The Jam

October 13, 2010


Fight the Power


Though it was no satyagraha campaign, no doubt Gandhiji would be very happy that the meter jam campaign remained a nonviolent event.

For those of you who have been following this blog with any regularity you may be beginning to bemoan the fact that I reference auto rickshaws and their drivers with a great deal of frequency.  For the most part, and I think here I am having a true daily Bengaluru experience, auto’s provide the greatest uncertainty and thus the greatest fodder for material on what would have been a regular day.  That and it seems that with any lull in conversation recounting auto stories rejuvenates things.

The campaign, having its origins in Mumbai and trickling its way down here, called for a one day boycott of autos.  As word spread, Bengaluru joined Mumbai a few weeks back, but yesterday was the first official meter jam campaign here.

The grievances, though many, fall into four primary categories: tampered meters that run fast; abuse–mostly verbal and psychological, rarely but not unheard of physically; refusal of destination; and refusal to put on meter.

There had been hopes that things would simmer down in auto-customer relations following a government fare mandate to help offset the cost of petrol.  But a new fare system required new meters, which cost money and even after the government set a window and an incentive–payment for change–many of the autos here continue to run on the old meter.

For my part I walked.  Others did not.  Here are two articles from the Bangalore mirror on the story.

Pro (from the local organizer):

Con (from the auto union boss):

And an assessment from another daily:


My First Cricket Match

October 12, 2010

M Chinnaswamy Stadium, a beautiful day for cricket

M. Chinnaswamy Stadium was buzzing at 900 IST as Indian and Australian fans looked to find which gate they could enter around the stadium.  The facility itself has aged well, I assume it’s not a too recent structure, and my section was quite nice—shaded for the entire day and facing straight onto the wickets.  Promptly at 930 the game commenced with the note that we would be entertained for 90 overs (540 bowls).  India was at bat, and Sachin Tendulkar carried over his stunning performance from yesterday in to morning round—single handedly keeping India in the match.  I know very little of this sport, but I do know that his 214 runs was something very special to witness.  However, having played a bowl of his own wicket Sachin was sent back to the pavilion to much cheering—both Indian and Aussies celebrating a great individual performance and no doubt the Aussies relieved to get the willow out of his hands.  India never was able to get back on batting track and soon all players were retired by the lunch break.

Now with Australia up, India brought out their fast bowlers who hurled rockets at the wickets.  However, Australia seemed more than capable of handling the pace and quickly racked up the runs with a series of fours (when the ball crosses the outline but not on the fly).  With the heater struggling, Dhoni called in the junk bowlers—the Tim Wakefields to the Roger Clemens.  These bowlers threw with what my father would refer to as “English” on the tennis court, topspins and slices—the latter for which he had little toleration or admiration.  These bowlers proved extremely effective, keeping the Aussies on their toes and preventing them from ever really laying good wood on the ball.  But with the lack of runs the pace of match soon wore on me and I decided to head off back to campus in order to check out a few books before the desk closed.  I wish I could wax on and on about test cricket, but I think the decision to lower the overs to 20-20 for the IPL is more my cup of tea—which also happened to come with my ticket.  I know for the Australians sitting behind me their love for the game rivals that of any diehard baseball fan, not to mention the passion exuding from the Indians around me.  No doubt the narrative of this game has woven itself into the national narratives of a good many former British territories, and this allows for a kind of participation in the national pastime that I will never be able to experience.  Nevertheless, for a half-day it was enjoyable.

Me at the stadium

On my way home I dropped into the airtel store to check about getting a data card which, after having to return to UTC to get a passport photo, I successfully secured and am using to post this post.  However, I have decided that it will not be joining me in the library.

I have begun reading Christopher Hitchens’ memoir Hitch 22 in the evenings before bed.  Though I disagree with him a on many points, I have nearly always enjoyed his writing and his style—most especially his literary reviews (though I am not a fan of his writing on religion, and it is less about his positions than his arguments—which are often old and tiresome).

book cover, click blue link to see on google book

As for research, I am reading Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit LiteraturePoisoned Bread is a collection of poems, autobiographies, short stories, and essays from some of the leading figures of the Dalit literary movement—which began to blossom in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Much like the leaders of the Harlem or Washington Renaissance—the latter of which my friend Adam McGovern can speak much about—were able to transgress, condemn, and then transcend early to mid 20th c. United States and its treatment of African-American men and women, so do these Dalit writers and poets as they help put voice to a their people’s pain and help create an aesthetic that is both healing and prophetic.  The community and individual self-hate born from the interiorization of the dehumanizing forces require a powerful paradigm shift in the way one views the world and the way one views oneself in order to become.  Not surprisingly it is often the artists, the musicians, and the poets who are the ones first capable of seeing beyond the immediate and limited present to an open future, who are first able to create new realities out of old ones, who are the first to say to be Dalit is to be human and to be beautiful.

