November 23rd: The Highway Madman

Today, I woke up to check on my soaking chickpeas. I actually don’t know if they are chickpeas. The bag said Kabuli. My eyes said chickpeas. I don’t know how to prepare chickpeas. Last night I tried to boil them. They tasted chalky. I remember that I had seen beans soaking somewhere in my memory closet. I left them to soak over night. This morning I boiled them with some curry sauce and I ate them with rice and Chapati. Chapati is one of the many forms of Indian unleavened breads.  I regret using hand sanitizer before eating. It made my hands taste bitter and chemical. It almost ruined the meal.

First mealCooking Indian food has been a good challenge for me. I have tried three times to make instant Dosas; Indian crepes. The first time I eyeballed the metric system, that house was blown down. The 2nd time I didn’t have the necessary goat ghee or soya curd to complete the recipe, that house was blown down too. Finally when all my little pigs were in the third house we succeeded. Although instant in India means, “leave mixture to sit for three to five hours” we convince the hungry wolves to eat our crepes rather than our porky bodies.

There is almost no meat here. The butcher is certainly unhygienic and the grocery stores don’t stock fresh meats. Only frozen processed meats. I can feel a desire for protein coming on. I also have had constant but manageable loose motions. It’s a bit funny that my curry sauces and loose motions look, smell, and taste the same.

Since I am a Gora in India anything without a price tag gets immediately jacked up the moment my pasty face appears. I know that the auto drivers are charging me double, refusing to take me unless I agree to double prices, and lying about not having change. The water deliveryman also doubled his price upon arrival. The auto will jump from 33c to 70c. Still the ride is under a dollar.  The water delivery went from 50c to 1 dollar. I decided that being ripped off is the price I pay for benefiting from their society. When I go into a supermarket, I don’t even look at the prices because almost nothing is more than 2 dollars. Its like the world is my dollar store. I understand how it feels to be so rich you don’t check prices. So if clever people want to sneak a bit off of me on the side I don’t mind. Its like the membership fee to Sam’s Club.

In India people are not punctual. Poor transportation, power outages, and heat make being on time for anything a near impossibility. India runs on a norm called Indian Standard Time (IST). People regularly arrive one hour after the agreed upon arrival time. The waterman did this today. He was punctually one hour late for the delivery. He came in when I was elbow deep in laundry. He started asking me the price of random things in my house like dishtowels. I don’t exactly understand why he did this. Indian people often ask each other how much money they make. It’s not an impolite question at all here. I tell them that I am a volunteer making no money. Rather than floor them with the Indian conversion of my Japanese salary.

After lunch and the water delivery. I spent 40 minutes doing a bucket of laundry. You get intimate with your clothing when you wash them by hand. My clothes and I gossiped about all we had seen this week. They screamed in protest as I slammed them into the water. Then I tortured them against a washing board. Waterboarding.  They swore in revenge that they would make me look fat this week. In the tough love friendship I have with my clothes they have the upper hand. If I beat them or abuse them, they will make me look like a shabby guy.

I made a mortal mistake today when I crushed my companion Arjun. Arjun was a daddy-long-legs. Although we didn’t have formal alliance, our common enemy the mosquitoes made us brothers in legs. Mistaking him for a mosquito during a shower I senselessly crushed him. I await his reincarnation.

I left my mansion and headed toward a busy part of town to use the internet and go to the gym. I walked into a place with an internet café/ browsing center sign over head. To my surprise it had become a paint store. The paint salesmen gave me directions to anotherbrowsing center. He was gesturing for me to walk along the highway. I wanted to confirm that he was indeed suggesting that I walk along the highway. I said, “ that big road ?”. He bobbled and said, “ Yes sir, big road.” I saw other people walking on the high way and I thought maybe this is the Indian way.

So I cautiously entered the highway. Then reality kicked in. I’m walking along a highway. A crazy Indian highway. Highways in India actually have shops along them. Surprisingly there was a liquor store along the highway. When I say along I mean in the breakdown lane along. Walking past the liquor stores I saw ahead of me a man in colorful clothing holding a whip. He was cracking the whip on the ground and moaning. Now I’m sharing the side of the highway with a whip-wielding madman. I must be a crazy person.  I continued passed the man and he started to follow me. He asked me for 100 Rs. That’s twenty hours wages at Pizza Hut in India, but only 1.50$ in USD. He had his whip in his hand. He was a talented panhandler or a pushy pilgrim. He could have actually been a pilgrim asking for alums, I looked hesitant to frock over the cash. He twisted a long metal piercing in his cheeks and moaned in pain. I gave him 10Rs and got a picture of him. I scanned further along the highway. I saw more squalor and decided that there definitely wasn’t a browsing center this way.

