Tonight we're getting ready to go. My brother Jeremy is taking us to the airport.
We're in Singapore! We arrived at 12:30 PM local time. We had a brief refueling stop in Hong Kong. So far the airports are nice, but we haven't seen much else. We're looking forward to seeing our friends in India tonight.
|The view of Hong Kong from the airport|
|Singapore: The monorail connecting the two terminals. We stayed at a transit hotel at the airport that rents rooms in 6-hour increments. We had a 7-hour layover so we had a chance to rest and shower. The hotel was in one terminal, our flight left from the other.|
|Singapore Airport has a lovely orchid display. Here are three shots of it.|
|There is also a nice outdoor sunflower garden where you can get some sunshine after a long flight and sample the tropical climate.|
We made it to Bangalore! We arrived at 10:40 PM local time, which is 13 1/2 hours ahead of Pacific time. More after we get some sleep.
Our first full day in Bangalore. Today Claire and I went "shopping" at a "market" called Chickpet. I use quotes because it was totally unlike any other market I have ever seen in the US, or anything else in the US for that matter. To describe it, imagine the following:
1. Start with "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" at Disneyland.
2. Add 5,000 people.
3. Add cows and dogs in the street.
4. Add other people on the sides who have laid various objects in the dirt and expect you to pay them for them.
5. Shake liberally.
To call much of the "merchandise" junk would be too generous. Much of it it no better than scrap metal and pieces of electronics or car parts. There were also hats, shoes, and various other articles of clothing. We went with our friend Vaz, who along with her husband Charath and their 5-year-old daughter Abhiravi are hosting us here. We also had their driver Matthew and maid Parimala with us. We had instructions not to talk to Matthew or Parimala. When the vendors see a foreigner they will immediately jack up the price by about five times. So if we see something we wanted, we would keep on walking a ways, then Vaz would send one of the others back to get it.
Chickpet is not at all a place where foreigners would go on their own. It is chaotic, noisy, and dusty. We would not have had a hope without Vaz. It is far from the tourist places.
Both Claire and I felt very conspicuous. I could feel eyes on me constantly. We were very obviously the only foreigners present. Claire, especially stood out. At 5' 9" she stands a full head over most Indian women. Claire's blonde hair, and blue eyes on both of us are such a novelty that people were always staring at us.
After we finished our "shopping" we attempted to make our way back to the car (that Vaz and Charath have a car at all is somewhat of a luxury here. Most people will have a moped, a bicycle, or simply walk). We quickly found out that no two streets are parallel here for any length, and the streets are not well marked. We found ourselves lost, but we eventually made it back.
It was a very odd experience, but I would not have missed it. I came here to see and do things impossible at home, and this certainly fits the bill.
The streets are amazing. Cars drive on the left here, and all the cars have right-hand drive. It was very odd to sit in the left-front seat and have nothing to do. Cars, bikes, mopeds, and pedestrians all weave in and out, within inches of each other, with little obvious pattern. The traffic lanes, when they exist at all, seem to be merely rough guidelines of lanes that carry little meaning. Horns sound constantly.
Later in the evening we went to Commercial Street. This is a more upscale area with actual shops (i.e., with glass in the windows) that is more suited to tourists. It reminded me a lot of Grant Street in San Francisco's Chinatown. We had dinner there at an Indian fast-food restaurant. I should mention that the word "fast" seems to have an entirely different meaning here. Out "fast" food took a good 15 minutes to arrive. It was very good, though.
Before we went back home we had a very interesting confection called pan. It is made from a variety of ingredients, including betel nuts, fermented rose hips in honey, and others, wrapped in a pan leaf and eaten in one bite. It was very good.
|The view from Vaz & Charath's balcony, looking south.|
|A short video of the market at Chickpet. This clip requires Windows Media Player 9.|
|Several views of the bazaar at Chickpet. This is not a place where foreigners would usually go.|
|Claire & Vaz at Chickpet.|
|Some of the many wild dogs that are everywhere in Bangalore.|
|The first of many pictures of Bangalore traffic. Note the woman in a sari riding side-saddle on the moped in front of us. You'll see this many times.|
|Three shots of the Karnataka State Parliament building, the Vidhana Soudha.|
|The courtyard of Vaz & Charath's apartment complex.|
|A public park with a lake.|
|Commercial Street at night. This is one of the main shopping districts, with rather upscale shops.|
|On Commercial Street we had dinner at MTR, a well-known (in India, anyway) fast-food restaurant. Claire and I are here with Vaz & Charath's daughter Abhiravi.|
Today we went to the textile merchants. Claire wanted to buy
fabric to make dresses. She bought several different kinds of fabric. Then we
went to a tailor who will make it into several different dresses and Indian
salwars. The price for both fabric and tailoring is ridiculously cheap-- far
less than what you would pay in the US.
continue to be astonished at how anyone manages to drive from one place to another without getting killed, especially at night. At one point our car was squeezing between an autorickshaw on one side and opposing traffic on the other when a car coming from the opposite direction knocked the driver's (right-side) mirror. The mirror stayed on but the glass in it broke. Apparently this is the second time this has happened. The mirrors fold flat against the side of the car, and they frequently have to be folded in because the streets are so choked with people and cars.
