Monthly Archives: September 2008

DON’T STOP NOW

The rendezvous point was Barista on MG Road, so I took an expensive (by Indian standards, about $4 for a 15-minute ride) autorickshaw there and waited patiently for P, a friend of a friend, who with E was to make my experience in Bangalore a memorable one from the outset. Here’s me at Barista, fresh off the train:

After a blackcurrant smoothie and some sort of crushed ice/tropical fruit beverage, he turned up and we started a conversation that was really only interrupted by sleep and work during the three days I stayed with them. It’s such a great feeling to be made to feel immediately welcome in a new environment. Granted, they’d heard a lot of positive things about me from our mutual friend and as a result were more willing to greet me with warmth and openness, but it’s still something very rare to be allowed into people’s lives and hearts without fuss or the standard amount of obstacles that are usually put up in your way. It’s unfortunate that this is something worth commenting on because it ought not to be special – it ought to be the norm – but that’s something to look into another time.

We talked about our respective pasts, the places they’ve brought us to now, and where we want to be in the future as people. We talked about trust, how it’s so easy to scale back in your life depending on how much you let yourself be affected by the times it’s been betrayed. We talked about respect, something so fundamental in our nature that our Western (or Westernized) cultures are leading us further away from. And we talked about communication, which takes so many forms and the improving of which is so vital to our relationships, be they familial, intimate, or friendly. None of us were entirely comfortable with how we live these aspects of our lives – is anyone? – but we all felt a deep desire to better ourselves, and if we didn’t hit upon any concrete maxims to follow, we did agree how positive it is to be around people who care about these things and won’t coast through life without making some effort to grow.

In the meantime, Bangalore was quite different from the small part of Delhi I experienced. Many more smiles and friendly interest, and a feeling that people want to help you, not fleece you or exploit you. Still, the gulf between India’s burgeoning middle class and those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale is apparent everywhere you go. There is a hierarchy and clear structure to begging here, for the most part – for example, amputees are more likely to gain charity, so some people choose or even are forced to lose a leg or arm so they’re more profitable – but still… these are people who have virtually nothing, whether they’re acting cynically or against their will or whatever as they bat at your arm and hold out their hand. One has to remain somewhat hardened and view it as an industry just like any other, but it’s impossible not to let one’s guard down once in a while and give a few rupees to a starving woman and child.

So there’s that during the day as you go out for groceries, then at night you can go to a bar which looks and feels just like you’re in England or America with leather couches and all manner of cocktails and great food. Really good places, really good atmosphere, and you do forget about those less fortunate than you. They are right outside the door, though. I don’t have more than a tourist’s understanding of, let alone any solution to, this ongoing and very visible dark side of India, but I sincerely hope that as the economy continues to boom and money keeps rolling in, some of it trickles down and that middle class expands to healthier levels. This may take many decades and a complete overhaul of society, and I don’t even know if India needs that.

Anyway, I’ve made Bangalore out to be this horribly poor and depressing place when it’s actually one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, so please don’t get the wrong idea. I had a great time there, met a good few fantastic people and would go back any time. At the very least, it’s no more poverty-stricken than any other city in this part of the world. As time went on, however, my mind turned further and further towards my next port of call, my destination (for now at least), the rumoured seaside paradise that would fulfil all of my dreams. The place I am now. Varkala. Very soon, the Jdanspsa me will finally catch up with the real me.

***

My online diary dried up at this point, for various reasons; for a poor segue into my life having settled in India, take a look at some of my posts for The NRI under the category ‘India’ or the tag ‘The NRI’.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under India

THINK OF PEACE AND MEDITATE

Waking up around midday after a fitful sleep, I ordered in a terrifically bland Palak Paneer from the restaurant on the roof of the hotel. Nice place, with a view of the area and plants all about the place, but rubbish food and service. No matter.

When I finally ventured out into the madness that is PaharGanj, I was greeted by not less than five drug pushers in a 20-minute time period of walking up and down. “Hey man, still in Delhi?” Yes, and you don’t know me. “Yo, you smoke hash?” No. “Hey man, where you from? I can get you anything man, hash, H, E, you name it.” I’m from New Zealand, now go away. Etc.

