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Eccentric India plays with a style of its own

Peter Lalor From: The Australian October 05, 2010 12:00AM DELHI doubters should just get out there and enjoy the Games.

EVERYBODY stopped carrying on yet?

The Commonwealth Games are apparently under way. Not without glitches and no doubt there will be a few more to come, but for pity's sake

What do people want? India is a country of more than a billion people. It is chaotic, eccentric, colourful and unlike anywhere else in the world. You reckon Australia would run smoothly with that many people?

It can be dirty and is often frustrating, but it is also endlessly fascinating. Every moment something new and enthralling happens. If you can't find interest here, you should check your pulse.

You get the feeling from all the hoo-ha of recent weeks that people expect life to be lived inside a shopping mall. Bland, secured and air-conditioned. That goes for athletes, media and officials. Cue the mundane. Let the frightened triumph.

Journalists were given hostile environment training before they came. Please. It's that sort of thinking that has a growing number of us huddled in gated communities.


Yes it is nice when the traffic flows smoothly, but really when it is a cow, an elephant or even a dead body on the back of a Ganges-bound rickshaw it is worth the price of the inconvenience (this won't happen in Delhi).

The sports editor of a major newspaper based in Delhi vented her frustration recently. Her email box was full of questions from quivering potential visitors. Could they go outside, or was the danger of being kidnapped too high? Could they ask a woman directions, or would that be culturally insensitive? Do women need male escorts?

"I want to tell them that they all have to wear a burka and stay in their rooms," she sighed with frustration.

Delhi is a modern city. You can get McDonald's there, don't worry. Although one suspects that the sight of a menu that features such strange delights as McAloo Tikka might have them running back to the Vegemite sandwiches they packed. Just in case.

The pathetic hysteria before the games reveals the naivety and lack of urbanity of so many.

Too many Australians have lived sheltered lives down here on an isolated island with no neighbours at the borders and only redback spiders to fear. The xenophobia in the air is extraordinary. Are we scared of the people who arrive by boat, or do we resent them? We seem far more comfortable with the asylum-seekers who come on aeroplanes.

India has an order within it that takes a long time to see it or appreciate it.

The other morning Justin Langer and some other members of the cricket support staff were out running in Chandigarh. The local police insist on tailing them in a Jeep. When the runners reached the local lake, there was an obvious problem. The trio wanted to continue along a path but the Jeep wasn't going to fit.

The police had no warning and didn't speak English, but with 30 seconds of assessing the problem it was solved. Out of nowhere somebody appeared holding a police bike, one of the guards jumped on. The runners hadn't even broken stride.


It is one of the minor mysteries of India how that little exercise was organised so quickly and so seamlessly but you are always surprised here.

Mitchell Starc was summoned to tour on Friday and had a visa by the time the plane left on Saturday.

People will probably counter that story with a thousand tales of frustration about attempting to get visas. They should tour the Third World consulates and see the heart-breaking queues of people winding down streets. Queues that stretch for weeks, months and years only to end with rejection.

If you think it's hard trying to get a visa to India, try being an ordinary Indian trying to get one to Australia. The poor have no hope, the rich however are acceptable. Yet India has been hosting our barefoot hippies, drug addicts and spiritual seekers for decades with good grace and cheer.

Ever seen an Indian ascetic in Australia?

Didn't think so.

All of us are guilty of chuckling at India's occasionally mangled English or becoming frustrated at somebody's incomprehension of our wishes. How many of us speak Hindi or whatever language is relevant?

Still, it was side-splittingly funny when one cricket correspondent ordered a naan bread to his room and was promptly delivered an ironing board.

India is incredible in so many ways. If you peer within the apparent chaos, you will find some extraordinary order. Send your smalls out in the morning to be washed and an intricate system that would put a computer to shame sees them delivered to the river, beaten on stones and dried on the banks with a million other items of clothing and somehow returned by day's end.

Most of us can't wash a pair of socks in the laundry of our own home


without losing one.

It's time a lot of us got a life.

Don’t miss the Q & As below!

ANSWERS TO OZZIES Can I go outside , or is the danger of being kidnapped too high? Depends mostly on your nett worth. If you’re a high-profile, high nett worth individual with free cash reserves exceeding U.S.$ 100 million, there is a risk of kidnapping. Others at risk of being kidnapped are beautiful women. If you’re Angelina Jolie or Catherine Zeta Jones or Aishwarya Rai, you need to be wary.

Can I ask a woman directions, or would that be culturally insensitive? Please feel free to ask any woman for directions. The risk of such directions being completely cockeyed depends on how blonde the woman is. Do women need male escorts? On certain occasions only, such as when visiting the Men’s Room. Why do I get an ironing board delivered to my hotel room when I ordered Naan bread ? Two possible reasons: first, you called Housekeeping when you should have called Room Service, and second, Naan is Naan - not Naan bread. That’s like saying you want bread bread, which would confuse even the Australian Prime Minister (who seems badly concussed anyway). If I’m walking down the street and am abducted by terrorists, what do I say to them ?


Try any one of these: ·

“As-salaam aleikum. Where is the Inter-State Bus Terminus, please ?”

·

“Can you lend me 10 bucks ?”

·

“Shoo. Go back to Pakistan”

Try not to incorporate the last lines of the hymn, Jerusalem, into your conversation (Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem, In India’s green and pleasant land”)

“Do I have to wear a head scarf or a burkha at all times on the streets of Delhi ?” No, head-scarves and burkhas are passé. However, a motorcycle helmet may be advisable when you’re inside a covered sports stadium, since the ceiling tiles sometimes fall off. Can I shake hands with a woman or is touching not allowed. You’re allowed to shake hands with a woman provided you’ve washed your hands. Why is America issuing travel advisories against Europe and not against India ? Aah, well, you know how insular the Americans are –they know naught about places other than the good old U S of A. A quick consultation with Prime Minister Gillard should set them right.


Australian's view on CWG 2010