In some ways, India is an extraordinarily wired country, considering the many impediments that face any technological advance in such an ancient and chaotic region.
When in India for my first trips, I generally avoided telephones. If you were lucky enough to get a connection, the pandemonium of traffic inches away from the booth created such a din, that expecting to hear anyone at the end of a phone line full of static was laughable. If you really wanted a challenge, you tried making an international call.
But that has all changed! You will hear tantalizing music approaching, and turn to see the source, only to have it end suddenly, and realize that it is just a cell phone’s ring tone. Yes, cell phones are everywhere. You, too, can buy a cell phone for pennies. Or have your own cell phone from home unlocked so you can buy a SIM card while in India. They are handy, especially if you get separated from anyone you are travelling with.
ET, No Phone Home
The Indian telephone system functions under considerable duress, connected by a maze of random, decrepit, decaying wires, hanging together by sheer luck. Walk down any street in any Indian city, and before your eyes is the stuff of every electrician’s nightmare. I often imagine an Indian arc-welder crouching under a shower of sparks descending from the heavens, busy in his pursuit of alchemy. More often than not, he dealing with some transformer gone amok; a junction box hopelessly overloaded beyond any design capacity and tormented within a whisker of total meltdown. This, to some extent, explains the frequent power outages. I wonder just how they ever find and repair the malfunction.
Excerpt from Nirvana By Installments
Cyber Cafes are on virtually every street corner. Email admittedly shares the same circuitry as the phones, but is altogether more reliable. It’s simple. Either you get connected, receive those important, poignant messages from home, or you wait for resumption of power. You wait in a darkened cubicle designed for experiments on rats to see how soon they start eating each other. I confess. I love those little computerized boxes flashing; announcing that someone has sent me a message. I can travel solo to far-flung outposts, happy in the knowledge that there are those comforting snippets of familiarity floating in suspended-cyberspace-animation. Perhaps it’s a cop-out, but, when overwhelmed by the chaos that is India, I frequently choose to hide in those little electronic cubby-holes.
Email is the best way to arrange to meet people. I discovered this by accident. Once, in the midst of Calcutta’s myriad millions, wondering where my Canadian friends were, I checked my email. There was a message from my friends, sent just minutes previously. As it turned out, they were just two city blocks away at another electronic mall. It was downright freaky finding them in Calcutta, especially online.
Posting Packages and Mail
Sending anything to India is risky, particularly if the item is big and looks valuable. The long wait will convince people that their items are either lost, stolen or crushed in transit. However, I have sent tons of stuff homeward bound successfully. Wise travellers lighten their loads by mailing trinkets and gifts back home. The cheapest postal service is by the slow boat, and I mean slow. One of my errant packages eventually arrived 6 months later. Like many tasks in India, it helps to be in a good frame of mind when you approach the bureaucratic juggernaut that is Indian Post. Expect to wait in line for hours only to be told that you are in the wrong queue.
Surprisingly, tailors are involved in the postal world. They are a prerequisite if you are sending anything larger than an envelope. In my first attempt to mail a package, I spent the better part of an entire morning shuffling through various lines, only to be told that I had to go to a tailor. I thought that they were making disparaging remarks about my attire. But no. After much gesticulation, I understood that tailors were somehow connected to my parcel. After tracking down a tailor perched on the pavement with his trusty Singer sewing machine, I handed him my parcel. He pulled out a yard or so of white cloth, and carefully wrapped my parcel. Handing it back with a lovely smile, he asked for an outrageous fee. I cursed and paid him. Then I remembered that, like any financial transaction in India, a price should be negotiated first. Confident in my knew-found knowledge, I resumed my position in the queue at the Post Office, only to be told that, no, there was another special office around the corner for the sole purpose of officially sealing the package. When I finally found this other miracle of bureaucracy, it was closed for the day. So be patient. Because there is nothing quite like arriving home, and receiving your very own self-addressed, cloth-wrapped memento from India.