car is an Indian-made Tata. It has four doors and a hatchback. The front is very blunt, like a van's. Most cars here are like this. Traffic gets so close here that a car with a long hood or trunk would be constantly bashing into people and things. The boxy form of most cars here lets the driver know where all parts of th car are. A Cadillac or Lincoln Town Car would be impossible to drive here.
|Three views of Bangalore traffic en route to the fabric merchants.|
|Claire at the fabric store. Vaz comes here often enough that they know each other by name and they bought us tea while we shopped.|
|A view looking down the narrow street where the fabric shop is, and another from the same place but facing 90 degrees to the left.|
|We had fresh coconut water here, near the fabric store.|
|A 360-degree view of the fabric district. (large picture - 2.5 MB)|
|St. Mark's Cathedral.|
|After shopping we picked Abhiravi up at school.|
|After picking Abhiravi up, it's off to the tailor to have the fabric Claire bought made into dresses.|
|Three short video clips of Bangalore traffic. You need Windows Media Player 9 to view them.|
|Yet another of Vaz's merchant acquaintances. He makes jewelry.|
Went back to the textile merchants today to get some more cloth and to pick up the dresses Claire had made. Vaz is a shopping whirlwind. She knows all the merchants by name, and they know her well enough that if she doesn't have enough cash on hand they don't mind if she comes back the next day with the rest. They even bought us tea!
More on Bangalore traffic. As I said earlier, the streets of Bangalore can be very harrowing. You have cars, buses, trucks, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, and autorickshaws all mingling together within inches of each other. The last are three-wheeled motorized taxis painted yellow and black. They are heavily utilized by tourists but the locals use them as well. They are little more than overpowered golf carts, and about the same size. They are always squeezing between cars and beeping their little horns. They resemble giant bumblebees, making a nuisance of themselves as they wedge themselves into every nook and cranny.
Traffic as a whole is barely controlled chaos. Especially terrifying to me is seeing women dressed in saris (a sari is an Indian women's garment made from a single, unstitched, 6-meter-long piece of cloth that is wound several times around the waist before being thrown over the shoulder and held in place by its own weight. It is worn over an underskirt and a short top) riding side-saddle on the back on the motorcycles, holding on for dear life with one hand while their husbands drive like maniacs in front. One slip (and sari fabric can be made of silk or satin and quite slippery to the touch), or if she puts her feet out too far, or if the voluminous sari gets caught in the machinery of the bike, and she could get seriously hurt.
I have found myself wishing I could carry a box of spare hearts with me in the car to replace each time my own wants to leap out of my chest. One thing is for certain: I will never, ever complain about Bay Area traffic again, even in San Francisco, where I generally detest driving. After this, even driving in the City will be paradise. In San Francisco, cars stay in their lanes (usually), obey the speed limit (generally), stop at stop signs, don't ride side-saddle on motorcycles, stay on their own side of the road, and at least try to keep a few feet between them and the next car. Add to this the fact that I am sitting in the left seat. My natural instinct from 15 years of driving in the US tells me that when I sit in this seat I should be doing something but I can't. At least I don't have to do the driving myself. Vaz & Charath's driver Matthew, and sometimes Charath himself, does all the driving. It is so hectic here that I would probably be in a cold sweat before I left the driveway.
I have noticed a few inconsequential things that are different here than from at home. As mentioned before, they drive on the left here. Also, the light switches are upside-down-- down is on and up is off. Door locks are also backwards-- you turn it clockwise to unlock and counter-clockwise to lock it.
I have not had the opportunity to learn much of the local languages. Vaz is usually with us so we haven't had to do much communicating on our own. In Germany 17 years ago, I picked up quite a bit of German since my parents and I were on our own. No so here. About languages-- there are literally hundreds of living languages in India. Most are descended from one ancestor language, Sanskrit. Sanskrit's place in modern culture is much like that of Latin in the Western world-- It is not spoken on a daily basis but is still used for religious purposes. Hindi is the official language of India, but only a relatively small minority of people speak it as their primary language. Most people can speak it, however. English is a legacy of the long British occupation of India. It is widely spoken and is commonly spoken as a link language-- If two people meet and one speaks Hindi and English and the other speaks Telugu and English, they will speak English. The local language here in Bangalore is Kannada. Vaz speaks five languages that I know of-- English, French, Hindi, Kannada, and her native Tamil. All the Indian Languages also have their own scripts. Vaz and Charath speak Kannada but cannot read it. As I said Vaz & Charath's primary language is Tamil. They are not from Bangalore, but from Chennai, formerly known as Madras, on the Bay of Bengal on the east coast about 200 miles due east of Bangalore.
I mentioned earlier that on our first trip to the market we took their driver and maid along. This is because the vendors would peg Vaz for an out-of-towner by her Tamil accent and jack up the prices. The driver and maid are locals, so they would get a better price. If Vaz did it, the price would double. For Westerners like myself, they would raise the price 5 times or more (incidentally, these are not the same merchants that Vaz knows by name. I am speaking of the merchants in Chickpet where we went the first day. Everyone we meet is amazed that we went there, and even Vaz had never been there before).
