Wednesday, November 21, 2012

India # 38 Stopping by the Road on a Dusty Afternoon.

Agra and Delhi are joined by a four lane divided highway, which brings a clear image to your mind of cars moving along in orderly  fashion on both sides.   Forget it.  Vehicles drive in both directions on both sides of this highway because there are comparatively few opening in the divide and, besides,  median lines are just a suggestion in  India.  Every imaginable form of transportation and commerce can be found here.  Thousands of trucks, including the largest I’ve ever seen; bullock carts loaded with hay, produce and bricks; rickshaws meant for two crammed with ten; dump trucks loaded with students in uniform headed home from Saturday school; women bearing on their heads loads so large as to obscure their faces; dozens of scraggly towns with scraggly shops, tents, pushcarts and tea stands; markets spread with colorful vegetables; herds of goat and sheep dense enough to stop traffic; layover parks for truckers; horse drive carts; donkeys; men peeing at regular intervals (my last day and I still don’t know where women go); and people walking or biking everywhere.

If India has 1.2 billion people there must be—what?—a million on the 150 miles between Agra and Delhi?  I’ve been told this will be a three hour trip.  The driver says five.  It takes seven.  It does end in a true freeway which passes through a new city called Oxame that goes on for miles flanked by buildings bearing the name of the giant companies of the world and leading up to the gleaming Dellhi Airport.   It is a stupendous contrast between old an new India.

After about four hours of this my driver, Momoah, pulls in for lunch at a place that consists of a concrete pad, a small kitchen, an awning and a whole bunch of chairs where we are the only customers.  How about dal and some mixed vegetables with buttered nan, Mamoah asks?  Since the menu is in Hindi this will do just fine.  And fine it is, indeed delicious, including lots of fresh cucumber, tomatoes and pepper, followed by a spicy tea.

Service in northern India is still provided almost entirely by men, including those who clean your hotel room.   When Pope John Paul XXIII was once asked how many people worked at the Vatican he replied, “About half.”  That would be a high estimate in Indian shops and restaurant.  It made me wonder if national labor law requiring a certain number of employees was responsible.  Some proportion of rural Indians are now guaranteed “work” for 100 hours a month—which the construction industry has blamed for its labor shortage. It is a program riff with corruption, says a recent newspaper story.  In one state, only 40 percent of the reported jobs  are actually worked.  The rest would be phantom jobs, the income going to a political boss.  However in other states--which require that the number of jobs and where they are allocated be publically posted--schools, bridges, etc. are being built.  I do not know if this program might include subsidized employment in private businesses such as this restaurant.

In any event, I thought you should get a look at the five people who were working at our lunch stop:   The first picture above is of the cook.  Then the man who totes up the bill,two servers and the cleanup guy.

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