Postcard #24: Thanksgiving prix fixe

Today, Pierre and I started training for a possible 10k run in Whitefield in December. This sounds like a thing people in Whitefield would do. Running is an extremely annoying activity plus I had to wake up at 6:30 to avoid traffic and pollution. At least the area where we run is populated with cute dogs, big gated houses and elderly Indian couples wearing beanies for warmth, walking together for their physical fitness.  After the run, I went to 8am yoga, like some kind of insane Instagram fitspo “person”. Accomplishing so much so early, the day began to seem like an endless swathe of time until dinner. Dinner is important since it is the holiday where we honor colonial gluttony and slaughter with greedy fistfuls of casserole delivered directly to our greasy maws.

And what a dinner! We had a facsimile of Thanksgiving dinner in a high-end restaurant called Portland Steakhouse, where the cover of the menu featured an image of the Steel bridge (Rose City residents should know) and the wine menu had too many suspect win-based cocktails. The turkey was succulent though they served it with an bastardized, undercooked (read: raw dough) amalgam of sweet potatoes and stuffing. At least the restaurant can boast about the miniscule dollop of homemade cranberry sauce that had a overwhelming perfume of orange zest. Eerily, the plates of food were served under plastic covers, unveiled before the very eyes of the hungry and eager diners. The domed plastic cloches were reminiscent of plastic covers used to reduce sauce splatters while microwaving treacherous dishes such as spaghetti… These factors do not denote a high-end dining experience. This does not bode well!

Despite the odd meal, today, I’m thankful that the owners checked on us during our meal so I could complain that my plate arrived cold. This led to unexpected but appreciated seconds. It’s not Thanksgiving unless you overindulge. Namaste.

Postcard #23: the scary foreign woman

The apartment that we rent in Kormangala is smaller than the one in Suresnes. The tiled bathroom is the shower stall. I could bathe myself while sitting on the toilet. I use buckets of water to fill up the electric washing machine, instead of a boxspring, the mattress is suspended on a wooden board and there is no dining table or sofa, just a small low table and a long, wide cushion on the floor. Sometimes the power goes off during the day. Despite these mild affronts to comfort, the most tiresome inconvenience is the weak, often non-existent internet connection.

The problem wasn’t remedied today when the technician stopped by to install a wire to connect the router in the apartment downstairs (an apartment scarcely larger than ours though occupied by 5 Dutch people) to our internet repeater upstairs. All the technician did was string a black wire from downstairs, up to our place, winding it around a column and threading it through the paneless kitchen window where a ventilation fan was installed but not connected to anything. He was scared to enter the apartment occupied by the terrifying (my words) foreign woman (his words and a clever colloquialism for white lady). Evidently, he didn’t believe it necessary to test the connection in my presence. Believe it or not, the Internet still doesn’t work and I have yards of black cord draped down into my dish rack! I look forward to seeing him tomorrow when he has to re-do his work properly.

Postcard #22: countryside

Hearing your upstairs neighbor shower every evening at at 11pm is no longer amusing after the silence of the countryside. Hearing the people in the building behind yours wake at 6 to bang metal vessels becomes wearisome once you have stood outside, looking up at the constellations of the Southern hemisphere. The people working on the estate would also be up at dawn; we would see them walk up from the miniature village in the valley below to come to the shed and sharpen wide blades of machetes. The woman wearing a work shirt over her sari would approach the stable, barefoot, to milk the cow. Auntie would come to cook, squinting, accentuating the considerable lines of her face, glowing in her bright sari, her footsteps tinkling with her anklets. There people would wake to go to work but in a different way, the expanse of nature overwriting their human noise.

At dusk, on the coffee estate, I watched fat bats, some truly big ass bats flap languidly over our cottage, like silhouettes of winged sub sandwiches gliding through the inky indigo sky. At dusk in Bangalore, the vacant lot is burning and I can see small city bats flap low, close to my head. Most rabies cases come from bats. Then I think, the trash burning in a vacant lot does not evoke the same charm as a bonfire in a courtyard under the stars. Walking through the smoke from the burning plastic, I smell the delicious food smells of the neighborhood; even the smoke and smog can’t undermine that.

Postcard #21: buses, rickshaws and flat tires

We nearly missed the bus from Madikeri back to Bangalore. It was 11pm. We were gladly held up in the company of acquaintances, learning about coffee and spice cultivation and eating custard.

During the night, the bus from Madikeri had a flat tire. Pierre lucid dreamed the whole thing. A cold, thin stream of air blew on me all night from the bus window that refused to shut. At 6am, we took an overpriced rickshaw home from the bus stop. The cold morning air blew through our disheveled hair and we shivered, anxious to get back to the apartment to get some more rest before beginning the week. It’s strange to wake up again, around 8am, feeling as though you have already lived this day and like some kind of uncomfortable dream, you must still continue the same damn day, in a stupor from unrestful sleep and end of vacation gloom.

Postcard #20: not celebrating men

Sunday was International Men’s Day (a made-up Twitter holiday, surely) and the day I beat all the men to the top of the hill. While you were asking me to serve you more food or to turn on the water heater for your shower, I was preparing to climb to the summit; you stayed down below, sitting in the shade trying to watch UFC on your phone.

