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Asia » India » Gujarat » Ahmedabad
June 18th 2012
Published: June 18th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

The dreaded sleeper train was absolutely fine. Quite fun in fact. I was nervous when I arrived at the station, no idea where to go and even though I had a good 45 minutes before the departure time the manic and chaotic station made me feel panicky and rushed. A very helpful man named Amit was travelling on the same train as me. However he had purchased the 1stclass ticket and was quite shocked when he saw my second class sleeper. He helped me find my bed and made sure everything was fine and then he went to his carriage, he gave me his number and came to see me during the journey. I really appreciated his help. I was in a small open compartment made up of 6 beds – 3 on either side, lower middle and upper bunk. My ticket was for the lower bunk and the guy on the upper asked to swap, I was happy to do so as I had been told that they constantly spit on the floor of the trains and really didn’t want to be dealing with that. The 7 or so men in my compartment were aged around 50+ and were friendly enough. We had a very limited conversation and they were kind enough to offer me dinner, to which I refused, one because I had eaten a big meal not long before and two I didn’t like to thought of taking the food straight from his hand which was already covered in food and saliva. They had all been to the bathroom too and I was aware there was limited hand washing facilities, ie none.



I read one of the books (freakenomics) that I had picked up from Mumbai, 3 books for around £3. After an hour or so a young Indian boy come into our carriage, he noticed me and started talking straight away helping himself to a seat on my bed, I wasn’t really up for talking I was tired and was just drifting off to sleep. I didn’t really know how to tell him to stop talking to me so I was sociable and chatted back, he turned out to be really nice and we got talking about usual things like where im from/what I do etc. His name was Khaman and he was 22 from Mumbai, starting up his own tailoring business. I showed him pictures of me and Louise and he asked if he could have one. The smile on his face when he was looking at the pictures was huge, I couldn’t say no. I gave him the photos with my email on the back, he really wanted to stay in touch. We listened to some oasis and watched a bit of the film ‘warrior’ on my laptop. When we arrived at a station in the South Gujarat he ran out and brought me some chai tea and some dinner. Bread rolls filled with different veg and spices. He translated some words for me in my notepad and showed me some Gujarati writing - like my name. It was really good meeting Khaman, he told me I have to go and see him if im ever in Mumbai again.



The train pulled into Ahmedabad around 6:20am Amit came to wake me up and ordered my taxi for me to ensure that the fare wasn’t over priced. All in all the journey was fantastic. I had really good experience of ‘real india’ and I was pleased in the end that I didn’t buy the 1st class ticket. I have heard horror stories about Indian trains but this story was a fun one and successful one.



However, that day seemed to get progressively worse from that point on. The hotel I had booked in advanced was not what it had made out to be. They were really rude when I arrived and the area it was located in was horrible. They didn’t have any internet and again the room wasn’t available until 10am. I argued with the manager for a bit but it was getting me nowhere. Rickshaw to another hotel and I just took the first one I arrived at. Reasonably cheap and I was exhausted and needed to get a shower and get my head down for a few hours. After a couple hours of sleep I had a closer examination of the room. It was very old, smelt damp and just felt dirty. Families of pigeons were nesting at my bathroom window, the walls were stained and the bed sheets were very old. I really didn’t want to stay here, but I had already paid for one night. I was in the old part of the city. Ahmedabad is split into an eastern side (the old city) and a western side (the new city) by the Sabermati River. It was what a traditional Indian city is like, I felt really out of place and the constant staring and hassle for my money was really starting to piss me off, I was tired, stupidly hot and felt lost. I didn’t feel comfortable. There was a higher number of poor congregated on the street and the hotel was situated down a dark alley which is home to a small community of slum dwellers. I ventured out of the hotel with aim of getting my Indian sim card and finding a new hotel. It was extremely hot and the day was just filled with hassle. I wasn’t enjoying my self and really wanted some company! I later on met with Aayushi, a friend who studied at Sheffield and is from Ahmedabad, she helped me to find a new hotel in the new part of the city and that night took me along for her younger sisters birthday. The meal was amazing. It was a very posh Indian restaurant and we ate loads. Best Indian food I have had since my arrival, and it was all vegetarian…I think I might be converting to a veggie. Which I’m sure will come to end when I get back home and Joseph (aka psycho baz) asks me to join him for a ‘1st Avenue Café’.