Today I spotted the first group of Western tourists I had seen since we arrived. They were standing on the street in one of the marketplace sections, looking very lost and out-of-place and trying to consult a map. I felt sorry for them. Thank God for Vaz and Charath-- if not for them we would be utterly lost. Having them to guide us has allowed us to just enjoy doing things instead of trying to figure out how to do it. I like to be independent on vacations, not having my activities dictated to me as on a package tour, but this is just too overwhelming. India is best fed to foreigners in easy-to-swallow steps, as in many ways it is truly alien to the American way of thinking. That being said, I wouldn't have missed this experience for anything-- and we're not even halfway through it yet!
|A goatherd drives his flock down the street.|
A slow day today. Claire finally picked up the dresses she had made. They look very nice. And cheap too-- 5 handmade dresses for less than $80. That is typical here. Then Claire had a manicure and pedicure. I relaxed at the house for part of the afternoon. I am now fully adjusted to the time difference. My internal clock is waking me up at 7 AM like it should. Even the 5 AM call to prayer from the nearby mosque is not waking me up anymore.
I have also been fitted for a lungie (pronounced LOONghee), which is a traditional men's garment here. It resembles a wraparound skirt-- a single piece of cloth stitched together at the ends to form a tube about four feet across. You step into it, pinch it at the waist, and fold the excess around to the front. Then you secure it by rolling the waist around until the hem is off the floor (there's about a foot of excess length as well). Mine is blue plaid. There is also an variant called a doti, which is similar except it's white with gold thread at the hem. This is considered a holy garment and is used for religious festivals. I may wear one for tomorrow's harvest festival. The lungie is mostly worn while relaxing at home, but I have also seen them on the street. There is also a knee-length mini version. It works nicely as a bathrobe and I have been using it for that for morning tea before I take a shower.
There are several varieties of clothes worn here. Most men wear variants of Western clothes, except for the occasional lungie or doti. The most common garments for women are the sari or the salwar. The sari, as described above, is a single 6-meter-long unstitched piece of cloth, worn over an underskirt and halter top, which is wound several times around the waist, then wrapped around diagonally from waist to shoulder a couple of times before being thrown over the shoulder and held in place by its own weight. The salwar consists of pajama-like leggings, loose on the legs and belly and held at the waist by a drawstring, and a dress-like overgarment with short sleeves, slit at the waist on both sides and extending down to about knee length. Sandals are the standard footwear for both men and women, but a lot of people (usually the poorer people) go barefoot even on the streets. After seeing the condition of the streets, I now know why Indians traditionally remove their shoes before entering a house. A woman's choice of a salwar or sari is similar to an American's choosing between slacks, and a dress or blouse and skirt-- the sari is considered more formal and "dressy", and also a little more sexy, although Indians would not use that term, being rather conservative about such things. A sari leaves a woman's waist exposed on one side and shows off her curves, while the more casual salwar is mostly shapeless. It is short-sleeved, and the neckline can be cut in a variety of ways, but never low enough to show cleavage.
A very small minority of women wear Western clothes. They appear to be mostly Muslim judging by their features, but you cant always tell. For these women, blouses and T-shirts are common, along with jeans and skirts. Shorts are never worn, by either men or women, in keeping with the conservative dress codes, and neither are miniskirts, although I have seen a few knee-length skirts.
Some of the more orthodox Muslim women wear head-to-toe black robes with a hood.
|More street scenes.|
Today was the harvest festival of Sankranti, which is known to our Tamil hosts as Pongal. Vaz & Charath say that most Hindu festivals mostly involve just eating a lot. Vaz made special Pongol rice with extra seasonings. Many of the cows on the streets had had saffron rubbed into their hides as decoration-- the sight of bright orange and black cows reminded me of a scene from The Wizard of Oz. There are also bulls on the streets-- many of them are used to pull carts. The bulls all had decorative streamers and banners attached to their horns.
Later in the evening we went to visit Charath's uncle in an older section of Bangalore. We had a very nice visit. His was the fourth private home we have been in since we have been here. Keeping in mind that all of them are what would be considered upper-class homes, they all have features in common. Not one has wall-to-wall carpet. Instead, they all have marble floors. Carpeting would be very difficult to keep clean in dusty India, so it is virtually unknown. Some houses do have a small throw rug near the entrance so visitors don't track dirt in. Everyone removes their shoes when entering. A couple of the houses have entrance vestibules specifically for removing shoes, with convenient chairs to assist in the process. All of the homes we have been in have been Hindu, and they all have small shrines to the family deity. I understand that each family will have a preferred deity, and when a woman marries she will adopt her husband's god as her own. Vaz & Charath worship Ganesh, the elephant god. They have a small shrine in the kitchen with incense burning most of the time. Charath's uncle has a much more elaborate shrine (I'm not sure which god it was to-- I don't think it was Ganesh) the size of a small closet.
Many people draw geometric designs with rice flour on the street or sidewalk right outside their houses (sidewalks are best avoided. They are made of stone slabs about one foot by four feet, are frequently missing, and are often broken. It's usually easier to walk in the street, although you have to watch out for vehicles zipping by within inches). This is roughly equivalent of a Welcome mat, although the foot-cleaning functions of a mat are fulfilled inside when you take off your shoes.
The hosts will provide guests with tea at the very least, and perhaps small appetizers. Charath's uncle was especially generous, giving us sweets, including a 6-inch-long piece of sugarcane. We will attempt to eat it later.
