Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Indian Standard Stretched Time

It’s been a slow week this week. The guys here say that India works on Indian Standard Stretched Time, and it seems this is definitely the case for steel workshops. With none of the prototypes ready for testing, I’ve spent the week looking at the other projects that SELCO have on the go and have actually made some good progress in places but none of the other projects are likely to have as much potential as the de-husker.

Fortunately for this blog I took a slightly longer weekend away in Mysore so might be able to fill the space with that instead... We arrived in the dark and rain at about 5am after the overnight bus ride and got to watch the town wake up before being met by Kishor. Kishor is a mechanical engineering lecturer at the National Institute of Engineering, based in Mysore, and met Lincoln on a visit to the SELCO office. I was struck by his incredible generosity as he essentially gave up his entire weekend to give us the full tour and let us stay in his house, despite the fact he’d never met me before and had only met Lincoln the once.

Although not the most conventional tourist stop, one of the most fascinating parts of the visit was a trip round the mechanical engineering department at the university. A lot of the labs looked quite similar to those in the Cambridge Engineering Department and the level of teaching was clearly very good. They also had a section looking into rural technologies to help alleviate poverty which I was very interested to look round. There were some really neat ideas on display there but as with so many of these projects, none of them had been taken on to the next stage of being properly tested or actually put into production. I sort of suspect they were never fully researched either and may well not provide the most practical solutions.

             A pedal powered water pump

The main tourist attraction of Mysore is the Maharajah’s Palace which is the official home of the Mysore Royal Family who used to rule over a lot of South India. We got there a bit before dusk to look around the inside and then sat on the paving in front to watch as the sun went down and the lights came on. It was an impressively elaborate building but I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad to see so much extravagance in a place so surrounded by poverty. And I saw my first westerner here (apart from Lincoln of course) since leaving the airport!

We visited the zoo which had some impressive animals including elephants, tigers, giraffes and (mating) lions. I was actually surprised by how good the conditions were for the most part but things like moody chimpanzees and fettered elephants meant you didn’t quite get the feeling the animals were better off there than in the wild that English zoos manage to give off. But it was quite good fun and we found it hilarious to see so many Indians crowded round an enclosure of pheasants.

On one of the evenings Kishor took us to the closest thing Mysore has to a pub with some of his housemates. It was probably more like a rock-club actually: dark, seedy and playing very loud rock music, but it was good fun and I had my first beer and first ‘non-veg’ there since arriving. I don’t know if it was the music or the alcohol but there were virtually no girls there, and apart from the odd head-banger getting up for his favourite song there was no dancing either.

             Kishor decided to stick to the 7up

I had my first experience of Indian church at a St Philomena’s Cathedral, which holds a weekly mass in English. I was amazed at how similar the service was to a Catholic one back home, and the interior looked almost the same, with the exception of the rope lighting around the crucifix perhaps. Catholicism is the main branch of Christianity in this part of India, and I think that probably has a lot of benefits. I realised in Kenya how easily doctrines get distorted in a place where a lot of the congregation don’t have easy access to books and other recourses where they can explore things themselves, whereas the heavy focus on liturgy in the Catholic service means there’s not actually much space for heresy (beyond anything within the liturgy of course but this probably isn’t the place to discuss that).

We also visited a museum about Mysore, a railway museum, a huge market and a few temples, and saw a play about a man who bought a temple elephant to use on his farm but it got bitten by a mad dog and went on a rampage around the village. I didn’t actually realise that’s what it was about (the elephant was played by an umbrella) till Kishor explained it at the end as it was performed in the local dialect of Kanada, but it was very interesting to see how it compared to an English play.

On the way back we decided to get the train, which takes the most spectacular route through paddy fields and then on into rainforest covered mountains.

On Tuesday it was Raksha Bandhan, a day when girls give out rakhi bracelets to certain boys as a way of saying ‘I love you as if you were my own brother’. This sounds like a lovely gesture but has come to mean ‘I like you as a friend’ or ‘you don’t have a chance’, and is feared by all the boys; some here even missing classes to avoid getting banded. I realised the actual significance of the tradition when Manjesh (one of my friends from the hostel) pointed out one particular band he hadn’t expected to get with a genuine guttedness. I think I must be doing something wrong here as I managed to pick up three myself.

                        (Apologies for the facial hair by the way: I thought it might be interesting
                        to stop shaving for a while. We’re yet to see if it will ever progress
                        beyond the ‘he needs a shave’ stage to a ‘beard’.)

I also had my first lesson in washing clothes on an Indian washing stone this week. It’s supposed to get your clothes cleaner than a conventional washing machine but I’m not convinced it's worth the extra effort.
                       I hope you're reading this Mum.

I was afraid I’d miss my guitar so brought a ukulele along to learn. A couple of the guys at the lodge have guitars and we’ve spent quite a few fun evenings playing around with them since my first week. We’ve just recently found a drummer too so may well be touring the Ujire rock scene by next week’s blog.

And as before, here are a few more nice photos which don't really tell you a lot about my week but hopefully you'll enjoy anyway:

             It's supposed to be a good idea to ask for a blessing on your new car and so the
             first trip that a lot of them make is to the nearest temple for a mini ceremony.

                        I don't know if these cows thought that the motorbikes were part of the
                        herd but I've often noticed that they like standing next to them

             One of the warning signs in the zoo. I like how they decided that getting mauled
             by a tiger wasn't quite off-putting enough to keep people out of the enclosures.

                    Another picture of me looking windswept. This time on a very long train.

             Some farm workers planting out paddy

             We’re very fortunate to have a western style toilet in our bathroom.
             Unfortunately the mice here aren’t so used to them and this one clearly
             had some difficulty getting out.


Hmmm... so it turns out I actually had quite a lot to talk about this week despite the lack of project progress. Thank you for reading to the bottom; maybe I’ll try to do a bit less next week.

1 comment:

  1. I like the photo of the spices (or whatever the powder was). It is great to see that you are having a good time.

    Take care,