My New Home

October 11, 2010

My new home: The Ecumenical Resource Center at United Theological College, Bengaluru

Yesterday I left the Hotel Swagath for my more permanent residence at the ERC at UTC.  I spent the last few hours of wifi in what became a futile search for how to get a wireless hookup once I move.  In one last bold attempt I sent a Hail Mary email to David, which no doubt he has responded to, but with only 25 minutes to checkout it was—for now—for naught.  Having had to pay for an extra night, something I thought might be the case with my 3am arrival, I said good bye to my friends at the hotel and was ready to move North a few kilometers.  Prior to leaving, however, I had saved a few google maps to my laptop so I could locate my next wireless oasis, a little over 2km away on Coles St in Benson Town.

My second home: UTC's library. Donde esta la biblioteca? Me llamo C-dawg la arana discoteca

With bags packed I stepped into my taxi procured by the Hotel and quickly realized that the driver’s English was as good as my Kannada.  This worried me a bit as that the last 20% of the trip would require a driver knowledgeable of the area, which my driver, quite early, proved not to be.  The last bit no doubt is tricky—requiring a maneuver that would not be too difficult on an American roadway but seemed to me, in my Sons of the American Revolution bias, to be an absolute jumbled mess under British rules.   With the one way streets positioned as they were only a defecting Soviet submarine captain could navigate through this stretch of road.  Of course matters were complicated first by the fact that my original direction to the hotel manager of “near Cantomount Railway” in a three person game of telephone became “Cantomount Railway.” Second, it soon became clear that my driver did not know where this railroad station was.  Several times we stopped for directions—asking an auto rickshaw driver, asking a policeman, asking a couple of soldiers in a jeep, and my favorite, a kind gentleman driving his auto when upon seeing me roll down the window to offer further clarification uttered, “Oh, ‘ello, captain.”   We drove on, and on, and on, finally arriving at the railroad station, only for the realization of our mutual disappointment in my revelation that this was not, in fact, our final destination—though 25 minutes later I would ask for it be.  We kept driving, me trying to point cardinally to the fact that we were only a couple blocks “back that-a-way” away—I would have walked if I hadn’t had my bags and were not paying INR 600 for the ride—and he performing the Blore bobble that is always open to a wide variance of interpretation as it means yes, perhaps, ok, maybe, ehh, polite brush off.  Finally, outside a mosque we get directions back to the railway and as we drive by the archbishop’s house I catch the entrance to UTC not by its signage but by the young mother, son, and daughter juice sellers I had seen a few days before.  I ask the driver to pull over, I collect my bags, pay him, and then he asks me something which I don’t understand.  This goes on for a minute, me not sure if I can leave, he imploring me for something, me hoping it’s not for a higher payment.  Of course it turns out to be just that, but only INR 10—about 25 cents US.  Finally realizing that this was the case, and not his wanting 10 hundreds, I was tempted to ask for what, but decide—screw it—just easier to give it to him. (Perhaps my friends in the econ department can create a model which establishes the optimal conditionality in this “game” where he tries to maximize payment by locating the monetary point I say, screw it.  Then perhaps we can figure out what percentage of the Bangalorean economy this transaction accounts for).

Now on the campus I worked my way over to the ERC for check-in and learned the good news that I was just in time for lunch.  Having taken my bags upstairs, unpacking a bit, snapping a few photos of the room, I returned to the dining room and asked to join a table.  There I sat down with two Church of Scotland pastors, Carol and Idolynn—Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively—and we discussed the attractions in the area.  Their travel book was much more blunt and caustic than the Lonely Planet South India guide Jessica had gotten me for my birthday.  Theirs, written in the dry wit of the British, went on to describe the aquarium as “a few tanks of muddy water” and while providing in-depth historical detail on various other sites, it seemed to conclude always with “nevertheless, it proves to be rather unremarkable place to visit.”  At the end of lunch we play a game of it’s a small world after all, I learned that Carol has met my friend Amy from PTS—a pastor in Glasgow—at a conference of some sort.

