Postcard #5 an unexpected afternoon

I started writing this as a description of the Bangalore Modern Art Museum, formerly a colonist’s demeure, a massive, white, decrepit mansion with columns and verandahs, in retreat from the loud, chaotic city on tranquil and wooded grounds, now repurposed to house a mouldering collection of Indian art. The diverse collection, often poorly conserved, was an introduction to the imagination of a heterogeneous country.

After the museum, we had tea at Prakash’s house, where we sat eating his leftover birthday cake by candlelight (power outages are frequent here.) Later, we struggled, squinting in the dark at his paintings trying to appreciate the details. In the daylight, we saw his small garden in the back of the house, painted in a palette inspired by Kahlo with a small pond with lilies and on the wall below, original, rotating artwork painted by Prakash, his wife and son. Unexpected in flashy Bangalore where pubs outnumber cultural institutions and where everyone wears a badge on a lanyard for their respective tech company. 

Postcard #4 yoga bootcamp

Today was what I would imagine a yogic boot camp being like, if bootcamps took place in a mirrored yoga studio in a corporate building.  The class was led by an energetic and strict man, a sort of short, barefoot drill sergeant in sweatpants. After a brief meditation, we started several series of invigorating postures, executed in rapid succession while the teacher barked the English and Sanskrit names like commands. My three female classmates and I tried to physically respond to the teacher’s orders: “lean back as much as” where “as much as” sounds like “az muh taz,” as much as WHAT? For an hour, the teacher continued to command us to quickly execute sequences of asanas, unwilling to adjust his orders to our skill level or physical ability. I was able to keep up, drenched in sweat, slipping on my mat. As my hands slid slowly and repeatedly out from under me in downward dog, my teacher very pointedly asked if I had purchased my mat from the studio or not (no cheap mats allowed.)

The class ended with some strict instructions from the teacher: drink five, FIVE, 5 LITERS of water a day to purify the body and skin. My classmates all looked at one another in bewilderment, how the hell is that possible? I left wondering if all the classes were going to be as violent and as intense as this one and am now debating going back Monday for more yogic punishment.

Postcard #3

Today, my tiny fear of an unknown place and the fatigue of travel and (mild) illness did not encourage me to leave the apartment. Though still amused by the honking cars, crossing the road is perilous since the traffic laws are taken more like suggestions. Pierre’s driver assured me that it’s fine to run a red light between 11pm and 6am. Even during daylight hours, crossing the main drag to get anywhere is terrifying since I still haven’t figured out which way exactly the cars are supposed to come from. That’s why I use the buddy system, I lurk on a corner until you find a person trying to cross and follow them. This very same afternoon, walking to the shopping center, I saw a cow and her calf rooting through the detritus on the side of the road. Later, the mother and her calf crossed the street heedlessly in rush hour traffic. No rules for the bovines. I took that as a cue to get back across the street before waiting another 5 minutes for a break in traffic. In some respects, I have just as much of a chance of being ran over by a scooter here as I do in Paris, only in Bangalore I won’t even see them coming.

Postcard #2: Acclimatization

Yesterday, I saw a Taco Bell next to the KFC, brand recognition is reassuring when you are hemispheres away from what you know. Electric wires and string lights are woven and twisted around the trunks and branches of enormous trees, surrogates for telephone poles. There are pigeons here just like Paris as well as soaring birds of prey (the black kite.) In France, I found it strange that there aren’t any squirrels; in Bangalore, there are chipmunks. Like Paris, there is the incessant din of traffic, but the double paned windows filter most of the noise out. Here, through the window screen you can hear the constant honking and motors roaring past. Around 9 am you can hear sweeping or my neighbor talking on the phone, the other morning I even heard the original Nokia ringtone. At night, you can hear the crickets over the traffic. I am fascinated by the wandering cows eating garbage and the friendly looking stray dogs (that I fight the urge to pet because of the medical advice dispensed to me via animated video in the lobby of the Air France vaccination center.)

Postcard #1 : Arrival

I departed for Bangalore on Halloween and arrived the first of November. Travelling coincided with a new moon and a new month. Waking up the same day as arriving, I could not overcome my amazement at the trees. Palms near the airport parking lot looked fake with their smooth trunks and bunches of fruit hanging under the fronds. Our district, Koramangala, is heavily wooded with enormous flowering trees shading the roads and sidewalks. It’s like they built a city on the set of Jurassic Park. It should be clear that I have never before been this close to the Equator, which explains my wonder at all the vibrant tropical plant life. It’s strange to see species that you recognize as your dad’s house plants (rubber trees, fiddle-leaf fig, and ficus) growing big and wild in a residential neighborhood in a South Asian country. (Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees plays softly in the background.)