Tag Archives: perspective

Traveling in India: Kisses at the Taj Mahal

It is only be apt that when I was in India I ran into a man intent on kissing me at the Taj Mahal.  Actually, it was while I was walking there, in the city of Agra. The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century as a memorial of love after the death of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died in childbirth with their fourteenth child. (That would be enough to kill most people.)

The Taj Mahal houses the bodies and sarcophagi of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal and is considered one of the best examples of Mughal architecture as well as being a monument to love. Lovers and scads of tourists visit it every year. I did the same, getting up early one morning in Agra and walking to the Taj. I had dysentery at this point and while ill, this particular day left me with a little more strength and a calmer stomach than on other days.

India is so polluted that often the day begins hazy or cloudy and an orangey-gray cast fires up the sky. It turns out to look quite pretty in pictures and the day started like this. As I walked along a Sikh guy on his scooter puttered up beside me and asked the three ubiquitous questions given to every woman traveller: what’s your name, where are you from, are you married? So it went and then he asked if I’d like a ride. I said no thanks; I had got up early so that I could actually walk to the monument.

A little while later, as he kept pace with my walking, he said, “I love you.” Startled I said, “Uh, thanks.” Then he asked, “Don’t you love me?” Put on the spot, somehow not wanting to be rude, I finally came up with, “I love you like I love all my fellow human beings.” This pacified him a bit or gave him something to chew on.

The problem is in India (or was at that time) they only had American movies to go on as to what North American women were like. India is a culture (or the parts I was in anyways) where men and women do not touch in public. It’s common to see men holding hands but you’ll never see this between the genders. A titillating Indian movie often has the wet sari scene that shows off the woman’s curves while still keeping her modestly dress, and kissing just doesn’t happen in their movies. So then you see a North American movie and all women are wearing form fitting clothes, kissing and touching men and often disrobing after some James Bond caper or the moment, in the movie, when the guy says I love you.

It was a naiveté in which I never felt threatened but was kinda cute and sometimes irritating. As I continued to the Taj Mahal, the Sikh man then said, “Won’t you kiss?” I answered, “No, I will not.”

“But why? I love you.” To which I responded, “I don’t just kiss anyone who says they love me.” Eventually he puttered off and I continued to the Taj Mahal, unkissed and happy.

It was unusual to hear of many rapes in India but then I don’t know the frequency of those that were reported.  I have heard these days that there are more happening. I never felt threatened ever in India and there were a few other times that the men tried to come on to me or kiss me. But that naiveté has probably warn off and with the advent of computers in to one of the world’s most populated countries, it is definitely opening the eyes of many.

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Perspectives on the World

The world is an amazing complex sphere. None of us can truly understand the scope of all that it encompasses nor be knowledgeable in all ares. We can fathom some of it but are our views accurate?

I long ago stopped watching TV or even reading newspapers. To this day I have never seen a picture of the twin towers falling. I didn’t need to. The horror was all too real without that. And that is just one reason why I don’t watch TV–the horror of it is too much. These days we have 24-7 news and programming and multiple channels. You can catch the news on a particular subject at any time and if it’s something big, like Michael Jackson’s death, the predators start circling immediately with “in-depth” commentary on his life, his fashion, his eccentricities, his doctors, his drugs, his family, his kids, his debts, his fortune, etc. On and on, with huge drama in every commentator’s voice; melodrama one could say. (I did catch a little bit while at my neighbor’s)

That’s one example but news is never (or rarely) about the good stuff. The adage goes, No news is good news, and that can mean that if you don’t hear anything that’s good news and of course, what sells papers or draws audience viewing is the bad news. The disasters, the accidents, the murders and rapes, the lost children, the poverty, the wars, the despotic regimes, etc.

And what does this do? It weighs us down with darkness and despair, with loss of faith in humankind, with  fatalism. When I watched this stuff, the news, the same plane disaster would be played out several times a day with graphic depictions of the accident. I wept and felt terrible, and grew depressed, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have compassion for anyone hit with hard circumstances. We should, but we can also be bludgeon into insensitivity with a constant overload of the bad and the tragic.

My outlook would start to cloud and I thought as the world on an downward spiral into eternal darkness. We didn’t need religious myths, we had our hell now. But then I stopped and thought. Were my coworkers, my friends, my family despots, murderers, rapists? Were they evil and uncaring? No. Were they uncaring? No.

And that was just the people I know. On the macrocosm of the world and world events, there are horrors beyond belief. On the microcosm are individual organisms, you and me. Each person can be good or bad but the majority are caring people, who follow the law, who try to help out, who want to believe in the goodness of their fellow human. I try to remember this when I look at the likes of Mugabe, Ayatollah Khomeini, Idi Amin, Osama bin Laden, Willie Picton, Paul Bernardo, Jeffrey Dahmer, etc. that they are the small percentage, the very few.

Their crimes are so vile that they make the headlines. Your friend that picks you up when your car breaks down on the highway, the father who comforts his child, the person who donates to organizations where money will help the underprivileged, we don’t hear about those people, except once in a while. Only if it’s a celebrity do we hear of charitable acts.

