by special guest David Price with Andy Paul
I’ve heard that India can be culturally challenging and quite different from the west, but I was not prepared for the experience I had in New Delhi on India’s 63rd Republic Day, January 26, 2012. Our day started with a busy early morning ramble to Delhi’s Rajpath to watch the Republic Day Parade and quickly turned into a head spinning whirlwind through one of Delhi’s many dirty public hospitals and an adventure for the books.
Following our usual routine, we woke up early and had a quick breakfast in order to make it through the extensive security checkpoints put in place throughout the city to prepare for any attacks on the parade.
Andy, Rena, and I were met at the hotel by a driver and we picked up our guide, Prem, down the street. As Prem jumped into the car, he began explaining about how difficult it was to make it to the hotel on time because the metro was shutdown due to heightened security. Double checking that we didn’t have any of the plethora of items forbidden near the event (guns, knives, lighters, matches, mobile phones, cameras, pokey objects, sticks, dental floss, “eatables,” replica guns, etc. etc.), we only made it a few blocks before we were stopped by New Delhi Police. They told us that we must walk from here because unauthorised vehicles were not allowed anywhere near the Rajpat, where the parade was to take place. We quickly got out of the car and were joined the horde of people walking to the parade. It reminded me of zombies walking aimlessly towards their next victims.
Finally we made it to the entrance to our the gate where we were to enter to find our seats. Our guide and the Delhi Police security guard started arguing in Hindi and we were quickly gestured away from the gate. The news was that all of the seats were already full and the only place for us to go was to sit with the general public in the standing room only section, about 1 km away from where we were supposed to be sitting. Eventually we made it to an open section. We were met by about hundreds of Indians sitting and waiting patiently for the parade to start. Every 20 minutes or so the crowd would stand up and the security guard would lazily motion for everyone to sit back down. This went on and on until the parade MC began speaking on the microphone. By that point getting the crowd to sit down was hopeless because even the police were too enthralled with the parade to enforce such an unenforcable rule.
Republic Day in India is quite the display. Ground to air ballistic missiles were trucked down the Rajpath including Agni, India’s new missile that carries a nuclear warhead. Thousands of soldiers made their way in tight formation, crisp uniforms with guns and swords. Rajasthan’s camel calvary regiment, who patrol the barren desert border with Pakistan, made their way toward’s the India gate sporting elaborate turbans and some of the world’s finest moustaches. At one point, India Airforce helicopters flew overhead dropping fragments of marigold flowers, which lightened up the notion that enough explosives to obliterate the city had just passed before our eyes.
But it’s not all guns ‘n ammo, and the parade changed from a display of military might to that of India’s phenomenal cultural diversity. Each state is represented by a float that highlights their unique qualities. Jammu and Kashmir came down the street in the form of a beautiful 2/3 actual size wooden house. The state of Chhatisgarh was represented by the art of a woman named Sonabai (insert link to Steven Huyler AWOS) who made elaborate colorful stuccos around her home while she was kept in captivity by her husband. Check out a bit more here.
Since camera’s are strictly prohibited, we unfortunately couldn’t get any shots but here is an idea of this year’s parade:
What began to happen next requires a little explaining. For the two months prior to the parade, New Delhi’s Rajpath was transformed to accommodate all of the people in attendance. 25,000 security personnel were in place to keep the peace and the grass surrounding the Rajpath was covered in steel barricades and fences. The fences were in place to manage crowds and funnel people to and from the venue. The fences were hammered into the grass to a depth of about one foot and about three feet high. Our section where we were standing was surrounded by these fences and eventually people got the bright idea to stand on the fences to gain a better vantage point to view the parade.
So with the weight of hundreds of onlookers on the fences, they began collapsing, one by one. The fences nearest to us began to lean closer and closer to the ground. All of us were doing our best to stay away from the treacherous barricades because we did not want to be a part of the carnage that would ensue if one of the fences collapsed on some one. Andy and Rena were posted up behind one of the barricades and I had made my way in front of it. I walked up to say something to Andy and at that exact moment the bottom piece of the steel barricade collapsed. Directly on the top of my left foot.
