the veins of society and people are like the blood cells of the society carrying products, services, and knowledge which are like the nutrients and oxygen of a society. Just as examining a person’s blood can tell you a lot about that person’s health, so, too, examining the roads of a society tell much about it. In the U.S., there is inefficient blood flow. Large cars typically carry only one or two people which results in congestion from too much traffic. To continue the veins analogy, this would be like cholesterol blocking the veins. The traffic lights used in the U.S. are like mechanical mindless heart valves ticking by a machine. Traffic lights are rare in Lucknow. This means that the blood flow of society moves quickly and smoothly. Vehicles are as small as possible for the given task. For example, five people might travel down the road in a space of a small scooter. In the U.S., the same five people traveling would consume five lanes of traffic, or would result in five separate cars backed up down the street. The comparison then, between U.S. traffic flow and traffic flow in India is to see very clogged arteries with unhealthy and inefficient blood flow (the U.S. system) compared with oxygen and nutrient rich smooth blood flow in India.
Water. I was warned by many people before traveling to India to be very careful about the water in India. Upon arriving, I hesitantly began drinking the water, and to my surprise, contrary to what I was told, nothing adverse happened.
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