In Pune


Restored to life! I've been practically immobilised the last few days thanks to an unpleasant cold. I've slept at some times for more than twelve hours each day. I suspect it was something that I caught on the aeroplane... but I hadn't expected that I would cross continents to be floored by ... a cold. But I feel better today, finally.

I've spent many evenings in my room with the windows open (but the with mosquito netting in place of course) drifiting in an and out of a slightly fevered sleep. The ceiling fan slowly turning. It's strange, but at night the campus of IUCCA is full of all sorts of unusual noises, birds laughing at each other, long mournful train-sounds like the sort of thing you might hear on a Tom Waits record. It is a sound like a long long horn, one chord, and then the sound of many wheels on rails passing somewhere in the distance. A sound only equalled by the sound of a ship's fog-horn I think.

The campus here is a few kilometers distant from the centre of town. Once one leaves the main gate of the University, everything changes: gone is the verdant oasis of Pune University, and suddenly you enter into the complete chaos of the city. The total chaos.

I am sure a lot has already been written about road conditions in India. I don't really have a point of reference. Naples, maybe. But it is different here. Every imaginable vehicle is allowed on the road, including things which aren't strictly vehicles (a vegetable seller pushing his cart is perfectly acceptable for example). Most of the vehicles in Pune however are two or three wheelers: scooters, motorbikes or rickshaws. Rickshaws are essentially like the goods-carrying 'ape' vehicles ones sees in Italy but fitted out as taxis. One essentially moves very slowly very close to the ground in a vehicle powered by a two-stroke engine which isn't really capable of overtaking any vehicle with a larger number of wheels. In a rickshaw, one is certainly very close to nature. But it's certainly the easiest way to get around if you don't have any locomotion yourself and don't mind a life of adventure.

I have made a few trips across Pune by rickshaw. One zooms through traffic with a view framed in front by the back of the head of the rickshaw driver and either side by what's visible from under the roof of a rickshaw -- half a bus, truck tyres, the feet of motorcylists. One has to be careful in selecting rickshaw drivers: not all of them have 'the knowledge' and circuitous trips are not uncommon. Today however I was surprised by the first destination I arrived in after hailing a rickshaw -- the petrol station. Returning to Pune University from the centre of town required more petrol than he had...but only minutes after leaving the petrol station we slowly ground to a halt in the dust at the side of the road. What was happening? The rickshaw driver sadly showed me his hands which were stained with oil which seemed to be coming from his steering column. Breakdown! I had to change rickshaws.