A once-in-a-lifetime experience repeats.
"Hey, Rusty, how long is your Indian visa valid for?"
Six months. Why?
"How would you like to go back and teach another class?"
"Um... next month?..."
And so, on short notice, once again I go back to Bangalore.
The Trip InMy flight this time connected through Frankfurt, and both segnments were on national flag carriers.
In the JFK-Frankfurt segment, the Lufthansa Airbus was a model of Germanic efficiency - comfortable, hi-tech and spotlessly clean. Food, while unremakeable, was good, and beer was plentiful. And the inflight film was, of all things, "The Brothers Grimm" (albeit the recent Terry Gilliam version, so Germans were portrayed as ignorant dolts; Italians, cowardly bufoons; and French, evil invaders.)
About the only blemish on the flight came on arrival in Frankfurt. We'd arrived early, and had to wait a few minutes on the tarmac for the gate. While disembaking, a large American woman was heard to drawl, "Boy, Lufthansa sure has gone downhill!"
So has the traveling public, my dear, so has the traveling public...
* * *
The second segment was via Air India, on a, ummm, "mature" 747, packed completely full. The somewhat fuzzy projector ran a continuous stream of music videos, Bollywood comedy-romances, and comedy segments (which I recognized as being from the Canadian "Just For Laughs" series.) And the food was heavenly - three meals, with curries, samosas, endless parades of vegetables and fruits - no danger of going hungry here. The only thing I couldn't figure out was the protocol for beer and wine - I'm sure it was available, but I didn't see anyone drinking. Didn't really need it, though, as I was able get a few hour's shuteye on the flight without it.
Even though the flight was an hour late (and it took another hour to get my bags) the driver was patiently waiting for me. His name is Chandru (it means "moon" in Hindi).
The hotel was a pleasant surprise. I'm on the same floor in the same hotel as before, but whereas on the last trip it was being refurbrished, now the renovation is complete and the rooms are bright and clean.
Life in the ImmediateI like cities.
You can't isolate yourself from the rest of the world as in suburbia. Cities force you out, to interact with your fellow human, and to live life in the immediate - you certainly cannot be lost in your thoughts while trying to cross a busy street!
If that's true in New York, it's doubly true in Bangalore.
After a few hour's rest and breakfast, I stepped out to run some errands. Any remaining traces of mental fog were quickly blown away by the act of navigating the busy streets. It's still an overwhelming, exhilirating experience, but no longer alien - the streets seem like old friends now. Almost as if on autopilot, I quickly found a hardware store (for plug adapters), Gangaram's book store (for maps) and the supermarket (for lunch and khatta meeta, my favorite snack).
MysoreOn Sunday I had arranged for my driver to take me to Mysore, the ancestral capital of the state (Bangalore is the current capital). Not quite sure what to expect, I picked up a map and guidebook the day before, but I need not have worried - Chandru knew the area well and gave me a wonderful tour.
Our first stops were at the Sultan Tipu's Palace and Burial Ground, and then we drove up Chamundi Hill, where a temple to the goddess Kali sits atop the hill, with commanding views in all directions.
On the way down, we stopped at the Bull Temple, site of an ancient huge bull, carved from a single piece of black stone.
But the real highlight was Mysore Palace, an amazing display of opulence, wealth and artworks. If the main palace is any indication, the inhabitants represented an incredible concentration of riches. Just as interesting to me, though, was an adjacent museum that displayed the daily artifacts that the palace dwellers used - furniture, table settings, cradles, victrolas and the like - it made them human in my eyes.
I wouldn't even think
of touching you.
The last stop was at the Brindavan Water Gardens, a park with fountains and gardens at the base of a large dam run by the local power authority. The "dancing fountains" were the main attraction, with their lighting and landscaping, and everyone seemed to be having a good time strolling.
I took a side path, though, and after climbing what seemed like an endless
series of stairs, was able to gaze over the top of the dam at a peaceful
lake. After a day of hectic activity, it was nice to get a bit of
Teeming with lifeEverywhere you turn, you are surrounded by life here. True to stereotype, cattle wander undisturbed, but streets here also contain dogs, donkeys, sheep, goats, and the odd pig.
Well, no, elephants don't routinely
wander the streets here.
While staring out the widow on the fifth floor at work, I noticed flourescent green parrots in the treetops - not one or two, but small companies (yes, that's the collective for parrots; check it out at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_collective_nouns ) that flew among the treetops in precise formations.
Going home one day, Chandru halted the car abruptly.