And so we get a skewed outlook of our world. Yes, one war can wipe out thousands or millions and is terrible and on the macrocosmic scale still speaks of a problem for human kind in general. As a whole homo sapiens need to strive harder to be better. Yet we must remember the good that people do for it is these small acts that give us hope and faith.

Even with only getting my news through radio (I do stay informed) it is still skewed towards the tragic. But I try very hard to remember the good and that I would have been in more dire straights were it not for the support of friends and family and yes, at times strangers. Give a little and you can receive a lot.

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Swine Flu? When Pigs Fly

Okay, that’s a little joke but I think we need to keep a few things in perspective when it comes to the spreading fear of swine flu. Fear is spreading faster than the flu and though it is a serious enough illness, it should be treated with level headedness, not paranoia. Panic can be a demon that brings on an epidemic of hysteria.

If the media had existed in its current form in the 14th century when the Black Plague first reared its deadly head, probably more people would have died from fear, from fear mongering, from ostracization than those already-high numbers. The Black Death killed an estimated 30-60% of Europe’s population, decimating society and economy for many years to come. Some 75 million people are believed to have died from the bubonic plague.

These days, we may not get to those numbers because medical care is better. Yet we might get to higher numbers because there are far more people than Europe in the Middle Ages. And many cities are overcrowded, not to mention that many nations still have poor levels of sanitation and health. An estimated 500,000 people die yearly from seasonal flus. Mexico City has 22 million people but the flu has shown in a few other areas of Mexico as well as in Texas. Still, there are only 7 confirmed deaths by the WHO as of yesterday.

That’s not many yet. In fact, 150 people out of a population of 110 million is a pretty small percentage. However, every death is a rent, a loss of life and grief for loved ones; that should matter. We do have to be cautious but not crazed. People aren’t getting these from pigs, no matter what the name indicates. Eating pork won’t make a difference. However, one thing that humans learned over the centuries that cut down on the spread of disease and infection was that cleanliness makes a difference.

We’ve moved out of the polite era, when everyone was taught manners, coughed and sneezed into handkerchiefs, washed behind their ears and washed their hands because parents instilled it into their kids. We’ve become lackadaisical in this modern, free age, but what you can’t see can indeed hurt you. When it comes to hygiene we must still be diligent.

Here’s the best thing to do to avoid swine flu, any flu or illness in general: wash your hands well, often, and with soap and water. Cover your mouth with your arm or a tissue if you cough. Use tissues for your nose. Wipe down surfaces with disinfectant. If you cough or sneeze, don’t do it on others. Wash your hands often. Don’t kiss pigs.

Usually influenzas hit the very young and the very old. So far, this flu has killed men in the 25-40 (or 50) age range for some reason. Tomorrow I fly to LA. I’m not worried. After all, I’m healthy. I don’t have a compromised immune system or any illness that weakens me. My lungs (the area to worry about most) are very strong. I’m not flying to Mexico. Even all the people that the flu infects each year do not die from it. Planes are very good incubators of infections/colds in general. A closed space with a lot of people. It’s best to be vigilant about hygiene whenever flying.

There have been questions why the mortality rate would be higher in Mexico than elsewhere. If it’s Mexico City, well, there are 22 million people, as I said. When I was in Mexico in the late 80s, the smog was so bad that birds were dropping out of the air and you could taste it. Add that on top of other respiratory problems and a flu that attacks the same area and it’s not surprising that more people may die in Mexico City (and any other overpopulated, polluted city center) than in other cities.

Flu shots have been given for quite a few years now, optional but encouraged for the young and old. I predict we’ll see more people getting flu shots this year in general. However, a viable vaccine for this current flu would take a few months to work out and perfect. If this doesn’t turn pandemic, then it will have abated by then.

Symptoms are similar to other flu symptoms, fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, nausea, possible vomiting and diarrhea, lack of energy and appetite. (More severe cases may deal with respiratory problems and death.) Don’t jump to conclusions if you develop some of these. If you have been to Mexico or in contact with someone who has, watch your symptoms, call  your doctor’s office if you’re worried, or if it is a child or elderly person who is ill. If the fever goes beyond a few degrees or you have trouble breathing, then you will probably want to get checked out. Children and the elderly are always at risk. Eating healthily, drinking plenty of water and getting adequate sleep will keep your immune system strong.

Becoming crazed with fear is a more likely way to get sick than just taking sensible precautions. And when the latest scare is over, continue following good hygenic habits. After all, in many ways we don’t want to go back to, or repeat the Middle Ages.

Update as of 10/15/09: There is an awful lot of hype about this flu and to this date there are fewer people who have died from it than from other flus. However, the high-risk group does seem to be 20-year-olds and early 30s. Each person will have to decide if they need a flu shot or not but as a healthy female, who isn’t pregnant nor in that age group, I’ll forego the shot and take my chances.

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