That evening I had a look round ‘law garden’ which the Indians call ‘love garden’ as you get lots of couples strolling round holding hands. It was were Aayushi and her brothers were picking me up for the meal. They were a little late so I was there for an hour or so. It was a Sunday, which is a proper day of rest here, families, couples and friends enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere shopping at the huge selection of market stools and indulging in the fantastic food stalls, and the police close the roads so there is no cars or mopeds to ruin the peaceful environment. My experience there was brilliant. It was warm, peaceful and very colorful. Unfortunately I forgot my camera so I couldn’t get any pictures but il be going back again. I was finally seeing what I had pictured in my head India to be like. The amazing handcrafted materials full of color, a huge diversity of foods, no cars or mopeds constantly beeping their horn. It was nice and cheered me up from the crap day I just had.



The next day I checked into my new hotel and sent an email to the professor here in Ahmedabad who I had planned to meet. I went in that day at around 4pm. She is a lovely lady, extremely helpful and very famous for the work she does. She had arranged for me to have my own desk in a quiet, air-conditioned office full of perfect resources for my dissertation, it is the urban equity office and inside was lots of professionals who are all very helpful and have a lot of experience in the areas I am studying. I was introduced to everyone and was straight away into discussion about my work. Unfortunately I didn’t have my laptop or anything with me so I couldn’t start, by I grabbed a few papers and journals and had a little read. The campus is really nice. It’s very basic, and totally different to a university campus back home, but its I really like it. It’s very peaceful and full of big trees and plants, similar to the campus In Mumbai. They offer a lot of shade but it still doesn’t do anything for me! The heat is ridiculous. There’s a little clay, dusty football pitch with 5-a-side style nets that get used in the evenings when the university band plays music. I haven’t gone along yet but will definitely check it out soon. The canteen serves up good, traditional Indian food at a very good price. They sell some Chinese stuff too, a lot of restaurants sell Chinese stuff around here I’ve noticed. I am walking distance to the uni from my hotel but due to the heat I just end up getting the rickshaw otherwise I turn up dripping!



.........



So, a week has passed since my arrival to Ahmedabad and I am happy to say that I have settled in well and have got straight on with the research. Slowly, I have got to meet more people in the office and they are all very friendly and extremely helpful. The department I am working in is doing the finishing touches on a big report that they are planning to have published and delivered to the Indian government and public by August. It is based on the research that I am doing, so there is an abundance of data and resources that are all relevant to my work. To keep myself busy and save some cash I have been doing long days in the office. I arrive here around 10:30am and stay here until 8/9pm. The office is open pretty much all night which is great. I have my breakfast at the hotel, which to be honest is pretty crap. The menu is very simple and boring and the only food they seem to have on there are fried snacks, other than cornflakes and a cheese toasty (which is what I have every morning), for some strange reason the tea always comes out about 5 minutes after the food? I have seen a mouse running about on the floor and when I told one of the 6 waiters they found it hilarious, this confused me massively. Im also very confused as to why they have so many waiters, I am the only person that I have seen in the place, and even when I walk past in the evening no one is in there, just the same waiters standing around, very smartly dressed.



My second day here I was taken on my first site visit to a housing settlement provided for displaced slum dwellers. I was taken along with a well-known Indian author who has published some very popular papers, and is very respected in her field of work, and lecturer from the university who is working researching similar topics as me. The purpose of their visit was to carry out a ‘community-discussion’ and kindly invited me along. On the 40 minute journey out of the city I was given a brief run-down on the issues of this settlement. Summarized, they were that the site was far from where the residents previously lived and worked and had no way of transport to the previous place of work, this meant they could not work and therefore could not generate an income to pay for the new house that they have been forced to live in. Another issues was that an adequate water that had been promised on their eviction was not yet provided. A temporary water supply had been provided. We passed by a laboratory to pick up the results of a water test that had been carried out on the current supply. The results where shocking. I didn’t quite understand the whole technical jargon but the main test that distinguished whether the water was safe to drink or not was easy to understand. The test stated that if the results came back and the result was ‘2’ or above then the water was not safe to drink. The result was ‘1600’. This meant that diseases such as, cholera and other water-borne diseases are present in their current water supply. The final issue was about social conflicts. Indian communities are very close-knit and disrupting such complex communities can have damaging effects resulting in conflicts. Basically these people have been dumped in wilderness of the city’s periphery, on undeveloped sites and left to there own devices to survive. This is happening so that the officials and planners can develop the city to make it look clean, modern and worthy of international investment.



