A Question Of Culture

This is potentially a bit of a controversial post and it by no means reflects on my opinion of the entirety of India, but after umming and ahhing about if I should post this, in the end, this is the truth of my experiences while there so I think it needs to be said. So just a warning to anyone reading, take my words with a pinch of salt and with a light heart.

During our stay, we had an extended period at the compound where the internet was down, making communications with the outside world (and most importantly the UK) almost impossible. One evening after our work was complete, we went on a hunt for the elusive beast that was ‘Wi-Fi’ so we could Skype the parents to inform them we were still alive! What I found amazing was that there was no free Wi-Fi anywhere! I found this very odd for a nation who was constantly on their phones tapping away on social media and YouTube. Even at the hotel, regardless of whether you were a guest or not, you had to pay 300 rupees an hour which was expensive even by British standards.

When we turned up at Clark’s Amer, Timi’s (one of Help in Suffering’s benefactors) hotel I bit the bullet and paid for the much-needed Wi-Fi. However, even in a 5* hotel, things couldn’t possibly run smoothly in India! The receptionist refused to grant me access to the world-wide web unless I could produce my passport to, quote: “prove you’re not a terrorist threat.” Well, that was a new one, I must say, I have never before been regarded with such suspicion and I was quite at a loss as to whether I should be amused or offended! I can also safely say that I have no intention of trying to infiltrate the government or blow anything up (in fact I’d rather lie to return to the country in a few years’ time) so everyone can sleep easy at night knowing that I am not a threat to India. After producing my passport, I was let loose on the Wi-Fi and managed to call home after a 45-minute wait for my identity to be verified. I am beginning to see why the Indians meditate so much, I feel if they didn’t there’d be rather a large number of tantrums over the Indian administration system (or lack thereof!). We then finally headed down to the pool, Beth, Ella (fellow vet student and traveler we’d met while volunteering) and I were eager to have a dip in the lovely cool clear water after another sticky humid day. We stepped out into the pool area to be greeted with a large sign saying ‘pool closed.’ Now forgive me if I’m wrong but, seeing as we trekked into the hotel and immediately asked if we could swim you would think the staff on the front desk would have informed us that unfortunately the pool was closed today …. apparently not in India! Being more than a little disappointed but refusing to have traveled there for nothing we went and parked our bikini clad selves on some of the sunbeds and took advantage of once again being connected to the world and went for a well-deserved G&T!

The next day began with a bit of cow wrestling to get the blood pumping! The poor beast had been involved in a tussle with a car and hadn’t come out on top by the look of the bottom of its leg, which was stuck out at a rather alarming angle. We treated a lot of cows at Help in Suffering, as despite their holiness (and the divine attitude they have to go with it) it did not stop them getting run over quite frequently.

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In the afternoon was witness to some orthopaedics on a dog who had been in a road traffic accident and had done a nice job of crunching its radius and ulna. Apparently here the surgery costs 4,000 rupees (so essentially 40 British pounds) which is incredibly cheap and at home, you’d probably be looking about 10 times that amount. However, the reduced cost would not tempt me to let these fellows operate on any of my pets! From seeing practice at home, I had a good idea of how orthopaedics should work and rule number one is EVERYTHING and EVERYONE must be sterile. In most places, they have special equipment, a special operating theatre, everyone is fully covered in a sterile gown and gloves with a mask and hat, there is restricted access to anyone who doesn’t need to be in the room, all precautions are taken to reduce the likelihood of infection being introduced into the bone. Here they operated in a normal, non-sterile scrub top, scrubbed only up to the elbow, with no mask or hair net. The op was done in a theatre which from the state of it I’d guess hadn’t had a proper clean for a good few months ( which added insult to injury when they dropped one of the instruments on the floor and just picked it up and carried on!) and they stopped to take drinks from non-sterile bottles half way through the op and used work men’s wire cutters (also not sterile) to cut the pins going into the bone of this animal’s leg. I have to say, I did want to put my head in my hands in despair, give me the over cautious English attitude any day! To really rub salt in the wound, they took the dog back to the owners and in front of them made an absolute hash of bandaging this poor dog’s leg. The idea of a bandage is you are meant to start from the bottom, including the foot and apply a soft layer of padding followed by a firm bandage layer to keep the wound stable, always working upwards. They did the complete opposite with no padding, starting from the top and working down leaving the foot out which by the time the dog left had already swollen up and was turning the colour of a blueberry. I would not at all be surprised if that dog came back for its check up with fewer toes! But this is India and is indeed still very much a man’s world, and as it stands the vets, however pleasant they may be to us, would not take any criticism or suggestion from two young female students, no matter how polite it was said. The feminist in me really silently seethed here, as did the perfectionist in me which constantly wanted to tear her hair out! Now I know it is unlikely that all veterinary practices in India are like this (at least I hope not!) so I do not wish to offend anyone with my ramblings, I am merely reporting and commenting on my own experience, and I did have a question of conscience as to whether to blog about this, but this is the truth of what I saw and something I feel people going to undertake work with animal charities, or indeed just go to India should be aware of.

