18 March – 20 April
Okay, now that I am two postings behind I am going to write about my time in Bangalore after I returned from my trip to Rajasthan, Delhi, Varanasi and Calcutta. I am hoping to one day be caught up, but know that I this optimism is not based in reality. So this posting contains no exotic travels or interesting destinations. Let’s see if it can keep your attention. Hehe.
When I first came back I was utterly exhausted. I think the travel, the heat, the last nights of little sleep (I was staying in a hostel in Calcutta which was conveniently situated smack beside a huge speaker calling Muslims to prayer at 5:20am each morning), and the mental stimulation of the previous weeks (constant new sights, sounds, things to take in, to process and to experience) just wore me down. I therefore, was sort of out of commission for about a week. I did start contacting the organization I had tentively set up a project with, as well as some others. I caught up with Mitali and Lizzy, said goodbye to some IIMB friends (the school year ended so the second years were done and off and the first years were dispersing for summer internships (summer here is April and May), and then we started to receive the onslaught of visitors we had over that month.
As I said, I had to bid farewell to some friends from IIMB. Mitali and I went down to IIMB for the purpose and went out with Vivek and Sonam. The former was done and permanently going to Delhi to work for American Express (I think that makes person number 352 who I know at Amex, including my sister and one of my best friends). Luckily, Sonam (the latter) is only a first year and will be back in June. However, he is one of my very dear friends (for those who have heard this story—he is the one I lugged a guitar from the US over sea and land to India for) so I was going to miss him much.
And then the visitors…the first of the visitors to arrive was a friend of Mitali’s friend. A guy she had never met and whose contact to her friend was tenuous at best. But of course, this is how being in another country and how travelling works. People always are happy to help out each other. So, a Thursday morning, when I was in the middle of one of my first classes of yoga (I finally found a yogi!—Rajesh. He has no wrinkles on his forehead and told me it is a telltale sign of a good yogi. Yogis should not have them, he told me. They shouldn’t be worried. He reiterates this to me everytime he leaves as I say, “Have a good day” and he replies, “I always have a good day.” Hehe), the doorbell rang and Robin entered. And he didn’t depart until five whole later. And even that wasn’t enough. He came back for 2 more, but I will get to that.
Robin is alsoa an NRI (non-resident Indian), Guju (Gujarati) from New Jersey like Mitali (there are a few names for them, another is “ABCD” American Born Confused Desi (Desi meaning homeland or something, but meaning someone from India)). He is based in NY but was travelling in India for about 2 months. He came to Bangalore because he has relatives here and thought it would be fun to hang out here and go out, etc. So, that is what we proceeded to do. I thought I was good at killing time, but he may be the master of hanging out. I was still in my resting phase and mostly waiting to hear back from the organization mentioned above about my potential project, so it was good timing.
Now, I am not sure if I ever mentioned this before, but Bangalore, you know, it just doesn’t have much to do. Unlike the seemingly unending number of sights, ruins, museums and the like in a city like Delhi, for example, one is hard pressed to answer the following question, “What should I do while I am in Bangalore?”
Hmm, hmm, hmm…We could go out to eat. We could go to a club. We could go shopping. Sad to say, but there just aren’t sights in Bangalore (trust me, even if the guide book says to go to Tipu Sultan’s “Palace”, don’t. It is nothing!). Well, I guess there is the Bull temple (where I took the picture of the Guru, the Nun and the Rabbi), but in any other city that would just be a temple and not mentioned as anything particular. Bangalore is more of a living city than a city to visit (except if you are travelling through India, are tired, know some friends here (in particular, 3 girls who live in an apartment with hot water, cable, high speed internet, a washing machine and a microwave) and want to take a break). Well, I think you get the gist.
So, what did we proceed to do? Go out to eat. Go to clubs. Go shopping. By the end of the five days (by the way, we didn’t realize that it was 5 days until after when Mitali said to me, “Do you realize Robin was here for 5 days?” I mean what the heck did we do for 5 days? Obviously, Mitali and I (Lizzy wasn’t here) got along great with Robin—one of those “here-is-our-new-best-friend, did-we-really-just-meet-five-days-ago?” situations, so we all had fun. At the same time, or at least an overlap of time—can’t remember all the dates already—we had another visitor. Eric, another Fulbrighter who is here for only 3 months doing a specific professional project and based in Bombay, came to stay.