Admittedly I only spent a short time on those streets, but I felt like everyone, whether their business was legit or not, had nothing but rupees on their mind. I stopped and talked to a couple of shopkeepers, and in both cases I didn’t detect any flicker of genuine empathy in their eyes. It was all patter, all opening lines and techniques and always-be-closing, in a way that is hard not to admire because it’s so slick but puts you at such a distance from them as a person. I came to India because I’d been told it was a far more open culture than pretty much anywhere I’ve been but especially Japan; here in PaharGanj, with the dozens of sets of eyes that never smile, I felt like a true outsider, like I wasn’t really welcome.

After a few moments of embarrassing, Kit Moresby-esque mania in my hotel room (brought on by the prospect of having to stay a lot longer than 2 days here, which was looking likely but thankfully didn’t eventuate), I started to get the hang of social interactions and how to get things done. By the end of that second day, I felt like I could cope here for as long as I needed to, but it required a closing off of the more loving parts of my heart in order to remain on top of things. Several folks on the train and in Bangalore would go on to tell me that my instincts were pretty much right, that life in Delhi is quite different from most other Indian cities and that you do have to regard pretty much everything with a suspicious eye. Shame.

Onto the train, then, which I had been looking forward to so much. Nearly 40 hours, well over 2000km, all in a packed air-conditioned space! Ahh, this is real travel. I was lucky enough to sit with a group of men who, in various ways, were extremely friendly and open people. They asked me many questions about New Zealand, about Japan, about my purpose for being in India. I noticed in these men that they were able to be honest, genuine, completely open and friendly despite rarely offering a smile. It’s all in the eyes.

One was a Swami of the Sivananda Order, based in Ajjampura, and he very quickly saw through my happy veneer to the unease rumbling beneath. I had a lot on my mind about things I won’t detail in here, and it was written all over my face and body language, no matter how many times I extolled the virtues of being in India. “Too much feel,” he said. “I think you have too much feel. No feel, no worry.” And then, with a calming gesture of both hands lightly falling, “everything is clearing”. Again, this man rarely smiled, but he had an aura of positivity and simple calm that affected everyone around him. I asked him if he had any brothers or sisters; he replied, “No. Before I did, but now, no… you are brother. He (points to another man in the carriage) is brother. She is sister. Everyone.” He gave me his phone number and address and instructed me to come and see him. I think I will.

The hours – well, days – passed swiftly thanks to Swamiji and my other companions’ ideal attitudes. I got sick, a sickness in the bowel which has only just passed, but I didn’t care – I was experiencing India as I’d hoped I would, and that came as such a relief after that brief episode in Delhi. To Bangalore, then, and even more positive experiences to be detailed soon…

Leave a comment

Filed under India

I GOT THE GREEN LIGHT, I GOT A LITTLE FIGHT

I got on that plane, still buzzing from all that had just happened, and the first leg of my journey to India began. To Beijing first, sitting next to a Japanese guy who studies there and was reasonably tolerant of my show-and-tell. Man, I showed those letters and photos to anyone fool enough to stop for a second, but I’ll shut up about that now.

Beijing had a new terminal built for the Olympics, terminal 3. It is quite ludicrously cavernous, like some evil dragon mastermind’s lair for plotting world domination OH WAIT… lucky I didn’t try and post that using the government’s free wireless in the terminal. Actually, Blogger is usually blocked in China, but for the duration of the Olympics they let the guard down to avoid awkward situations. But I digress.

From Beijing I continued on Air China to Delhi, sitting next to another Japanese guy, this time with a thirst for travelling. We talked a fair bit about the places we’ve been to (many for him, very few for me) and he gave me his card and said I should email him in case there’s a chance of us meeting up again in India or somewhere further down the line. It’s nice to meet such people on one’s travels.

Indira Gandhi Airport at Delhi is a little dustier than Beijing, Narita or Auckland, but all my luggage arrived so I didn’t care. That was kind of what I wanted, leaving those obsessively clean and mechanical aspects of Japan behind. Hilariously, I didn’t go through any customs of any kind; the channels were there, and they were staffed, but they were so bored and disinterested that you could probably get through pushing a hive of bees. I did have to change money, though, fighting off those attempting to push in ahead of me in the melee that is a queue in India. That’s one thing the British left alone.

