Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Bangalore, Christmas and so on

Bangalore confuses me a bit. But then, so does India, so that’s probably a pointless statement.

Bangalore is the first place I’ve felt that my scruffy traveler garb just won’t do. As a slightly useless consequence, I seem to be acquiring more clothes than I know will fit into my rucksack when it is time to pack up again, despite a few going the way of cheap Indian bargains (i.e. falling apart) and others having literally worn out with the rigours of my arduous travelling life.

I am now staying in a girly household, albeit one much younger than me, and it’s a great relief to be able to ask where to get a bikini-wax and for it to be greeted as a perfectly reasonable question and not evidence of sexual perversion. I am working out whether it will be possible/workable to stay here for the three weeks or so after the person whose room I’m occupying gets back. I’m hoping so, even if I doubt my abilities to room-share in my grumpy old age. Despite the landlady/neighbour’s dachsun who insists on using the bed I sleep on as a toilet given the slightest let-up in my vigilance, I’m enjoying this rather large and untidy house where I have been cooking again and going all domestic – as much as anything for some relief from the traveller restaurant food which is beginning to all taste the same. The wifi and washing machine are also great additions to my comfort (especially when the dog has her way).

I seem to have moved from scruffy no-make-up traveler circles to semi-expat ones. I cite as evidence my Christmas eve spent impromptu in one of the plushest hotels I’ve ever set foot in. A friend of a friend of my housemates was having a party and I did feel rather an imposter tiptoeing into the Leela Palace as the guard saluted me three times when I asked him for directions (and what a fantastic uniform – straight out of the Arabian nights!). Here I am with my housemate Ashti, on our way to the party:

Having been chauffered home after it, I spent the next morning working out the Bangalore bus system in order to go and spend Christmas day with my friend, Nakula. I love these contrasts, from the sublime to the ridiculous, as I got on the wrong bus, was re-directed and watched various fellow-passengers haul their sacks (of rice?) on behind them. Nakula and I walked in a nearby eucalyptus grove until the resident insects decided I was just too delicious for words. Here are his feet (the only part of him he would let me photograph):

And here am I:

The rest of Christmas day was spent laughing and eating. During my bus and rickshaw rides home, the sun had set and I was able to properly appreciate the churches lit up like Disneyland and the contrastingly subtle paper lantern stars hanging all over.

Otherwise, I’ve done a bit of research for my group piece, again with Nakula, have met with prospective dancers and am trying to get my head round a rehearsal schedule. It would help if I knew the performance dates of course, but this is India and she loves to keep me in suspense. However, I have no one but myself to blame for my procrastination in editing my soundtrack for my solo. (Incidentally, if anyone knows of a studio in Bangalore where I can do a very quick voice recording for love, no money, I’d love to know). The idea is to get all these things done this week, as after much laziness, next week explodes into rather frightening activity of daily teaching and rehearsing. I’m not quite sure how I ended up so quickly in urban-work-mode here and I find it a little unnerving.

I had decided it was all so stressful that immediately after the performances, I would flee to Thailand to recover, cutting short my visit to India. After calmer consideration, I have decided that having gone all the way to the far north, in the interests of symmetry, it would be a shame to miss the far south. Plus everyone keeps telling me how lovely Kerala is. And I want to learn Kalarippayattu (which I sense may be another organisational headache). So now I’m thinking I will head to Kerala for a bit of good physical training (my body is remarkably lazy now, despite the prospective dancing) and from there head to Thailand with a minimum of detours.

But best-laid plans as they say…

The other night, I met up with my friend Nisha, who lives here and whom I met doing the Buddhist meditation course at Tushita. She took me to the Shiva temple in Kemp Fort. It was a delight and confusion all in one. I’ve never been in a country where people love to shove so much as here (though generally not with any aggression) and temples are no exception. Just like an amusement park, there was a long queue to get in and all sorts of shops to tempt us (or not) as we waited. Once in, the crowd was herded round a circuit – again a bit like at an amusement park. On the one hand, there’s a definite prickle as the fire passes over me or at particular spine-tingling spots. On the other hand, it’s really very reminiscent of Great America, minus the roller-coasters but with bigger statues, displays of plastic rocks opening and closing to illustrate the stories of the twelve Jyotirlingas and all.

Here I am with Shiva again:

Thankfully, he got me home safely despite an almighty rainstorm and the only rickshaw driver willing to take me (at a perfectly reasonable price too) smoking a worryingly fragrant cigarette. Still, I got back, wet but whole.

The auto drivers (what most people here call the rickshaws – because they’re autorickshaws, as opposed to the cycle variety you see in London and Calcutta, and the poor-barefoot-human-drawn variety I saw in Calcutta) are somewhat of a mystery. Sometimes I will literally have to go through fifteen of them before I find one who: 1) will take me where I want to go, and 2) who will put it on the meter. I have regularly had auto drivers demanding 100 Rupees for what I know is a 20 or 30 Rupee journey. There is something about being a white foreigner that exacerbates this tendency. When I was in Calcutta, I decided this was nothing but blatant racism as both there and in Bangalore I met plenty of locals who have far more money than I do. So it’s not just a question of the rich tourist; there are rich locals too, and whilst it’s known that the auto drivers also try it on with them, it’s not done with quite such shameless abandon.

But every now and then, an absolute saint comes along. One day, I was at the bottom of Brigade Road (a very busy intersection) and having no luck getting a rickshaw to take me back to the house. I’d tried at three different places and they were all asking for between 80 and 100 Rupees, one of them before even knowing where I wanted to go. Suddenly one pulled up and beckoned me over, put his meter on and away we went. Despite our respective language barriers, his outrage was palpable.

“He want 100 Rupees. On meter it’s 30. If you cheat, money doesn’t stay with you.”

The problem is that in Bangalore, if you can’t direct your auto driver, even if he agrees to put it on the meter, he is quite likely to take you round the houses to as much as double the price it should cost you to get to your destination. And sadly, I’m still completely incapable of directing my auto. I’m in the frustrating position of knowing enough to know he’s pulling a fast one, but not enough to tell him which roads to take. Thankfully, I have generally been getting more honest souls lately.

Anyway, my saintly rescuer proceeded to tell me exactly how I should direct the autos to go the most direct route from the bottom of Brigade Road. Sadly, between his accent and my confusion, I barely got half of it but I was immensely grateful for his good heart nonetheless. The meter came to 33 Rupees.

I have to remind myself not to get het-up about 5 Rupees occasionally, even if it’s 25% of my fare. But when it comes to quadrupling my fare in a bid to fleece me, well let's just say that it's good neither for my blood pressure nor for my karmic load (all that anger isn't likely to lead me to enlightenment any time soon). 5 Rupees is about 7 pence/cents (Euro) or 11 cents ($). But I’m not on London budgets or wages anymore and while of course the amount is still pretty trivial, if it’s multiple times a day, a week, it adds up. I did one day work out that if I let all the people who tried it have their way, it would pretty much double the cost of my stay in India - which over five or six months gives pause for thought...

In general though, I find the universe is much nicer to me if I retain my sense of humour in these situations. So here’s to senses of perspective and senses of humour.

Hope your Christmas was peaceful and happy and the new year will bring you many, many joys,

from Lucy, with love xx

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