Pete and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
America was adamant that the world functioned like a motorbike
Photo: © Carine Thomas
"Hey man, thats the way it is. We live in a democracy and its
all like a machine".
Pete from America was adamant that the world functioned like a motorbike.
And this did not surprise me. His life appeared to revolve around one.
He was touring India on an Enfield.
"Look at India. The whole thing might be antiquated but it is oiled
and it works."
Well that is a matter of opinion. See if the poor, low paid or any other
exploited group that you care to choose from agree. This was his response
after having briefly read an extract from a book that I wrote, which described
globalisation as a form of westoxification.
"If people choose to drink Pepsi or wear Reebok, then who are we
to say that its wrong. It's not an invasion. It's their choice."
Pete was the type of person that grates - for me anyhow. Life was as simple
as a the mechanics of a motorbike. And he was cock-sure of this.
But life is not a motorbike. And the notion of westoxification is not
as simplistic as something invading the petrol in the tank. Sure, if people
choose to wear Reebok and indulge in crass materialism as we in the West
do, then that may be their choice. And that may or may not be an "invasion".
But good old Pete failed to appreciate that most of products being aimed
at urban middle class Indians emanate from the West, and that the underpinning
values pay homage to the individual, the young and immediate gratification.
This amounts to an undermining of traditional Indian values where older
people, the needs of the collective and deferred gratification are respected.
From where I was sitting, for Pete to reduce the whole thing to the art
of motorbike maintenance indicated that he had experienced a zen overload.
"If Limca and people like that decided to sell out to Pepsi and Coke
then that is their business. Thats democracy." He continued.
No, it is not democracy I thought. It is the rich and powerful deciding
to make a quick buck by selling up. Pete did not recognise that local
communities or workforces tend to have little control of the private firms
based in their localities. It is true in the West and the world over.
Maybe Pete would have responded with something along the lines of it just
being bad oil in the engine. All that would be required is a little tinkering
with the system - as simple as performing an oil change!
But it does not matter what type of oil there is - I thought that the
whole thing needs stripping down and putting back together gain. Oh no,
I was beginning to sound like Pete. Anyway, to borrow from Petes
analogy, someone had made the motorbike, and likewise, someone is "making"
the world we live in. And it is only the fortunate relative few who have
the "choice" to spend their money on consumer goods. Many are
protesting, rebelling or are "opting out" because they see through
the motorbike mentality of it all as being "natural", and only
in need of a slight tinkering with the oil, brake fluid or spark plugs.
Pete was heading down to Goa from Rajasthan on his machine. As he drive
through rural India would he as an outsider be able to see the influences
of caste on village life, the way women are treated, and the whole array
of hardships faced by so many rural people. If I am to be unkind, and
at this point I think I shall be, I would say that I doubt that Pete would
have been able to recognise exploitative relations within his own country
even if they slapped them in the face - so why would he be able to see
them in India?
Pete reminded me of a lot of travellers. They become self-appointed
experts on India (or on everything and anything for that matter)
after having been in the country for a while. They adopt a kind
of common sensical attitude, void of any serious analysis or insight
into how the place (or even the world) functions. I suppose it becomes
a case of "Hey man, go with the flow, thats the way it
is because thats the way it is meant to be." After all,
they are now wordly wise travellers. Quite an easy stance for the
carefree, come day go day traveller/tourist. But then again, unlike
so many others in the world, they have the choice and privilege
to be able to travel.
© Colin Todhunter November 2002
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