So we all went out to eat, went to clubs, went shopping (okay, I have to confess—I didn’t go shopping, but it sounds better to keep that literary effect going, doesn’t it?). And here are some photos to prove it:
So, after going to eat, going out to clubs and going shopping, we had exhausted everything to do in Bangalore and finally, Eric and Robin left as they were both on their way north. Robin was going to Hampi (see my November posting) and Eric was going somewhere and then they were both going to Bombay…or so we thought.
After they left Lizzy came back from wherever she was (can’t remember) and I did some work. I realized it was difficult getting things done while you have a guest who has nothing to do but hang out with you. Hehe. Well, Lizzy, Mitali and I decided it was time to finally do something we had been meaning to do for a while…visit an ashram.
An ashram, for the many of you who don’t know what one is, is described in my guide book as a “centre for spiritual learning and religious practice.” However, the term covers a wide range of places. These are the places that people go to to find their inner self, meditate, learn and practice yoga, study about religious teachings, etc. There are at least thousands, if not more, of them and they all are very different. I do want to go to one for yoga, but the one we were going to this weekend was someplace different.
It is called the Art of Living (trademarked by the way) and is led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (not the famous sitar player of Beetles and Nora Jones fame—in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was not one of the most popular names in India) and located near to Bangalore. SSRS is a guru who started the ashram and promotes its philosophy. Here is what the website (www.artofliving.org) has to say--- "Life is sacred. Celebrate life. Care for others and share whatever you have with those less fortunate than you. Broaden your vision, for the whole world belongs to you." “Active in over 140 countries the Art of Living Foundation offers unique programs that eliminate stress and help individuals develop their highest potential. The Art of Living reinforces human values and brings people from varied social, economic, geographic, cultural and religious backgrounds together in a spirit of Service and Celebration.”
For all of you who think this sounds a little wishy washy and touchy feely, The Art of Living is supposedly the movement that a lot of the young professionals in Bangalore follow as a way to network. Haha. So much for spiritual enlightenment. But he really does market himself and the philosophy to businesses and professionals as a way to reduce stress. He says that “Through out our lives we learn many skills reading, writing, science, music and art but very few of us have actually learnt the true Art of Living. We are rarely taught how to handle our negative emotions - anger, depression, stress. Yet, the quality of our life depends upon the quality of our mind. The Art of Living courses offer simple but effective techniques which eliminate toxins and stresses that accumulate in our systems over time. They are a unique way to harmonize and energize the Body, Breath, Mind, Emotions & Spirit. Developed by H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, these courses offer simple and effective techniques for eliminating stress, resolving conflict, improving health and living life with new joy and enthusiasm - A combination of the very best of ancient wisdom and modern science.”
Well, who can’t use a little help reducing stress? We wanted to check this dude out and decided this would be the last time for a really long time that we could go together. So we were off…or so we thought.
We had to leave really early in the morning to get there before the 3 day course started. By 6:30 we were already in the taxi and on our way. I will admit that we were all pretty tired and didn’t seem to be all too enthusiastic.
On the way, we received an unexpected call. Who could it be? Who would be calling so early in the morning?…It was none other than Robin and Eric. They were back! Their plans got messed up so they were back in Bangalore (Ever read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie? “Back to Bom”? No way—Back to Bang!). We told them that we were sorry, but we were on our way to an Art of Living course (in fact we were almost there already) and we couldn’t see them. Oh well. But then, after we hung up the phone, we started to look over at one another. Well, you know, we could go another weekend… Yeah, I mean, they are not going to be back again... Uh-huh, they don’t really have a place to stay…I am not REALLY in the mood to do this thing for three straight days…and so it went. And, after deciding to go, waking up at 5:30am, hiring a taxi, and driving for 40 minutes we told the taxi driver to stop and to turn around. He must have been thinking, “What? Huh? Crazy foreigners!!!” [Gardner (I think it was Gardner, or was it Lizzy?) told me that the word in one Indian language (if Gardner then it was Tamil) for ignorant person is the same word for white person. Close enough to the idea that saying stupid foreigners was redundant. Hahaha.]
