Thursday, September 27, 2007

a view of my school: canadian int'l school of bangalore

i just bought a new bicycle!

it has only one speed (it is flat here in the deccan plateau!) but it has shock absorbers (needed on these funky roads) and fenders (needed during monsoon season). now i can get some fun exercise on weekends and evenings. my first trip out on local reoads was exhilirating and educational. i found a GREAT road through tiny local villages and found an inspirational view of the local nandhi hills. maybe i can figure out a road thither without the brutal highway traffic...

miko in mexico (archive photo!)

it seems i finally figured out how to add photos!
look in my archives, as i continue to post images to earlier posts.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cricket: sixes and wickets [huzzah for India!]

When I started telling friends that I was about to move to India, several said that I would be duty-bound to learn something about cricket in order to engage in polite conversation about India’s national sport. I replied that I would resist the temptation to throw good time after the project of understanding this silly sport.
Well, I have not resisted strongly enough: I actually am figuring out the game and its appeal as a spectator sport. This is made simple by several recent exciting and important tournaments, one of which is just beginning as I write this. India lost a heart-breaking best-of-seven series to England, and then came back to beat England in a “twenty-twenty” series, which concludes tonight in a match between India and Pakistan.
The local hero is a batter called Yuvraj Singh, who has delivered a record-breaking flurry of the equivalent of home runs (called “sixes”) in the last few matches. So in paying a bit of attention to this spectacle, I have been absorbing other aspects of the game through listening to commentary and asking na├»ve questions.
One of the appeals of cricket as a spectator sport is that a LOT of runs are scored: sometimes over two hundred per side. So instead of waiting hours for a single run, there is action a-plenty: the scoreboard is always cranking! Actually I started developing a wee bit of understanding of the game while watching the GREAT Bollywood film “Lagaan” which featured a crucial cricket match between British Imperial functionaries and a team of Indian peasants, who had to learn the game before they could play (and defeat) the Brits.
But I digress. The excitement here is sparkling: the community is gathered in the recreation room watching the Big Game on a bigscreen TV. There were rollicking cheers when India were at bat and scoring runs. They didn’t get a particularly high score, only 157; and Yuvraj was a great disappointment. Now Pakistan are batting. (Note the britishism adopted here as collective nouns like team names are conjugated as plurals). It is now all about tension and waiting. The only sounds of celebration are related to stunning defensive plays, which are rare. Pakistan are playing fairly conservatively instead of trying to blast sixes into the stands, which risks a wicket. A number of fine bowlers have put nine wickets together: one more and Pakistan are out on wickets! Now we are at endgame, and a Pakistani batter named Misbah has just hit four sixes and got his team back in the game at 152 runs, but the nine wickets might be a problem. Then at the very next pitch following a mighty smashing six, he pops up a weak fluttering ball which is caught, and so INDIA HAVE WON!!! The fireworks are all around and there is frenzied dancing in the clubhouse, as there will be all over the SubContinent.
So even though I do not yet grok the subtleties of this strange sport, I have shared an exciting few hours drinking from the cup of nationalism and spectator sports: a heady brew! This game will be the subject of jolly conversation for the next week or more, so I am glad to have seen a lot of it, and gladder still that I can actually follow some of the conversation. When in doubt about details of the win related in profoundly technical cricket-talk, I plan to huzzah that India won even with a dull performance from Yuvraj: what glory would have been if he would have been on his game! What a team to win even without help from their star batter! Huzzah for India!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ganesha comes to Prestige Monte Carlo Apartments

Yesterday was the festival dedicated to the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed Remover of Obstacles, India’s best ambassador and one of the best commodities in India’s export portfolio. Here was this God made of plaster of Paris (more on this later) smiling over a ritual blessing during which the local priest recited quite a bit of Sanskrit, including the famous mantra of Ganesha’s 108 names. We all stood around and observed the priest and his arcane gestures and recitations, after which the priest sent into circulation a stainless steel platter which contained a small lamp whose flame had blessed Ganesha (and been blessed by Him) so that we could sweep some of the flame’s blessings over our heads and into our hearts. The stainless steel platter also served as an offering dish, and was presumably chosen so as to not be stained by the filthy lucre which many of us dropped beside the flame. After the crowd had been purified by fire, a bowl of uncooked rice was passed around, which the celebrants took in pinches and palmfuls to toss at the image of the god. After we had showered Him in grain we each partook of a little bowlful of spicy cooked rice & beans and then a bit of sweetened cream of wheat. The apartment manager insisted that we pose for a few small-group portraits, in which we played the role of token foreigners. There were also a few Sikhs who participated in the ritual and were dragged into ecumenical photos. In days of olde, the Ganesh statues were made of mud and straw, and they were not fired nor painted. Therefore when the statues were thrown into a local body of water at the end of a ritual period of three, five or seven days the statues would simply “melt” back into nature, carrying with them all the blessings and petitions prayed into the mud. Nowadays people prefer gaudily painted statues constructed of modern materials, like plaster of Paris or even plastic. So when these are chucked into lakes, the result is toxic pollution instead of a wholesome cycle of nature.

