India – Part 1, roads part 1

The first time I arrived in India at Madras/Chennai * airport, my sister and I were met by her friend K. They had known each other since 1968 when K spent a year in England and they shared a room in London, where my sister was studying. K had married, had two daughters and visited England several times, but my sister had never been to India. But now K’s elder daughter was getting married and we were invited to the wedding.

Oh no, this was meant to be about Indian roads but I’ve digressed already. Honestly, how my family cope I have no idea, because when I digress I never actually lose the thread, I retrace and go on from where I left the path and you can see them aging before your eyes and they all love me too much (are too scared of/used to/what makes me think they are listening in the first place?) to say ‘shut up’ so I go on my merry way to the end of the story, several hours later.

Indian roads. I’ll tell you about the rest another time; we’ve got the rest of our lives, right? ☺.

If you have been there, you will understand. First, there was the wonderful spicy smell. It was not like any I had experienced before. I’ve been to the Tropics, but that was humid and, um, tropical (lack of vocabulary here?) and this was different, exciting. K was waiting, her driver pushing a trolley, and our luggage was loaded up and taken to the car.

I suppose the Ambassador’s days are numbered, but I hope by a very long series of digits. My parents had a Morris Oxford, which I understand is much the same car, in the 1950s which I DO NOT REMEMBER (those who say, if you remember the ‘60s you weren’t there forget the ones who were at school and too young to be ‘out of it’). The airport is some way from the city centre, but it didn’t take long for the traffic to build up.

Indian traffic is not like British traffic. It’s the variety. Sure, we have cars, motorbikes and bicycles. But we don’t have auto-rickshaws, the occasional oxcart, a few cycle rickshaws. All weaving across the road in, it seemed, perfect confidence that everyone else was such a good driver that they were, themselves, in no personal danger.

We arrived home (and wow, their home, a story in itself). K had arranged that we should go and look round the museum after lunch. Another bewildering ride. But that evening, we were going to a concert of traditional dancing. Now I discovered the roads at night. Why did no one have their lights on? By the time we returned at 10.30 or so (remember, India is 5 ½ hours later than England so this was very late for me and I was culture-shocked – but loving it – and jetlagged too, I shut my eyes. I was beyond coping.

* It must be great fun if you live in India, teasing non-Indians. If I say ‘Madras’ you can correct me to Chennai. So next time I say Chennai you can refer airily to Madras. Huh! – but in a good-natured way.

PS – I know that some Indians will find this picture quite old-fashioned. But it was more than 6 years ago, the changes since have been considerable and this is south India which is quite traditional anyway. So forgive me please, it’s genuine memories.

PPS – I said I was done with memories for now. I was wrong, it seems.

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