Watch. Listen. Learn. (India 5: “On Dirt”)

Some thoughts on dirt (a confused and meandering aside) —

Two of our group left today for home, halfway through the tour. The rest of us are disappointed that they didn’t love India as much as we did.

In fact, I think they hated it.

Both of the two who left had been suffering from stomach ailments off and on for several days. It’s been hot and there have been long bus trips, and am sure that experiencing that when you’re unwell is no fun. But they complained that India was too dirty and too crowded, and that they didn’t like it.

I am now feeling badly for complaining about the dirt myself for I have been wondering what those two thought they were going to find in India. Certainly the dirt has been no surprise to me, and certainly the open sewers and poverty are hard to handle. But anyone who has read about India and is planning to visit here must surely know what to expect. The dirt I complain about in the hotel rooms and buses is caused by the dirt in the air which gets on everything. It is caused by ancient crumbling cities and dry topsoil being blown around, and all the pollution and industry that relate to a developing nation. It is not that the people are dirty: those who can afford to be are very clean.

Indian innkeepers are learning the expectations of westerners, but slowly. We are on a budget tour, and a “sustainable communities” tour, and the hotels we are staying in are cheap. They are old and run down, don’t always have hot water and lose their electricity regularly. This is not Toronto. But the hotels have been secure, the staff helpful, the food excellent, and the prices right.

There is certainly garbage everywhere — in the streets, in the fields, by the highway, near the beach. But this speaks more of hundreds of years of inadequate or non-existent municipal garbage systems than it does of intent. I also have to admit that I have never in my life seen so many men peeing outside as I did in India, and I gather that teaching people to use bathrooms for defecation in the slum areas is a challenge. There are certainly cleanliness problems to deal with here, and it is going to take a lot of work.

The other day I used some soap and water and cleaned off the faceplates on the light switches in my hotel room here in Udaipur — the light switches have been black from ages of use in many of the hotels we’ve stayed in. With clean switchplates, suddenly the whole room looked much better.

All of the care-taking staff everywhere have been men and it has long been my opinion that men do not see dirt, so that probably explains everything.

And yes, it is crowded here: it’s India. But there are quiet places too.

And besides, as I told our tour guide (who was feeling very badly that two of our number had disliked his country so much that they had bailed mid-tour — first time in five years it’s happened to him, and certainly not his fault), when I visited London, that city seemed pretty dirty and overcrowded to me too — compared to Canada.

So it’s all a matter of perspective.

Sunday, November 13, Udaipur

Garbage on the beach, Goa

(Update: November 29, 2011, Toronto — I keep editing and re-editing this post and the more I think about the subject, the more I realize that I don’t know what I think about the subject. India is dirty. That is a given. It may always be dirty. And maybe that matters in the big picture [because it spreads disease and signifies poverty], and maybe the whole world needs to do what we can to help address this situation. But in the meantime, if you want to go to India, just accept it, try to avoid stepping in it if you can, but don’t let it spoil your trip. If you can’t hack dirt, don’t go to India.)

Another update: Just noticed this article: ‘Ugly Indians’ Clean Up Bangalore

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2 responses to “Watch. Listen. Learn. (India 5: “On Dirt”)

  1. Hi Mary,
    Good for you hanging in there!I can attest to the fact that it is not fun travelling when you are sick (remember my stomach in High School?)Found that out the hard way in Cambodia.Keep the comments coming,I find it all fascinating:)Mike and I just got back from Montreal for Jody and Amit’s second soiree-great fun was had by all.Love,
    Linda

  2. Enjoying your travelogue. Ahem! Men do see dirt; they just don’t know why they should push it around. Travel Safely

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