John Alexander

Roots & Blues

Roots and Blues songwriter and guitarist John Alexander


Managed to escape most of the January hangover this year with a trip to India's West Bengal region. It was a full on in your face assault on the senses with noise, smells, colours, tastes all competing for your attention on the street. There were too many things to mention on here, but it is a fascinating country worthy of exploration.

My top 10 Things I noticed about India -

1. Traffic

India does traffic really well. There is tons of it. Whether its cars, taxis, autorickshaws, rickshaws (pulled by humans), buses, motorbikes or animals, it will all be on the street. There are road traffic laws, but it seems they are not used i.e. traffic lights , one way streets, even central reservations do not prevent traffic from traveling down the 'wrong' side of the road. Expect to be overtaken by cows, dogs, bicycles, elephants (ok I never got over taken but I did get a shot of one on the street)

2. Noise

The car horn is king. This is the language of the road. It seems to mean, watch out I'm coming, get out of my way sort of thing. It's a 'He Who Dares Wins' attitude - as our driver told me, if you hesitate you will crash, there is no doubt in this statement. Kolkata is one of the most densley populated cities on the planet so noise has to be expected - everyone has to shout to be heard - I suppose!

3. Work

Everybody seems to work. Whether they work for a multi billion dollar business or work in small enterprises ran from their open plan office on the street - Enterprise is everywhere.

4. Food

wow, the food is phenomenal, from the wonderful Bananan dishes, to a spicy packet of crisps, everything is packed with flavours. Food is available everywhere, kitchens are set up in every nook and cranny - not always with the best of hygiene standards so if you feel like playing Food Poisoning Russian Roulette this is your place - I did and I won.

5. Poverty

The effects of poverty really hit me in India, it certainly is a wake up call for the over materialistic lifestyle of the west. I saw numerous slum areas in Calcutta when I was visiting and I noticed these are often right next to modern apartments and buildings- mothers and young children living on the pavement (equivalent to setting up home at the corner of Argyle Street and Union St if you know Glasgow) with their kids crawling about in the gutter right next to insanely busy traffic.  I was informed the government does provide housing, and that some people chose to live on the street and rent this out!?

6. Mountains

The Himalayas - wow, well that is if you can get a break in the clarity of the weather to see them. I missed out on this view.. however even the foothills and life in general was great to see. Oh and the tea is fabulous in the Darjeeling area.

7. Health n Safety

These words don't translate into Bengali - well at least I saw little evidence of it! the number of accidents in day to day life must be huge. Constructions workers with no PPE , carrying bricks on their heads, hanging from multi storeyed buildings with no protection against falls, or people sitting on the roofs of fast moving vehicles, examples are everywhere!

8. Only in India

You never know what you are going to see next. Cows in shops, someone offering you a shoe shine or a haircut, chai coffee, 14 people on the roof of a small car, 12 school kids biked to school in cage, stunning geography fantastic river systems and mountains, wild animal encounters elephants, tigers, rhinoceros ( I saw everything mentioned here) or the brilliantly frinedly locals all interested in talking or helping you out.

9.Street Food

I just wish i had the constitution to try it!. You can safely eat it - as long as its hot, I could barely handle the risk of crossing the road, never mind eating street food - next time tho!

10. Recycling

An important lesson here - everyone seems to recycle waste. One persons trash is another persons gold. Whole micro industries exist on sifting through waste materials and turning them into something useful , e.g soft furnishings, clothing. People collect used newspapers, bottles, gas cylinders, plastic bags - the list goes on and on..