Following lunch I headed to Coffee Good Day or Café Good Coffee or Day Café Good, something like that, in order to access the internet.  Having to traverse a few large intersections with no light to guide or prompt me, I must look very silly waiting for a clearer opportunity for crossing than my less risk adverse hosts.  If I arrive at such an intersection without a clear window to cross, I’ll often wait for a Bangalorean to arrive so as I can synchronize with him or her.  It’s not a bad walk to the cafe, though there is .75 KM stretch with what I am sure is a dangerous level of CO—I experienced a bit of euphoria before a coughing headache set in.  If I get a chance—such chances being a dime a dozen–I’ll try to take a picture of a motorcycle, scooter family here.  I’ll often see an entire immediate family on a bike.  Father drives with child on lap, while mother rides side saddle with child in arms. It is the 150cc family station wagon.  All this to say that as a less occupied scooter passed through the intersection at a slow pace—father sitting, 4 year old son standing between his legs.  Because there was no light, the father ventured out into what only to him could have appeared to be hole, which vanished forcing him to pump the brakes pretty hard.  Luckily the pace wasn’t fast, but the result was the son’s head smacking against the handle bar.  He was ok. The fact that he didn’t tear up, made the whole situation somewhat comical, in a way where your only response to near grave injury is to laugh.  Also, as we all know slapstick is universal, even when kids are involved.

I arrived at the café only to find out the internet was on the fritz.  I ordered a coffee and was told that wi-fi would be up again soon—which surprisingly it was.  One of the amazing things about India is that the bureaucracy that makes up the day to day affairs of people’s lives has more than wedged its way into technology.  For a foreigner to get a phone, even a burner for you wire fans, she must purchase it at one store, the sim card at another, and then have the minutes put on at a third.  This requires also a passport photo, a Xerox of your passport, a Xerox of your visa, and a note of residence—thank you so much Chinna and Bala for helping me avoid this.  Most of this process has to do with anti-terrorism measures, limiting the actual presence of unregistered burners available for use; Lester would be proud.  However, for the average person this is more paperwork and headache in a usually already paperwork and headache filled day.

The process for me to access wi-fi was not dissimilar—here is an exact reenactment of my attempt: 1) Attempt to connect, 2) Fail to connect—informed I must purchase a INR 27 wi-fi access card, 3) Purchase card 4) Read instructions on card 5) Scratch off card to reveal voucher code 6) Reload internet 7) Enter voucher code 8) Create id, password, supply cell phone number—I did not know mine so I inserted Conrad’s, a leftover contact on my borrowed phone, sorry, Conrad  9) Register 10) Log in using id and password 11) Enter voucher code again 12) Told to enter mobile again—now with the caveat that a new code will be sent to me by sms 13) Earmuffs…..shit 14) Try to figure out how to get my number 14) Fail and fail 15) Sulk home, until I find a grocer and buy 3Ls of water. All for a wi-fi “hot spot” and I still don’t know what awaits me on the other side of the sms code.

****TMI time: read at own risk or skip to next paragraph—I return home to deal with what may be TD aka the sojourner’s runs.  According to the CDC pamphlet I have for self-diagnosis, the frequency of these events fits the bill—certainly more than three in a 24 hour period.  But I lack bloating, pain, or cramps.  So for now I’m hoping to chalk it up to the Chicken Cordon Bleu I ate on Friday which was unlike any I had ever had before.  Slap stick and scatological humor: intercultural and intergenerational****

Tonight I had dinner in the dining room and met another group of nice British folks—this time from various parts of England.  A few were here doing various mission type work in the surrounding area—less evangelizing more caritas-ing .  There was also a fellow graduate student doing her work on the Anglican Church in India.  She has access to the special collections and gets to go through some pretty old and interesting documents.  They all were great company and we stayed past close-up time chatting—sharing stories of our travel and of our fleecings.  They also provided me with some nice recon—where to get a pint, where to get an American breakfast, where to go for a swim.  I’ll be seeing them tomorrow for breakfast I’m sure.  It seems we get cornflakes and toast on the weekends.  I can’t wait.

Yeah to my mom for not only getting skype to work through many a technical glitch, but also figuring out how to login into my account to call me on my cell phone.  Huzzah!

White People I saw today:  Freak blizzard at 12 and 7:30, expecting snow for the next few months.  A nice smattering of expats as well.

Not sure when I’ll be able to put pictures up, but you’ll see them when I do.

Beers, Balas, and Bye Byes

October 8, 2010


A little ice cream with Fr. Balaswami and Br. Bala (l-r)

Ahoy, Ahoy.  Greetings.  Tonight is the last night I will be spending at Hotel Swagath. 

Trying to find a decent hotel on a budget was a tedious task.  All in all it took probably 35 hours to make the selection, and that was on account of me telling Mike Avery to put a 40min cap on my final selection process.  I checked and rechecked, looked at viewer ratings on tripadvisor, and decided ultimately on Hotel Swagath, mostly on account of its rave reviews.  (Anything that received a poor/review on cleanliness I dismissed, anything on account of service I kept in the hunt).   Hotel Swagath received an 80% recommendation rate and it I would certainly recommend to anyone looking for a clean, safe, wi-fi hotel for $18 dollars a day.  Like many “seedy” neighborhoods, what my little slice of Majestic lacks in charm it more than makes up in personality.  More good new especially if your name is Lorrie, Br. Bala has informed me that I can get a portable wi-fi device at many electronic stores in Bangalore.  Perhaps I will not be without internet after all.