My head was spinning and an extreme, sharp pain shot up from my foot, up my leg and into my gut. I dizzily hobbled over and collapsed because my left foot could no longer support my body weight. I looked at Andy and our guide and I could see that our guide’s face had gone white. With clenched fist, I managed to say, “my foot is fucking broken, we gotta get outa here, now!” Andy and Prem each supported one of my arms and I hopped my way through the crowd of staring, blank, faces towards the parking lot behind the grassy area that was holding the parade onlookers. On the way to the parking lot, we saw between 20-30 policemen. All just staring at us with no emotion on their faces whatsoever. Maybe it was the parade or maybe it is the way police operate in India, but none of them seemed to show any feeling of responsibility or wanting to help us in this stressful time.
We made it out to the parking lot where many police cars and ambulances were parked. Due to the extremely strict rules regarding what we were allowed to have at the parade, none of us had a phone to call 100 (the emergency number in India) or to call Pomi (Andy’s family in India who is able to get things done, quickly, in this complicated country). While Prirm went from policeman to policeman yelling at them to help us, I sat down on the hood of a car and took off my shoe and sock to take a look at the carnage. I slowly peeled my damp sock off my foot, nervous to see what might be underneath. My foot was a dark shade of blue, mixed with deep red/pink and it was already getting swollen. It looked bad, but a fracture was not obvious. The pain was another story. It was excruciating. With the force of the blow it seemed only logical that my foot would be broken. I started yelling at a policeman. “Hey! We need to get to a hospital because I need an Xray right now!” He ignored me. “What the hell is wrong with you! Can’t you see we need help right now!” In the distance I heard the faint sound off a siren moving towards us. It wasn’t an ambulance, but this small police jeep would have to do.
The back of the State Police SUV was laughable. Six of us-myself, Andy, Rena, Prem and two police constables with machine guns rattled down the road, swerving around roundabouts. My foot was perched on one of the policeman’s shoulders and I scribbled down my personal information as we dodged oncoming traffic to quickly get to the hospital. I told Prem, “we really need to make sure we go to a good hospital, ok?” He assured us that where we were headed was fine and not to worry about it. I was getting more and more nervous as thoughts of Indian cast making were sneaking into my head. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, we pulled up to the hospital. It was not at all what we were hoping for.
We crawled out of the back of the tiny SUV and two men wearing the clothes of any random guy off the street pulled up a dirty, rusty, gurney. It looked like something from World War I and instead of a protective, sanitary sheet, there was just an old ripped up pleather top. I was wheeled into the hectic lobby of the triage centre of RML Hospital and was parked next to a homeless man who very well could have been on his death bed. He was hooked up to oxygen and had extremely guant cheeks and sunken eyes. The lobby was packed to the brim and I felt like a sardine who had been packed into a tin with one too many other fish. I could see Prem yelling at the lady at the counter out of the corner of my eye. I started to feel my anxeity building. Where was I and what the heck were we doing in this dirty hospital in New Delhi?
I grabbed a man with a stethescope around his neck. “X-ray. X-ray,” I stammered. He shook his head at me in the typical Indian manner and motioned to me that he would be right back. A woman came by with open syriange and pointed it at me. “No injection!” I yelled. Prem came over to me and explained that the reason we had been waiting in the lobby for the last 45 minutes was because the police were invovled and considred the accident as a police case. Therefore, they needed to collect information, get finger prints etc. Finally, a doctor came and said we were headed up stairs to have an X-ray. I was relieved to have a break from the chaos in the lobby and the hundreds of sick people that had passed through there since we had arrived.
The X-ray machine was archaic, but good enough. Once that was completed, I was wheeled around and around through the hospital until we arrived outside a room labeled, “Plaster Room.” At this point, Andy and Prem were with me and my nerves had calmed down a bit. When I peered inside the “Plaster Room,” all I saw was a ceramic studio that had been very poorly organized. Even I needed a cast, I definitely wasn’t getting here. The sink was dripping on the floor with wet plaster and there were stains of different colors everywhere. As the three of us sat and waited for a doctor to return, a woman in security guard uniform asked if she could take my picture with her cell phone. “nahi,” Hindi for no, I said.
