On the road again

After about a week spent in Delhi, I'm heading out to the our field site in Bokaro again. Somehow it almost feels more home than Delhi (probably because I spent about three times as much time there than in Delhi so far).

I've written about it before, but it can easily be said again – the Rajdhani express is a great train! Not only are there nice air conditioned seats, but there's also a meal service, free newspapers in the morning and electricity plugs!

Traveling in such conditions makes the 14 hour commute to work quite acceptable. 

A pretty ordinary Indian city

Bokaro is a pretty ordinary place, with the main exception being it’s large, nay huge(!), steel plant around which the city was built. Most of the city seems to be constructed in the 60s and 70s in parallel with the steel plant. It’s located in the province of Jharkhand, a province recently forcibly separated from northern Bihar. It proved to be a boon for Jharkhand which in the process also got rid of a corrupt chief minister and is now enjoying a much needed period of safety, order and improved business climate. In the region there is still a low-level Naxalite (maoist) insurgency, however I’m told that beyond the odd kidnapping and skirmishes in the eastern forests, things are generally safe. 

In the city people seem to be living in either 60s or 70s four-storey apartment blocks, in smaller villas/2 floor apartment houses, or in various degrees of more informal accommodations (ranging from shack by the road to mud-bricked buildings). There’s a cinema (which I’ve as of yet not had the chance to check out), a fun fair (open 13:30-20:30 in case you fancy a visit), several “exercise grounds” and a forlorn, but still quite beautiful city park – apparently (according to one of my local colleagues) the place for couples to meet as it lies just in between the boy’s and girl’s colleges – a fact I could quite easily verify given the amount of youngish couples in the lakeside restaurant (another forlorn place – with red curtains kept closed at all times). 

Unless you’re a big fan of 60s architecture or steel plants, it’s probably not the place to visit, but for the complete “travelogue” listing – there’s a daily train from Delhi (Rajdhani express) taking approximately 14 hours and a train from Kolkata (Shatabdi express) taking (5 hours). I believe there’s at least one local hotel and  more than a couple “hostels” (girls or boys). 

PS. A small side-note for the Swedes reading this, some of the pictures is quite reminiscent of that old Skatteverket advertisement “This is how it’ll be in Sweden if you don’t pay tax”… Well, most people don’t pay tax here so maybe Skatteverket is right…

An insight into the Indian psyche

An early-morning sight-seeing trip to cooling pond #1 of Bokaro steel plant gave me a direct channel into a part of the Indian psyche. The cooling pond is a raised, artificial pond constructed to provide clean, cooling water for the steel plant. It is surrounded by a large raised wall and wetlands, as well as green areas. The pond is huge, somewhere on the scale of 22 km around, and has a number of planted fish living inside it (which you can fish at a fee per hook). 

As we traveled along the sides of the pond, we soon found ourselves surrounded by no-one, an event that so far been quite uncommon in my (limited, yes) Indian experience. We took the motorcycle all the way out to the edge of a small ridge jutting out into the lake. As we reached the end and got off the motorcycle to take some pictures, one of my colleagues proclaims "Not much people come here often, it's very, very lonely here" in a voice indicating this being a place that gave him the shudders (like an abandoned house or such).

His short statement left me thinking, "This would be exactly the place your average Swede would describe peaceful, beautiful, serene and, yes, even lonely". However, in the case of the average Swede standing there, lonely would indicate something positive, it would indicate a place where you could be left in peace with your thoughts. For my Indian friend there was nothing positive about his usage of the word lonel, rather he was clearly uncomfortable about not being surrounded by throngs of people.

When I explained that in Sweden, most places were like this (indeed, Sweden has a third as many inhabitants as small Jharkhand province and a tenth as many as neighboring Bihar), he shrugged and said Sweden must be a very lonely and sad place. 

In a country as crowded in India, his attitude is quite appropriate, and has undoubtedly developed through living life surrounded by a massive amount of people at all times. Thinking of it, it seems quite obvious, but it reminds me of how very subtle the differences in how we perceive the world can be and how markedly they are shaped by our surroundings.