Wednesday, September 19, 2012

India #8 Getting to Know My Neighorhood



After sleeping late and surviving another session of No Hiding Yoga, I sink into a soft seat before breakfast with two quality newspapers to read.  This is reason alone to be grateful.  It is also the holiday for Ganesh, the elephant-like god who auspiciously blesses all undertakings, so the city is taking the day off.

I’ve been here just over two weeks and my understanding of my neighborhood is beginning to fill in.  (Too bad I don’t possess the descriptive skills of William Dalrymple, one of the greatest writers about India, who writes about the country’s capital 30 years ago: “…Delhi was full of riches and horrors; it was a labyrinth, a city of palaces, an open gutter, filtered light through filigree lattice, a landscape of domes, an anarchy, a press of people, a choke of fumes, a whiff of spices. …In the morning I look out at the sad regiment of rag-pickers trailing the stinking berms of refuse; overhead, under a copper sky, vultures circled the thermals forming patterns, like fragments of glass in a kaleidoscope.”)  Instead, you’ll have to settle for something more mundane:

·      I discover I am living in a largely Muslim neighborhood.  Two blocks away is Johnson Market which, despite its name, if fully Muslim, with its meat and fish markets, flower vendors and men pouring out of the mosque, past a few beggars.  I now hear the calls from the mosque at the appointed hours in a beautiful voice, probably recorded but I can’t be sure.  In another direction is a larger Muslim community where a man was boiling a giant caldron of potato chips as I walked by a bit ago.  Some women are in full burka, others show their faces and girls, at least into the teen years, are brightly clad.  One man I’ve become acquainted with repeats the same message each time we meet:  we are all children of the same God.

·      Within a few blocks are seven or eight new apartment buildings under construction and in one of them, as evident from the laundry and children scampering about, several families are living on a narrow site.  Bangalorians abroad bemoan the replacement of homes with apartments and the pulling down of trees.  The new metro ripped out an entire boulevard of ancient trees.  But upwards makes sense environmentally and may enrich the neighborhood as it gentrifies and all the trees seem to have remained.

·      Under awnings at a half dozen sidewalk locations, men and women iron the laundry they have recently washed.  I have the pleasure of arriving home to fresh clothes three times a week myself. I make myself a hero by paying double the going rate to have a few shirts ironed.  Cheap thrills.

·      The place is honeycombed with little high-tech and other businesses.  Across from my entrance can be found Klaus IT Solutions, Flucon India, Iron Bird Tech Labs, Intra Dekor and Reflections Outdoor Advertising.

·      Perhaps it’s my tidy-up imagination but the neighborhood seems to be cleaner this week following a get-tough on trash announcement last week.  Women are out each morning and here again a little tip brings a big smile.  Thank you for cleaning up even if it’s your job. Still, trash disposal appears to consist of dropping a small plastic bag at a designated corner.  Trash bins are nowhere in evidence.

·      There must be eight schools of one kind or another within few blocks, pre-school through small professional school. India’s public education is “atrocious,” one Indian tells me, and a rickshaw driver could easily be spending 30 percent of his income (there are no women drivers) on private education.  Posters on trees and poles advertise education at all levels, in almost equal exposure with enticements to sign up for 20 megabit internet.   A woman from Spain I met at breakfast has been a volunteer teacher for a year in the neighboring state of Andhra Predesh.  She says her students are truly wonderful but badly prepared when they hit professional school at 21.  She untangles their English.   In India there are NGO’s everywhere you turn.

·      There is a lovely compound nearby consisting of the Berean College and Seminary, the Bible Baptist Church, residences and play areas.

·      When someone wants to say an American football team has taken on an opponent unworthy of them they are said to be playing against “The Little Sisters of the Poor.”  Well, they could come to Bangalore for such a game because close by me is the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged.

·      A little further afield is the great verdant expanse of the school for military police.  The rich and middle class are building upward in towers of considerable display here, a bit like Sao Paulo.  If the city ever wants to house everyone else vertically, the military owns vast tracts of centrally located land which could serve that purpose. Two blocks away is a colony of goats.  The aviary kingdom is dominated by birds that look like jays and sound like crows and are probably the same corvid family.  Street dogs lie around all day and night, resigned to being ownerless, as best I can tell, although many of them come from a line of poor dwellings closest to the traffic.  I am regularly delighted by shy cats, one of whom comes in for a look around. 

·      Fruit and vegetable vendors push carts through the neighborhood all day and at the head of my street someone will lop off the top of a coconut and provide a straw.  He and an old woman with a fruit cart stay until well after night falls.

·      My section of Richmond Town is very quiet but a block and a half away traffic was so heavy at seven last night I  crossed over to a restaurant only after a motorcycled policeman saw my plight, stopped traffic, and took me across.  

·      I finally realize my patio (where I am writing this at the moment) is covered by a coconut tree when one falls near where I was walking.  I also discover a giant orange-flowered jacaranda tree above the street.  That water splashing on the walkway between the two was my upstairs neighbors doing the laundry.

·      The air shaft outside my bathroom echoes with pigeons in early morning, the chatter of children, frequent tap-tap of a hammer and the pleasant smell of some family’s dinner.

This is not the stuff of great description or storytelling but rather, I hope, conveys a sense of settling into a particular place and time with an increasing sense of belonging, at least for a while.  I had thought that by now I would have taken the walking tour of the city, a bike tour in the country or the train to Mysore but I am content to remain close.

Tomorrow we’re off to Patna, although how that will go is uncertain since the opposition has called a strike to protest last week’s government decision to hike the price of diesel and cooking gas and to allow 51 percent foreign ownership in retail and airlines.  Just yesterday, one party left the ruling coalition headed by the Congress party, leaving it without a majority in the parliament. So we shall see how both the course of government and our travel goes the rest of the week.   

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