Now, I am trying to relay the ridiculousness of the scene. Trying to give the image of how hard we were laughing after our new decision. Trying to illustrate how silly the whole thing was, but I am just not sure it is coming across. I guess it is just one of those, “Guess you had to be there”and for us, it was hilarious (and we still joke about it).
We wound up getting back to our place and in about an hour or two I got sick! The flu or something. See, it was meant to happen! The cosmos was turning me around. Hahaha (really just kidding here—don’t think India has got to me that much). But it would have been miserable to be sick there and this way I got to be in my very own bed, sleeping for about 2 days. Actually, it was another force that really caused the coming back to happen…the vortex which exists in the center of our apartment, which keeps drawing people to our apartment and then drawing them back again. In fact, Robin, after he went back home to the US, sent us a card with the below photo and a caption underneath it:
Then they were really gone (well, Eric came back unexpectedly one more time, but I wasn’t there so I have nothing else to add on that subject). But then another visitor. This one is really funny. Last year when I went snowboarding with Coz, Stacy and Rebecca in Park City during the Sundance Film Festival, we befriended this group of guys from the West Coast (we were the East coast girls and they were the West Coast guys). We started talking to them because one of them, the tall one who stood a bit above the rest of the crowd was the quarterback of the Cornell Football Team and was our year! What are the odds?! Anyway, Per and I became friends and I kept in touch with him. We hadn’t spoken for a while until I got an email in March. He wanted to know if I was still in India? Why, you might ask? Because he was coming to India for 3 weeks for a business school project. He was going to be in Bangalore. Not only that, but the subject was about how a specific company was trying to make and market mobile phones and services for the poor. In other words, how ICT (information and communication technologies, in this case mobile phones) was being used in development. Now this may not sound familiar to you, but it was the original topic I was going to study here in India. Hahaha. Again, what are the odds?! Of course he and his friend showed up three days after Robin and Eric, but they weren’t staying with me. I was just laughing b/c I hadn’t had any visitors and here they all were squonched up together.
But then there was another, my friend Gardner, another Fulbrighter (see Fulbright conference update) came to visit too. He came the day after Per. It was so funny b/c he was potentially going to come earlier, but couldn’t because he had too much to do. So there it was… almost 2 weeks straight of visitors (when there had been none before). Not complaining, just laughing.
Again, I faced the same dilemna—what to do in Bangalore. And not only that, but for the first time it was really, really hot, and not only that, but all of a sudden I had an allergy attack. Anyway, we pretty much settled on the same itinerary as the others…Go out to eat, go out to a club, go shopping.
However, we did do one sort of sightsy thing. We went to he Botanical Gardens, which Bangalore is supposedly known for (it is the “Garden City”).
The eating--The highlights of the eating were HAMBURGERS. There is this restaurant called Koshy’s, which is a Bangalore institution. It is sort of like a diner I guess, and when you go there you will see all the artsy, yuppies, and all these old timers (maybe lefties too, but they don’t look it so much) and it is a pretty funny mix. I don’t think the food is all that good, but it one of those places where that doesn’t really matter much. You just go. Well, I didn’t know it, but Gardner filled me in on a little secret (well not really a secret, just something I didn’t know), which is that they have real hamburgers! He was so excited that we went there two days (well actually 3, but it was closed for one because it was Good Friday) in a row and on the second day he got 2 hamburgers. I didn’t get one that day, but regretted my decision. I am assuming here that you realize it is not that easy to find beef in India. Do I need to elaborate? Land of the sacred cow (though some argue this point).