I’d booked my hotel in advance and arranged for them to pick me up at the airport, and sure enough, there was a young guy waiting with an A4 printout saying my name. I went up to him and, without a word, he started walking and beckoned me to follow, barking instructions to someone on a cellphone. We got outside, where the sounds and particularly the smell of the city were quite different from anywhere I’ve been before – funny how those are the senses I link most to my memories of arriving – and made our way to a beaten-up blue van with a glow-in-the-dark display of the Hindu Holy Trinity illuminating the dashboard.

We weaved our way across city roads which were largely deserted but still required the driver to sit on the horn for much of the time. I’ve only this week understood that here, the horn is not reserved for emergencies or frustration; here, it’s as vital a road tool as indicator lights or clearly defined road markings are back home. You blast the horn to notify of your presence. If you don’t, you won’t be seen and are likely to cause an accident. It makes sense in the absence of those things I just mentioned, and now it’s as much a part of the aural wallpaper as the cicadas were in Kamakura.

Eventually we made it to Hotel Vivek, my home for this night and the next. I didn’t realize it was going to be in basically the roughest part of Delhi (and possibly all India), with shopkeepers hurling insults at me as I ignored their invitations for a cup of tea or a light meal at 2 in the morning. I also didn’t expect to see an albino lizard scurrying across the wall behind reception, a reception staffed by three men who seemed quite put out by the fact that I wanted to stay in their hotel. (I saw the lizard again the next day, so I’m guessing it’s like most hotels have a cat, just this one has an albino lizard.)

At such an early hour and after a day’s worth of travel, I was a little overwhelmed by dealing with a place so different from anywhere I’d been before. Still, I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d made it with no hint of difficulty, and appreciated the fact that this kind of cultural atmosphere was going to help me grow in so many ways. To my non-descript, dusty room, and to sleep… much more to come.

Leave a comment

Filed under India

NOW THAT YOU’RE GONE IT HIT US

I’m having to get this out slowly over a long period of time, as computers in India’s cyber cafes aren’t quite as cooperative as one might hope. Here’s what happened around the 24th of August.

On Friday (the 23rd) I said goodbye to my landlords Tetsuko and Kotaro, the sweetest folks one could hope for. The other housemate cooked an incredible Mexican dinner and T & K gave me a Japanese-style bandana, which was a wonderful gesture. A wise person said that once you’ve gotten past the surface of Japanese people and spent enough time with them, they will do anything for you, like they’re investing something emotional in you that they so rarely do.

I was to see this on an even greater level the next day. Mika, fellow teacher mentioned a couple of posts earlier, had said she would come to the airport to see me off, so I thought we’d have lunch or something and then say our sad goodbyes… instead, the whole family turned up – Mika & her husband, Koji, her mother, sister and sister’s 4 kids (2 of which I taught). At this point I understood what people mean when they say ‘my Japanese family’, because really, I felt completely accepted as if I had the same blood.

As if that wasn’t enough, the kids handed me a stack of 6 envelopes and inside each was a letter from a student in the class with a special message for me. “Do your best in India and please come back to teach us again.” “Enjoy eating curry!” “Please write to me and tell me about India.” There were drawings, too, and some more photographs from the party, plus an incredible moving card from Mika. After I went off through security and out of sight, I thought about what had just happened and the cards that were now wedged in my bursting laptop bag, and shed a few tears in the immigration queue. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better send-off, a better final memory of a country I’d come to believe I no longer wanted to function in. I’ve still got my shit to say about Japan and I think it’s valid, but every moment of the experience was worth it just for those last minutes in the country.

One last remarkable thing was to happen. I had intended to call someone just before getting on the plane, and was literally striding towards a payphone and reaching for my wallet when my phone rang for the last time. It was her; she’d had no idea when my plane was leaving, nor obviously did she know that I was, at that moment, about to pick up the phone myself. An extraordinary coincidence. More than a coincidence. I stepped onto the plane confident that Japan had been good for me, I’d been good for Japan and that the universe was aligning especially for me.

I’m now in Bangalore, it’s been kind of an odyssey to get here, worth it for every moment. That’ll be the next post…

Leave a comment

Filed under India, Japan