In the evening we took our hosts to their favorite restaurant-- Chinese! The Silver Wok is a very nice little place. It looked exactly the same as every other Chinese restaurant I have ever been in. The menu however, was a little different. Most of the dishes were spicy to some degree, in keeping with Indian tastes. The hot-and-sour soup was a little thicker than I am used to, but very good. Most of the dishes we got were vegetarian in deference to our Hindu hosts, but Claire and I shared a fried lamb dish that was just wonderful. This was the first meat I had eaten in India. All in all, we had the lamb, the soup, sweet-and-sour vegetables, spicy vegetable balls, fried rice, two (very large) Kingfisher beers (for me), and dessert-- I'm not sure what to call the dessert. It was a blend of Indian and Chinese, with something sweet and cinnamony sandwiched between two chapatis (like Indian tortillas), fried, and served with ice cream. It was delicious, and more than enough for the five of us (Abhiravi was with us). The bill: 1,063 rupees, including a 10% tip. Converted to dollars, this was a little under $20! In the US, dinner for five at a nice Chinese place would easily run over $100. I was thunderstruck. It was some of the best Chinese food I have ever had. I have always loved spicy foods-- in fact I can eat things so spicy that even Vaz & Charath wince at the thought. Chinese food tailored to Indian tastes (as Chinese in the US is tailored to American tastes) is really delicious and unlike any other I have ever had. Too bad they can't deliver to San Jose.
|Happy Pongal! The whole gang-- Charath, Vaz, Abhiravi, Claire, and myself. Charath and I are wearing our dhoties, and Vaz is wearing a sari. (large picture - 2.5 MB)|
|Claire and me|
|Claire, Abhiravi, and me|
|The festival of Pongal is known locally as Sankranthi|
|Another street scene|
|A cow dressed up for Pongal|
|That evening we went to Gandhi Bazaar. This is a good place to get flowers and fresh produce.|
|The Parliament building lit up at night.|
There will be no updates to this page tomorrow. This afternoon we are taking a train to Chennai, formerly known as Madras. Chennai is Vaz & Charath's hometown and is located on the Bay of Bengal (an arm of the Indian Ocean) about 200 miles due east of Bangalore. We will visit with their parents and see some things there. We have met Charath's parents before, as they came to the US several times when Vaz & Charath were living there and we hosted them for dinner once at our house. We have never met Vaz's parents before. We are looking forward to seeing where they came from. As I mentioned before, Bangalore's local language is Kannada, although Hindi is the official language of India and English is widely spoken. In Chennai, Tamil is the local language, and the writing is also different. It should provide some interesting differences. Our India guide book says that a train is one of the best ways to get out of the cities and see the countryside. We are looking forward to it. Claire and I have always enjoyed trains-- we took a train from Emeryville all the way across the country to Washington, DC for our honeymoon 4 1/2 years ago. I expect an Indian train to be very different, but we are looking forward to it. We leave around 4 this afternoon and the trip will take about 6 hours. We will spend all day Saturday in Chennai and return to Bangalore on the early-morning Sunday train, arriving back here around noon Sunday.
I have been taking lots of pictures during our stay. I regret that I don't have the bandwidth to upload them while I am here-- Charath's Internet connection is only 128k DSL and not fast enough for the large pictures from my digital camera. I have examined the pictures on Charath's computer, and they are turning out very nicely. I will be posting them here as soon as I get home, provided my own Internet connection is back up-- I am having some major maintenance done on my DSL connection while I am gone. I am hoping that SBC Internet Services is not its usual inefficient self and my service was reconnected on schedule last Wednesday.
I'll give a full account of our side trip Sunday.
We're back from Chennai. We had a very nice visit. Overall I like Chennai better than Bangalore, despite the hotter climate and the mosquitoes. Chennai just seems to have more charm and personality than Bangalore. In Bangalore, the atmosphere is one of unrestricted expansion. Chennai is more sedate and sophisticated. The traffic is more organized as well-- most cars stay more or less on their own side of the road.
The train trip was very nice. We caught the train at Bangalore Cantonment Station. For about half an hour we rolled past what passes for the suburbs of Bangalore. Then, we felt a jolt, followed by a very loud banging and clanging sound coming from very near our location on the train. After a few minutes of this the train rolled to a stop. It turned out that we had hit a cow, now deceased. I hopped off and snapped a picture of the remains. The carcass also knocked loose a vacuum hose connecting two cars, which accounted for the noise. We were stopped for about half an hour while they fixed the hose and pried the mangled cow out from under the wheels.
The rest of the train trip was uneventful. We were in an air-conditioned car, so we were very comfortable, but the windows were tinted and very dirty, so the pictures I took through them are kind of distorted. The train was electric so it was very smooth and quiet.
Rural India consists of farms interspersed with small towns. There were some arid areas as well. I saw people growing rice, sugarcane, eucalyptus (for the oil), and coconuts. Some of the farmers were poor, living in thatched huts.
When we arrived in Chennai, Charath's dad picked us up at the station. It was dark by that time but we had a nice trip several miles south along the coast to his house. Along the way we passed through downtown Chennai. It strikes me as much more cosmopolitan than Bangalore. I also noticed that many more men were wearing the wraparound dhoties and lungies than in Bangalore (and yes, I did wear a Dhoti fot the harvest festival a few days ago-- I have pictures).