Shopping--The highlights of shopping where that he got to get another book on Shiva (he is the one who is studying the medieval Tamil Shaivite devotional poetry?!?!?!) and a huge Tamil/English dictionary. Not so interesting for me, but good to have a satisfied guest. And then also we saw the cover of The Economist, which was seemingly mocking Bush. We loved that, but didn’t purchase it—too pricey (and too likely to give me stress about the fact that I have three others sitting, staring at me from a pile in the corner, waiting to be read, reminding me that I can never catch up on my reading and even when I do start one it is just about impossible to get through the dense thicket of information).
Now, I to keep with my literary effect I should have told about the highlight of the going to club before the shopping, but I just had to save it for last because we had a really silly night. After having dinner, having 4 or so people bail on our plans, having gone to a very popular club that usually stays open till 2, but was raided on this evening by cops and was closed about 10 minutes after we got inside (just having paid a cover charge, mind you), we almost said forget it and go home. But we gave it one last shot and went to this club I had never been to, but was recommended by the bouncers because they didn’t think that the cops would close it down that night (unlike the rest of the clubs I know about). Club X stays open until 6am. Totally unheard of here and obviously the result of exorbitant bribes required by the cops. Well, 6am…that was way too late for me, an old lady...so it wasn’t like that was a huge draw…or so I thought.
We proceeded to meet the funniest characters, including this 45 year old, depressed, NRI divorcee who was in India for a few days and I have absolutely no idea how he wound up at the club (we felt really bad about his situation b/c he was a really nice guy), these Swiss business school students studying about outsourcing (what else—isnt’ that topic old already?) and the like in India, this guy with hilarious hair that was straight of a fairy tale (we called him the prince) and wound up being half Dutch (can you believe it? What is with that? Cosmic forces, I tell you!), and then these guys who got into a conversation with Gardner about American foreign policy, which made us feel so sad and so bad about the state of the world right now (boo). But then, to top off the absurdity of the night, on our way home (at about 6am—somehow the night just flew by), we got to do something every foreigner dreams of, something every Westerner says, “I must do before leaving India!”…
We got to drive the auto rickshaw home!!!!! Don’t ask how it happened, I am not really sure. I was just thanking my luck stars. And here is a picture of Gardner with the driver.
I then had a break from visitors. The next week, I did work on my project (I would write about it, but this posting is too long—as usual—already. In a few postings, I promise!) We went to a party at the woman who serves as the Fulbright Facilitator in Bangalore, since there is no office here, Swetha’s, house for a party for her husband.
Here is a photo so you can see her and some other Fulbrighters (and you can get a good view up Lizzy's nose. hahaha--Sorry Lizzy, hehe).
The other two Fulbrighters are Lindsey and Manu, by the way.
And the elections…Bangalore voted on April 20th before many of the other areas in Karnataka and even other states in the south (they need to break it up so that the voting machines and cops and everything can be moved from place to place. In a large country with 1 billion people it just can’t all be done in one day). Who knew then that the outcome would be what it is today!—Sonia Gandhi, Italian born housewife, Prime Minister to, leader of, the largest democracy on the planet (that ones for you Lizzy, if you are reading this).
I felt so lucky to be in India during its major elections. Great timing. You cannot believe the banners everywhere, the posters, the speeches and also all the other things that couldn’t get done (just forget about it), like anything that required the a government signature or government approval, or even talking to anyone in the government anywhere, until the elections were over. I tried to go to polling places on the day to see the long lines, to view the people exercising their right to vote, to see the special magic marker mark you get on your index finger indicating you had voted so that you could not go in again (my colleague told me that you have to get to the voting place early or else by the time you get there someone may have voted in your name. He also told me about the antics of the obscenely popular Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitaa, a former film actress, now a rotund caricature who pays for Tamilians outside of the state to come back to vote for her by giving them sarees, alcohol and trips to their native place –this is not unique, by the way. Oh, there are a million stories), but I couldn’t seem to figure it out. Anyway, here are the few photos I took, but they don’t capture the omnipresent nature of the pending elections. I may have some more in future posting because, as I said, Bangalore voted early. In Kerala, land of the first democratically elected communist government, they voted after I was there (but that posting is to come).
And then, that very evening, I was off to Chennai. And that is for next time…