Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts

A Chapter by Jim Parson

Ummm...random thoughts.



I know I had several adventures that I’ve neglected or forgotten to put in here.  But because I’m sleep deprived right now, I’m not certain what I’ve written about any more.  Plus my writer’s cramp is getting severe.  Since my flight will be over in about seven hours and I’ll be back home with Zena and Alex, there are still a number of random, unrelated things that I want to remember about India…

India smells of burning wood.  All of India, or at least what I have seen (smelled?) of it.  The pollution is terrible.  The cars are mostly very old and there are no pollution controls at factories.  Across the countryside, there are many tall kilns for the firing of the red brick that is used in construction here.

Even far outside the cities, it stinks of burnt wood.  I would guess it is a combination of the kilns, the fires I saw burning in the middle of the floor of the concrete homes, and the burning of trash in the streets.

Yesterday (today?), sitting in the Hyatt lobby waiting to go to the airport, the smoke was actually pouring into the hotel.  I went outside and saw no fires, nothing burning, yet the smoke was visible inside the lobby.  It was bad enough to make my eyes water.  It was almost as if the hotel was on fire.  Yet it was just the pollution from outside coming in.

Speaking of pollution, the water here is horrific.  I was extremely careful and managed to get through the entire trip without forgetting and drinking it.  It wasn’t that hard though - when you turn on a faucet, you can smell the sewage in the water.  It is horrific.  Oops, I repeat myself.  The lack of sanitation has to be why there is so much disease here.  I made the mistake of rinsing my toothbrush in the tap water in Aligarh and reused it the next day.  The following day is when I got sick and missed the Rotary project visits.  I’m thinking it’s because of bacteria in my toothbrush.  Or could it just be coincidence?  Or the ten pounds of lentils I ate at lunch the day before?

Speaking of water, I found it interesting that many of the people living in Aligarh, or any city I guess that has a large population of indigent, get all of their water from a local well.  That is the only source for most of the inhabitants.  It was kind of depressing to think that everyone had to visit these wells, probably several times a day to haul the water they would need for the day.


They drank it, cooked with it, washed their clothes in it and bathed in it…

...usually right at the well.

Speaking of water some more, the team that went to Varanasi came back with some interesting stories.  Varanasi is one of the seven sacred cities and the favorite of Lord Shiva.  It is on the Ganges River.  Hindus believe that the Ganges can carry the soul directly to heaven, without reincarnation, so those that are old or dying travel to Varanasi to die.  The team there said they saw four dead bodies.  I’m told that people cremate loved ones right there on the banks of the Ganges and then dump in the ashes.  Or they will just put the bodies into the river.  Someone, I think it was Curtis, said two of the four bodies they saw were floating in the river.  If you travel downstream, you will find people bathing, washing their clothes and gathering their drinking water from the same waters.

And since we are on the subject of water, this might be a good place to mention their sewer system, or lack thereof.  In much of India, particularly in the more indigent and remote areas, the sewer system is simply a canal dug along the streets, which may also account for some of the smell there.  This is one of the reasons polio still exists in the world.  During the monsoon season, these canals will overflow, flooding the streets with sewage and carrying any number of diseases with it.

India is 13½ hours ahead of us.  Where does the ½ hour come from?!

I don’t think I’ve talked about the weather once.  It was absolutely beautiful every day.  Not a cloud in the sky and 75 degrees during the day and about 55 at night.  If I could have ordered my own weather, it could not have been any nicer while I was there.  We did get a little bit of rain on the day of the visits to the Rotary projects in Delhi (yesterday?  the day before?), but it was hardly enough to wet the ground.

Many of the really small children we saw had on this really heavy black eye makeup, or at least what I thought was makeup.  I learned later that it was not some fashion statement but actually charcoal and it helps to keep infection away.  Interesting.

The transient merchants were interesting.  They all gather in like areas, based on their merchandise.  If you sold hardware, you would throw down your blanket with other hardware salesmen on the same block.  Vegetable vendors would be on a different block.  Fabrics, another.  All the meat vendors would be together.  The meat vendors were Muslim since most Hindus are vegetarian.  The sides of meat would just be thrown out on their carts with no refrigeration.  Obviously, the flies were thick.  If I ever move to India, I’m becoming Hindu.

We were driving along on the road to somewhere - I don’t remember where now - when we saw this really cool mosque.  I took a picture out the window.  Its opulence reminded me of the huge gap between the classes here.  There is no middle ground - people either live in compounds or in concrete blocks with some straw on the floor.  I never saw a normal, middle-class type home.  Not one.  Do they even exist in India?

All of the schools here are segregated - is that the right word?  All girls or all boys.  And they all wear exact uniforms.  Several times, we were passing schools as the children were coming out.  Hundreds of children all dressed exactly alike.  It was kind of cool - wish I’d gotten some pictures.  I think I already wrote it, but the children here are absolutely beautiful.  I did get a picture of their school though…

The sign has a line that reads “Computer education is also compulsory” - Who’da thunk looking at the condition of this building?  Note the NID posters all over the wall.

