I am convinced after spending 5 weeks there, that India may possibly be the loudest place on earth!! Even the animals seemed to operate at several decibels above normal volume, especially the dogs who howl, bark, yap, squeal at all hours of the day and night (I’m really not sure when they got chance to sleep, my only conclusion was that they took shifts so no hour of the night missed out on their “ode to the moon”). My time at Help in suffering was met at all hours by what seemed to be a consistent stream of animal, mechanical and human hullabaloo. One local said to me that India is so peaceful people have to make noise to compensate, well as much as it adds to the culture of the place I for one am partial to a bit of peace at 5am!
On one of the mornings Beth and I joined one of the vets for yoga in the nearby horticultural gardens. There was a surprising amount of people there for such an early hour doing yoga and meditating (loudly of course) but while we joined one of the make-shift classes in the centre and got on with our stretching,breathing and Ohmming, we became quite the tourist attraction. All the meditating men swivelled to get a better view all while pretending to be going about their business. It was a very interesting concept being the racial minority, I don’t think I’d ever had as much interest in me in my life! It was my experience that there seemed to be a distinct split to how people reacted to us, half the people we came across were intrigued and wanted to watch us, touch us, listen to us and wave at us and on numerous occasions even asked us to join them drinking chai and wanted to quiz us about life in England. The other half would scowl disapprovingly no matter what efforts were made to blend in and conform to culture. It was quite an unusual feeling for us to experience this hostility,and left us with a lot to reflect upon about our own attitudes towards people as well as those directed at us. For the most part we were lucky enough to have met mostly open minded and friendly people on our travels. Our skin did have a distinct advantage though when it came to navigating roads in the dark. Me and Beth (being the incredibly pasty creatures that we are) stuck out like bellisa beacons against any light source, so essentially we were our very own ‘high vis’ jackets!
After being at Help in Suffering a few days and having found our feet we decided it was time to venture into Jaipur’s town centre, affectionately known as ‘the pink city’. To do this required us to bravely venture out on public transport (now if you read my previous blog posts you will know that our first encounter with Indian public transport didn’t go very well…). The buses in India are interesting… Despite there being numerous designated bus stops, no bus seems to stop at them (much to our horror when we were happily waiting and realised our bus had stopped 10 metres down the road then promptly drove off without us) they all just seemed to stop where they fancied along the road, usually where they could cause the most chaos by obstructing other traffic. When we finally made it onto a bus, the locals were incredibly helpful baby sitting us. They all crowded around us nosily and listened in to our conversations. This actually turned out to be incredibly helpful as they all knew where we were wanting to get off ,so when we nearly missed our stop a gaggle of complete strangers all jumped up shouting “OFF!!” at us, which was quite a shock, but equally very helpful!
The Pink City, also known as ‘old town’ is a tourist hot spot in the North of India, it is famous for it’s Bazaars selling everything from Chai cups to shoe brushes and anything you can think of in between. Here white people are targeted by the shop keepers who literally see pound signs when we come shuffling past in awe and bewilderment and get unwittingly lured into their shops ( before you know what’s happening you’ll come out with half the bazaar if you’re not careful). This was a time to learn quickly how to haggle and also how to avoid getting “kidnapped” by every shop keeper we walked past. We really were spoilt for choice, we soon learnt what a dangerous game shopping in India was, everything was so astonishingly cheap so there seemed no logical excuse not to buy…. well anything really! The next issue was then fitting all my newly acquired wares into my backpack to get it home – it was quite a squash I can tell you!
After our little shopping trip as the sun began to set, we were approached by a young man named Sunny, he asked us why white tourists refused to talk to the locals which sparked quite an interesting discussion between the three of us. He then invited us for Chai and we chatted about home and he talked about India and suggested a few good tourist spots to add to our hit list while in India. However then my danger alarm began to go off when we went to say our goodbye’s and he suggested taking us home on his bike. Now it wasn’t the thought of fitting 3 of us on a bike (despite the fact that my mother might have killed me just for that), as we saw up to 7 people riding round on one scooter and this seemed to be common place. It was more that my well honed stranger danger alarm went off, in particular at his insistence when we politely refused. This young man may well have been genuinely just trying to be nice and the culture is different there with regards to hospitality. But I personally always feel safe sticking with the mantra of ‘If I wouldn’t do it at home I shouldn’t do it here’ and getting on a strange man’s bike at night was definitely something I wouldn’t do at` home! But you’ll be glad to know mum that I am not ever likely to put myself in that situation so you can sleep easy on that one!
It was during this first week that I finally got to get my hands dirty and do my first lot of surgeries solo. This was done under the watchful eye of my designated compounder for that day, who doubled as surgical assistants and who could have definitely done the neutering in their sleep they’ve watched so many. The compounders could be known to get a bit over keen with the operations at times and on a few occasions I had to wrestle my equipment off them when they’d eagerly start carrying on the op without me!
I could not help but notice that animals in India do not appear to be taught any manners, in particular the cows! This I guess is what happens when animals are brought up to believe they are all “holy” and whatnot but it definitely makes treating them a lot harder. We had one particular fall out with a dairy cow who thought she could barge her way past us so we gave her a firm shove as you would to show your authority to a cow back in England and she charged at us! No more chapatis came her way that’s for sure, little madam! A similar incident occurred with the monkeys, we were feeding them a mixture of banana and mango so I held out a piece of banana for one of the dominant females and just because she apparently preferred the mango she screamed at me and grabbed at my hand savagely, she then preceded to give me the dead-eye from the back of her cage.
In those first few nights I seemed to get myself a reputation as the crazy dog lady of the compound, I’m not sure how or why but I seemed to acquire multiple hounds who came and slept outside the door of my apartment. Goldy the the blind dog who adopted me on the first night was a frequent visitor. She was shortly followed on the next night by one of the puppies, Rajah who repeatedly escaped from his cage (another climber like Goldy), he skulked in warily at first but once he realised I was ‘safe’ and a soft-touch, happily snuggled up by my feet using my flipflops as a pillow. A few nights after a third fleabag came visiting who night after night fell fast asleep, legs akimbo on the ledge under my table. So I slowly created a bit of a motley crew of bed time companions (well they were much preferred to ants in my bedroom is all I can say)!