I found the place to get the bus at the city center. There were lots of young people milling around, drinking, smoking, laughing. Rock music was leaking out of a roof-top bar. The place looked like it was hopping, so I decided to hang around.
You know how Americans are supposed to be obese and Europeans ever so fit? If this Saturday night scene in Helsinki is any indication, European college-age kids are just a pudgy as their American cousins. Or maybe it's the fat people who go out.
There was a street food vendor making hashbrowns and sausage. It should be safe to eat street food in Europe, right? The piping hot plate on a rainy day was wonderful. It cost 4 euros ($6, with the weak dollar), and maybe in order to justify the price, it was way too much. No wonder all these kids are fat.
As I was struggling with the last few pieces, a rather drunk fellow came up to me and said something in Finnish about what I was eating. I think he was saying something about how when you see someone eat a French fry, you are tempted to grab one off the plate (at least, I'm tempted to do that). So, I proffered him my fork. He ignored the fork and went for a piece with his fingers. He looked up at me. I smiled at him to go on. And so the stranger finished up the plate for me. Later, telling the story to friends who live here, in Helsinki, I learn that both the drunkenness and the grabbing of food are common occurrences.
By this time, it was after midnight. It had just gotten dark. The lines to enter the popular bars snaked around for nearly a block. I reluctantly went back to my hotel and to bed.
A man on a bicycle buying flowers in the market.
Fishing in low-lying areas that got flooded due to rain.Grandmother and child walking on an unpaved, rural road.Protecting a rarely used scooter
To me, there are certain criminal acts that have to send the perpetrator(s) to the other side quick, fast, and in a hurry. And child rape is one of them. I'm terribly disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision. Terribly and completely disappointed.
Another thing you see in Bangalore is a lot of granite. Granite in India is not as expensive as it in the United States, but it is still quite expensive. However, companies and newly affluent Bangaloreans seem to use granite every where. Whole floors are laid in granite. To satisfy the demand, you see small storefronts with stacks of granite slabs. Cash-and-carry granite slabs.
The copy for "Lucifer Lights" reads "no harmful gases emitted". I suppose that with a name like Lucifer lights, they have to address the whole heat-and-fume thing ... This not being a Christian country, they probably picked the name because it sounded nice.
How bad is the electricity shortage in India? Enough that they advertise portable generators that are powerful enough to run an A/C unit. But in a Gandhian society, you can't really advertise that your generator is better because you can keep your A/C going. So, they'll make it all about the children:
After several good years, entertainment companies in India are finding that they have plenty of money but not enough places to spend it.
In the India of my parents' generation, neighbors become friends. My parents are still in touch with many of the neighbors they've had over decades of itinerant jobs. When a son of a family who were our neighbors 30 years ago came to Dallas on a job-related trip, he visited us in Norman. A couple of other neighbors showed up at the wedding of one of my cousins, simply because the cousin had spent a year living with my parents ...
Talking to my people of my generation though, the low-social-cohesion of the US lifestyle is becoming the norm in India too. My friend in Bangalore knew the names and occupations of his neighbors, but not much else.
long-distance bus to my parents' town. A friend in Chennai had bought
the bus ticket for me; he told me where I needed to get on. But he
got it wrong. I needed to get on at T. Nagar, but he thought it was
Koyambedu (the normal place where long distance buses to the boondocks
depart). Unfortunately, there was a bus by the same company to
exactly the same destination, departing at exactly the same time from
Koyambedu and my seat -- 27 -- was open. I got on and settled in for
the overnight journey.
An hour-and-later, the bus stopped to pick up another passenger and he
had my seat. "This is not your bus," I was told by the driver, and I
had to get off.
So there I was, at 10.30pm 1.5 hours from Chennai, standing by the
side of a highway with my bags. It was like a bad Tamil movie.
I called the bus company (I got my mobile phone unlocked when I left
Oklahoma, and bought a sim card on arrival in India, so at least I
could do that). "Your bus has already taken the Chennai bypass," said
the fellow on the other end, "it won't come where you are standing.
You voided the ticket when you didn't show up"
"Isn't there anything else you can do for me?"
"No, try to stop a passing vehicle. Nothing I can do."
The reluctance to help was not much of a surprise, but I had been
hoping that the circumstances -- stranded on a highway late at night
-- would prompt some pity. Customer service is still a bit of an alien
concept in India. The biggest cultural hurdle at all the offshore
call centers sprouting up here is teaching the recruits how to deal
with customers, since they've rarely encountered what would be
considered minimally acceptable service.
A Kind Stranger who was waiting to get on a bus tapped me on the
shoulder. "The only buses that stop here are those that have
passengers with reservations getting on. This is Friday and you won't
find an open seat on any bus. They'll all get filled up by Tambaram.