Cell phones are quite popular in India with those that can afford them.  The attitude about cell phones is much different here than in the States.  The weird thing is people have no qualms about answering their phone in the middle of anything.  Twice I witnessed people at the lectern stop in the middle of addressing Rotary clubs to answer their phone.  I saw it once in the middle of a blessing before a meal - just stopped the prayer and answered the phone.  SIX times in the middle of our meeting with PolioPlus Committee member Raman Bhatia, he answered his phone while giving the debriefing.  It was his birthday and he was stuck celebrating it with us, so I guess some slack should be given.  Jay told me that when he and Linda were watching the surgery at the polio surgery camp, the doctor stopped in the middle of suturing the child’s leg to answer his cell phone.  Okay, I’m kidding, but it is almost that extreme.  And no one apologizes for it or shows any appearance of guilt.  It’s just accepted.  Nobody thinks it rude and nobody gets upset.

Throughout our trip, I was always amazed by the beautiful, bright colors worn by the women, even while doing the worst of jobs or in the dirtiest of surroundings.  The contrast was sometimes fascinating.




Monkeys are everywhere.  It is so weird to see when you are used to only seeing them in zoos.  I had no up close and personal experiences with them while I was here, but I understand they can be aggressive, particularly if you have food around them.  Monkeys are cool.



There is some kind of chew that Indians use that includes betel nuts.  I understand it is a stimulant and causes a mild hot sensation in the body and will make you more alert, like drinking a cup of coffee.  Some also mix it with tobacco leaves.  I had a hard time understanding those that chew it, what with their mouths full and the heavy accents.  It also totally rots your teeth, leaving them black and completely snaggled (for the lack of a better word).  It isn’t terribly attractive (he says as he lights a cigarette).

I noticed in the homes we visited, all of their windows are covered by heavy drapes.  I wonder why.  I guess there could be many reasons - keep the sun out to keep the home cool, block out the view of the streets (which aren’t terribly attractive), help muffle the sound of the constant horn honking, help keep the dust from the street out of the homes, block out the eyes of the beggars in the streets.  Maybe their windows are just really dirty.  Or maybe it is just an interior designer thing.  Personally, I like a little more light.

Remembering the heavy drapes reminded me of one of the homes we visited, in a compound right directly across the street from our hotel (pictured directly above).  It was a very pleasant visit with an incredibly nice family named Gupta - they owned the building our hotel was in.  There were a number of other guests there that day also, including a few local Rotarians.

At dinner, the son served us and came around with a platter of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.  As he served me, he asked if I would also like a pepper.  It looked to be a sliver of green bell pepper about the size of a string bean, so I said yes.  I like bell peppers.  About midway through the meal, I took a small bite of the pepper and sure enough, it tasted just like a bell pepper.  I popped the whole thing in my mouth.  The effect was delayed and by the time I realized it was not a bell pepper, I had already chewed it up and swallowed it.  I turned bright red and grabbed for my beer, which was totally ineffective at putting out the fire that was now burning in my mouth.  This pepper was absolutely the hottest thing I have ever tasted.  Ever.  I could not breathe, it was so hot.  I began shoving anything and everything in my mouth to try to soothe my blistering tongue, but of course what I was shoving in was incredibly spicy Indian food so the only thing I managed to do was move the second degree burns to third degree burns.  When my eyes stopped watering enough to see through the haze, everyone around the table was staring at me and smiling.  I guess it was kind of funny.

Later, when retelling the story to the team back in Delhi, both Sis Chris and John Kenyon confessed to doing the same thing.

I don’t drink near as much as it would seem in this tale!  A 12-pack of beer will last me three months and I still have booze in the cupboard that I brought with me from Iowa when I moved to California in 1982!

Well, that’s pretty much my story.  Very soon, we’ll be landing at LAX and I’ll see Zena again.  I’m kicking myself today over a couple of things that I should have done or should have found out and now it is too late.  I’m on my way home and will most likely never be back.  The most upsetting thing is there were so many pictures that I wanted to take and kept thinking “there’ll be time, there’ll be time” and now time is up and I didn’t shoot them.

Most disappointing is, I don’t have any pictures that truly show the depth of the poverty.  I intended to walk the streets and shoot the street peddlers and kept putting it off until it was too late.  The peddlers line the streets, setting up shop on dirty, worn blankets to sell their wares.  Or they are in broken down lean-tos.  Many are half-naked, dirty with missing teeth and barefoot.  They are everywhere, yet I don’t have a single picture.

My pictures of the traffic are also lacking in showing the true situation here.  I have no pictures of how truly crazy it is.  I wanted to stand at a busy intersection and shoot how everyone jockeys their way through with no traffic lights, stop signs or traffic control of any kind - just everyone for themselves.

I never shot the bulls in the middle of the street blocking traffic or lying all along the center dividers.  I never shot entire families hanging onto one moped or half a dozen or more people hanging out of a taxi the size of a golf cart.  Although I shot camels, I didn’t get the shot I wanted of the huge, overstuffed loads they pull.

These are things I will never see again and I am so disappointed that I didn’t take the pictures while I had this one chance.

