Small Stories

April 1oth, 2013

Country/Day:        India/65

Bikes Fixed:                  81

Bikes/Day Avg:               1.25

I originally had a few “big” ideas for this post, but the more I thought about them, the more they kept getting smaller… and smaller… and smaller.

So instead of one BIG post I’ll just do a few small ones all together. That seemed to work last time

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1. Tea is Sacred.

There are a couple things you can’t help but notice during a stay in India. In one of my first posts after arriving I mentioned the traffic laws… or lack thereof. India is noisy, as people don’t really have a sense of personal noise level. Cows are everywhere. Oh, and everybody drinks tea.

I can’t blame them. The tea here is really good. It’s a magic recipe that starts with tea leaves from Darjeeling, arguably the tea capitol of the world. When Darjeeling tea was first “discovered” in the 1800s, the fastest ships available were used to ship it to Europe so it was as fresh as possible when it arrived. I could go on, but the point isn’t really how delicious the tea is… it’s how sacred it seems to be (although, more in a figurative sense).

The first thing I was asked when I started work at Fauji cycles was if I took my tea with sugar or not. Regardless of what I answered I’ve had tea with sugar (as that’s the only way it comes) twice a day every work day since then. And when the tea comes, the work stops.

It’s like a magic way of taking a break. There’s no, “just let me finish this.” There’s no, “but this is urgent.” We’ve turned customers away because they were in a hurry and we were having tea. If you’re holding a cup of tea in your hands, you’re immune to being asked to do something.

Tea is sacred.

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2. Is that English?

Another thing that quickly becomes apparent is that the English spoken here is different than the English spoken in the States. I’d like to say it’s the same way the English spoken in Britain is different than other kinds of English, but… I’ve never been to Britain. I’m not saying one or the other is right or wrong. I’m just saying that when somebody is trying to sell me something, and they use a different sentence structure than I learned was proper, it’s a little disconcerting.

– Consider this paragraph on the front page of a product magazine for S.K. Bikes:

S.K. Bikes, an ISO certified Company is a name to reckon in bicycle industry. In short span of 10 years, the company has received nation’s highest attention by providing best quality product at lowest possible cost up to the entire satisfaction of customers.

As the company is young, the runners are young too, so we have super energy, advance thoughts and unconquerable confidence. S.K. Bike is a fastest growing bicycle company having a wide range of 100+ variants.

– The furniture store across the street does “Sofa Repair & New Sofa.”

– A local cement company advertises its product to be “Durable & Strongest.”

Again, I’m abroad, so I don’t think it’s my place to say that since it’s different than what I’m used to, it’s right or wrong. I’m just noticing that, well… it’s different.

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3. Truck.

One of my coworkers is named Calu. Calu likes to… erm… I’m not sure what it is exactly. But today I was working, and Calu said,

“Kyle bhaya?”



He wasn’t pointing at anything (like a truck), so I thought maybe it was an Indian word I didn’t know yet.

“Samjhe nahim” (I don’t understand).

“School bus?”

“Samjhe.” (I understand/know what that is).


Apparently he just wanted me to know he had learned the work “truck.” Sometimes he does this with other words or things I know already. For instance, we refer to the crossing pattern of wheels by saying “6 pattern” or “8 pattern” (a 3-cross wheel, for instance, will have its crossing spokes 6 apart at the hub. A 4-cross wheel, 8 apart).

I’ll be halfway done with a 3-cross wheel and he’ll say,

“Kyle bhaya?”

“Yes Calu?”

“Six pattern.”

“I mean… I hope so.”

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4. Bargaining is Free.

I’ve dropped hints here and there that many things are cheap in India, and that it’s okay to bargain. For instance, during my trip with Firefox I wrote about bargaining a taxi ride from Rs. 500 to Rs. 100. If you’re resolute this isn’t too hard, as it’s part of the culture. But sometimes you don’t even have to indicate you want something to get the price to come down.

We were walking on the beach in Goa when someone came up to me and said (or more, saw me and shouted; he was about 50 feet away),

“Sir! Sir, please. Would you like this necklace” (he was holding out a simple necklace made of strung shells)?

“No, thanks.”

“Sir! But sir. Do you know how much? I’ll give you special price!”

I gave him the hand wave and by now was walking away from him. At this point most people see you’re actually not interested and go somewhere else. This guy really wanted to sell his necklace.

“Sir! Please, sir. For you sir, I am thinking only… 100 dollars. A very special price.”

So the funny thing is, “dollars” here can either mean actual USD, or INR (Indian Rupees). I figured there was no way he wanted $100 for the necklace, so he had to be asking Rs 100. That’s about $2 — not bad. But Viju is more experienced with these things, and afterwards Viju said yea, this guy actually wanted 100 dollars. So… *cough.*

“Sir! Wait, sir! 80 dollars! Only 80 dollars! No? Okay sir, 70 dollars? 50! What good price! 50 dollars!”

By now we were about 80 feet away. I turned to Viju and said, just for giggles,

“50 dollars for a necklace! What do you think? Good price or not?”

— remember at this point I’m thinking Rs. 50 ($1), and Viju and the necklace guy are thinking $50. Anyways, the necklace guy responded,

“Okay sir! Okay. You are winning. Let’s say 20 dollars. 20 dollars, final price!”

And that was the last of it.

I have bargained very little in my life, but without doing anything that day, I learned the power of walking away. From $100 to $20 in about fifteen seconds.

Bargaining is free.

– – –

5. Intimate Pigeons

In light of the whole “no sense of personal volume level” thing I haven’t been getting much sleep. Sitting in my room at 8:30 PM IST I can hear, verbatim, the TV (my door is closed). There’s a chorus of dogs barking about who knows what a few blocks down. Every few seconds I can hear a car honking on the main road, about 300 feet away, and every few minutes, a car drives by the house and honks. Once an hour from 10:30 to 5:30, the guard will blow his whistle to deter any would-be thieves. One night the neighbors decided to have a party and there was loud music until about 1 AM (they must have been a few houses down, and I could hear the music almost verbatim) — there is practically no such thing as domestic disturbance in India.

You get it. India is loud, all the time. But there’s one thing I wasn’t expecting. Just as I was finally getting used to most of it (the dogs and the whistle still wake me up if they are particularly loud or close by), two pigeons decided to build a next on the AC unit connected to my room.

I think what makes most sounds bearable is that they are constant. As human beings, we notice change. We are used to, and hardly notice, things that have been a certain way for a long time. It’s the same reason you can fall asleep with a fan on, but not if the fan short-circuits every few seconds, turning on, and off, and on, and off…. And as you might imagine, pigeons are not very predictable.

Every morning around 5:30 AM (I usually don’t get up until 7:30 or 8), the pigeons are doing something. Building a nest. Cuddling. Cooing. Prospecting. Whatever it is that pigeons do (and one morning they were doing what every procreating specie does. No, I don’t ever want to wake up to that again).

The situation has yet to be solved. We’ve tried removing their nest, but they just built a new one (Since their adult relations knocked that one off, they haven’t had one at all. Yet they still act as though they live there — maybe the A/C unit is just where they do morning yoga now, or maybe they are waiting till the eggs come). So until we figure something out (I’m pressing for a chicken wire fence), I’m getting to know some very intimate pigeons.

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One thought on “Small Stories

  1. Marilyn says:

    Great post! I really enjoy reading your wonderful writing about the Indian culture.

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