Don't run around bare foot.
Don't play with your food.
Don't eat with your fingers.
Don't stare at people, its rude.
Don't push in line.
Look to your left and right before crossing the road.
Wait for the green light.
Don't hoot at other drivers. (honk, for the benefit of Americans.)
I am sure we have all heard at least a few of these admonitions. In India all is topsy turvy. Everything we have been warned against, we must do if we are to survive, and not commit gross cultural misunderstandings, unrest, violence ...
When I was in the north, 18 months ago, I developed a horrible painful rash from the heat. I remembered that when I was first in India many years before people used some kind of powder for this condition. In congested crowded Vrindavan I saw what might be a pharmacy across the road from where I was standing. That is, I saw some bottles on the shelves of a stall with red crosses on them. I determined to go there to ask, but i had to cross the road.To my left, right, ahead of me, and behind me was a constant stream of people walking, limping, pushing carts, propelling vehicles with their hands or legs, bicycles with at least five people sitting on them, motorbikes likewise, pushcarts, buffalos, dogs, goats, pigs, rickshaws, cars, buses. It took me two days and pain to get me to cross the road.
This time in Puducherry I had to cross something similar to a wide avenue to get to our hotel. Maybe something like a six-lane highway, although of course there was no such thing as lanes. I stood on a strip across from the hotel and looked to my left for a traffic light - nothing. Maybe to my right, if I just walk a bit. I walked, then realized I might walk forever, I was not going to find a light, and there was no such thing as a pedestrian crossing. What to do? To cross the road was nothing short of suicide.
I looked at the never-ending flow waiting for a break of sort. Then, immediately to my left an angel appeared in the form of an old, skinny, barefoot woman. She hitched up her sari and began to cross the road. Here was my salvation, I hurried after her, shadowing each step she took. The pavement on the other side loomed up like a glimpse of land to someone who has been floating hopelessly at sea.
I reached the hotel safely.