Charath's parents Ranga and Prema live in a nice apartment building with a central courtyard. It continued with the Indian patterns I have noticed before -- stone floors and the like -- but also took it a step further. Vaz & Charath's flat in Bangalore is brand-new and has a lot of western influences. His parents' place has less Western influence. The bathrooms are a combined toilet and shower-- there is no shower stall or bathtub, but instead a showerhead is mounted right next to the toilet with nothing between it. Water drains into a grate in the floor. There is no toilet paper-- they don't use it. This is actually better than the Indian public toilets on the streets, which are nothing more than a hole in the floor that you squat over.
The beds are very comfortable, although sheets as we know them seem to be unknown. We have been sleeping with just a comforter over us. Every room in an Indian house has a ceiling fan. These are not the lazily-turning decorative type you find in the US, but metal-bladed types that generate a veritable whirlwind. These are really necessary to combat the heat and humidity. Fortunately, coming in January we missed the worst of it.
In the morning, the first thing we did was go to the beach. The Bay of Bengal is a lovely light blue color, a shade lighter than the vivid azure of the Pacific but darker than the turquoise of the Caribbean. The sand is fine and a dark beige color. After that we went back to the house and had breakfast.
After breakfast we went shopping again. Claire was after the shell-bead curtains that Vaz had given her before. To get these, Charath's dad drove us about 40 km south along the coast road to the little town of Mamallapuram. The road is the best I have seen in India. Part of it is a toll road and so is in very good condition. This allowed traffic in excess of 60 mph. This could get very scary after a while; driving habits do not change with the increase in speed and all the hair-raising stunts that drivers pull in the cities are now done at 60 mph. I think I grew a few new gray hairs on that road.
Mamallapuram is the site of a dance festival which was going on while we were there. There was a detour on the road which took us around the main part of the town and made us approach from the other side. As we got closer to the town there was a toll collector taking money from motorists. As we stopped to pay the toll, a motorcyclist following behind failed to do so. He apparently tried to avoid us but another man standing by the side of the road blocked his way. He ended up grazing the side of the car, after which he fell off his bike and dropped the 20" TV he was carrying one-handed. He got irate with the guy who had blocked him and it quickly degenerated into a fistfight right outside our car windows. Charath's dad paid the toll and we moved on. Our destination was not the town itself but a small tourist attraction just outside it. The attraction is some Hindu monuments carved into stone. I got some pictures of them. However, Claire and Vaz were not there to see the monuments but the souvenir stands outside them. I haven't done much shopping on my own. I have never been much into it unless it involves computer parts. This trip I have mostly just stayed at the back, handing out money when requested. We picked up a huge quantity of stuff here.
While at Mamallapuram, Claire became the center of attention. She was wearing a white salwar, so that combined with her blonde hair and blue eyes made her stand out. Apparently the place is a tourist attraction for Indians as well, and Charath's dad said that many of the Indians that were now starting to pour off buses may never have seen a tall, blonde, blue-eyed white woman before. She soon had a crowd around her with lots of people asking to have their photographs taken next to her. They ignored me. On the way back we passed the most overcrowded bus I have ever seen. The inside was jam-packed with people, with dozens more hanging on to the roof. The bus was leaning over by at least ten degrees as it made its way along the road. At one point it stopped and what seemed like hundreds of young men (all the women were inside) swarmed off it. I got amazing pictures of it.
Afterwards we came back to the house for lunch. Later we went sari shopping. Claire wanted to get a really good sari and Charath's mom Prema is just the person to ask-- she wears a sari constantly, even recently when she went snorkeling-- and is quite fashion-conscious. We went to Nalli's in downtown Chennai. This enormous four-story sari store is world-famous. It is the Indian equivalent of Harrod's of London or Sak's Fifth Avenue, and just as pricy by Indian standards, but remember the exchange rate with the dollar make the prices very reasonable for Americans. Claire picked out what Prema said what was the best sari in the store, guaranteed to make her look like a queen. We bought that and some extra fabric to make the blouse out of, which we'll have done back in Bangalore. I'm looking forward to seeing her in it.
After Nalli's we went to neighboring Mylapore for more shopping. Here I bought the first things for myself-- four silk shirts at a fraction of what I would have paid at home.
After this we went to see Charath's grandfather. We had a nice visit there and then we went out to eat. The restaurant was called Jus' Parathas and specialized in Punjabi cuisine from the far north of India. It was delicious. Back at the house, Prema sang and played the tambura for us. The tambura resembles a sitar except it has no frets. She played selections from Indian classical music. It was fascinating-- I had never seen or heard anything quite like it. Then it was off to bed, because we had to catch the 6:15 AM train back to Bangalore in the morning. We got up around 5 this morning and crammed in to Charath's dad's little car for the trip to the station. On the way we saw a beautiful sunrise over the Indian Ocean. It is strange, for one raised in California, to see the sun rise over the ocean instead of set there. The train trip back was uneventful and we made it back to Bangalore around 1 PM.