I’m disappointed in myself because I never learned to say one word in Hindi or Urdu.  Not hello, goodbye, thank you, where’s the bathroom, can I get a cheeseburger, nothing.  I’m also annoyed because I didn’t find out the significance of the dots the people wear while I was there.  I assume it is a religious thing and I guess it will be easy enough to find out when I get off this plane, but I should have gotten the word straight from the horse’s mouth.  It might have been an interesting conversation.

All the same, I have had an amazing adventure.  I’ve made some really great friends and have created some memories that will last a lifetime.  I was with a group of people with which I have little in common, yet now share an incredible experience.  I’ve done things and seen things that I never would have dreamed of and I learned a few things also.  I’m not certain my life will ever be the same and I think just maybe I’ll be a better man for it.


·    I’ve learned I really adore my wife and daughter.  I have missed them every minute of every day.


·    I’ve learned not to put my expectations on other people’s lives.  Just because people live differently than I do doesn’t mean they can’t be happy.


·    I have seen some of the worst poverty known to this world and it has opened my eyes to how fortunate I am and have always been.


·    I’ve ridden an elephant.  A real, live, honest-to-goodness elephant.


·    I’ve seen entire villages made out of cow dung.  Swear!


·    I’ve witnessed people surviving the worst of obstacles and believe I can face my minor ones with confidence because of it.


·    I never did figure out how the Indian people get by without toilets, or more importantly, toilet paper.


·    I will no longer avoid people because of an Indian accent, nor will I mimic the accent in an attempt at humor.  Yes, I have done both in the past.


·    I will not hide to avoid talking to my Indian next-door neighbors but will seek them out to make them friends.

·    I bought so much stuff my luggage was over double the weight limit.  But the Delhi airport scale was broken, so I got away with it.


·    I got drunk in front of a nun and tried to talk her into smuggling rum back into the country in her luggage.  Will I rot in hell?


·    I was treated like a celebrity everywhere I went.  I felt just like Madonna without the metal bra.


·    I have witnessed the depth of need in India and will work harder with my club to provide help.


·    I witnessed the most amazing gathering of resources ever.  I saw an entire nation come together in a common cause.  I watched 10,000 volunteers make sure every single child got immunized in a city of over 750,000.  Every single door was knocked on and if there was no answer, it was knocked on again until it was opened and the children immunized.  And I thought putting together our local American Cancer Society Relay for Life for 2,000 people was work.


·    I have survived riding in Indian traffic.  I have shared a road with every possible form of transportation, including elephants, camels, Brahma bulls and water buffalo and will never forget that experience.


·    I learned that Indian food sucks.  My first official act upon my return to the States was a drive through the In-N-Out drive thru for a double-double cheeseburger, animal style.


·    I witnessed the great joy you can bring to a child who has nothing, just by placing a smiley face sticker on them.


·    I have seen one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World, my second.

·    I now understand how Westerners can adopt Eastern philosophies and religions, but I just don’t get the music!


·    I have witnessed the generosity of an entire people - the opening of a home and the breaking of bread and the sharing of life with someone that before that moment was a total stranger.  I aspire to half the generosity afforded me by a nation that did not even know my name.


I discovered a people and a culture and a country that was beyond anything I could have imagined.  I discovered generosity and charity and determination and strength.  I discovered peace.


Although I will probably never see her again, I will never forget India.


© 2011 Jim Parson

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This was so interesting,
oh the dot I beleive is called a Bindi, if you google it there are several different meanings for this.
Wut are you kidding me entire villages mad out of poop. ewwwwwwww
I'm not sure I want to visist India now, just kidding. but I do know I would love to visit Cairo, Egypt. Such a beautiful place. Have you been there?
Yes, I have heard that places like these, the people are very generous and friendly in opening their homes and sharing. That is wonderful.
I really enjoyed reading this Jim. I always love reading and learning about places like these. So very interesting. Thank you for posting

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


[send message][befriend] Subscribe
This was so interesting,
oh the dot I beleive is called a Bindi, if you google it there are several different meanings for this.
Wut are you kidding me entire villages mad out of poop. ewwwwwwww
I'm not sure I want to visist India now, just kidding. but I do know I would love to visit Cairo, Egypt. Such a beautiful place. Have you been there?
Yes, I have heard that places like these, the people are very generous and friendly in opening their homes and sharing. That is wonderful.
I really enjoyed reading this Jim. I always love reading and learning about places like these. So very interesting. Thank you for posting

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

wow, amazing insight and detail. i'd never heard the air smells like burning wood, cell phone etiquette, window drapes, or about the charcoal on children's eyes, despite TV/film depictions and having someone i personally knew visit for months.

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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2 Reviews
Added on April 10, 2011
Last Updated on April 11, 2011
Tags: India, Rotary, polio, immunizations, travel


Jim Parson
Jim Parson

Los Angeles, CA

I have been a banker for the past 28 years, but my dream has always been to write. I thought maybe it was time to give it a try. I don't think I'm the greatest writer, but I think I can tell a prett.. more..

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