Let me talk to the guy"
A long 15-minute conversation followed with the Kind Stranger
suggesting all kinds of options -- he seemed to know every highway out
of Chennai and which buses took which routes -- and the bus company
guy shooting them down one-by-one. Finally, he hit on one that would
work. There was a bus that had just left, it would essentially take
the route of my bus and it had several open seats.
"Call the bus driver on his mobile and tell him to reserve one of the
seats for this fellow here," he suggested, "Don't fill up all the open
seats." This didn't get shot down.
"Thank you very much," I said to the Kind Stranger. But it felt
completely inadequate to what he had done.
An hour later, the bus stopped and picked me up.
Everyone I told the story to this morning had one of their own to
narrate. Apparently you haven't lived life to the fullest unless you
have been stranded on the road side late at night.
As with the art show I was raving about, it's interesting to see intimations of what would finally come together in a stupendous way. So, there's the dome over a square base, choreographed views through dark entryways and calligraphy-as-decoration. The garden setting of the Lodhi tomb is gorgeous, but it's no reflecting pool. And the dramatic contrast of black calligraphy over cool, white marble hadn't been thought of yet.
If you had not encountered the Taj Mahal, though, you'd be enthralled by the Lodhi tomb.
Right next to "Oceans Between" was "Sleep Another Day". This was another moving painting, with what looked like skyscrapers bathed by a gloomy, setting sun. Almost as if night was a reprieve to a bustling population trying to make do.
The rest of the paintings seemed to be variations on the same basic shapes as Gill experimented with colors and placement. Some worked, some didn't until he achieved a radiant breakthrough in this set of three paintings hung side-by-side. It seemed to be a vision of a more happy future. From "Oceans Between" to "Sleep Another Day" to this three-fold melody of colors ... all created with the same basic shapes, yet evoking completely different emotions.
As I was standing, looking the triptych over, a bearded fellow came over and gave me a booklet. "I would like you to have this," he said. It turned out to be the artist himself. "And don't just look at the pictures," he advised, "read the words too."
Although the gallery had only the titles alongside the pictures, the book of paintings had little poems to a female muse alongside each poem.
"Oceans Between" had these words:
Ibeza's eyes remind me
I knew so very long ago ...
Pore by pore,
thread by thread
who slipped, drop by drop
into the oceans
that now separate us.
"Sleep Another Day" was similarly about the female muse:
[...]So, the paintings were not a social commentary at all. I had transferred my own reflections of India, its growth and its inequality onto his canvas. Still ... the five paintings moved me even if they moved me in ways the artist did not intend.
I wake her gently
and unpack her
from my fresh dreams
into the day.
Left to me
I would rather
let her sleep
tucked deep in ...
Still, his self-satisfaction got under my skin a bit. I couldn't resist telling him that I got my undergraduate degree from IIT Madras. If I lived in India instead of Oklahoma, I would probably be name dropping my alumni institution into every conversation ...
But talking about IIT, the paper today reported that six more IITs have been approved. In 1989, there were only 5. Now there are something like 10. So, soon, there will be 16. And get this: the new IITs are so deficient in staff and infrastructure that one of the original IITs is supposed to be "mentor" each of the new ones. What are the chances that the value of an IIT degree will get totally debased?
I should probably get my name-dropping in when I can. In a few years, no one will be impressed.
I'm in Delhi today, visiting the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). Coming from entrepreneurial, tech-jargon-laden Bangalore to Delhi's government organizations is like traveling back in time to colonial India.
What's an Indian government office without paper? This stack consists of weather charts, each of which is about four feet wide. The stack is nearly my height. The corridors of IMD are full of such stacks.
Eastern suburb I was staying in went 11-hours without electricity.
Eleven hours! And it turns out that the water that flowed out of the
tap was not the city's doing but merely a function of a high water
table and a powerful motor at my friend's house.
I take back everything nice I said about Bangalore's governance.
In my parents' rural corner of India, there are 4 hours of power cuts everyday. The roads are unpaved, potholed or dumped with stones. Mosquitoes and open sewers are everywhere. Schools are horrible and the state of business seems to be no different from what it was 15 years ago.
Bangalore (from what I see) doesn't suffer from power cuts. Water flows out of taps. Homes have solar panels on the roofs to heat their water. There's a nice clean lake in the center of the city. Schools are good, business is booming.
If rural India ever gets the kind of governance Bangalore gets, watch out.
I asked who the fellow receiving the award from Nehru was.
"My father," replied our 70-year old neighbor proudly, "he was a great freedom fighter in his young days and the first thyagi (someone who sacrificed a lot) in Devakottai." So this must have been in the 1920s around the time that Gandhi was taking over India's freedom movement and orienting it towards a non-violent struggle.
"What did your father do to get jailed?," I asked.
"He burned down a theater," I was told, "he was quite the radical."
So not non-violent then.