That was not the case this afternoon.  In an attempt to collect articles and references before I leave for UTC, I have been spending most of my mornings going through various databases and online journals.  However, at about 1:30PM IST*, my internet went out.  I called the front desk and informed them of my situation and they said they would be on top of it.  Two minutes later there was a knock at my door; it was on the house attendants.  We both stared quizzically at each other, me holding my computer and him a fresh, clean towel, and each came to the conclusion that something was lost in translation.  So I took my computer downstairs and after a few minutes of unplugging this wire, repluggiing that wire, internet was back up and running.  I then returned to my room, trying to finish up some work before I met Br. Bala at Dharmaram College.

Knock, knock. I go to open the door and as it opens I see the hotel’s manager.  Fearing that I have run afoul of some ruleI am a bit hesitant, but he quickly reassures me that all he desires is a quick chat about Indian and American culture.  I invite him and offer him a seat.  We begin with small talk, family, weather, sports, and the conversation quickly moves to questions of family planning, multi-family living, what we do with are aged, arranged marriages, divorce and the like.  He shows me some photos of his daughters and from a puja service at the temple across the way (the Lakshmi temple from an earlier post).  Then comes the $64,000 question, do you believe in Hinduism?  It is a question that is vague as it is pointed.

I could have equivocated, sure I believe in Hinduism—keeping aside the question of is very really any such thing as Hinduism or is it a creation of Western scholars of religions in the late 18th and 19th century—there are people all around me here practicing, how could I not believe that it exists.  I figured, however, that the manager, Mr. Subramani, wanted to know if I believed in Hinduism as a religion, as a follower, that I did not think it was some kind of superstitious practice of pagan idol worshipers.  Welcome to interreligious dialogue and theology of religions—how, rooted in a particular religious tradition, mine being PCUSA with a good dose of SJ, do you understand the place of other religious traditions in relation to yours.  There are a few general ways to respond to the question, but it’s one of those things that is both black and white and totally grey.  Briefly, you can be an exclusivist, I got the truth, you don’t. You can be an inclusivist, probably the most famous being Karl Rahner with his understanding of the “anonymous Christian,” you have the truth, but not how you think you have it.  Your truth is true in so far as its true source is my truth.  Or you can be a pluralist, in three ways: it’s all true, there is no truth, or were all participating in a greater truth, but no one reflects that truth truly. (Theologians of religion are always trying to move away from these classical distinctions, fine-tuning or nuancing, but they are still taught and then critiqued.  Though they are a bit outdated and way too simplistic, they do present an easy to grasp jumping off point—especially when one doesn’t keep using true, truth, and truly like me.

Luckily for me I’m a comparative theologian, and the elders in our guild have called for a moratorium on such distinctions until theologians actually read the writings other traditions.  It’s a bit tenuous  to fall into one position without really knowing what the other religions says about itself—see the recent pew forum  to look at US religious literacy–take quiz here.

All this to say, I told Mr. Subramani that there is truth in Hinduism, and while I am not a practicing Hindu, but a Christian, I would not deny this truth—I figured any nuance to my own position would be unnecessary as we switched to a conversation about miracles, the Tamil saints, and of course cricket.  I feel I know have a good grasp of the game, and look forward to the match on Tuesday.  I failed to mention that this entire conversation occurred over a 22 of Kingfisher strong which was fetched for us by one of the attendants and consumed entirely by me, sans meal, at the great delight of Mr. Subramani—to the point he kept asking questions trying to discern my a) giddiness and b) buzziness.  He also invited me to dine with his family in the near future, something I will take him up on if he calls.

The second half of me day was spent with Br. Bala and Fr. Balaswami in Koramangala—a section of Bangalore 7KM south of me.  Br. Bala had earlier delivered my phone to me and was kind enough to show me around the beautiful campus of Christ College and Dharmaram.  Here we met his old classmate Fr. Balaswami and headed for dinner at Jukebox, a rock ‘n roll themed restaurant replete with pictures of Elvis and Bon Jovi.  The dinner was superb beef cordon en blue for them and chicken cordon blue for me—as you may imagine unlike any I had ever had before.  It was decided that a pitcher of beer should be ordered, which then that so turned into two.  Both provided excellent company and we were thoroughly stuffed after dinner-but not so much so that I could not enjoy some mango ice cream.  As I may have mentioned earlier, Br. Bala is off to Austria for his doctorate in philosophical anthropology, Fr. Balaswami is doing work with spiritual formation—we were able to pull him from his studies as many of the schools here are finishing their first semester.  It was an excellent evening with two excellent gentlemen.

