Monday, September 10, 2012

India # 5: Where I live, yoga, Bengaluri International Art Festival--jazz!

First Saturday

The first week is behind me, it’s Saturday and I’m feeling good about things so far.  I’ve drafted a work plan for the first 30 days: several stand-up video reports for the ACCION International web site about what I’m seeing, and work on a five-minute video about Vindhya. I’ve agree to go to both Patna, in Bihar, one of India’s poorest cities, and to Mumbai and report on two other ACCION partners there.  It is amazing how quickly one can enter into the “this is what I do” of a new life.  I’m particularly comfortable in a place where nearly everyone is “differently able.”  I wasn’t so sure about that before I came.

I have tried to set aside, as best I can, the journalist or the voyeur’s mental remarks about everything I’m seeing in favor of just being here.  In this way it is natural that I’m walking through a light rain among thousands of people at a bus stop, merely switching from the 96A to the 335 to get back to my place, like everyone else.  For too long my ego has been on high alert while traveling: “How cool I am!  Whatya know, there’s a lot of music in Cuba!”  No doubt there will still some preciousness in my new attitude but our motives are inevitably mixed.  We can at least set out intentions. 

I have gotten lost several times.  Going to Vindhya on the second day I forgot the name of my stop (Industrial Town), got off too early and had to be rescued by a man who ran a tiny shop selling Hindu religious items in silver.  He closed the store, found a rickshaw driver and told him where to take me, based on the calling card of one of Vindhya’s executives.  Several times I couldn’t figure out the street pattern around where I live.  The language of the street is Kannada so I keep handy the address of where I am going (which doesn’t always insure that I’ll get there unless I keep asking for directions).

Where I live

I have a one bedroom apartment with a living/dining room which is entirely adequate, if lacking in good reading light, a supply of potable water, a microwave and a frig.  I return here sweaty but a quick shower (there has been plenty of hot water so far) and turn on the fan and all is well.  Bangalore is above 3,000 feet and the temperature has been in the 70-80 degree range for the last three months, differing little from day to night.  The monsoon season has been unkind to India this year and there will be suffering as a consequence.  I will experience India’s dominant condition, heat, later this month in Bihar and Mumbai.

A maid comes every day and her name sounds like “B R E,” and she also does the laundry and irons on Mondays, for a small monthly fee.  As I write she is washing the floor by hand in a pink sari and a long yellow scarf.  She has one good eye and a bright smile.  She also cleans the patio, taking an hour on my place. 

My apartment is one of several owned by Casa Cottages which in turn is owned by a trading company.  Half a block over is Casa’s small guest house where I go for breakfast each day for $60 a month.  It consists of fruit juice, a bowl of fresh fruit, eggs fixed to order, toast and rolls with homemade jam and chai tea or coffee.  I just missed the mango season but the papaya is terrific and so are the bananas.  By ordering one day ahead I could get an Indian breakfast.

I meet interesting people each morning.  An Indian-American woman is here with her two teenage boys to work for an NGO called Terre de Homme which aids street children while her husband works for AID in Kurdish Iraq.  She and her husband were previously with Catholic Relief in Kenya and Mumbai.  She loves Mumbai and drove there yesterday to pick up a great Dane she shipped over from Dulles yesterday.  NGO’s seem to be everywhere.

Next was an endlessly curious character who is practicing ayurvedic medicine in Boulder and goes by the name of Varadaan.  We had dinner twice and I wish I’d taken notes but I did come away with a face mask which I now wear when in a rickshaw and some ayurvedic medicine should I get the runs. 

“Western men like us need to open ourselves to Indians who are heart-centered,” he says and suggest an ashram in Kerala run by Amma, the embodiment of the goddess and who specializes in hugs.  If I wrote down everything he had to say you’d be here all day but I expect he will influence my time in some way. 

A third fellow guest is a woman here with the Swiss Consulate.  We all have the same Lonely Planet Guide to Southern India.

Get to Know Your Neighborhood

My place is in a quiet section called Richmond between the two great, nearly impassable rivers of traffic, Richmond Road going west and Residency Road going east.  At first all I saw on my way home was the tipped over blocks of stone, garbage in the street and roaming dogs.  Now I see that mine is a neighborhood of middle and upper class apartment buildings, small medical offices, a Montisorri school and the Glorious Kids school, single, gardened homes, the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts (I thought there was only one) and the office of Greenpeace.  In one building, young men seem to be getting out of some class in a jammed, underground space so I duck in.  The barefoot man whom I take to be Muslim has been teaching physics early Saturday afternoon. 

I came here with the understanding that business attire for men is informal and not to bring a tie and jacket (which I did anyway).  I brought three shirts and three pair of pants, expecting to buy locally once I got here.  So I ask someone in the same building to open their small men’s and women’s store for me.  Shop with your neighbors.

He has shirts from Old Navy, Levi’s Zara and several British companies for $5-7.  Why is that, I ask?  It turns out he is selling seconds of exported products.  “Out of a 100,000 order, I get just a few.”

I select a white shirt that looks kinda Indian.  He thinks I should have a pair of pants and I find a nice brown pair he will tailor to my length.  And how about a T-shirt?  No, I have enough, thank you.  But just one look, sir.

And there is this T-shirt with the label “Hammes Bookstore, University of Notre Dame.”  I met Mr. Hammes 55 years ago at Notre Dame.  I love what the small world of this and had to have it.

Also in the neighborhood is a stunning piece of architecture, five stories of glass with a spare, elegant restaurant and red sari-clad women at the reception desk.  I ask and these are studio and one bedroom apartments available for short term rent.  Oh, dear.

Coming to India I was thinking of choosing a somewhat monastic dwelling, consistent with what I saw as a time of service to people who are poor.  Spend less and I could give away the difference. Running out of time, I took the place where I now live that cost more and is far from monastic.  But there is another side to me that wants to be in a beautiful place, which this certainly is.  I ask to see the rooms.

They are extraordinary, like a quality modern hotel only larger.  The price is only about 20 percent above what I am paying—until they add the government’s 19.5% service tax.  So now I’ve got a choice of values for where I’ll live my second month here.  I don’t know what I’ll choose.


In mid-week I went looking for a work-out place.  First I visited Gold’s Gym which was pumped with noise and offered a discounted price, just for me.  The second was Creative Health which is a yoga studio. Sounds like the right choice in India, wouldn’t you say?

So I took a sample class and then signed up for two months.  In the sample class I was thinking, I’m doing pretty well here, at least until it came to balance.  But today’s class was another matter.  This is going to be hard. I can’t hide out as I can at the Boise YMCA.  However there appear to be about as many staff as students and one of them holds me in a couple poses so I don’t fall over.  Maybe that’s a metaphor of my time here, we shall see.

Saturday Night at the Luxury Mall

I have arrived during the two week Bengaluru International Art Festival which tonight features jazz from around the world.   It is held in an amphitheater inside a luxurious complex of 30 story high-rise offices and residences plus Louis Vitton and all his expensive friends from the Charles de Gaulle Airport.  I eat at the Indian equivalent of an all-you-can eat place back home, a tray containing a dozen cups and three glasses which filled with as much of various vegetables, yogurts and soups as you want, plus a variety of breads. Tasty. However the night belongs to the musicians.  There are three percussionist, a guitarist and saxophone player, both from Canada, and a vibrant table player and an elegant Indian woman playing sitar.  I did not expect Charlie Parker tunes would wrap up this week so beautifully.

Back home it will soon be time for Prairie Home Companion where Garrison’s theme song ends, “It’s Saturday, the band is playing, honey, could you ask for more?”  No, not this Saturday in Bangalore.


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