We arrived at the site that is located off of a dirt track, roughly ten minutes from a main road. Huge, grey concrete eyesores had been built in orderly rows; the infrastructure around them was none-existent. The area below was covered in rubbish as no refuse collection had been provided. We were instantly surrounded my loads of screaming kids, all so happy to see some new-comers at their new home. They could see my camera and all wanted photos taken, as we walked around the site they followed behind all pushing and shoving to get to the front in an attempt to have their photo taken. I was told to take as many photos as I wanted, they loved having their photo taken and they would all stand around giggling at the pictures after they had been taken. I had a wonder round the site trying to take it all in as the other two got straight down to their work talking to the residents. toilets were built, but they didnt work as they had no water. Therefore s**t and p**s was thrown from the windows onto whatever was below, once it was dog, another time it was a little girl playing marbles in the sand. It was all quite overwhelming at first. People were just sat around doing nothing. There was nothing they could do, a few set up stalls in the site selling snacks and other goods but no one here had any money to buy the snacks. They were stuck in a vicious circle. I found out that it would cost them more than what they would earn in a day to get back to the place they would previously work and even if they could get back they couldnt take with them there stools. Therefore they just didn’t work. I couldn’t comprehend how frustrated these people must be. The kids could no longer go to school due the money issue and eventually they wouldn’t be able to afford to live in the government provided homes so they would be straight back onto the streets. This time with nothing.



We were taken into the home of one of the residents so that the meeting could go ahead. I was a little nervous at first, but the fact that I was dying to go for a wee sort of took my mind off of it. There was no where for me to go, and I had drunk so much water due to the heat, I didn’t know what to do, I could feel myself doing a little dance and I tried my hardest not to think about it. Eventually it went away but came back in waves. We were in the house for well over an hour and the whole interview was in Gujarati it was the hardest and longest hour of my life. I was greeted by the husband of the family at the front door and invited to sit on the single bed which is shared by himself, his wife and his 5 year old daughter. The two sons one younger and one older than the daughter sleep in the front room on the floor/sofa. The house was very clean, photgraphs and religious pictures decorated the green, roughly painted walls. Everyone sat on the floor and I felt bad sitting on the bed, but he insisted. To be fair I don’t think I would lasted that amount of time sitting on the floor crossed leg. Ive never been able to sit cross legged, so I was happy with the bed. An old Minnie mouse bed sheet covered the very thin mattress, the little girl sat next to me giggling at Minnie mouse. I was offered some water to which I had to refuse. The hardest part was seeing all these people, including this little girl, in her smart school uniform, pigtails, little red rucksack and huge smile drinking the water, when I knew that it could contain some horrible diseases. I just hoped it had come from a bottle, but the reality is it probably hadn’t. Eventually the meeting came to an end but the visit didn’t finish for another 40 minutes or so, so it was a further hour and a half before I could get to a toilet! I was happy I had done the visit, it was a massive eye opener, and I had totally underestimated both the size and the state of resettlement housing. It was overwhelming to see this many people (approximately 9000) living in such abysmal conditions and was scary knowing that their whole livelihoods had been destroyed so that the government could ‘beautify’ the city.



So the rest of the week I had pretty much been working away in the office, getting to know the people that I have been working with and arranging interviews with professionals and officials, the evenings have been spent trying to stream the Euro 2012 games on my laptop, and speaking to Louise the boys and the family on skype. I’ve told Louise that on the Tuesday I am back we are going straight to the pub and drinking lots of beer and red wine and eating some good food. I’m still deciding what I want..I think at the moment I would like a steak. For my dinners here I have been going to this little square which is full of snack bars and street vendors. You get quite a lot of wealthy, young Indians turning up with their friends and girlfriends in their new white cars (everyone seems to have white cars here?), the waiters serve them from their cars. I don’t think id like that much as they eat everything with their hands and would get really messy in the car! Dinner times are quite lonely, I try to just chill out and people watch but its tough because everyone seems to be people watching me! Some people stare and then smile but the majority just stare! Its starting to get quite annoying so now I just stare back until they look away or pull a really weird smile just to try an creep them out a bit. Ive been trying to have something different each time I go there, but always order a ‘lassi’. Its like a fruit, yogurt drink which is really good. Then il order something like a ‘vanapav’ (Indian sandwich), or a ‘masal dosa’ (potatoe, chili, herbs all mashed up and wrapped in this huge bread and served with dips) its apparently the safest thing to eat?, and there is something else but I cant remember the name, its like a veg curry served with soft bread rolls and some other fresh veg. Very tasty, but a pain in the arse to eat! I finish up by getting a big bottle of water, packet of salty crisps (as ive been told to increase my salt intake) and a stroll home, trying my best to smile every time someone says ‘hello sir!’ followed by a load of hysterical laughs….. Im enjoying Ahmedabad so far, looking forward to seeing some more of the city and checking out some of the famous markets to get some cool goodies!


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