On the way home, by auto—I’m getting the hang—my driver was flagged down by a cop for failure to use a signal.  I guess some semblance of “order” must be maintained, even if this was just a shakedown—which it was at the cost of INR 50.  Upon arrival there was no hassle, so feeling bad for the violation and relieved for the ease of travel I made it an even INR 100, not counting the $1 bill he wanted for his currency of the world collection—the sincerity in his voice makes me think that he does in fact have such a collection.  All in all a good ride and a great day.

Happy Emails: 1) From the Mighty O, Omar Khan, who has kin in Bangalore and has reached out to them on my behalf—one of whom owns a nightclub around the way from UTC.  2) From Swami Tyagananda at the Vedanta Society in Boston.  He has graciously informed me how to connect with the Ramakrishna Math in Kolkata when I visit and has provided me with a few contacts there.

White people I saw today: I think 1, but perhaps 3—and I was not seeing double.

*Only recently has come to my attention that the IST on my computer and the IST on my phone (many phones for that matter) are different, with the later being ten minutes fast.  Both my dinner mates assured me that Blore is not 9:40 ahead of the EST, just 9:30, so my only conclusion is that mobile networks are doing their part in combating Indian time—if you have Indian acquaintances.


October 7, 2010

Yesterday while reading the English daily that arrives under my door every morning, I noticed an ad selling tickets for the upcoming second test match between India and Australia.  I had wanted to go to a cricket match while I was here, but the Indian Premiere League is in the offseason—Bangalore’s team are the Royal Challengers (my postcolonial friends may enjoy that), and though the league is only its third year the heartbreak they have caused Bangaloreans seems to rival that of pre-2004 Boston Red Sox fans.   I opted to order my tickets online rather than traveling to the stadium, and began to attempt to figure out where one would want to sit in a cricket stadium.  Thankfully, many Aussies seem to traveling to the venue—M. Chinnaswamy Stadium—and seemed to know the right questions to ask in an online forum I found.  I have seats looking straight on to the bowler, a bit far from the pitch, but it should work out nicely.  Also, my ticket includes a lunch and tea—did I mention that match is scheduled for 9:30AM-5 PM.  I am pretty much ignorant to the rules so I will be doing some quick reading to try to figure things out.

Last night as I was failing to try to try to fall to sleep I spent a good period of time on, a one stop shop for all your Indian queries.  Ever since that cab ride, I have become determined to the point of obsession to avoid another fleecing.   And today I did just that.  Having hailed the first auto rickshaw, I asked for a metered ride to MG road—the vestigial high street of Bangalore left over from Britain and first part of what seems to be a popular pastime: MUDing and BUDing (MG Road up and down, Brigade Road up and down).  The first driver said INR 120.  Being a bit more savvy in this things, this was a figure at which I scoffed.  I walked on to the next driver, who was very much willing to allow the meter.  It was an enjoyable enough ride, see the video below (Adjust Volume, it’s really loud) and ended up being about 55% less than what the first driver had offered.

The purpose of my visit was to meet Jessica’s friend David, her fellow alumnus of Calvin College and also a graduate of UofM—Go Wolverines.  David kindly accepted my lunch offer, an offer for which he even more kindly picked up, and we met at the Egg Factory.  The Egg Factory lived up to its name with nearly every dish incorporating eggs as if it was a Top Chef competition.

Nevertheless, it was good and filling.  Plus David introduced me to fresh lime soda with sugar.  Just last night I had been worrying about my vitamin C intake and was fearing the onset of scurvy. Now I have a tasty means to combat it.  David works for Microsoft, but with a twist.  Teamed up with an economist, an anthropologist, and other social scientist, David and his group  go out into the field and assess the degree to which personal technology (mobiles and the like) fulfills its promise to improve the lives of even the most down trodden.  I won’t play spoiler, but you can most likely answer that yourselves.  His experience of the slums of India and the dalit/untouchables there touched upon a major objective of dalit theology (which is what I’ll be studying and writing on here)—the affirmation of dalit dignity and the creation of a positive individual and communal identity.  To borrow from a favorite verse of dalit theology 1 Peter 2:10—“Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”   Socially and psychologically of course this is no easy matter to achieve—especially as outcast identity and fatalism become interiorized.