In India people want very much to be helpful. It’s a common practice for an Indian to tell a person directions even when they have no idea what they are saying. They give extremely vague directions and the listener is supposed to determine that the information is politely wrong. That was why I double-checked with the paint salesman before I entered the highway. It was my mistake for misreading him. When I descended from the highway. I asked a guy in a TV store where the nearest browsing center was. His directions led me to a shack that was surrounded by tall grass. The sans-ventilation structure had once been a browsing center. In India a browsing center, may not be a business. It could just be a part of someone’s home or other business and they rent out the computers to people. The shack had a sign that pointed better into the neighborhood to find another browsing center. After I looking at the people in the area and the darkening rain clouds, I decided to give up the Internet. On the bright side exploring has been a thrilling.

Just as the rain started I got into the gym. I discovered that the sullen women in saris are the maids of the gym. They wipe down the machines and re-rack the weights after you workout. I felt guilty having the women wipe my sweat off the machines while the wealthy patrons and I narcissistically stared at ourselves in the mirrors. I’m just happy they have jobs.

The gym plays loud vulgar American dance music. I love dance music and I love vulgar dance music, but graphic sexual songs are awkward in a gym shared by men and brave women. At one point the power cut out. The people continued working out unphased. Momentarily the generator brought the lights and vulgar music back. The gym is on the second floor and the side of the gym facing the street is glass panel windows. The treadmills are lined along the window so the joggers can have a view of a semi-decrepit street that doesn’t have power. The gym was one of few lights still on. The lights made the joggers look like they were a bright television for the lightless pedestrians to look at before the power came back on. I decided to stay in the gym to wait out the rain and the power outage. The gym is very small and there is no place to wait, so I massaged the tired machines and took a long hot shower. I like the gym. Looking out the windows I feel like I am in a futuristic spaceship looking out onto chaotic Sahaksara Nagar (SN- my suburb of Bangalore).

Under the gym is a Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut was very nice. They were expensive by Indian standards. 300Rs/5$ a meal. Imagine how expensive that is when a PH employee makes 50Rs an hour. That would be the wage/hour equivalent of 36$ bucks in America. They even gave me a bill in a leather checkbook. Pizza is an upper middle class food in Indian.

I took an auto to my local browsing center. I had to stand while using the computer today. I didn’t mind the standing much, but I did mind the tickle of mosquitoes. When I had had enough I came home by auto. Every auto driver increases his prices for me. When one driver used the meter for me, I was so happy that I paid him double in jubilation. In India and other countries, taxi and auto drivers regularly refuse people based on their destination. I have decided to start refusing drivers based on their attitude. I don’t mind the price, but I do mind if the driver is a wreckless maniac impatient for reincarnation.  I have had some of the worst drivers. The thrill of “this is India!” is slowly becoming “this is madness” when some of my drivers make crazy moves.  So I look them in the face to see if they are all put together upstairs. Mostly they are, and my distrust of their techniques is cultural and my own squeamishness evaporating.

I came home to find my doorman in high spirits. He came up to me and shook my hand and said,” America” Then he held up one finger and gave me a puzzled puppy smile. I acknowledge that I’m the only one in the apartment.  I know that he talks about me with the local people, so I really want him to like me. There was a cold rain and thunder going on at the time I got home. I boiled up two cups of burning hot tea and brought them to him. He didn’t seem pleased at all. He accepted them and I left. I wonder if it came across as kindness or pity? I heard that, “ no matter what one does or says true intentionality is conveyed unspoken”. Maybe my pandering has become naked.

I’ve heard all sorts of violent noises from animals during the night. There are gangs of dogs everywhere. They own the streets. (I feel like I’m writing a rap song).  When other dogs step on their turf the night’s peace is shaken with howling, barking, and snarling. Sometimes their battles happen in front of my apartment and the dry air carries their viciousness right into my room. The other night I heard a noise that sounded like human wailing. I had never heard such a noise before. It reminded me of the howling that middle-eastern women make when yet another one of their loved ones is killed. I decided that someone in the neighborhood had died and I was hearing a wailing sorrowful cry. I was made solemn. Then I heard a bunch of dogs barking. They were agitated by the animalistic noise. The noise got lower and more gargled. It couldn’t have possibly been a human. The dogs became super violent in their barking. Men began yelling into the street. The noise stopped. I decided that it must have been a cow and a gang of dogs. It’s interesting how closely Indians share their cities with animals. The animals are completely living their own dramas and comedies along side the toiling humans.

One of my three porches is the home to a family of pigeons. If I try to open the door to the porch they flutter around and get pissed off. To preserve peace I partitioned that porch for the birds.

For the birds,

Deren

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