I’ve had a few interesting conversations this week – spurred by my desire to understand this place. The first was with a person who has been in and out of India for two decades and who now lives here and works for an international news organization. He describes himself as an Indiaphile but has grown disillusioned over the years. He thinks India is an unforgivably cruel place to live for its own citizens and that corruption and caste are to blame. He shared one story that particularly galled him: he met a family whose daughter had disappeared – most likely abducted, a not-too uncommon crime here. When they tried to file a police report, they were asked to pay a sum of money that was well-beyond their capacity to pay. Without the payoff, the complaint would not be filed or investigated. This type of shakedown apparently leads to continued requests for money at each bureaucratic checkpoint.
Hoping for insight, I shared this story with an Indian friend. She shook her head and agreed that yes, this sort of thing happens all the time. Part of the problem, she explained, was that police are not paid but a pittance for their work – which leads to scenarios like the one above. Corruption feeds itself and the system and police pay is never addressed because payoffs have solved the pay problem. Other types of payoffs include regularly paid bribes to allow mildly illegal activity, like unlicensed businesses. Jim’s colleague wrote a first-person harrowing account not long ago about the death of his brother in a car accident. Look it up – it’s a story of one corrupt roadblock after another. The family even had to pay to get the death certificate.
I’ll save discussions on caste for another entry. It’s a topic that I’m still trying to understand. Legally, one’s caste is not, supposedly, a barrier to upward mobility, but prejudice passively and maybe even aggressively limits opportunities for many here.
On the lighter side, here’s a picture of my local turkey. It’s not quite a Butterball, but I haven’t indulged in such a pleasure for seven Thanksgivings and have forgotten what there is to miss! This Hindustan hunk of bird is sitting in a briney bath – in hopes of softening up what I predict could be a tough chew!
She won’t be eaten with all of the traditional fixings this year. We’re heading to the holy city of Rishikesh on the Ganges river, where we will camp and raft and fish and freezes our tushes… so I think bird will be most conveniently consumed in sandwiches. That, and mulled wine is my contribution to our shared feast. (mull it, grog it, ANYTHING to make the wine taste better here!)
Happy Thanksgiving all. Let me know if this new site works better for you…