Figuring I had a good sense of where I was and wanting to explore a bit, I decided to walk the way back to the hotel.   Up Museum Road I passed the Jesuit College, St. Josephs and its affiliated prep school—which undoubtedly would beat its brother school in Philly in cricket, but probably not crew.  I cut through Chubbon Park, which was not unlike a tropical Central Park.  I did however require a little police assistance.  As I walked into the park on the road, I was in the center of the left lane facing oncoming traffic or rather  would be facing had I be an any place not following British road rules.  Thankfully the police officer came from out his post and directed traffic around me as I hurried to the somewhat safer confines of the side walk.  On the way back I had my first encounter with both child and leper beggars.  If you have seen Slumdog Millionaire you would be familiar with this tragic operation.  I have been meaning to keep sweets on me to offer In the place of change—with the hope that this would be something they could keep by eating right there—but because I had none on me I continued on my way.  The most difficult part of the entire encounter was the nonchalance she had after it was clear that I would not be giving.  There was no, please, mister, please, but instead a quick removal of her pan and a dead-in-the-eyes look as she moved on to the next person.  The popular consensus seems to be to offer donations to charities and relief agencies rather than give to children or lepers.  In how these begging operations run, it makes total sense, give money to where the good can be done rather than to a boss using children, but still it’s difficult to walk by and offer nothing.

For a little levity and perhaps strolling into the TMI territory, you’ve been warned, I will now delve into more bodily matters.  First, I do not know if it is a result of my body detoxing—I am drinking more water than I ever have and am way way down in soda consumption (total liquid ounces consumed would equal a typical 11:00 AM in the states)—or if it is a result of the flavorful food, but I smell different now then upon my arrival.  Not necessarily worse, not necessarily better, just different and more potent.  Second, and I am typing this with one hand as the other is knocking on wood, I have not come down with what is euphemistically referred to Delhi belly.  I have been very good about drinking bottled water—I will have many trees to plant to offset this habit—and have been conservative around the menu, much obliged to Farooq again for being my dietary consultant.  However, yesterday I ate a late lunch comprised of the South Indian specialty masala dosa—a crepe like creation wrapped around a potato, onion, sauce mash.  It was oily, given its thin nature and griddle origin, but delicious and filling—so filling that I had thought about skipping dinner because I was not very hungry.  However, I did not want to wake up at two hungry so I went down for a light dinner.  About twenty minutes later there was a rumble and I began to fear that I might be sliding either into first or third.  Which I did.  Given the timing of events, ask anyone who has ever been to Tumbleweed with me, I was pretty sure this was a gut reaction to the spices or the oils, but I was nervous.  Thankfully, this morning I woke as if nothing had happened.   Excellent indeed.

White people I saw: 9, 1 elderly British women crossing St. Marks street with an umbrella and a look about her that said she knew how to use it, 1 ponytailed sight seer outside the Karnataka State House using a long lens, 4 presumably Aussie tourists in town for the test match, 1 woman with her child outside the cricket stadium as I picked up my ticket—using the text they sent me—1 woman behind one of the many cars that almost hit me.

Heaven and Hectic

October 5, 2010

With wi-fi opportunities quickly decreasing as I move to UTC—there will be some hotspots nearby—I took this morning (woke up at 9am—so am nearly back on track, can’t wait to I’m back to 11am) to track down electronically what books I may need while at UTC.  UTC is in the process of digitalizing its catalogue, so most of the works will have to be looked up the old fashion—thankfully I learned the old fashioned way at SHMS.  I hope this makes tracking down books much simpler–my having electronically saved the names, not the old paper chase.  I am very interested to see how easy it will be to get books as there is no Theological Book Agency or U-store and some of these titles may be popular.

Today I also took a giant step forward in my options for transport by planting myself in the back of an autorickshaw.  I did much reading and studying on the subject and quickly ascertained that, from the reports and nearly everyone’s anecdotes, that autorickshaw drivers are the most unscrupulous, chicanerous lot in all of Bangalore.  Nevertheless, it is a cheap, quick mode of transport and I can’t keep walking everywhere, so I decided today would be the day.  The destination Mantri Mall.

Is this heaven? No, it's Mantri Mall, well a model at least

Jessica has a friend from Calvin leaving nearby it and I figured today would be a good day to check it out.  So I hopped in the autorickshaw, negotiating a fare a little above the projected metered cost, and away we went.  It’s an exhilarating experience even as my driver was a bit timid on the roadway (even as a novice I sensed that things could be much more chaotic and the driver more daring/dangerous).  I arrived at Mantri Mall fully intact, mind, body, and soul, and after walking through a metal detector, I entered in the vast expanses of this 5 tiered, upscale mall.