"Look", he said, pointing out the side window. Two young men, with freshly-killed chickens hanging around their necks, were skillfully shepherding a team of some four dozen ducks through the rush-hour traffic (yes, "team" is an accepted collective for ducks. So is "raft" and "flush").
"Wow." I said. "That's fifty dinners, right there." Chandru laughed.
Mystery SolvedWhen planning this trip, we had extraordinary difficulty finding flights to Bangalore. There was plenty of choice on the return, just nothing available outbound. I actually had to go out a day early (not a problem - I got to see Mysore as a result!).
When I arrived in Bangalore, there were many foreigners, mostly Germans, on the flight. And in the jumble of bags in the baggage claim, all of them seemed to have checked through a high-end yoga mat/chair.
In town, there were more foreigners than I remembered in my hotel. And, being pale and tall like them, they insisted in talking to me in German, and seemed somewhat frustrated that I did not respond in their native tongue.
Well, it seems that Art of Living, a spirtitual group founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, was holding its 25th anniversary in Bangalore. The foreigners (from over 100 countries) were in town for a week of meditation, yoga, vegetarian food and breathing instruction.
And, while I respect and admire what they are doing, I'm glad to be scheduled to fly out before the conclusion of their celebration!
Say "paneer" (cheese). A group shot of the third class.
Class 3Every class I teach has its own personality. This class was quieter than most, perhaps because of the larger proportion of "freshers" (recent graduates for whom this was a first job) or maybe because most of them had been working at Ness for less than five months -- whatever the reason, they were great students, but a bit reserved.
In each class, I seem to get "adopted" by a student or two, who recognize my interest in India and take the time to answer my questions. In this class, Mehek and Brij (seated first and second from the left in the picture above) acted in that role. Mehek, in particular, seemed to enjoy talking about food (always a topic of interest to me). She comes from the state of Punjab (Bangalore is such a magnet for hi-tech work, that it is rare to meet anyone from the home state of Karnakata), and has lived several other places before coming to Bangalore, so she had a breadth of culinary knowledge beyond just the local cuisine.
Come to think of it, most Indians have a broad knowledge of food. And it's easy to see why - with such a variety of raw ingredients, spices, and modes of preparation, one could literally go for years without eating the same dish twice. Coming back to the US, American food strikes me as being bland and uninteresting by comparison.
Delhi bellyI was no less careful on this trip, but did get an upset stomach for a couple of days. Nothing major, just enough to make me uncomfortable. I'm sure my class noticed that I wan't my usual bouncy self on Wednesday and Thursday, but they were too polite to say anything.
Unfortunately, during that time I didn't even want to look at anything remotely spicy. The breakfast in the hotel had both Western and Indian fare, and while I'm normally adventurous, for two mornings I stuck with fruits and breads. In our lunch outings, Mehek encouraged me to try "pickle", a condiment of coarsely chopped chili peppers, thicker than a chutney, and (despite her assurances to the contrary) somewhat spicy. I made a token effort, but tried to stay bland during lunch also -- I hope I didn't offend my hosts!
The Punjabi RestaurantBy Friday, I had recovered almost completely, and went back to my usual sampling of Indian dishes at breakfast. For lunch we went to a restaurant run by people from Punjab state. The cuisine was typically Punjabi, staff wore Punjabi garb (some turbans, even), and the music piped in was ... rock and roll (that's universal!).
Unusual for India, this restaurant was set up buffet-style. My curiosity got the better of me, and I tried to sample as much as I could. My particular weaknes is for the various varieties of breads, so I got a bit of each variety on my plate.
There were two women in our group, so I got an opportunity to experience Indian dining hospitalilty (read: mothering) firsthand. When I arrived back at the table with my sampling of breads, they stared at me with shock:
"Oh you can't eat those DRY!..." and sprang up. The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by dishes of vegetables, sauces, chutneys...
Of course, I felt compelled to try and finish what was on my plate.
I wasn't hungry until I got on the plane late that evening!
The favorite god in Bangalore is Ganesh, always depicted with an elephant's face. Ganesh is a happy god, representing new beginnings -- as befits a city taking on high-tech. I'm told that there are more than 10,000 temples in Bangalore to Ganesh alone. My driver pointed down a busy street and told me that there are more than a dozen temples in the space of one kilometer on that one street!
This level of devotion may seem alien, until you realize we have something similar in America: we leave a place for our gods in our homes, are never far from areas where we can practice devotion, and build huge structures dedicated to them.
Only the structures are long and thin and paved with blacktop
And the gods are GM and Toyota and Ford and Nissan.
As I write these words, it's
been two months since my return from India
I consider it a unique privilege
to have see this one piece of a fascinating,