After traveling several months throughout India, I can't seem to understand how people don't die more often. I'm convinced that Indians are oblivious to the concept of safety. There are just too many dangerous, even deadly, scenarios in which things shouldn't end well.
From harrowing drives through chaotic traffic, and precarious construction sites with children playing next to giant cement mixers and machinery, to workers walking around in sandals hauling buckets of cement on their heads, over and over again, the people surrounding me seem entirely unaware of obvious safety risks. For instance, take a peek at what it's like to drive a rickshaw on the streets (below), and then explain to me how nobody crashes.
I find myself frequently baffled by this country's lack of rules, but maybe my paranoia is just a construct of Western culture (or maybe it's common sense?). Either way, the chaos is part of what makes India such an insanely fascinating place.
Here are some photos of more chaos, and a few not-so-safe things in India.
Of the questionable situations I found myself in while in this country, there is one that shook me most: flying domestically from Aurangabad to Jodhpur.
Obviously the story ends okay given that I am sitting here writing this, but that doesn't mean I didn't seriously contemplate my own mortality. Come to think of it, travel in India is repeatedly filled with situations that inspire philosophical reflection on your own life privilege and existence, so maybe this whole bafflement about how everyone seems to escape death thing is part of being here.
Have you ever had a moment when time slowed down, when you couldn't believe what was happening because it's the sort of thing that only occurs in movies? And now that scary, dramatic thing that only happens in movies is happening to you, and in the few seconds that you realize it, you also realize that you're in denial about it? Well, I have.
Everything started out normal. We boarded the commercial jet, took our seats, made our connecting flight, and all was fine. It wasn't until we neared our destination that things changed.
In retrospect, I think I was aware that something was wrong on a subconscious level before it registered in my logical mind. We had already begun our descent into the very small airport in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The plane was quite low to the ground, hovering just above buildings below us. For some reason I was nervous. We were descending quickly, and it seemed like we were low enough to land when suddenly, the plane sharply turned right.
I gripped my seat belt and glanced at my two companions. We've all been on hundreds of flights, and knew that this motion wasn't normal. Typically you don't make such sharp turns at low altitude.
I looked down now, and could see a runway. The plane was wobbling, not in a turbulence sort of way, but instead dipping dramatically from side to side as if trying to recover from such a fast turn. The wings angled towards the earth to the left, and then sharply angled towards the earth to the right. We were not in parallel alignment with the pavement below us, and at such a low altitude, I began to fear that one of the wings would hit the cement. The pilot could not hold us steady for the landing and at that moment, a thousand things flashed through my mind.
Is the plane actually about to crash? Is this what it feels like? Why is nobody coming on the speaker to tell us what's happening? We're in trouble. It felt like the pilot had lost control of the plane.
Next to me whispers of "I love you," as if this might be the end. I can't believe it though, I have to believe that somehow this isn't really happening.
I close my eyes. The pilot blasts the engine, and suddenly we are shooting back upwards into the air. I am both relieved and afraid.
We did not crash into the runway. We are still airborne and alive, ready for a second chance.
In my home country, when I once experienced an aborted landing in New York City, the pilot came on seconds afterwards to explain what was going on. But we are in India, so that does not happen. In this country, it's a mystery.
That night at dinner the three of us speculated as to what could have possibly happened during that aborted landing. Was the pilot incapable of locating the runway? Was he texting while flying? Was he drunk? Maybe he forgot the landing gear, because now that we think about it, we never heard it go down prior to the first landing attempt. Was the runway not clear? That's what one of the crew said as we disembarked. Was there a cow blocking the way, a street dog? The airport only had one runway, so it surely couldn't have been another plane.
Oh india, why must you always bobble by, surviving by a thread? Next time, no need to give me a heart attack in the process of reminding me that I'm just human and cannot control all things.
Yes, we made a second successful attempt to land. Yes, it was bumpy, but we survived. When we exited the tiny airport, we asked uniformed attendants what went wrong with the flight. Nobody could answer our questions.
While waiting curbside for our taxi, we watch two men on ladders saw in half a two-story tall steel pole hoisted in opposite directions with ropes. Beneath the construction work, a small child runs unsupervised between the tangle of polls and beams. I can see what is about to happen: a massive piece of metal is meant to soon fall exactly where the child is playing. I am horrified. The steel pole is a death spear.
People start shouting at the child—the tall pole is now breaking into two parts, teetering, about to fall.
The cabbie standing with us turns to me, bobbles his head left to right and as the child runs away he says, "No worries, it's India man! Incredible India! That means anything can happen here!"