Still suffering from culture shock—not even onto the aftershocks yet, it was if the man with the wand was St. Peter and he was waving me into heaven.  It was clean, air conditioned, offered freedom of mobility and smelled like fresh ice cream—most likely because there was an ice cream scoop waiting for you at every turn on all five levels.  Because I have not spent much money while I have been here I have failed to accumulate enough small bills and change to make rickshaw a truly cheap option.  As I contemplated lunch options, I made sure that they included meals that would allow me to break up my larger bills.  I had a diet coke, which was good but expensive INR 50, about $1.10, for 12oz.  I then wanted to get some chicken fingers, but they were priced at INR 99, not going to help break up my bills, so I settled for Au Bon Pain.  Upon entering the store I was greeted with Good afternoon, sir, sir, can I help you, sir, would like to try some soup…I have never felt so distinguished.  As I sat down with what would be an unremarkable tandoori chicken sandwich, out of nowhere CCR came’a blaring.  The Dude Abides.  With the heavens having also opened up for the usual 3:45 PM IST deluge, I was well aware that the afternoon ride would not be as fun or as cheap.

Aware that fees would be around double, the driver asked for 100, I asked for 60.  We agreed upon 80.  Here is where my lack of Kannada and the drivers broken English come into play.  My hotel is located on hospital road, one of many hospital roads in the city, I know that it is by the train station and in Gandhi Nagar.  The streets are pretty flooded and we begin to drive into what seems like oncoming traffic for a good half kilometer—I was a bit nervous–but a large bus returned us to our proper lane.  To top things off we start heading east more than south, I was about as close to pure south as you could get.  There are lots of one way roads here, and it does require some side stepping but as he was telling me that this was hospital road and something Hotel Swagath—he paused as if to stop and let me out.  Well I had a general idea of where I was, and was very much sure we were not where I needed to be.   We did turn out to bit closer than I had expected.  As  we pull onto Kempegowda Road (which I will only refer to KG road, from now on both in writing and in dealing with drivers), I direct him to our destination.  As I say 80 he says 15, I go 15, and then realize he means 150.  Realizing that this was a losing battle I say 100, give him the money and move before he can say much else.  Probably double the fare, but for $2.25 it certainly beats walking 2 miles in post downpour Blore.  All to say, I will always request a meter and not enter a motor until I get one.

Safely home I receive a call from the desk saying that I have a visitor.  My friend Chinna in the US told me I could call upon him to secure me a cell phone and at first, while very appreciative I declined, thinking it would be a not too painful task.  Upon arrival I quickly surmised that this task would be insurmountable without the help of a local or seasoned expat.  Luckily, Br. Bala, a Franciscan preparing to leave for doctoral studies in philosophical anthropology at the University of Salzburg, had arrived phone in hand.  As the phone charged he took lunch and we took coffee.

With phone charged and programmed I am no longer computer bound and can be called, but more importantly can call.  Great Success. Br. Bala has also promised to show me around his neighborhood of Bangalore—a few miles away from me in Koromangala.  This will also give me a chance to explore the other major Christian theological library here at Dharamaram College.  It may also involve a trip to the priory.

I’m off to a late dinner at my usual haunt Swagath Restaurant.   We have had a couple outages here, but the power instantly kicks back on—thank you reserves—though I am disappointed that my viewing of Star Trek Wrath of Khan is not without interruptions—this even after having to suffer through commercials on HBO South Asia.  Hope you, my few readers, are well; I am.  All the best and congrats to Kyle and Fast Eddie on a Boston Baseball League World Series Championship, well done.

For those seeking deeper reflections, I have a few on the way—including a look at US/India movie star deification—so we ain’t getting to deep yet.

White people seen today: 9 (must have been a convention)

Today was a good day

October 4, 2010

It’s officially official: I will be a resident of the Ecumenical Resource Center at United Theological College. As some of you know, I was 90-99% sure—depending on the day—that I would be able to stay at UTC, but since June I have been having difficulties contacting/getting hold of the right person aka the bursar. Upon my first email to the general UTC account Rita the head librarian informed me that I was to contact the bursar. So for the past 4 months I have been having an on again/ off again email correspondence with the bursar except I was the only participant. I had tried calling prior to leaving and that got me a similar email from the head of the ERC who cc’ed the bursar. Still no response. So yesterday I emailed both the bursar and the head of the ERC and no one emailed back—no doubt the matter is not as pressing for them as it is for me and I had yet to beg. Today I called…the bursar who then said that our connection was bad and I should email him—promising to respond immediately to my email. One hour passes, two hour passes.
I decided to put a face to an email. I had planned to make the trek up to UTC yesterday, but only had a general idea of direction—hoping to rely on what would be the nonexistent English signs. Today with a better grasp of the geography and landmarks I headed out—also hoping to grab a buffalo burger on my way back. I arrived at lunch and was told that the bursar would be back in an hour—always just out of grasp. So with an hour to pass, I hit up Miller’s46—a “steakhouse” just down the road from the college.
Miller’s46 is pretty awesome and the food not that bad—I had a buffalo burger, a kingfisher, and a cold liter of water. The staff is required to wear cowboy outfits–the kind you would have a four year old year for Halloween—and they keep there notebook and spare wrapped silverware in their holsters. The place was crowded mostly with IT people from the neighborhood. Having taken lunch I went back with renewed spirits that today would be the day that I finally knew for sure where I would be staying.
I meet the bursar, introduce myself—though I am sure he deduced whom I was—and was told that, “perhaps we can get a place for you”…perhaps, did not sound good. He asked if I had a letter from BC—I did not—he asked if I had a student ID—I did not. I asked if he received any of my emails which he after a pause said he did. I said that I could have procured these things and could still, all I needed to know was what to bring now provide. He said he had forwarded my information on to someone else. I don’t doubt that renting out a room at the ERC is very low on the bursar’s priorities, but a two minute email could have said all this and solidified everything a long, long time ago. Nevertheless, I am very excited to be staying at UTC.
Also, in what I hope will be a recurring segment of this blog, I saw four white people today. Doubling the number since I left the airport and Der Deutscheyogantouristen.
So for the day: 1 European expat couple, 1 ponied tale IT, and 1 fellow ERC student
Total: 6