If I ever come back to India, I want to come back to Chennai. I wish I had time to see more of it.
|The Bangalore train station: Waiting for the train to Chennai|
|People looking at the cow under the train. Taken through the train windows.|
|The unfortunate cow.|
|On the train: Vaz & Claire chat while Charath takes a nap.|
|Various scenes from the train. The windows are tinted and rather dirty so the colors are a bit off.|
|Driving down a suburban street in Chennai|
|Fishermen mending their nets on the beach at Chennai.|
|Driving along the beach|
|Fishermen out to sea|
|Fishermen getting ready for the day|
|Vaz, Claire, and me on the beach at Chennai. The sun was so bright that Claire had trouble seeing until she borrowed Vaz's dupatta to put over her head.|
|A tiny crab.|
|Crows. They are very similar to the variety seen in the US except for their gray necks.|
|Driving through the streets of Chennai.|
|Many people draw designs outside their homes with rice flour. This one outside Charath's parents' home is especially elaborate in celebration of the recent Pongal festival. Pongal is celebrated by boiling milk, and this can be seen in the drawing.|
|On the way to Mamallapuram|
|At Mamallapuram people came up to Claire and wanted to shake her hand and have their pictures taken with her-- some of these people may never have seen a tall, blond, blue-eyed white woman before and they were very curious.|
|The ancient stone carvings at Mamallapuram. You can read the description in English or Tamil.|
|Abhiravi poses on the stone lion with her grandfather.|
|We had fresh coconut water, then when we were finished the seller hacked open the coconut so we could eat the meat.|
|Beggars are everywhere. Partially obscured by the man on the motorcycle is a particularly pathetic one with a monkey, partially visible. I had to be careful not to let them see me taking a picture because then they would feel justified in demanding money.|
|The busy parking lot at Mamallapuram. Note the goats.|
|Mamallapuram is very busy today because of the ongoing dance festival.|
|Driving back, with cows on the road.|
|Three views of the incredibly overloaded bus.|
|Driving back to Chennai from Mamallapuram|
|The courtyard at Charath's parents' home|
|Charath's mom Prema sings and plays the tambura for us|
|Two audio clips of Prema singing and playing the tambura. This is Indian classical music and I'm told she's quite good.|
|My one and only ride in an autorickshaw.|
|The view from Charath's uncle's house|
|Looking up and down one of Chennai's main commercial areas|
|Nalli's, the famous sari store|
|The commercial district of Mylapore|
|Claire and I with Charath's 92-year-old grandfather|
|We all squeezed into the back of Charath's dad's car|
|Santhome Cathedral, the oldest church in Chennai|
|Sunrise over the Bay of Bengal|
|A fair on the outskirts of Chennai|
|The Chennai train station|
|The train trip back to Bangalore. Of note a re a small rural train crossing and poor houses-- tents and mud huts with thatched roofs.|
|On Indian trains they don't mind if you open the door and look out while the train is moving|
|Claire and I on the train|
|The Bangalore train station|
Another slow day today. We went to visit Vaz's friend Michelle, an American whose husband works for Dell Computer here. Dell maintains a huge call center here and a lot of their tech support calls are routed through it; I have called Dell many times for support for computers at work and have gotten routed through to here a lot. It was nice to talk to an American again and compare notes about how life in India is different from the US.
After that we went to the tailor to get the blouse and underskirt made for Claire's sari.
We finished off the day by ordering pizza, Indian-style-- with cottage cheese, although they forgot the peas.
|We met some more cows on the streets.|
|Today we also confirmed something we had suspected for several days-- here are two shots of Claire's positive pregnancy test.|
We went to see the Lalbagh Glass House today. The Lalbagh Botanical Gardens have been around since the late 1800's. The Glass House is an enormous iron and glass greenhouse reminiscent of the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, only much bigger. They recently finished a major renovation of it and it reopened just this week. Right now they have a magnificent flower exhibition going on there. It was really quite beautiful.
Claire has been feeling very tired lately so we haven't been doing as much. We also got the remainder of the fabric for her sari blouse. It should be finished tomorrow and then she can try it on. We also went and bought some groceries. At least all the souvenir shopping is done.
I don't think I mentioned how we know our hosts. When we were living in our apartment in Cupertino we had a series of nasty downstairs neighbors who gave us all sorts of problems complaining about the noise. The building was 30 years old and had creaky floors, so there was nothing that could be done about it. Then one day an Indian couple named Charathram Ranganathan and Vasavi Charathram (in the Indian tradition, the wife takes her husband's first name as her married name) moved in below us. In crowded India, communal living is a fact of life and a squeaky floor was nothing to them. Claire and Vaz soon became friends, and Charath and I hit it off as well-- we are both computer geeks and speak the same language. Vaz has one brother who lived in India at the time. In Indian tradition, when a woman's brother goes far away (or vice versa), she may tie a string around the wrist of a man whom she has sisterly feelings for, effectively adopting him as a surrogate brother. Since her own brother was so far away, I became her rakhi brother. This meant a lot to me because I have no sisters of my own, although I have since acquired a sister-in-law through my brother-in-law's marriage. A year later, Vaz was a bridesmaid at my own wedding. Their daughter Abhiravi arrived at around the same time and is now almost five years old. So they are some of our closest friends. They returned to India a year ago and we have missed them greatly, so we jumped at the chance to visit them here. We also became friendly with Charath's parents as they came to visit several times when Vaz & Charath were living in the US. Between Charath's relatives in the US and India, we have now met almost his entire family except for one uncle. We met Vaz's brother once in the US but had not met any of her other family until we met her parents in Chennai a few days ago.