It was a rough start, awake at 6:30, ready by 7:30 and then driver never showed up. After sitting in the shade of the verandah at the estate and gorging ourselves all day, we had to escape the torpor of overeating and enjoy the lush green of the countryside. By 9am we were on the road but then the replacement driver made us stop to buy him breakfast. One dosa too many for the hungriest member of the group and he never made it to the top but flexed like he had. I slid down the loose dirt slope with a banana in my shirt pocket and got a bruise in my buttcrack; it wasn’t really a competition. Though even the driver, who dropped us saying “fast, fast,” so that he wouldn’t have to wait too long, made the climb. He slipped back down the high hill just like us, blowing out his old knees. The mist wouldn’t clear until we had slid back down the hill; we missed the clear view of the surrounding green hills. As we hiked out, we passed the pile of beer bottles, wrappers, and crushed cigarette packets that the Indian “picnickers” left behind them. On the way back to the estate, with a shrill scream, I chucked my coconut husks out the window of the car, trying to hit the road signs. It’s OK, coconut is biodegradable.

Postcard #19: Kumari Estate

Walking on the deserted road to Kumari coffee estate after taking the local 6am bus, we crossed paths with a man walking and hitting a golf ball up the road. We watched the sun rise over the lush brush in the hills outside of Madikeri. We were nearly to the gates of the estate when Rajindera pulled up in a old beige jeep to give us a life. Arrived, we waited as Auntie, the cook at the estate, made us second breakfast, hard cooked eggs in a spicy gravy with turmeric vermicelli. Meanwhile, a woman from the village came to milk the cow that grazes in the jungle on the plantation.

This was our second breakfast, as we also had a long breakfast at the bus station after arriving in Madikeri at before dawn, 2 hours ahead of schedule. It was 4:30am when, bewildered we descended from the bus at the central bus station. There were people wrapped in blankets sleeping on the benches in the dark bus shelter. Thirty minutes later, the shutters rose on the bus station restaurant beckoning us in the the harshly lit dining room for hot tea, upma, idli, sambar and crispy fried vada.

Anchored to the verandah, sleepy with full bellies, we lounged until midday when Auntie made us lunch: chicken in a curry gravy with red rice. Never have I seen men eat such a quantity of food. I suppose we were all trying to make up for the dinner that never happened the night before> In the late afternoon, the woman came again to milk the cow. We prepared the fourth meal of the day: my watery, Basque style chicken and baked flan for dessert. That’s the brilliant part of waking at 4:30am, you can eat 4 meals in a day and don’t have to feel bad if ½ of a meal was a total disaster. There’s more where that came from.

Postcard #18: The night bus to Madikeri

Tonight we took the 11pm bus from Bangalore to Madikeri in the green, hilly Western Ghats in the Coorg district (“we” being Pierre, Etienne and Massa (colleagues and francophones) and me.) It’s a 6 hour overnight drive in a sleeper coach so before we left I REQUIRED a proper dinner. Impossible and thus devastating to me, a person who requires AT LEAST three square meals in a day. Instead we had to rush to the bus stop to file onto one bus which would take us to the another bus that would go onto Madikeri (do not look for logic or reason here.)

It was my first time taking a sleeper bus. Instead of seats, people and things are neatly organized into long compartments you close yourself into with electric green polyester curtains. The interior of the bus was the most radical shade of green spangly formica. It’s clean, there is a mattress with a sheet, everyone has their own pillow and fleece blanket. People board, you hear their voices and smell their smells while you look at the window and watch the smears of lights rush past. We shut ourselves into the curtained cubby holes, rested our heads against the emerald naugahyde and tried to get a bit of rest before the Coorg, difficult with the questionable quality (absence) of shocks or the rough road.  

Postcard #17: Partners yoga anxiety

My teacher is on his knees facing away from me, I’m supporting him from behind, holding his heels, my feet resting on the back of his thighs. He inhales deeply and lifts his arms straight into the air and begins to arch his back. He dips back, back, his face is upside down, in front of me, the red color of his tilaka is running down the bridge of his nose and I am trying not to make eye contact his his upside down eyeballs.

Partner work in yoga is supposed to be an opportunity to connect with people in a world where we are anonymous. This is what my teacher says. I think partner work in yoga is just a way to ignite my anxiety. Yesterday, we were only 5 students in class so someone had to partner with the teacher. Guess who he chose? I was manipulated and contorted in front my classmates while my teacher was yanking me from behind with his feet on my thighs. Next, I was laying on my stomach being pulled up and backward while the guy was practically sitting on my ass. The worst part is reciprocating: a clumsy white lady injures yoga teacher during partner work.

Postcard #16: Trash

The nonchalant littering of the Indian people appalls me. At Savandurga there was a litter everywhere. If you’re ever afraid you’ve strayed from the trail, just look for plastic trash, it will lead the way. Littering is done very nonchalantly, seemingly with the attitude “out of sight, out of mind.”

The man who cleans our apartment comes Saturday morning to take the trash out. Sometimes the bursting black bags pile up near the door, then it’s cleared away. But where does it go? I have never seen a dumpster, just piles. I think I once saw a garbage truck but I can’t be sure. Who is burning my refuse?

Postcard #15: Queries

I don’t know how to travel to India. I mean I know how to apply for a visa, get the required vaccinations and buy a plane ticket. Administrative stuff, OK, health stuff, OK, packing, OK. But where is your mind supposed to be? How are you supposed to travel from your comfortable western country to the developing world? What prerequisite knowledge do you need? Do you have to have something you’re going to take away from this? Can you understand something that is not yours?

I wrote this in the afternoon then realized at around midnight that I am asking the wrong question. The only way I can acquire some knowledge about this country or its people is just to experience it. All I ask of myself is to experience this place and its complex cultures (plural! India is not homogenous.) Experience can perhaps lead to some cultural understanding. May all of us be blessed with an open mind and the willingness to experience new things.

Anyway, if you’re asking why, it’s probably the wrong question. Passing the neighborhood park, I noticed that it had strange hours: 5:30-10am, 4-8:30pm. Why would the park close at the time of day when I would most be inclined to sit in the park? I’m sure there is a good answer, but don’t bother asking anyone, they won’t be able to respond.