India! A land of commerce and agriculture, known for its plain-spoken basketball-loving “Hoosier” residents who… wait, hang on, that’s Indiana. India is the largest democracy in the world, containing just over 17% of the Earth’s human population, who live in conditions ranging from shockingly desperate poverty to nearly unimaginable wealth and luxury and are not generally known for their love of basketball. Americans tend to believe that India has no real industry beyond information technology, weirdly accented phone support, and staffing dodgy convenience stores, but that underestimates the rapidly developing Indian industrial economy, including Tata Motors (new owner of Jaguar, Land Rover, and several other Western marques) and Studebaker (dammit no, that’s Indiana again).
Yet 42% of Indian citizens make less than $1.25 per day, there’s never enough good food or clean drinking water, ancient religious and ethnic conflicts often boil over into modern-day terrorism and explosive riots, and all of your international neighbors are either scary crazy (Pakistan), scary powerful (China), scary full of mystical ancient wizard monks (Nepal, Bhutan), or just sort of depressing (Bangladesh). Some people might feel the need to forgo India and stay in Indiana, but they should be warned that there’s never anything good on the radio there and it’s almost impossible to get a good rogan josh.
10. BEING CRUSHED TO DEATH UNDERNEATH A PILE OF POCKET TRANSLATION GUIDESWith two constitutionally-recognized official national languages, six major alphabet/writing systems, over 30 identified regional languages (each one spoken by at least a million people each), and an estimated 1600 unique “mother tongues,” minority languages, and significantly different regional dialects, India is one of those countries where you can sort of be forgiven for ordering food by just pointing at it and then pointing at your mouth.
In theory, Standard/Modern Hindi (versions of which were spoken to a greater or lesser degree by 40% of the Indian Republic when it was adopted as the official language) is the primary language of government and bureaucracy, but centuries of British rule meant that many speakers of diverse languages had encountered English in spoken or written form through sentences such as “bring me some tea” or “get on this boat to Europe and kill every German you see when you get there” or “stop asking me so many questions, just do it.”
India’s close economic relationship with the British Commonwealth and American industry has made knowledge of English or workable English pidgin even more useful, so there’s a decent chance that panicking tourists can just yell for help and receive assistance from people who speak English as well as (or better than) they do.
9. BEING INCONVENIENCED BY MANY INCONVENIENTLY HOLY ANIMALSContrary to popular belief, it’s not universally illegal to kill or eat a “sacred cow” in India—just like languages, laws regarding consumption of beef and dairy products vary from state to state—but it’s generally common to yield the right of way if one shows up in the middle of the road. India doesn’t have as many cars as its size would suggest (although huge growth in their car production sector might change that in the future) but it does have terrible traffic jams and safety issues due to outdated infrastructure, obsolete or poorly designed “entry-level” cars, poor driver’s ed quality, and the occasional cow on the freeway requiring traffic police skilled in resolving theological disputes.
Other animals may also receive special treatment, such as the mischievous-bordering-on-annoying monkeys of the temples of Hanuman (prince of the monkeys and somewhat mischievous himself) or the thousands of rats of the Karni Mata Temple. Pilgrims to the Karni Mata consider it beneficial for the body and soul to eat food that has been nibbled on or scampered across by the temple’s rats; most people (including many Indians) are generally content just to pet a cow for good luck.
8. SHOWING UP TOO LATE FOR THE GOOD SEATSOver 18 million Indians make use of light rail and other mass transit every day in India, more than any other country in the world, and while the government is desperately trying to upgrade trains, station platforms, and safety standards all across the country, it’s still common to find yourself and 400-odd other commuters squeezed into a train designed to safely carry 200 people.
Recently the government made it illegal to ride on the roof, but since many trains lack air conditioning, the law is frequently ignored in favor of the cool breeze and scenic view. In spite of this, Indian commuter rail is generally regarded as a much better way to get around crowded urban centers than using a car, and the famous dabbawallahs of Mumbai make heavy use of the rail system to deliver hot lunches to Indian workers on time and in spite of the occasional monsoon.
7. CATCHING HEPATITIS FROM A GODDESSThe river Ganges is the most populous river basin in the world, having provided ancient Indian civilizations with food, water, and transport for thousands of years and flowing through some of the world’s oldest and holiest cities. As a part of Indian society that predated most of its modern religions, the Ganges is a revered holy symbol and considered a Hindu goddess in its own right. It is also unbelievably filthy, combining the effects of modern industrial waste, mass unfiltered sewage runoff and the decomposing corpses of the many pilgrims that request to be buried in the river into a gigantic slurry of cholera, garbage, dysentery, corpses, hepatitis, and 160 times the maximum safe amount of what international health organizations politely refer to as “fecal coliform bacteria” and what you and I know as “poop germs.”