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The bandaged limb after we sorted it out!

We yet again broached the euthanasia topic, which seemed to be the constant thorn in all the vet’s sides. In all fairness to them, the vets are incredibly pragmatic and understand the need for euthanasia but unfortunately, some of the trustees of the charity (who unfortunately hold the purse strings) don’t see it like that. They have a very flowery attitude to the whole rescue idea and see euthanasia as a cruelty which should be avoided at all costs. This caused many arguments, especially amongst the more pragmatic workers who think it is simply unacceptable for a dog to be dragging itself around with two broken legs with no one having any intention of doing anything with it except feed it and wait for it to catch some awful disease for it to finally die of its own accord. It also drives the vets to attempt risky procedures and operations they neither have the skill or the equipment for, just to do something for these animals. I know this is quite a morbid topic but it is an important one none the less and one of the reasons I wanted to come and do some work in India in the first place, to witness different culture’s attitudes towards animal welfare and to improve education in this area.

That evening we met Ranjana, our lovely cook, Maju’s daughter, a beautiful tall Amazonian looking girl with thick black hair down to her waist (we were a little jealous it has to be said). She spoke impeccable English and aspired to become a vet. She kindly took us to the local seamstress where we were measured for our sari blouses and took us to get an underskirt for our Saris (something neither of us had known we needed but it is actually an essential bit of kit when it comes to the wrapping and tucking!), we were both incredibly glad she was there as I would have definitely ended up wandering into a curtain shop or something similar. Ranjana also showed us where we could get much cheaper sari material as we did get fleeced in true Western fashion and paid far too much for our saris this time (though I think for a Western lass one sari is probably enough, as much as I’d maybe like to, I can’t see myself skipping around in Yorkshire in it). Ranjana was quite a modern woman by India standards as she was aspiring towards a career and a good education. However, this was still only a small step towards the freedom we exercise as Western women as she told us she would be living at home and going to a female-only university to prevent the temptation to be lead astray. She was also very sheltered and said she rarely went out and when she did, her mother or other family members acted as chaperones. Beth and I decided to take her under our wing and planned to take her to Chokki Dahni which is a traditional Rhajastani village where you can see traditional dancing, have henna, do clay pot making and lots of cultural things. She said she’d never been and was keen to come along and have a “girl’s night” so we planned to win over her mother who did seem to quite like us, so she would let us take her. Beth and I wanted to leave India having made a good impression as there appears to be overall quite a poor opinion of the British where we were which left us feeling rather appalled. The people we came across seemed to think all the British do is drink and flirt and have sex (and multiple boyfriends and girlfriends on the go at once!?) which I think is quite awful really! I mean we do do a lot of that stuff but I object to them thinking that’s ALL we do haha! Now I’m going to sound like an absolute grandma saying this but, I blame Hollywood movies! Anyway, we hoped during our time there that we have made steps to improve their opinion of at least some of the Brits!

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