The name of our septuagenarian neighbor is Mohan. I'd never made the connection between his name and Gandhi's first name (Mohandas). The young man in the photo was one of those whose radicalism had been channeled by Gandhi into more peaceful means. He'd even named his son after Gandhi.
It's now become an impromptu temple, as can be seen by the small concrete snake at the base of the Ganesha on the tree.
And continuing my last post about the size of trees in India, that tree trunk is more than 6 feet in diameter. The tree is probably only 50 years old.
The bus in the background? It's a daily bus that goes to Bangalore. I'm taking it tomorrow, to go visit a close friend (and distant relative) from my high school days.
And wouldn't you know it? I'm the one who falls sick. Mainly due to my fondness for jackfruit. I had eaten it safely several times before but this time, the knife the vendor used must have been infected ... I ended up with severe stomach cramps, going to the clinic at 3am and getting an IV infusion. I'm all through it, but the doc put me on a cocktail of antibiotics for the next two weeks.
"To get you safely out of here", the doctor said when I remarked that the amount of medicine seemed to be a bit extreme.
However, the author is clearly taken with Obama's personal knowledge of the region (as opposed to McCain's knowledge of the subcontinent only through official visits):
But here's a trivial observation that suggests why Obama, because of his eclectic and unusual upbringing, may be different: He's the only American leader who has been heard to pronounce Gandhi and Pakistan correctly — just like it's pronounced in the subcontinent (Gaan-dhi, not Gain-dee; Paak-isthaan, not Pack-is-tan). In other conversations, Obama has also referred to Indian success in technology fields, and drawn comparisons between his father (who came to the US "without money, but with a student visa and a determination to succeed") and the experiences of Indian immigrants.Meanwhile, the case for McCain is more cerebral and less from the heart:
Such empathy and "connection" to immigrants from the subcontinent is only one part of Obama's plural multi-ethnic background and wide-ranging eclectic education (American, African, even part-Asian) that makes him arguably the most unusual and exciting presidential candidate in US history — more universalist than American.
Conventional wisdom in Indian circles is that a McCain win will result in a broad continuation of Bush administration policies, including a possible revival of the US-India nuclear deal in the event of a favourable political alignment and atmosphere after the general elections.and in the all-important (to India) issue of Islamic terrorism, McCain would be unreliable, whereas Obama may do the right thing:
Despite his abiding friendship with Pakistanis from his collegiate days, Obama appears to view a military-dominated Pakistan and the fundamentalist monarchy in Saudi Arabia with deep distrust (his Karachi visit happened during the Zia years). McCain, on the other hand, is the author of the long-running Republican coziness with the fundamentalists and militarists in Riyadh and Islamabad respectively, dispensations that India too has reservations about.
My mom's neem tree is now a foot in diameter and about 25 feet tall. A seven-year old elm in Oklahoma would be lucky to be 6" wide and 12 feet tall. It's not an accident that in American folklore, planting a tree is something you do for the next generation.
If trees here can grow so fast so well, why are there not more trees?
Barbers are loquacious everywhere and this one was no exception.
"Where do you live?," he asked as soon as he'd shown me to my chair.
"Chennai," I said shortly, not wanting to get a whole conversation started.
A couple minutes later, he asked, "What language are your kids speaking? Is it Hindi?"
"No," I replied, "it's English".
"If you live in Chennai," he persisted, "why are they talking English?"
"We used in live in America," I said, backpedaling furiously.
"Where's your house here?," he asked. I told him. "It must be your cousin, then," he said, "who lives in America. Your uncle comes to this shop. He's kind of short, you know"
"Oh, it's me," I told him, "I'm the one who lives in America." We were going to have that conversation after all.
"It says in the paper," the barber said brightly, "that Bush's wife didn't get enough votes."
"Clinton's wife," I said, "Clinton's wife didn't get enough votes"
A pond for storing water. Most such ponds are walled in, and have underground canals that lead from all over the village to the common pond. This pond still provides the drinking water for the village. The Tamil word for these ponds, oorani, is a play on two meanings of the word "oor". The first meaning is "town" and the second meaning is "to seep". Describes both how the pond is formed and who owns it.
The man is selling "nongu" (fruits of a type of palm tree). The kids thought it was jello (it has that texture and translucent color) and wanted to know how the man got the jello into the coconut. The poor fellow would have been even more bewildered if he had understood the question.
This year, the rains were very good, so normally arid land has become a marsh. I see lots of folks fishing in land I remember dry and caked in mud. The sarong-like thing the guy is wearing is called a lungi and is likely an influence from South-east Asia.
This flower is called a "Nagalingam" flower. Naga means snake and a lingam is a phallus. Not sure why ... it looks neither like a snake nor like a phallus to me.
And to close, a photo that S1 (our six-year-old) took when we were briefly stopped by the side of the road. He wanted to take a picture of the "recycling stuff". I didn't have the heart to correct him.