The measurement is the message

At New Delhi train station finding the correct platform and carriage is a crystal maze style challenge with cryptic and conflicting signage at every turn. However, written in large clear letters on the main station name sign is exactly how many metres above sea level you are.

It’s an example of a tendency for Indian information to be very rich on numbers and measurements but thin on more immediately useable info. For instance, finding your seat on the train requires consulting several printed out pages pinned to the outside of the train and there’s little or coach numbering inside – so it’s part guess work part luck. However, as the train pulled out, the conductor let us know in perfect English the exact length of the journey in kilometres. This is interesting to know but after having to switch carriages a couple of times and a few heart stopping moments thinking we had the wrong train, knowing how many meters to Jaipur was a distant second on my list of requirements.

The city palace in Jaipur is an impressive complex of grandiose pavilions, intricate stone carving and delicate gold leaf decoration. The information boards dotted around provide some historical background but also tell you how big or wide the brilliantly carved doors are. As we wondered the courtyards a class of high school children on a field trip were busy with tape measures and calculators measuring the circumference of pillars and the the height of steps. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose was as they seemed to move from one part of the building to another noting down numbers and moving on in no apparent order or doing any drawings.

Inside the main royal chamber we were looking at the wonderful portrait paintings of various maharajas from the 16th and 17th century when one of the attendants approached us to inform us that this particular ruler weighed 223kilos was 183 cm tall and was 1metre wide. He was a big guy. Something the picture showed pretty well to but there was a clear sense of pride in the attendants face as he reeled off the statistics and I’m sure he could have given us the inside leg measurements for all the maharajas if we had inquired.

I don’t think the racial stereotype of all Indians being maths geniuses is true at all but from what I’ve seen there is a stronger interest in numbers and odd measurements than you generally find in Europe.

And to be fair it is interesting stuff. I just wish sometimes it could be mixed in with a few street signs or directions once in a while.


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