Well, enough of this for now. I want to get up at 7:30 AM tomorrow (6 PM Tuesday Pacific time) to watch the State of the Union address on CNN.
|We picked Abhiravi up at school again|
|The Bangalore headquarters of Yahoo|
|We went to see the flower exhibition at the newly-renovated Lalbagh Glass House.|
|Claire and Vaz at Lalbagh|
|The fountain outside the Glass House|
|Two more shots of the Glass House|
|The dedication stone at the Glass House. It reads:
"This foundation stone of the Lal-Bagh Horticultural Exhibition Building was laid by His Royal Highness Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward of Wales, K.C, K.P, on the 30th November 1889, on the occasion of his visit to Bangalore."
Prince Albert later became King Edward VII.
|Charath, Abhiravi, Vaz, and Claire as we left the Glass House.|
Today was our last full day in India. Claire finally got to try on her new sari, and I must say she looked stunning in it. It is a rich red silk with a wide 19k gold border and an amazing scene of the baby Krishna and his mother, also embroidered in 19k gold, with tiny rhinestones adding some more sparkle.
In the afternoon we went to the zoo. The only thing Claire had specifically wanted to do in India was ride an elephant. So Vaz, Abhiravi, Claire, and I took an elephant ride. Claire really enjoyed it; she had never even been near an elephant before. I have ridden one before, although before it was an African elephant while this one was obviously an Indian elephant.
In the evening I wanted to take Claire out for a romantic dinner for our last night in India (I do have my romantic moments, however rare). She got dressed up in her sari and I wore one of the silk shirts I bought in Chennai. Vaz & Charath's driver Matthew drove us to the Oberoi, a very ritzy five-star hotel on Mahatma Gandhi Road (known as MG Road locally) where we ate at an excellent Thai restaurant called Rim Naam. It was easily the best Thai food I have ever had. Since the place caters to foreigners, it wasn't quite as cheap as the other restaurants we've been to here, but still well under what the same meal would cost in the States. It was also the only seafood that either of us have had here. The restaurant was outdoors in the hotel courtyard with lush tropical gardens all around. After dinner we took a short walk around them and then Matthew picked us up and we went home. It was a wonderful evening. The food was great and Claire was positively glowing (sorry to gush like this, but wait till you see the pictures).
We are both looking forward to going home tomorrow. We have enjoyed our stay, but it is time to resume our lives. Vaz's cooking is great, but I am really craving Taco Bell right now. The US will seem very quiet and sedate after India. Everything is noisy here, from the cars on the street to the inside of the house (wall-to-wall carpet, besides being easy on the feet, deadens noise in a house to a degree you don't appreciate until every house you go to has stone floors). It will be nice to use doorknobs again. For some reason, Indians just don't seem to use them. All outside doors open only with a key, and from the inside with a slide catch. They are secured with at least two sliding bolts. The doors leading onto Vaz & Charath's balconies do have handle latches, but those are only ones I've seen and I never saw a single circular doorknob. The first time I tried to open the front door from the inside it took me a good 30 seconds to figure out how to open it. It will be nice to use sheets again. We have been using only a comforter. I'm looking forward to seeing my computers again. I want to watch American television. Most of it may be crap, but at least it's in English. There are several English channels here, but most are still tailored to an Indian audience, except CNN, which is exactly the same. I want to see American commercials. I never thought I'd say it, but having several commercials in a row is actually a good thing. It gives you time to get up and get something to drink. On Indian TV, there are only a couple of commercials about every half hour.
It may sound like I don't like India. This is not true. I have found it fascinating and different. It is so different that in many ways it is overwhelming. It is crowded and noisy and often dirty. It is hot and the mosquitoes are annoying. On the other hand, the people are unfailingly friendly and polite (as long as you're not trying to bargain with them, then they'll try to fleece you). The food is great. The culture is endlessly interesting. I definitely want to return here someday, but I need time to readjust to my own culture first. India is so different that my mind has a hard time adjusting to it. Even the signs in English are somewhat jarring. As a former British colony with only 50 years as an independent nation, what English is spoken is very British in nature-- you live in a flat, you ride up and down in a lift, your car's trunk is called the boot, and so on. When you get a presription filled, you go to see the chemist. Advertising signs bear messages which to an American eye is awkwardly phrased but which is just fine to an Indian or Englishman. Add to that the fact that a lot of the English you see written is misspelled and the grammar mangled and the cumulative effect is jarring.
India reminds me of the United Stated at several points in its history, but all happening at the same time here. The Industrial Revolution is in full swing here. India is well on its way from converting from an agrarian society to an urban one. But it is also facing some of the same dilemmas that plagued, and continue to plague, the US. Cars are everywhere, but they have not yet seriously started to care about pollution. Automobiles seem to have at least rudimentary emission control systems, but the three-wheeled autoricks have nothing of the kind, constantly belching out blue smoke. Road safety is woefully lacking. I hope that India can learn from the example of other nations who have gone through the same growth patterns without having to repeat their mistakes.
Society is changing as well. Just as happened in the US in the 50's and 60's, many long-held traditions are starting to fall by the wayside. The caste system, although officially abolished, is still very much present. Yet there are signs that it is not as absolute as it was.
India shows huge promise. It would be interesting to come back in 20 years and see what they've made of themselves. Indians are hard-working and friendly, and most will soak up any education you offer them. They show an eagerness to improve themselves that is very refreshing. The United States was the same way in the period before the Civil War. In recent decades it seems that American society has grown complacent, taking everything for granted. Here in India nothing is certain, so everything is a gift. As a young democracy they show an enthusiasm for the governmental process that I have never seen before. Voter turnouts of 3% are not uncommon in the US. Here, having only had the right to vote for 50 years, nearly everyone exercises it. I like seeing that.