Previous efforts to make the Ganges safe again were stymied by corruption, official incompetence, and religious opposition, as many Hindu leaders were deeply offended by the suggestion that their goddess was primarily composed of raw sewage and chose to ignore the high levels of waterborne disease prevalent among Ganges-side Indians. After several environmental activists and swamis went on hunger strike (at least one of whom took it all the way to starving to death—swamis don’t mess around!) the national government was finally moved to designate the Ganges a “national river,” hopefully streamlining the cleanup process and giving the project better access to funds and technology.
6. DYING AT THE HANDS OF THE SINISTER THUGGEE, PROVIDED THEY EXISTThe ruthless death-cult of the Thuggee (where we get the modern English word “thug”) is generally believed to have terrorized the great highways and trade routes of the Indian continent from the late 13th century to the middle of the 19th, unless they were actually a product of overheated Victorian English imaginations that tended to see sinister Indian conspiracies in every funny-looking shadow. Assuming they existed, the Thuggee worshipped/feared the death-goddess figure Kali/Durga, and allegedly strangled tens of thousands of unsuspecting victims in order to appease her lust for blood.
Thuggee devotees supposedly believed that they were serving the greater good by keeping their death-goddess happy enough that she didn’t just destroy all of humanity outright, but that theology was a tough sell to outsiders and the Thuggee focused less on evangelism and more on strangling people (sometimes entire trade caravans) with their distinctive yellow scarves. In the 1830s, India’s British occupiers either applied modern detective techniques to shut down the Thuggee and make trade routes safe again, or just arrested or killed any Indian they saw wearing a yellow scarf suitable for strangling people.
At any rate, there was no trace left of the Thuggee after 1870, which meant that either British efforts to suppress the cult were successful or that the cult never really existed in the first place. Either way, I couldn’t imagine a better way to cover up the existence of a terrifying murder-cult (assuming they were ever real in the first place) than claiming it was successfully eradicated. Watch out for sinister dudes with scarves!
5. DISPLEASING A GURKHAThe Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814 was unique in that the treaty that ended it and recognized Britain as the victor also stipulated that the British East India Company pay the Kingdom of Nepal 200,000 rupees each year as compensation for the territory it had “won” in combat. The tiny kingdom was able to extract this compromise from the globe-spanning British Empire largely due to the performance of the Gurkha people, a smallish Nepalese ethnic group named after a Hindu warrior-saint who fought with such ferocity and courage that the British started hiring them and forming them into combat units even during the war.
Since then, Gurkha troops have been an elite part of the British and later Indian armies, taking part in nearly every major conflict in the Eastern Hemisphere and occasionally taking a boat over to Europe to slit a bunch of German throats with their infamous and distinctive “khukri” machetes.
Gurkhas in both British and Indian armies are fairly commonplace in Eastern India, a fact that a gang of train robbers neglected to account for while planning to knock over the Maurya Express bound for the Nepalese border. Bishnu Shrestha, a recent retiree from the Indian Army’s Gorkha Brigade, watched quietly as the group of 40 armed men stole cash, jewelry, and electronics from the terrified passengers, but when the bandits threatened to rape a young woman he whipped out his khukri and started mowing down punks like a threshing machine.
Twenty minutes later, Shrestha had killed three men, incapacitated eight others, and scared the rest of the gang off the train, despite having sustained a slash to his left arm deep enough to show bone. Shrestha declined offers of reward money, saying that “Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier; taking on the thugs in the train was my duty as a human being.” Keep that in mind the next time you plan to rob a train.
4. PUBLICLY SHAMED FOR BEARING AN INSUFFICIENTLY MAGNIFICIENT MUSTACHEThe history of the mustache in India is long and complicated. Some sources say that when clean-shaven British troops arrived to ensure the Queen’s stranglehold over India’s resources, they were mocked by brushy-lipped Indian natives as “na-mand” or unmanly, and it’s an established fact that soldiers and officers of the British East India Company in Mumbai (Bombay) were required from 1854 on to grow extravagant ‘staches in order to earn the respect of the locals.
On the other hand, there’s some degree of evidence that traditional Indian mustache culture was heavily influenced by the fanciful waxed European mustaches they saw in India’s major port cities, and that the modern Indian mustache owes much to the highly stylized and detail-oriented mustache styles of European merchants that influenced India before and during the British occupation. Whether the classic Indian mustache came from ancient traditions or European innovations, it is impossible to dispute that Indians are among the last people on Earth that can successfully grow a mustache and make it look good—styles range from old-fashioned handlebars, pencil-thin minimalist “lip-shades,” traditional British Army bristlers, and the gigantic super-mustaches favored by Indian swamis.
