A Country Divided

I woke up this morning cold. This is the second time this has happened. Yesterday, once my day got going, I warmed up; today however, my bones are still cold. It is early September but it feels like a November day in Washington DC.

Should I go ahead and start a fire? Put on a seater? These are the decisions I am having to make in this moment, on this day.

But I will happily make these decisions over the ones India seems to be making.

Looking around, one sees the India of tradition, the India of old, refusing to let convenience get by customs. A large sewage pipe burst and broke in my back yard a couple weeks ago. So a new line had to be built — but the back-up seems to not have been in my back yard but in my front, further down the pipe.

Two men and a woman (who wore a sari) came on site to do the work. They dug a huge deep square of a hole (maybe 5’x5’x10′), filled it up with rocks (first large stones, then smaller ones, then rocks, then pebbles, then sand) around the side, leaving the middle hollow. They then mixed concrete and laid the cover. After that, they dug a long ditch to run the new pipe. They did all this with basic tools. They used a trenching hoe to dig. No trenching machines.

The other day I was walking down the street and some laborers were breaking up the street for repairs. There were no jackhammers. They used some sort of a sickle.

Some carpenters came to my house to build a locked cabinet to store food in and make shelves for our wardrobe. They used a hammer, screwdriver and hand saw. No electric saws or electric screwdrivers. They wrapped sandpaper around their fingers.

But my favorite has to be when our sink was clogged, we called the plumber. He went outside and found a twig and then came back in and proceeded to poke it through the holes in the drain. Then when the sewage backed up he came out again and unclogged it with a tree limb. An extra-large twig for an extra-large job!

This is the type of stuff I love about India. Indians are not concerned with efficiency or perfection. In the States we are so concerned with both that we lose sight on team effort, which Indians are great at.

But there are other things here that have changed since I was here in 1994-5. Kolkata (Calcutta) has a shopping mall.Soft drinks are arriving in plastic bottles and thrown in the landfill rather than in glass bottles to be recycled. Here in town (a rural mountain town, mind you) there is a Dominoes Pizza and a KFC.Coca-Cola bought out the Indian cola company Thumbs Up as well as Mazza, the mango drink. Sure, you can still get Thumbs Up here, but the store keepers are supplying Coca-Cola and Pepsi — in plastic bottles — instead, so it is harder to get. The agriculture industry used to be all organic, now almost none of it is — the pesticides are everywhere. Sure, fruits and vegetables are still local, but there is also a lot of importing going on as well.

I have compassion for developing countries that defy the Western influence. Sure, I still think America and western culture is great, but it also has a lot of bad habits, habits that, like a younger sibling, developing countries are modeling. And that is distressing. As America seems to be going back to tradition, realizing the bad habits that need breaking, India is moving into cultural annihilation. The customs agent seems to have let a few bad apples slip by.

Yes, I think I’ll stick with the warm fire versus soft sweater issue for now.

I have been thinking about writing a political poem about my love for America on the one hand and my absolute disgust for what it’s become. For me, this is a party-neutral issue. As my father said to me, “You couldn’t be leaving the country at a better time.” But I haven’t felt angry enough. Question: does one have to be angry to write a successful political poem? If so, will this western influence take me there?

2 thoughts on “A Country Divided”

  1. We moved a year ago from the US to northern Argentina where people use hand saws & shovels & twigs. Unfortunately, they also drink Coca Cola etc in plastic bottles & drop trash everywhere. Still, we are very happy to have left what the US has become & to be living in a culture where the automatic response is to welcome & help a stranger until the stranger becomes a friend.

  2. I know what you mean. A few weeks ago my son told me he had seen crazy people living in Kodaikanal. When I asked him to clarify, he said perfect strangers waived at him and said hello. (You know, super nice.) "That's not crazy," I answered, "that's normal — you are used to crazy!"

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