The Rule of India: Do Whatever You Want

In a recent conversation with an Indian host about cultural norms and outright laws, I was trying to get a feel for ‘how things are done’ in India. I can’t remember what I asked her about – maybe it was about fashion, or street etiquette, or something to that effect – but I asked if it was illegal. Mostly joking of course, but I’ll never forget her response.

She looked at me with wide eyes and exclaimed, “It’s India! NOTHING is illegal!”

And she seems to be right. In fact, there don’t seem to be any laws about anything really.

Just on our drive back from Jaipur to Agra, I witnessed men urinating on the side of the road – opening up toward the traffic as opposed to hidden behind a bush or wall.

I saw a man bathing near an intersection, while five feet away street vendors sold fried snacks.

Men sat in plastic chairs talking over the morning newspaper, in the middle of the busy road.

Camels, cows, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists all clamored for the right of way; oftentimes with pedestrians bumping into our car as they brazenly moved across multiple lanes of careening traffic.

Here we see a normal intersection in Jaipur.

Here we see a normal intersection in Jaipur.

And, too many times to count during the journey, cars went in the wrong direction on the highway.

I know, of course, there are certain laws of the land that are to abided by – for example, I’m sure general and prolonged nakedness is probably a big no-no, as well as any manner of sexual acts in public spaces; not to mention theft, murder, etc.

But bathing on the side of the highway? Totally fine. Leading your line of camels down the side of the highway, totally utilizing one full lane of the two-lane highway? Also cool. Driving down the wrong side of the highway for a full kilometer just to reach the U-turn? Don’t even worry about it.

Anything goes here, which makes the day to day a lot more interesting.

I probably should have caught on to this right from the get-go. When Kelli and I landed in New Delhi, we breezed through immigration, got our luggage in a timely fashion, and were one foot out of the airport when we realized we hadn’t turned in our customs forms. OOPS! We returned to the security point, where I approached the nearest guard.

I offered him my neatly-filled customs declaration form. “I forgot to turn this in,” I said, when his look became slowly disapproving.

The guard grimaced, looked from the paper to me to the paper again, and waved his hand at me. “Just keep this to yourself.”

Deeply confused but not wanting to press the issue, Kelli and I hurried from the airport, both of our customs forms still folded inside our passports.

Truly anything goes here; and it seems that the only rule one can abide is that of not following any of the rules.

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