Thursday, June 14, 2007


My friend Rahul from Princeton who is now an paramedic in Pittsburgh sent me an instant message asking "How is my motherland," referring to India. I replied that it was good, but that I either have a nasty cold or my body is unhappy with me breathing here. If you ever have a choice between living in urban India and smoking a pack a day and your only goal is keeping your lungs healthy, I'd have trouble making a recommendation.

I had been thinking about "motherland" on the walk home from Quiz Night at a bar/restaurant called Opus with Nels and Jason, particularly after I nearly got run over in an intersection. For some reason I connect the idea of "motherland" with Great Britain, and it is often amusing to the Americans how, well, unexpectedly British certain things are here. The assumption I started working from was that India had really broken ties with its colonial past, but a number of things - from the way they say "dots" and "dashes" in Morse code (this came up during the trivia) to the whole bit about driving on the left side of the road - remind me that such as one of many reminders that that is not entirely true, nor could it possibly be entirely true.

The left-hand-side thing was, if you hadn't guessed, why I nearly got run over at the intersection, but there was also a quirk about a traffic light there. The bigger problem comes in everyday interactions - when you walk towards someone else, you may not even think about it but you will both "defer to the right" and therefore stay out of each others way. When I pass someone - in a hallway or particularly in a staircase - I tend to defer to the right as I have learned to do for over a decade, but they will naturally defer to the left, which means we step in front of each other. In recent days I have frequently continued up a staircase after such an encounter muttering "defer to the left, Rob, defer to the left."

1 comment:

Laura said...

I know exactly how you feel. Same thing happened to me all the time, now only happens every so often now a days here in kenya.