Author Archives: yoelkifle

Hot Wheels: The Magic School Bus

Since our learning expedition touched down in Chennai a couple of weeks ago, our primary source of transportation had been the minibus. It isn’t your average minibus. It is a rather spacious 23 seater. The minibus has a milky white paint job and even comes with beige curtains to shield its passengers from the blistering Indian sun. It has both a driver and his sidekick. This sidekick is responsible for opening/closing the door, dealing with security guards at our destinations, and making sure that all passengers are comfortable (this can also include distributing bottled water).

We relied extensively on the minibus to get us from point A to point B in Chennai, Agra, and Delhi and rarely made use of taxis, public buses, or rickshaws. Not only was it a comfortable and reliable form of transportation, but we were also able to take in some of the unique sights and sounds of India. Fortunately, we had Prasad and Mahesh (I-India educational trip organizers) in addition to Professor Sundaram to answer any questions that might have arisen as we peeked out the window.

Sights: As we ventured from one point to another, we endured large amounts of traffic on the road. Motorcycles with an entire family on it, large crowded buses, and midsize cars were all vying for a place on the narrow road. It would not be unusual for some 2-3 cars and multiple motorcycles to share a two lane road. Every now and then, you would also see a large cow roaming the side of the road or even simply ‘chilling’ in the divider between opposing sides of traffic. You would then pause and ask yourself, “How on Earth did these cows not get hit by any moving vehicle?” We quickly learned that cows are sacred in India and have a special role in the Hindu mythologies. Consequently, no one would dare kill a cow even if accidental. Could this be where the expression “holy cow” comes from?

Sounds: There was one pervasive sound that was continuously heard on the roads: the honking! And when I mean continuous, I really do mean non-stop. It seemed as though drivers would literally drive with one hand on the car horn. Given how densely populated the roads were and the amount of congestion, I guess it is only natural that you would continuously honk. Moreover, it was not unusual for many of us to go back to the hotel and continue to hear the honking!

Hot Wheels, our primary form of transportation

Hot Wheels, our primary form of transportation

The comfortable interior of our minibus

The comfortable interior of our minibus

A little traffic never really hurt anyone

A little traffic never really hurt anyone

Categories: Chennai, Delhi, Impressions of India | 2 Comments

Visiting the Bharat ki Sansad (Parliament of India)

We had the honor and privilege of visiting the Parliament of India yesterday in New Delhi. The Parliament of India is bicameral with the upper house known as the Rajya Sabha and the lower house Lok Sabha. The MPs of Lok Sabha are directly elected by the Indian public and the MPs of Rajya Sabha are elected by members of the State Legislative Assemblies. The parliament is composed of 790 MPs.

Getting into the Parliament was quite the ordeal. Many of us, I believe, had not been subjected to such high levels of security. We were questioned regarding our families and underwent at least 6 pat downs at multiple security checkpoints. At many of the checkpoints, the security guards also seemed perplexed whenever Phil Kim T’13 mentioned that he was from Canada (Note: He is of South Korean descent). The high levels of security are due to a previous terrorist attack on the parliament in December 2001 that led to the death of six military personnel in addition to one civilian.

After passing the security checkpoints, we had the opportunity to sit in on the proceedings of the lower house (Lok Sabha). The topics of the day included (1) RFID schemes to improve the collection of tolls and reduce traffic and (2) the safety of fishermen off the cost of India near Sri Lanka. The discussions were lively and full of animation to say the least. Members of opposing parties were continually hounding each other and engaged in traditional parliamentary debate.

Most surprising to us were the strict parliamentary codes of conduct for visitors. Mike Friedman T’13 was accosted for leaning forward and for not sitting straight with his back to the bench. Karen Olson T’13 was also warned for crossing her legs during the parliamentary procession. We were also constantly monitored to make sure we weren’t engaging in any improper behavior.

We were all fortunate to have had the unique experience of witnessing the legislative proceedings for the largest democracy in the world. If we had waited an extra day, we might have been able to witness the heated debate on whether to allow Walmart into India!

Parliament of India

Lok Sabha (Lower House)

Categories: Delhi | Tags: | 1 Comment

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