Life on the streets of India

A homestay experience in India is certainly one of the best ways to observe how the locals live in a residential area like Delhi’s South Extension Part II.

The nearest provision stores to our homestay at South Ex II
for fresh milk and other daily provisions 
On the first morning, our host took us on a walking tour of the neighbourhood to show us the shortcut to the provision stores and nearby shopping areas.  My family and I were amazed to see an eclectic mix of local businesses alongside international brands in rows of shops with street food and fashion accessory vendors parked on the pavements.  There was even a Marks & Spencer outlet in a separate building!
With Delhi as our base, we made day trips to Jaipur in Rajasthan state and to Agra in Uttar Pradesh state to see the renowned Taj Mahal.  We had an exciting Indian experience – and more, as we walked about, drove around, explored sites and savoured the delicious cuisine.  

At the end of our stay, we are more than familiar with the constant honking in the streets (despite the many signs reminding drivers not to honk), as part of India’s way of life.  

Here are ten things that are happening only in India.

1.  Female manual workers 

While manual labour is readily available in India, it’s interesting that the building construction industry usually employs a female workforce.  

It was amusing that these hardworking women at a construction site in South-Ex II, also thought that we were a curious sight.  As I watched them, I believe they must have such strong backs and necks because one of the women carried nine bricks on her head!

2.  Cows and the right of way

In India, cows are revered as sacred animals.  The cow earned its place of honour in this agricultural region because it was heavily relied on for providing dairy products while its manure was used as fertilizer and fuel.  The cows’ exalted position gives them the right to roam the streets and we watched in amazement as drivers skillfully avoided near-miss collisions as they steered around these animals on busy streets.

3.  Colourful crisps and nuts 

This crisps and nuts vendor near the India Gates reminded me of our traditional kacang-puteh man in Malaysia who has since disappeared from our city streets.  I always wondered how the vendor kept his roasted products fresh and crispy in such humid weather when they are stored in open containers…  For this vendor, I guess the plastic spoons are not just for decoration but used to spoon the customers required quantity?

4.  Camel driven carts in Rajasthan  

On our drive to Jaipur in Rajasthan state, we spotted many camel driven carts like this. It was good that this camel cart had a dedicated lane that ran parallel to the road.  At the expressway tollgates, we saw these graceful working animals joining the queue with trucks, auto-scooters and cars for their turn to pay the required toll.  I wonder how much toll was charged per camel cart?

5.  The “corn man” toasting corn  

From the number of vendors spotted all over the city, we can safely conclude that freshly toasted corn-on-the-cob must a popular snack here.  

This “corn man” was parked right in front of a McDonald’s outlet at South-Ex II where customers clearly preferred his corn to a McD product.  

Charcoal toasted corn must be tasty but I wondered why they didn’t toast the corn on a metal grill but directly on the charcoal?

6.  Sweet and savoury street food  

Walking around the shops in South-Ex II, I saw street food vendors selling a range of fruit juices, chai and fast foods like momos – small dumplings that resembled Chinese pau – and Indian sweet and savoury snacks.  This vendor offered a choice of freshly made gulab jamun, samosa, fried bread pakora and jalebi with a range of Indian sweets in the showcase behind.

7.  Beware of these trucks!  

India is renowned for lawlessness on the roads and driving in the opposite direction on a dual-carriageway, simply takes the cake!  On the drive to Jaipur, imagine our horror when we saw a cement-mixer truck hurtling towards us!  Thankfully, our driver was safely on the next lane of the dual-carriageway and left enough space for that rogue truck to pass in the opposite direction.

8.  No helmets and multiple passengers   

While we saw stalls that sold motorbike helmets, very rarely did we see riders wearing helmets in India.  Women pillion riders, always sat sideways on the motorbike and elegantly kept their saris around them as the bikes wove through thick traffic.  On our way back from Agra, I caught sight of this rider who was comfortably carrying not one or two but three passengers!

9.  A traditional 2-pan balance weighing scale  

Mobile green grocers provide a convenient service in residential areas and I could not help but pause to look closer at the range of fresh vegetables for sale.  While we are familiar with the dacing type of hanging weighing scale, it was rare to see a vintage-looking 2-pan balance weighing scale.  It was interesting that this vendor still used this traditional balance scale with a range of standard mass weights to weigh his products.

10.  The “iron man”  

Too lazy to switch on your electric iron to press your clothes?  

Then take it to the “iron man” who has been operating his ironing business at South-Ex II for the past 22 years.  

It was fascinating to watch them preparing their heavy traditional irons filled with charcoal embers before pressing garments flawlessly smooth.  

His daughter, who speaks English, said their charges are 4 Rupees (25 sen) for a small garment and 5 Rupees for a larger piece.

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 29 September 2016  

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