- Mark Twain
Fri 18 Jun 2010
A random jumble of thoughts, sentences. That's what India does to me - randomly stimulate me, while thoroughly confounding me.
At the Singapore airport, while waiting to check-in, I might as well have been in India: The flight had only Indians! Landed at Bangalore airport and India hit me in the face full swing. Immigration dude barely moved a muscle but managed to find the energy to glare at me. Opposite to the sullen immigration office was the helpful young man at the Duty Free who followed me around with a basket helping me fill it with goodies (tequila for the bro, Grand Marnier for dad, half a kilo of chocolate for the niece, Mrnalini, and mom). Customs chap was completely shocked that I arrived with only a back pack - he confirmed my lite-luggage status a couple of times, wondering why anyone would come from "phoren" (foreign, abroad) without gobs of goodies for the fam back home. Walked out and bargained for a taxi; invigorating smacking down the taxi driver in Hindi!
The drive home is another story - there are lanes, but the taxi driver drove a couple miles straddling two lanes before making up his mind which lane he wanted to be in. The city has exploded (some say imploded) that I didn’t recognize a single street or landmark. It's an odd feeling to come home where it's only really a memory of what home was like a decade ago. What endures is the chaos and the throngs of people. The local Café Coffee Day was teeming and it was well past midnight. There was enough traffic in the streets that I even saw an accident. Passed an electronic sign board with odd signs flashing, "Better late than never," "Keep Bangalore clean," "Be safe. Wear a helmet," etc; that's what I call mixed messaging.
Oh, the honking. There's the persistent, hand-on-horn variety wanting to clear the way forward with audio intimidation. There's the staccato variety, that must have taken some practice, actually much practice. Sound with a signature style. And here's the funny thing, my mom had to give the taxi driver detailed instructions to find our house. Air Traffic Controller-style, she had to talk him in for the last 5 miles. No GPS (No software can make sense of the warren of roads).
Home - much excitement, touching of feet, loud chatting, 1am snack, contemplated sleeping inside a mosquito net, woke up to the sound of a bore well running, someone yelling at their servant.
Pouring rain the next day. Everything felt really hard to do from driving, to walking, to coping with the heat and noise. Admitted to being crabby, and sheepishly agreed that I was being high maintenance . Waded in ankle deep slush to go shopping, and you thought finding parking at Costco was the hard part. Worth it - got the most gorgeous sari for mom, a silvery grey one with sequins and beads, not as gaudy as it sounds. A lovely deep pink silk dress with a gold border for Mrnalini (my brother's teenager), and diamond nose ring for me. Score!
I LOVE THE FOOD - yes, it needs to be in capital letters for appropriate emphasis. Ate more than I should have - appams (like a crepe) with coconut stew, rasmalai (dessert dumplings in thickened milk), dosa and sambar (large, crisp, rice flour crepe with lentil soup), kebabs (with much fuss from the teenager going through a vegetarian phase).
Nothing is convenient in India. The dirt is nauseating, the noise deafening. I feel worn down and disappointed at the state of the nation. But I have also come away grateful for the opportunity to be just 4 hours away from mommy and daddy. Thrilled to be able to attend a family wedding next month. Excited to be part of my brother's life - plan on visiting him in Sept/Oct. For all that and much more, I can cope with inconvenience , the noise, the dirt, the chaos, and the contradictions - bring it on!
Some interesting reading about India -
1. Geography of Bliss: Hilarious chapter on India - Chapter 9. At your local library!
2. Geography of Thought: Deeper dive into why you sometimes want to smack the call center person sitting in India. Actually, a really good book to understand why the East and West think differently.
3. Indians: Portrait of a People: Seminal book, divided into topical chapters covering arranged marriage, views on sex, hierarchical society, etc. The Dummies Guide to understanding Indians.
“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence...the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race...mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition... for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor...the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”—Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897