P.S. It is now three days later, and we have just gathered again as a community to dance before the gaudy plaster of Paris idol of Ganesha, and convey Him to the lake. I followed behind the procession of wildly dancing men and a few calm women; but then several of the local guys dragged me into the mosh-pit of dancers, so I decided to shake a leg for the Remover of Obstacles, to show Him that I appreciated all He had been doing for me. The local dance style is rather like Brazilian Carnival dance crossed with African tribal moves. Apparently I acquitted my self well enough, winning the appreciation of the local youngsters. The apartment complex managers had hired a photographer to document the final part of our little community ritual: I suspect I will be featured prominently in the photo-montage showing “old white guy worshipping Ganesha”. Perhaps these photo-ops will shave a few more seconds off of my 15 minutes of Warholian fame.

Monday, September 10, 2007

desk or table? baksheesh or namaste?

Desk search
The school furnished our apartment with a little student desk, which could be read either way: a little desk for a student or a desk for a little student. Neither of us like the size; not enough room for long legs to fold beneath the desk, nor enough area on the desktop to manage a laptop computer and some papers and reference books, let alone speakers and post-modern accessories. So we decided to buy another desk, actually two: a his & hers pair of big person’s desks. Of course this ought to be easy: go down to the local furniture shop and pick out a desk, pay, go home and await delivery… right? Wrong! Nothing happens smoothly in India. I went to several furniture shops where the concept of “desk” means “little student desk”. I looked on-line and found several other shops which sold little student desks. What do big students use to focus their big thoughts and compose their big papers? Eventually I stumbled onto a catalogue item called “office table” which was EXACTLY the “desk” I was looking for! Plenty wide, maybe even TOO deep, neither mama bear little nor papa bear huge, this desk looked baby bear perfect. It featured three drawers on one side and still lots of leg room. It even seemed to have little holes cut into it to allow printer wires and lamp cords and so forth. But the company which sells the perfect office table does not allow of payment on-line nor even over the phone; so we had to take a taxi way cross town to the Pan Office Furniture (no, I am not kidding!) showroom to make payment, sign papers etc. OK. We got lucky and arranged a lift in the school bus which was taking boarding school kids into town; this would make the taxi ride shorter and spare us from most of the diesel pollution which rickshaw taxis subject us to. So after we were dropped at MG road, we grabbed a cab further south along Hosur road near Electronics City. After a bit of asking around, the driver found the showroom of Pan Office Furniture. Hurrah! There we were facing an actual CHOICE of different models, instead of one type, possibly out of stock… a little squad of salesmen accosted us, wondering how they could be of service. Could they show us model AI 4000, the perfect office table portrayed in the catalogue? “Sorry sir, this model is not there. It may be available in four or five weeks.” Dang! Of course we want our desks NOW, not a month from now. We asked which models were in stock, so we could buy something which could be delivered the same day. “Sorry sir, nobody works in the go-down (Indian English for “warehouse”) today. We cannot say what is in stock.” Hmmm. So the very reason for our schlepping all the way cross town seemed to be null and void. Was there any model which they could say for certain WAS in stock? “Yes sir, I am sure the CT-450 is there. We can have it delivered on Monday afternoon.” So we decided to pay Rs. 8000 for desks delivered in two days, rather than Rs. 5000 for desks promised in four or five weeks, knowing full well that merchants’ promises are often estimates based in wishful thinking and good intentions. This is not the end of this little saga, but I am optimistic that Monday evening will find me and Hansa parking all of our gear and nicknacks on our shiny new desks, ummm, that is, our new office tables.

P.S. it is now Monday afternoon and I am in fact typing at my new perch in front of a swanky new office table with drawers that work, and even can be locked with a key! There are holes drilled into the surface to allow wires to bring 220 Volt electrical current to the speakers, printers and peripherals—they look great and work fine. It was all as smooth as going to Ikea: maybe even more so, because the delivery guys actually unpacked the boxes full of desk parts and assembled both desks, made sure they were placed in the correct part of the room and so forth. But then we didn't think about giving them a tip, so if we ever order more stuff from this company, we can count on inferior service. Tipping is an art form based on influencing the future rather than merely rewarding the past. Baksheesh! Baksheesh! One controls karma through generosity and through memory. Baksheesh! Baksheesh! One makes ripples of good will by dropping coins in the water of human kindness. Baksheesh! Baksheesh! We had actually front-loaded a bit of good karma by giving a generous tip to an autorickshaw driver just last night: he had quoted us a fair price from downtown Bangalore to our suburban apartment, rather than the normal procedure of quoting a ridiculously high price and forcing a bargaining war. We were impressed with his honesty and rewarded it with a big tip. Money has different value and serves several different functions here in India. And non-monetary interactions transpire in a richer coin of the realm; I am amazed at how much good will I can generate by a smile and a handshake. Namaste outweighs baksheesh in many circumstances.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

