While we have been in Varanasi, the TV news has been dominated by the release of the Nano, a one-lakh car, by the Tata Group (that is, when they’re not slamming Australian umpires and replaying Ricky Ponting’s homophobic activities). A lakh is equal to 100,000 rupees and is equivalent to approximately $AUD3,000.
Amid the triumphalism el-Nano is causing, environmental groups are already questioning the Nano’s claims that it is eco-friendly. Apart from the fact that it runs on petrol and will increase cars on the road by something like 65%, the Tata Group has yet to confirm or deny whether the car’s brakes are made from asbestos. Asbestos is commonly used for this purpose in India with the majority of mechanics being completely ignorant of the dangers.
Which leads me up the interesting side alley of OH&S. I’m not sure whether there are any laws in India governing Occupational Health and Safety, but if there are, they are not seriously enforced. Now there would be a challenge for someone about to sit for an OH&S qualification. Send them to an Indian town and set them the task of identifying how many breaches they can find. A ‘What’s Wrong With This Picture?’ game. Without getting into the anal intricacies of this legally bedevilled subject I have observed the following worrying sights:
1. Welders not using helmets, gloves or any other protective clothing.
2. At Jaipur Fort a man using an electric handsaw to cut marble. He was covered in thick white dust, surrounded by plumes of same and was not wearing a mask.
3. A collision of motorbikes in Varanasi where both riders were wearing thongs/flip flops and no helmets.
4. Broken asbestos in the ceiling of the train station at Agra.
5. A man sledge-hammering rocks that lay about 30cm from where a woman was crouched hammering smaller ones.
It would seem that Indians have no intention of living long enough for pollution to be the cause of their death.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the time has finally come for us to return to Delhi. We follow the cracking pace set by the porters and find our goods and chattels piled up at the place indicated by Shivani.
We have an hour to kill and unfortunately we have been located right under the jarring metallic tannoy system that announces, inter alia, the details of late running trains. The announcements are therefore pretty much constant. So I wander down the platform with the intention of purchasing some Hide and Seek chocolate chip biscuits and some water.
As I weave through the crowds of people, I am diverted by the sight of two little sari-clad girls crouching on the very edge of the platform. From the edge of one of their saris issues a preposterously high parabola of wee. Now there’s talent. She could even teach those women in The Full Monty a thing or two.
There are loads of whities on the platform as two other Imtrav groups are also heading back to Delhi with us. As it turned out, Alice and I ended up with four people from a Dutch group.
I wish I could say the journey was without incident, but barely 15 minutes after leaving the station, two people were reporting their day bags as missing. One person was from another Imtrav group but the other was a Dutch lady in our very own bay. She had placed her bag on the top bunk where it now no longer resided. Mine too was on the opposite top bunk, although it was at the window end. I had not noticed it, but Alice said there had been a brief power outage as we were all getting on the train, and her theory was that someone had taken advantage of it.
Dramas of reports in duplicate ensued and discussions as to whether they could make the report in Allahabad on the way. I know the Dutch have a reputation for being very stolid, but I have to say this woman was remarkably unphased and calm. ‘They are material things only,’ she said with enviable equanimity.
More dramas followed late in the night when her travelling companions assumed she had left the train at Allahabad. The train began to grind into action so they pulled the emergency stop cord, which lead to them being interrogated when irate rail staff finally tracked them down as the culprits. Not only were we not in Allahabad, but the culprits having not owned up to the cord pulling, the staff had been in a panic trying to identify what the emergency was. Thankfully Shivani intervened and managed to placate them somehow, bless her.
Whoopsie. It should have been one of those sobering events that you laugh about some time later, but it was too much for everyone and the minute the huffy officials made their dignified exit, we all pulled our covers over our heads and burst into gurgling laughter.