Had a rather dark day today in पुणे (Pune)…I want to say ahead of time, that this is going to be a bit graphic, so carry on at your own discretion.
I left Badami last night and from the very get go the 13 hour bus ride was rough. The bus was not a sleeper, it was just reclining chairs, and on the roads we were traveling there was a bump at least every 15 minutes that would send me air-born. Then consider the bumps and brake slamming that occurred nearly incessantly in between. The lights kept switching on and off as we made our stops and people were not only talking loudly, but actually shouting and arguing with one another. There are limited seats available so once the bus fills up, people without reservations will fight for the last seats. About halfway through the night things settled down and we got on a reasonably smooth highway, so that combined with my complete exhaustion by this point allowed me to doze off for a few hours, albeit with intermittent breaks.
I arrived in Pune and was immediately bombarded with bad energy. Rickshaw drivers being obnoxiously persistent in trying to give me a ride…women with colorful powder trying to touch my forehead and then ask for donations. I eventually got to the bathroom and while waiting in front of the row of full stalls I watched two people slyly cut in front of me before the third snuck right past me towards a stall and I aggressively grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. Not this time bucko.
I spent most of the morning looking for anywhere to put down my bags and drink a coffee. It seems that much of the town isn’t alive in the morning. After eventually finding a restaurant and then shifting to my hostel in a different section of town, I took the hostel staff’s advice and headed to the train station to get my ticket to Amritsar.
On the way there I was struck by a particularly poor and also large group of people collected near the intersection of some high-traffic roads. A young girl, no older than eight, put her hands out and asked me for 10 rupees. I gave a firm “no” and kept walking. I had experienced very persistent kids in India already. They will walk backwards while being in front of you so you are basically tripping over them if you try to continue onwards. But then this girl, and soon after, her two companions, started grabbing me. They were literally hanging off of my arms and my waste. I figured they would let off by the time I started crossing the intersection. Fortunately a police officer was managing traffic and yelled at the kids while holding out his baton, which effectively put them at bay.
I got to the train station, and was redirected three times before I finally arrived at the counter where I could purchase the ticket I wanted. I explained to the clerk that I wanted a ticket on a sleeper train for tomorrow night and he simply replied with, “No tickets ’til June”, and then quietly smirked. “Okay…well how about to Delhi?”. “Same train”…same stupid fucking smirk. I couldn’t tell if the guy was sincere or he just had a weird sense of humor. He even talked to another staff member and laughed, which I will never know if it was directed at me. I resorted to asking quite bluntly, what I could do, since he clearly didn’t seem inspired to come up with solutions without some initiation. After a few more wasted moments I became intolerant of the combination of 1) this man 2) a intermittent stream of water than would crash down from a pipe to my right and spatter at my feet out of a hole at the bottom of the pipe (yes, intermittent as in possibly a flushing of a toilet) and 3) the man to my left, who not only wasn’t helpful when I asked, but was continuing to push his arm into me as to say, “get out of my way, it’s my turn”. So I resigned from the situation and spoke to an Indian friend on the phone who acknowledged that all of this wasn’t too out of the ordinary. He lightened my mood at least a bit with the “Welcome to India!” comment. Here‘s some video footage of me at the train station.
So I decided to just buy a plane ticket and left empty handed. This is the part that gets rather dark. I have seen a lot of stray dogs in India, and many are laying on the streets hardly moving. It is only after watching closely, that the slow raising and lowering of the chest can be observed, but sometimes I wonder how many dead dogs I have possibly unknowingly come across. I was walking back through the previously mentioned poor area when I saw a family laying on the sidewalk sleeping in the shade. It wasn’t until I got a bit closer that I noticed that the two children, aged roughly four and seven, had flies collected around their mouths and noses. Now I can’t confirm what I saw, but I can also say that I can’t possibly imagine a healthy living individual could tolerate that many bugs being right in their nose. I was startled by a man starting to sit up as I passed and I hurriedly carried on and left the vicinity. It’s been a full day and I still can’t shake that image out of my head.
I started looking up some figures and found some really nice and accessible public data on google. The following figures shows a handful of the countries I’ve been to in the past year, and it helps give an idea of just how poor India is.
The next one shows the percentage of government expenditure the goes to public health. Just 5% of the already poor country’s resources going towards health.
This last one is actually more about the USA. It shows the ratio of public to total (public and private) health expenditure. In the USA, despite having one of the highest percentages of government expenditure going towards health, this money only makes up for less than 50% of the costs.
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I’ve now had some time to mull over the events from yesterday in a less emotional state. It’s had me thinking a lot about the universally relatable goal of making the world a better place. What, at first glance, is a seemingly simple concept, is in fact incredibly complicated.
