Caste and Class--The first question I've been asked is whether India still lives by the caste system. A single answer would be "No." The Untouchable or Dalit class, along with other tribal classes, organized fiercely years ago and secured quotas for jobs and substantial political power in some states such as Bihar. Matrimonial ads in the newspapers regularly say "Caste not important" and educated Indians disclaim any adherence to caste. But of course it persists as class distinctions and advances are much great in cities.
Dowry and the Status of Women--Because it's also an early question, a short summary of the status of women: Young Indian women are making rapid advances and seem more or less the equal of men in urban settings in the south where I spent most of my time. While dowry and marriage under 18 have both been illegal for a long time, both persist and are related. Half of Indian marriages are of women under 18 and 40 percent of all the underage marriages in the world are in India. Children bearing children are a common sight. Widows have a hard time traditionally. I don't think I saw a single woman waiting tables in the north and women shopkeepers are few. Further up the skills ladder, however, women appear in pharmacy, accounting, management and politics--where proportions of some positions are reserved for women. Marriage by choice of the bride and groom is increasingly common, which means divorce is growing, although still low. One friend said he had turned down 100 "suggestions" from his family before marrying his wife, who is fully his equal.
The riots in Delhi in late December could be a "Rosa Park moment" in India, Park being the woman who refused to sit in the back of the bus in Alabama and help trigger the civil rights movement in the United States. It seems to have gathered that capacity to rally women all over India who experience sexual harassment and denial of work opportunities in very large numbers.
In a recent Time Magazine article Bill Clinton repeated the proposition that no country could advance while failing to fully utilize the talent of half of its population. India is making rapid progress but has a long way to go on this score. In Fortune Magazine's list of the 50 most important women in business around the world, only two are listed in India.
Eating and drinking—It is hard to find a bad meal in India. Spices have been so much part of the country’s history that even the poorest meals often have punch and interest. Mall food court food was tasty and varied in Bangalore. So is movie food and McDonald’s is more flavorful in India. KFC, Dominoes, Pizza Hut and McDonalds are popular.
Large pots of boiling oil cook vegetables, chicken and all manner of popovers and other delectable such as potato chips on the streets, not safe for my American stomach but show up frequently in my photos. Potlucks—such as my host, Vindhya, held frequently-- produce up to 35 items brought from home. A whole lot of people of modest means know how to cook well.
India is developing a small wine industry, beginning with fruit wine or brandy. I can recommend the Three Ridges sirah, for example. Bangalore has two small brewery/restaurants (Biers next to the UB Center being one of them) serving exceptional craft beer. Otherwise Kingfisher as a virtual monopoly and dominates a dreary selection of lager beers. The owner of Kingfisher was recently forced to sell half his interest in the company so there could be better days ahead. Indians drink about 3 percent of the per-capita volume of beer as Germans. Liquor is relatively expensive and imported. A beautiful exception is India's dark rum which is excellent. I bought two bottles of aged Old Monk rum at the Duty Free in Delhi, only to have it confiscated in Amsterdam. You cannot transit through the EU with alcohol, i.e. you can only bring liquor in from one country away into the US. It may be different going through Asia.
Above, just another beautiful woman at the bus stop with jasimine in her hair and, below, three guys on their way from here to there...
I took a lot of auto rickshaws in Bangalore. They are hazarous to your health, less for the likelihood of an accident than for being amidst the air pollution. But I usually enjoyed getting acquainted with the drivers, once we settled that I was not going shopping or needed a guide.
Garbage--The hardest thing for a foreigner to get used to in Bangalore is the breakdown in garbage collection--assuming it was ever collected well. It was at crises stage while I was there. Garbage piled up in my neighborhood most frequently under the "Do Not Leave Garbage Here or You Will be Fined" sign.
Shopping--I went to India vowing to live safely but frugally, which I did. The exceptions were the cost of planes to Kerala and Mumbai and quality hotels there. I ended up buying books, which I shipped home through the Indian Post Office; had some things successfully shipped by the seller; bought hand-tailored, vibrant-colored raw silk dresses for the women and girls in my family in Bangalore; and--in the last week--bought fabrics in Jaipur where the Festival of Lights made buying things auspicious and propitious, according to Hindu belief. Didn't I want good luck for the year?
This is one of dozens of similar shops selling sarees, bed fabrics, children's clothes, etc. not unlike other India cities. I was particularly fascinated by turbans which come in great variety by region, ethnicity, etc.
Clothes for children can be irresistible. I bought traditional dresses for little girls featuring dozens of little silver discs which were a hit with the 6 and 8 year old, not the 11. In Jaipur I was introduced to Anoki, a store and related museum near the Amber Palace which specialize in traditional block-printed fabric, and ended up needing another trip to the post office to get them home. (The post office is a kick. Next to at least those in cities there is always a "tailor," someone who boxes your shipment then sews it up in muslin. Everything arrived safely--at a cost of about $150.) Below are fabrics on display at the Anoki Museum in a restore l6th century dwelling in Amber.
Posted December 14, 2012 by Jerry Brady, email@example.com, Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA.