Today was my first day in India. Bangalore, to be precise. The city is hot, noisy, full of dangerous drivers, cows on the road, and a disturbingly potholed pavement.
I entered a modern looking mall. Partly out of tourist curiosity, mostly for the air conditioning! I saw something which shocked me.
As I was coming down as escalator, I noticed a teenage boy stood at the bottom of the “up” escalator. He was surrounded by half-a-dozen elderly women. Relatives, I assume. While I couldn’t hear what he was saying, his meaning soon became apparent; he was teaching them how to use the escalator!
I was stunned. These women were all… let’s say “mature” and yet, so it seemed, had never ridden an escalator.
The eldest, in a resplendent green sari, kept placing her palm on the moving handrail and laughing with glee as it carried her hand upwards.
The boy was eager to get them on to the moving staircase and was trying a mixture of cajoling, exasperated sighing, and physical demonstrations. Finally he got bored waiting and drifted upwards.
I reached the bottom of the staircase and pretended to be interested in a rack of sunglasses so I could observe what happened next.
Some of the younger women fearlessly stepped onto the escalator. A couple decided that this was more trouble than it was worth and took the regular staircase.
The eldest was a game old bird. Grinning widely she placed a trepidatory foot on the escalator and promptly took it off, shaking her head in confusion. The sole remaining woman gently helped her on and they lifted off together.
For half a second it was as though the old woman was flying. Breaking free of the bonds of gravity and soaring into the heavens. Then she fell over unceremoniously. Her friend picked her up and they glided out of view.
I drifted off.
I began to wonder how anyone could live their lives having never stood on an escalator. From my perspective, they just seem so commonplace. I occasionally see a small child being taught how to use them on the London Underground, but I don’t think I’ve ever met an adult who had never encountered them.
Am I projecting too much on this one incident? Was this group of women an aberration? Or is there a whole class of rural people who don’t interact much with the modern world and simply don’t understand how it works?
Then, I realise, there’s so much that I don’t know about this culture. This country. My ignorance of shibboleths which instantly mark me as an outsider – as if my skin wasn’t a big enough clue!
I don’t even understand how to cross the road here. I see elderly old women dart out seemingly at random between the honking cars while I am left cowering on the pavement.
I stick a foot out into the road with great trepidation, and hope I don’t fall over.