The world record for the largest mustache belongs to Indian citizen Ram Singh Chauhan (pictured) and his meticulously maintained 14-foot mustache. Within the past few years, Indian men have started to follow American corporate shaving trends (e.g. the removal of nearly all facial hair besides the occasional “hip” goatee) as a way of becoming closer to Western-dominated multinational business, but there’s no way they can look at the huge and perfectly styled handlebar mustaches of Indian leaders of yesteryear and not feel a hint of regret.
3. GETTING KILLED OVER A TERRITORY BEST KNOWN FROM A LED ZEPPELIN SONGKashmir is a beautiful mountainous region rich in natural resources, comfortable sweaters, and inspiration for Robert Plant guitar riffs. It is also close enough to India’s border with Pakistan and China that all three countries have claimed it as their own with differing degrees of seriousness—China is generally content with the piece of territory they won from India in 1962, but Pakistan and India are deeply pissed off at each other and maintain constant military presences in the area.
One area of contention is the Siachen Glacier, known as the world’s highest and least pleasant battlefield, a sub-freezing wasteland nearly 20,000 feet above sea level. Luckless Indian and Pakistani troops are billeted in this uninhabited region to prove political points to the other side, and while shooting has occasionally broken out, more troops on both sides have been lost to the cold and to mountain-climbing accidents than to enemy fire.
2. FORCED TO PLAY CRICKET FOR THE AMUSEMENT OF THE BRITISHThe British, undisputed masters of navigation, commerce, and sneakiness, established a global empire during the 18th and 19th centuries that has yet to be equaled and whose economic and cultural effects persist to this day. They did this for two major reasons: one, to steal as many recipes as they could so they wouldn’t have to spend the rest of their lives eating boiled beef and Spotted Dick, and two, to have other people to play cricket against.
A more boring and complicated form of baseball, cricket became popular among the conquered subjects of the Empire primarily as a way to throw a hard leather ball at an Englishman as hard as they possibly could, but later took on a life of its own—cricket is the most popular sport in India, and may even be more popular there than it is in England. After a long slump, the Indian national team ended up winning the 2011 World Cup of Cricket after beating out Sri Lanka (England was knocked out during the quarter-finals) and as of this date India is the world champion of either throwing a ball at a bunch of sticks or whacking said ball away from said sticks with a paddle.
Next: Top 10 Dangers Unique to China
1. ATTACKED BY LOVESICK ARMY OF SINGING ROBOTS
Ever since India eclipsed America as the producer of the most movies, people have started using the term Bollywood (a portmanteau of Bombay and Hollywood) to describe Indian films. This is incorrect and dumb, not only because “Bombay” has been properly referred to as Mumbai for decades, but because Bombay is far from the only major Indian city with a burgeoning film industry. Long before Bollywood, the West Bengali city of Tollygunge was popularly known as Tollywood all the way back in 1932, and continues to produce films and filmmakers internationally renowned for their artistic talent.When people talk about Bollywood films, they’re most often talking about the sprawling three-hour-plus musical epics that are properly referred to as “masala cinema”—a spicy mixture of every film genre that can be thrown into the pot and influenced heavily by both ancient Sanskrit literature and the Depression-era Hollywood musicals of Busby Berkeley. For Indian families that can often only afford to see one movie each year (if that), the masala film offers a sort of universal movie experience that strives to include as many cinematic elements as it can, so that fans of action, comedy, romance, or melodrama will all be able to enjoy parts of the film, and the typical three-hour running time ensures that audiences get the most movie for their crore.
Take as an example “Enthiran” (“Robot”), a product of the Tamil film industry operating out of Kodambakkam (“Kollywood”) and the most expensive Indian film ever made. Western audiences are primarily aware of Enthiran from YouTube clips of its action sequences, where Chitti Babu, the robot of the title (played by iconic Tamil actor Rajnikath, one of those people so famous they can get away with having just one name) wreaks completely crazy havoc on the Indian Army by surrounding himself with android duplicates and turning into a giant CGI snake with assault rifles for teeth.
The action scenes found on YouTube are actually a tiny part of the overall movie, which concerns the brilliant scientist Dr. Vaseegaran (also played by Rajnikath) building a robot duplicate of himself that ends up helping his girlfriend cheat on medical exams, stabbing the good doctor at the command of Vaseegaran’s rival to prove a philosophical point, being invested with human emotions, falling in love with the aforementioned girlfriend, being chopped into bits by his creator, being put back together by his creator’s rival to serve as an unstoppable killing machine, and lots and lots of lavish song-and-dance numbers.
Western audiences typically have a tough time sitting through all of Enthiran, but Indian audiences made it one of the most popular and lucrative Indian films of all time—this 165-minute-long saga of a paunchy 61-year-old man and his paunchy android duplicate made the largest opening of any Indian film ever made, and while official box-office records aren’t kept for Indian movies, it’s believed to be the highest-grossing movie in Indian film history. Suck on that, Avatar!