Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Monday, April 12, 2010

India: The Country Where Nothing Works.

I’ve gone beyond frustration with the amount of things that don’t function in this country and have resigned myself to accepting that nothing here works. That way is something does work, I’m pleasantly surprised.

I woke up yesterday and decided to take note of everything I came in contact that does not work. I could barely go thirty seconds without running into some non or semi-functional piece of junk.

I woke up around 8:00 with the sun blasting through my windows. The room was pretty hot so I turned on the ceiling fan. It works, but there’s a crack in the base where it’s attached to the ceiling. So unless I keep it cranked up to ten, it makes an annoying click each rotation. The amount of pleasure it brings is negated by the annoying tick reminding you it's busted.

I flipped on the television to see if I could catch some highlights of the Masters. The on-off switch on the remote works, but not much else. The only number key that functions is zero. Channel up works, but channel down functions only 20% of the time. If I pass up a channel I have to decide whether I should ruin my thumb pressing hard, or go back to zero and start up again. Volume up works, but volume down again only works about 20% of the time. Most of the time I listen at barely-audible levels. There are plenty of other buttons like 'last channel' and 'tint' but they've never worked.

Luckily for me, ESPN/Star sports had a three hour Masters highlight show. The third round was on and Phil Mickleson hit back to back eagles when the power in the hotel went out. The power goes out about five times a week. There’s no way to know when this will happen or for how long. You just have to be ready for it. Sometimes it’s off for a few minutes, often times it’ll be off for several hours. An American friend of mine asked me if my hotel or job had an elevator. Hah! With power that sketchy I’d never set foot in one here. In December I was told by the man that runs my hotel that the power in Dharamsala was much much better than it was five years ago. I lived here ten years ago and I can tell you that the power situation is actually worse than it was back then. The fan stopped and my room turned into a sweat box. I picked up my book and read for a half hour before the power came back on. I flipped the tube back on to see if I could catch a few last holes and every station returns – except ESPN/Star. (This morning when I woke up, hoping to catch the last Sunday holes, ESPN/Star was still out.)

I gave up and decided to hop a shower and head into town. Enter the bathroom zone. Every pipe in the bathroom leaks. I have to turn off the main inputs to the sink and toilet after every use. I did my morning duty, making sure my pants didn't hit the ground because after opening up the toilet valve, the water in the cracked pipes seeps onto the floor.

After I flushed, I turned off the toilet input and transferred onto a wooden chair I use for showering. Before going to bed I turned on the hot water heater because it takes a few hours to heat up a nice supply of shower water. Showering here means dumping buckets of water over your head. I have one faucet for hot and one for cold. I opened up the hot tap; filled three-quarters of the bucket then finished the job with cold water. I dumped it over my head then soaped up. In winter, when there was no heat in my room, I had to do this job fast. But yesterday it was warm so I can took my time. After I washed my hair and removed all the crud from daily living in India, I filled up another bucket and got ready for the rinse cycle. Unfortunately, I forgot that for some unforgivable reason, the plumber ran the hot water pipe through the toilet. The flush I implemented five minutes earlier took with it all of my hot water.

I did a luke-warm rinse then went for an extra scrub on my still open leg burn which was caused, of course, by a faulty heater. I brushed my teeth using only mineral water as the water in this bathroom is non-potable. I spat into the sink and turned the faucet to rinse down the toothpaste, but I forgot to turn on the main water valve under the sink. I reached under the sink, turned it on and rinsed out the basin. I was going to shave the crust under my chin, but now that there’s no hot water left that’s out of the question.

I toweled off put on some shorts and rolled onto my balcony to get some sun. Once I was good and dry I returned to my room, and shut the door, but I can’t lock it. There’s a sliding latch along the bottom, but it doesn’t line up. I’ve got the same unaligned sliding latch to the main door into the hallway. I can lock the door from the outside, but I can’t even close it tightly from the inside. When I’m in my room, the door is always cracked open. This has lead to a number of occasions when Indian tourists simply walk into my room and stare at me. They know they’re not supposed to be there, but by leaving quickly they would admit to having made an error. That is simply not permissible in this culture. They stare at me trying to think of an excuse as to why they’ve barged into a stranger’s room, then turn and leave without saying a word. They never close the door behind them either.

After barricading my balcony door with a chair, I put my shoes on trying not to tip over due to my missing front wheel. The wheel, of course, was broken off after hitting too many potholes in India’s broken roads. Unbelievably over the past three weeks, Dharamsala has gone on a massive road repaving initiative. They’ve asphalted at least three miles of ripped up road making my day much, much easier. Unfortunately, they never stop traffic while they are repaving. As soon as the substance is down and steamrolled, they open up the street. So just a few weeks after this massive road project, many of the potholes and all of the bumps are right back to where they were.

As I’m rolling into town I’m passed by any number of vehicles that run, but wouldn’t exactly pass inspection in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. I pass by stores with broken doors; restaurants with rigged-up stoves and internet cafés with virus-ridden computers and connection speeds that are so slow a five-minute YouTube clip takes over an hour to download.

Basically nothing in this entire country works. It all just kind of half-functions. And India is a nuclear power and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. My friend, Sam Courtney called India ‘a 9-wheeled lorry’. It’s broken, but eventually it’ll deliver the goods. Just don’t try to do anything in a hurry here.


  1. Hee hee hee...since you're living in a "9-wheeled lorry" does that make you a 3-wheeled looney? Keep up the reporting Jama. - Devin



  3. Yeah man; they have such good hotels in India. You get treated like royalty there.

    If you wanna pay $5 for a night anywhere in the world, how can you expect anything but crap? In fact, $5 (or whatever you pay) will get you a way better accomodation in India that it will back home... actually, you'd probably have to live on the streets in EU, at your budget, forget hotel :-)

    Carry on bro, stay strong and keep writing.

  4. As a long term expat, I have to disagree with the other comments. Even when you pay full price, things rarely if ever work 100% correctly. Our standards of service are relative to our experiences in the west. Without that reference point, individuals on the subcontinent are unable to comprehend what we would consider a working service.

    Even if you go for the top accommodations, you will still hear excuses. The author has it right in his intro. You have to start with lower expectations if you want to preserve your sanity. When you are lowering expectations, you might as well save a few rupees along the way.

    The alternative is to get a bunch of incompetents fussing over you. You'll still have the problem of nothing working, but now you will have someone to offer excuses. Nothing in this place is worth paying full price for.