The minutes ticked by and we waited and waited. A chubby man wearing all white with henna dyed hair came up to me. He looked at me and said, “cast.” He violently started poking my foot. I cringed and smacked him away with my hand. He walked into the “Plaster Room,” turned on the faucet, seemingly hoping for his next client. “Thats not gonna be me,” I thought. A doctor poked his head out of a door and motioned for Andy and Prem to come talk to him. A few minutes later they came back to me and said that the doctor had told them that there was no fracture. I was relieved, but really wanted to go to a decent, clean, hospital for a second opinion. Rena had gone back to the hotel to get her cell phone to call Pomi and was supposed to be back at the hospital some time soon.
I asked Prem if we could leave now, but he said that there was one more form to sign and that we needed to go to room S12. I was not sure where or what S12 was, but I wanted to get out of that hospital already. A security gaurd led us towards S12. Andy and Prem on either side of the gurney and me in the middle. We rolled along through the halls and exited through the triage lobby where we first were when we arrived at the hospital. Out we went through the door and out into the street, dodging motorcycles and cars with the gurney as we headed towards S12. We continued after the security guard and wheeed into a building with paint peeling off the walls and packed to the brim with people. We headed down a narrow dark hallway and I read the words “emergency mortuary” above one of the doorways as we scooted along. “Shit” I thought. “I don’t want to be in here.” We came around the corner and we were headed towards a room full of people on respirators. I don’t know what they were sick with, but I did not want to be anywhere near it. I stuck my arms out and braced the gurney from going any further. ” I’m not going any further!” I demanded. “I am going to walk right out of here and I’m not signing any more forms!!” The security guard backed off and a woman walked up with a release form for me to sign. At that point, I got off the gurney and hobbled my way outside to sit and wait for Pomi and Rena to show up to take me to a proper hospital. Andy and I waited and Prem talked to policemen who had come up and started asking me questions.
Finally, after a total of three hours, Pomi showed up with Rena and his driver. Man was I relieved. Pomi is the father of Karam who is married to Andy’s cousin Becky. Family runs deep, and lucky enough for me the Paul family inlaws are the Junejas, who live in New Delhi.
We hopped in Pomi’s car and headed towards Max Hospital. A private hospital with a good reputation. We arrived and I checked in. Andy, Rena, and Pomi went for some food in the hospital cafe while I headed up for another X-ray. After another couple hours of waiting, the doctor came in with some great news. My foot wasn’t broken, just badly bruised. What a relief! The doctor gave me a compression bandage and we headed back to the Indian International Center to call it a day. The whole ordeal took about 6 hours. I’ll never forget Republic Day 2012. Thats for sure.
India has its fair share of dichotomies. One would be hard pressed to find a country that doesn’t. However, India’s anomalies are unique and worth mentioning, and several were highlighted by this year’s 63rd Republic Day.
Our experiences on Republic Day 2012 shed light on a couple of things that are going on in India. A very small margin of the country is able to afford Max Healthcare and other private hospitals and physicians. The public healthcare alternative is far inferior and the standard of healthcare is far lower than what we might hope for in the west. Besides the differences in standards of practice between private and public hospitals in India, there are also seriously problems regarding access to hospitals for Indian residents who do not live in major cities. For residents of remote villages in the far south or far north of the country, it can be hours or days before definitive care at a decent hospital can be provided. Aside from poorly distributed healthcare, many other inequalities exists in India.
Many of the people we have met and had a chance to know here earn less than Rs 1,000 a month. That’s about $20.00, and is the extreme upper end of the spectrum. Nisha, a girl we met in Tamil Nadu works at an upscale heritage hotel, works at a hospital and earns Rs 800 a month. She goes eight to five and then seven to nine, six days a week. All that and she goes to a local university a few times a month where she is working towards a certificate in computer science. Nisha’s situation is by no means uncommon. Many people in India work multiple jobs and it’s a daily struggle for the majority of the population.
However, India does have a burgeoning middle and upper class. In 2005, the country surpassed the U.S. in its amount of international foreign investment, and the rise of IT and other technological industries have fuelled rapid economic growth. India is clearly a competing world power, and like most world powers a focus on the military and nationalism has had an impact on politics and geostrategy.
What was made clear by Republic Day and the ensuing events, however, is that while a powerful national image and military might have impacted India’s role on the world stage, there still exists a deeper divide than meets the eye. Gandhi once said, “India’s strength is in her villages.” What would he think about the issues of the present day?