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Rishikesh, India

Sitting in the cafe overlooking the pedestrian suspension bridge across the Ganges. An Indian guy in a turban comes in and goes over the the corner table and whistles towards the bridge. He then takes out a mobile phone and looks at it but doesn’t make a call. He sits down at the table where a tourist is sitting on his own smoking a cigarette. A short while later the friend he must have been whistling to on the bridge comes in and sits down at the table next to the tourist. There are other empty tables but they choose to sit at this one. In India there appears to be a different conception of personal space to that in the west. Someone sitting at a table doesn’t own that table. Another Indian comes and sits in the last vacant seat. The tourist gets up. The guy next to him lets him out. The tourist goes up to the desk to pay. Another Indian comes in and sits down at the table.

On the train to Delhi a few days aga, on which I had reserved a 2nd class sleeper seat, I found several Indians sitting in my seat when I got on the train and had to ask them to move, which they did, retrieving their bags from under the seat. The Indian sitting next to me had to move a few minutes later when someone, another tourist, claimed the seat he was sitting in. The block of six seats was now eentirely occupied by tourists. A Swedish woman made a comment about Indians moving in on other peoples’ seats, which one of the guys who had been in my seat overheard. Actually, we’re in the Indian Air Force, he said, and we don’t have reservations.

That night, when the beds were out, one of the Air Force guys lay newspaper on the floor between our beds and slept there, while another two sat on the edges of the bottom bunks, one occupied by a Japanese woman, the other by a Swedish woman. Neither of them complained, and the Indians didn’t ask if they minded. I was relieved I was on an upper bunk.

An Indian on the other side of the carriage who did have a reservation was sharing his seat/bed with some of the other Air Force guys.

They weren’t the only ones without reservations. There were quite a few people who were standing between the carriages outside the toilets. They had tickets, just not seat reservations. I assume they paid less than what I paid.

With property here it’s often quite hard to see where the boundaries are, to see who owns what. It doesn’t seem to matter as much here as it would in the west. People share things more, and use what they need to use. It’s more of an anarchic way of life, which sometimes seems good but at other times is quite infuriating, like on the roads where it’s the law of the jungle. The buses and trucks rule, then come the cars, then the auto-rickshaws, then the motorbikes and cycle-rickshaws. Pedestrians are right at the bottom. They have no rights. Vehicles will charge at a group of people sounding their horns, expecting the poeple to scatter, which they always do. If they didn’t they’d get run over. Sometimes it’s taken me five or ten minutes to get across a road. They have things which look a bit like pedestrian crossings but they’re just decorative. Cars would never willingly stop for pedestrians, although once in Kolkata crossing a very big road with about 50 other people trying to get across, the pedestrians were able to hold up the traffic by the weight of their numbers.

Even here in Rishikesh, where there isn’t much traffic, what traffic there is terrorizes the pedestrians, even though the vast majority of people here are pedestrians. Each day I’ve been walking along the 2km road between Laxman Jhula and Swarg Ashram for the lecture, which many many people walk along, often three abreast, women carrying things on their heads, having to walk out into the road to avoid the cows and horses and ice cream sellers and bead sellers and beggars. The road is not very wide, but every five or ten minutes a taxi or a motorbike will speed along sounding it’s horn and the people will all have to get out of the way or else get hit. A number of times I’ve felt the breeze as something misses me by less than an inch. And motorbikes do the same going across the pedestrian suspension bridge. If it weren’t for the traffic this place would be quite peaceful. Compared to other places I’ve been in India it is quite peaceful, but there’s always the sound of an engine and a hooter.

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