Let’s consider volunteering for a non-profit organization working to save endangered species in the amazon. This is a selfless and noble thing to do, right? Well it turns out that many of these organizations simply can’t get the funding that they need…or want, and ultimately devolve to zoos for tourists. It’s too tantalizing of a money grab to resist.
Okay, well what about developing technology for renewable energy? The earth is in desperate need of our help! Well what’s to say that having this alternative source of energy will lend towards substitution of non-renewable sources? Doesn’t it just add to the amount of disposable energy at our fingertips? This could then lead to overdevelopment and a continued increase in human population that we all know the world doesn’t need.
My point is not that renewable energies are bad, or that wildlife conservation is a lost cause. I am only trying to get across that things are usually more complicated when we begin to delve below the surface. I’ve expressed many times before, that I think there is a major issue with the ratio of opinions to knowledge in our species. This aspiration to change the world is no exception. Don’t even get me started on the ethical loopholes of vegetarianism.
So what does this have to do with yesterday? There are a few problems that I have observed in life that I am convinced, even with my limited knowledge on the topic, are potentially easy to make a contribution toward, and would undoubtedly result in a better world. One that comes to my mind is the exorbitant amount of styrofoam waste produced in Albuquerque, especially at Sandia National Labs, a leading research facility run my engineers. I make a promise here and now that if I happen to go back to that company, I will make an honest effort to reduce the unnecessary amount of styrofoam waste consumed.
Children dying on the streets is another issue that falls in this category. I simply can’t wrap my head around what is going on. I should mention that I am at this moment sitting in a fancy air-conditioned mall writing this. And I just walked down a street filled with trendy clothing stores and expensive new-age health-oriented cafés. I’ve read a decent amount on the homeless issue in the USA and it is no doubt a complicated issue. But there something wrong, that simply doesn’t need further discussion, about the gap in wealth going on here. I just showed above, how poor India is, as a whole, but I’ve seen enough to know that there is some wealth, some surplus, that can be redirected. And children dying of pneumonia and diarrhea en mass is unacceptable. I should mention that India has a 25% sales tax exclusively on products and services that somehow qualify as “for the wealthy”. Where is this money going??? It’s clearly not going towards health expenditure.
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I took a short taxi to मुंबई (Mumbai) yesterday and I immediately felt better. Mumbai is actually a reasonably well developed city. The streets are certainly still on Indian standards, but some are very clean and well paved. There are public services like overhead walkways and a cheap subway. There are many chic restaurants with overpriced food. The dogs are even fat here.
I don’t have much to report, as I arrived, checked into a hostel, and then flew out the next morning, but there are a few good stories still.
First off, I took the train down to Colaba, a touristy district, with the hostel crew for an evening city tour. On the way down a transwoman walked on the train and started asking for money. She seemed to take a particular liking to me as well, and had a lot of fun taking note of the hole in my shorts. So I stubbornly said no as I do with all of these begging schemes. She eventually just left. But then afterwards the local from the hostel explained to us that apparently there is a thing here where transwomen will go into shops and other public places and ask for money and the offer they give is this: pay me and I won’t curse you. And what does cursing mean? If we want to get into the metaphysical, I’m not exactly sure, but down in the material world, it means: show you whatever stuff she’s got under there. He continued to explain that, I guess, in more public places like the train, you can turn them down and be fine, but when they go into shops, people generally pay up.
The sad part behind these laughs, is that these transwoman generally develop external communities with one another, being cast out by the rest of society. They have trouble finding work and as a result they often resort to this…cursing as an only means of living.
So the next morning I packed up my things and headed out to the street to grab a rickshaw to the airport. I was shot down by two rickshaw drivers, for still unknown reasons, before the third let me on board. I asked him to take me to domestic because…my flight was domestic. So I arrive at the domestic gate and this guy in another rickshaw starts asking me where I’m going. He knows a lot about my flight and he points out to me that I actually have to go to terminal 2, the international terminal… So I hop in his rickshaw as he’s explaining my err and also that rickshaws aren’t allowed at that terminal, so I need to take a taxi there. He explained that the taxis at the airport are very expensive and that he could drop me off at a taxi outside the airport. I should have maybe been picking up on the signs faster than I did, but soon after he dropped me off and said no charge for the short trip, I started to get what was going on. I sat in the taxi and the guys ask me to pay up front: 1200₹. Let me put some perspective on this. The trip to the airport was twice the distance and it cost me 62₹.
I had been told that Delhi is actually the city for scammers. Mumbai has its own self-sufficient economy, but Delhi just preys on tourists that just landed and want to go see the Taj Mahal, aka, fresh meat. If this is what’s going on in Mumbai, I can only imagine Delhi!
Oh, one last thing: Mumbai has hands-down the nicest airport I’ve even been to. The cover photo for this post is from inside.