October 3, 2010

I made it!! 22 hours of travel and 9.5 time zones later I am in Bangalore. The travel here was fairly painless—thanks to advil.  I was able to catch up on a few quality films that I had missed over the past 6 months—Iron Man 2 (good until the landing stopped right before the climax), A-Team (better than decent), and The Karate Kid (anti-climatic), I missed Two Story 3 on my flight to Bangalore, but I did catch Rajneeti, a film very loosely based on the Indian epic Mahabharata and one that I had wanted to see.  I did not have the earplugs in the jack, but I was able to follow the subtitles while listening to a various assortment of Southern Rap which provided a nice soundtrack for a film that seemed to lack its own.

Upon touchdown in Bangalore I was a bit anxious for what may be ahead.  I had heard stories about pushy porters and overpriced taxis.  I fortunately did not encounter the first and the second was to be avoided on account of a driver picking me up.  Well, the driver never showed or I never found him.  Left to my own devices I ignored all good judgment and hopped in the first taxi.  As am I writing this you know that I made it through and was probably never in any real danger.  However, it was not without its moments of angst and fear.  First, my hotel was not on the list of hotels provided by the man riding shotgun—the head of this operation.  Further complicating things was the fact that neither the driver nor the copilot knew the location of the Hotel Swagath.  Of course I didn’t either, however thanks to studying the layout around the hotel on google maps prior to departure I was able to name some places close enough for them to ask for directions.  We arrived at the hotel at about 3AM IST, however not without stopping at an ATM to pay for a cab fair that was about 6xs what I had expected.  I comforted myself in the fact that it took only half the time until I was online today and a random ad told me I could fly on way from Chennai to Kuala Lumpur for INR 300 less than my 40 km travel from the airport.  But I made it. The hotel has been a very pleasant surprise.  Other than the strong smell of mothballs to which I have grown accustomed, I really like the place.  I have a spacious room, ceiling fan, warm water, a very tasty restaurant, and best free wifi (which I was not expecting).  All for about 18 dollars a night—breakfast is included but I have not been awake for it yet.  Thanks to Farooq, I now know what to order—which would seem obvious and perhaps for some it is, but I really had no idea what to get.

The area surrounding the hotel is constantly bustling.  The first day I pretty much stayed in bed only venturing out to get dinner at the restaurant adjacent to the hotel—I failed to mention that I also have HBO India.  Today I decided I would explore the surrounding area a bit to get my first taste and whiff of India.  Lonely planet has called the neighboring blocks seedy, what with the railroads and the riff raff I guess.  More than anything its crowded.  People pack the main streets and the side streets are even more difficult to navigate as you compete with autorickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, cows, strays, and everyone else. With all the sings in the airport I had foolishly assumed that the rest of the city would have English as its second language.  Unfortunately, that is not the case, so I am quickly trying to master the alphabet—which may take a awhile.  So I kept my walking to short squares, trying to figure out the landmarks of the surrounding area.  I quickly learned that there are a lot of Raymond tailors.  My hotel is on hospital street—one of several hospital streets—which is across from a shrine dedicated to Lakshmi.  To get to the shrine I take a left after the giant sky walkway on the main street in my area.  I was hoping to venture up to United Theological College in preparation for my trip tomorrow.  But having set out and seeing no English street signs, I was less than confident on my getting there—tomorrow I will head out with google landmarks in mind.  I did find the first main street I need to take—palace–and after that its one more that veers off from it.  If worse comes to worse I can always take a rickshaw. I’ll let you all know how it went.