ganesha fest

Ganesha festival support

I was out on a pleasure ride just seeing the sights and making a bit of a breeze with my bike to dry the sweat off my body. I headed north on Dod Ballapur Road. Just north of the police academy I saw a little road off to the left with an intriguing sign “Ayurvedic Nursing home and Yoga Center” so I went to investigate. A few kilometres down the road there was a tiny village where a small pack of boys clustered, awaiting passers-by. I was passing by, so they stretched across the road in an effort to wave me down. Normally I would just honk and gesture at them to get out of the way, and then just barrel through, ignoring their adolescent piracy without surrendering a bit of a piece of eight nor any other booty. But something seemed different; one of the boys brandished a kind of receipt book: a raffle perhaps? “Fifty rupees, Uncle. Fifty rupees!” A charity collecting rupees for a local library? I wanted to know what was the cause, so I stopped and we tried to find a few words of a common tongue. They told me they were collecting for a festival in honor of Ganapataye (a.k.a. Ganesha) who is among my favourite Hindu deities. How could I refuse? I still thought it might be a raffle, so I tried to find out from the boys how I would be notified if I won. “What do I get if I give you the fifty rupees?” I asked several of the older boys who had a few dozens English words each. One boy replied “the blessings of Lord Ganesha”. How could I refuse? After giving the eldest a bill and receiving a receipt, I sped off down the road to find the Ayurvedic Center, which turned out to have an organic herb garden directly across the road. I realized then that I should have stayed with the boys and chanted with them the Maha Mantra “Om Gan Ganapataye namaha” so on my way back I stopped again. This time the boys showed me less interest: they had already squeezed a pretty hefty donation out of me (slightly more than a dollar!), and it wasn’t too likely that I had stopped to give yet more money. I addressed the oldest boy and said “I should have chanted the Maha Mantra when I gave you the donation. Will you chant with me?” and then I began the simple universal prayer which means : “Om Ganesha Lord of All Created Things, I call upon you”. The boys’ eyes popped open full wide: they had just witnessed a miracle. I had just paid for a blessing from Lord Ganesha, and now just ten minutes later I was singing a Sanskrit prayer! How could this have happened if not through the direct influence of the elephant-headed remover of obstacles?

california dream inn

Next to California
We live in a gated community just outside of town. In this context “town” means Yelahanka, a suburb of Bangalore, a throbbing metropolis. We can walk to a grocery store called FoodWorld in about 15 minutes. There is a bar right down the road where I can buy locally made dark rum for about $5 per bottle, and local light beer for a dollar for 750 ml. There are no sidewalks; the roadsides are muddy and filthy with garbage. Traffic is thick and loud from mid-morning until well after dark. A little road off to the right just before FoodWorld leads to the western part of NewTown Yelahanka, where there are plenty of shops and restaurants; but it is a pretty long and stressful walk to get there. Our saviour spot is right next door: the California Resort (!) where the restaurant serves local nouveaux riches clients along with us foreigners. The food is excellent: a tandoori oven supplies kebabs and fresh Indian breads as complements to all the normal fare of daal and spicy veggies. On weekends there is live music on the terrace, so we have frequented the place quite regularly. A nice gentle man plays sitar and explains every raga and folksong before playing it, although the sound system makes his clarification unclear if not muddy, and I don’t mean as a result of the monsoon weather. The drummer is a beginner on the tabla, but he has good rhythmic sense, so his lack of technique is not detrimental to the presentation of the raga. We suspect he is related to the sitar player, who is just doing a favour for a nephew or cousin. We happily feast on food fit for kings while listening to a serenade for a small audience of visiting dignitaries, which turns out to be a little band of teachers at a local school, one of whom actually comes from California. Sometimes we see monkeys frolicking in the treetops at the California Resort, but they haven’t invaded the dining area yet while we have been eating. One of the managers speaks perfect English, and always comes to chat with us when we eat there. He has travelled widely through the southern states in the USA, and so he is familiar with some aspects of that consumerist paradise, including the notion of dark beer. He has promised to order some of India’s only dark beer, which is called Hayward’s Black Stout. Since the entire market is controlled by a few light beers, Kingfisher and Fosters, and the few small rivals, Knockout and Royal Challenge, are both in a style called “malt liquor” beer (fortified with higher alcohol content) the presence of a dark beer is most welcome. We have also found the one and only dark bread, which is called California rye bread. Kalifornia ueber alles!