I must get to bed now. I will write one further entry before we leave for the airport tomorrow (no wait, today-- it's 1 :15 AM Thursday, 12:45 PM Wednesday Pacific-- I've been writing longer than I thought. I always tend to ramble when I'm tired).
|There is always construction going on somewhere in Bangalore|
|We drove out to the zoo on the outskirts of Bangalore|
|At the zoo, we rode an elephant|
|Cows and buffalo are everywhere|
|A last look at the Parliament building on the way home from the zoo.|
|Claire in her finery. This is the new sari she bought in Chennai. It is 6 yards of the finest silk, with 19-karat gold thread forming the design. The image is that of the baby Krishna and his mother.|
|We both dressed up and went out to a nice romantic dinner - alone - for our last night in India.|
|Claire in the gardens surrounding the restaurant|
This will be my final entry from India. We leave for the airport in a little over an hour. We have enjoyed every minute of our trip. India is an amazing place. It is developing rapidly and has great promise for the future.
Today we went for lunch at the home of Vaz's maid, Parimala. This was a real eye-opener because we finally got to see how the other half lives in India. She lives not far from Vaz & Charath, but in a vastly different neighborhood. They are not desperately poor, but they definitely do not live at the privileged level that our hosts and all their friends and family enjoy. Her entire house consists of two rooms-- the larger of the two is about the size of my bathroom at home-- and five people live there. The floors are concrete instead of marble. It is not a shanty. It has electricity and running water, and Parimala keeps it spotlessly clean. It has no windows; light is admitted either through the open door or through the spaces between the walls and the corrugated tin roof. As I said, they are not poor, but well below middle class. We have seen some of the true poor here. They live either in mud huts with thatched roofs or in tents. Sometimes squatters will take over abandoned buildings.
As I said earlier, the caste system is officially abolished in India but is still very much alive in reality. Out hosts are Brahmins, the uppermost caste. Parimala and her family are from a lower one. She considered it a great honor for Vaz (as her employer), and us, Vaz's guests, to come to her home for lunch.
What they lack in material possessions they more than make up for in hospitality. I got the distinct impressions that Parimala blew a large portion of her food budget to make lunch for us. She made a variety of the most delicious food I have had in India. The Brahmins are not supposed to eat potatoes and garlic, and non-Brahmins use more spices, so Parimala's food is more intensely flavored than what Vaz has been making (although her food is excellent). Parimala went out of her way to make things nice for us, even buying new stainless steel plates and cups to eat from. We ate with our fingers as all Indians do. Parimala would not eat with us or allow me to offer her one of the two plastic chairs in the small room. The food was served on a banana leaf. After lunch Parimala and her family had their pictures taken with us. We understand that our coming to our house, and those pictures will make them the envy of their little neighborhood. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
Back at the house Vaz showed us the rest of her housing complex. It is very nice, with social rooms, a pool, a gym, and an outdoor terrace on the roof.
Thanks to all the people who have written to express appreciation for this web log. I'm glad people have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. When I get home I will do some editing and corrections to it, and then at long last you can see what you've been waiting for-- the pictures. The counter on my camera says I have taken 332 pictures so far, which includes a few short movies. I may end up with a few more on the plane trip home.
We fly from Bangalore to Singapore. We are there for a couple of hours. If I have a few spare minutes I may drop a quick note here to say that we arrived. Then it's off to Seoul, South Korea to top up our fuel tanks for the long flight across the Pacific. Again, if there is a convenient Internet kiosk I'll try to drop a note in that we arrived. Otherwise, the next time you hear from me I'll be home.
|Our last day in India we went to the house of Vaz's maid Parimala for lunch. She lives not far from Vaz, but in a definitely poorer neighborhood.|
|Vaz and Parimala treat Claire to a foot massage (her feet have been hurting her lately)|
|Claire and me with Parimala and her family. What you are seeing is virtually their entire house-- one room about the size of my cubicle at work. There is a smaller room about a quarter the size of this one adjoining it which is the kitchen. Five people sleep in this room. Yet they are not really poor-- well below middle-class, but they have electricity, running water, and the house is clean.|
|Parimala's house. The yellow part forms the entirety of her house.|
|Parimala's immediate neighborhood.|
|Another cow got in our way on the way back. When this happens you just have to wait for the cow to move, or try to squeeze by it.|
|The inside of Vaz & Charath's home.|
|A panoramic view of the housing complex as seen from the roof of the community room.|
We have arrived in Singapore. We landed at 6:45 AM Friday local time, 1:45 PM Thursday Pacific. we have about an hour and a half here. The Singapore airport is almost worth a trip in itself-- It's huge and has a large shopping center as well well as some beautiful orchid displays. That's all for now. I'll add a note in Seoul if I can.
We're home! It feels good to be back. As I feared, SBC Internet services screwed up my DSL connection. They did the disconnect as scheduled, but since they couldn't contact me before reconnecting it, they simply canceled the order, leaving me without DSL. At the moment I am limited to 56k dial-up. A new reconnect order is in place, but it will be a few more days before I can upload pictures. I may do a few special ones.