Greetings from India’s glorious south. I’m in the famous Karnataka city of Bangalore or, as it’s now known, Bengaluru. I really can’t keep up with all these Indian name changes.
I’m staying at a quaint and quiet “cottage” at the centre of this small, but bustling city. For a mere 1600 rupees a night, I get an immaculately clean room with a king sized bed, private Western bathroom (with a real functioning shower with reliable holt & cold water, both of which are a big deal), free wifi and cable TV. I opted for no air conditioning, and I’m pleased that I did. With just a fan, the nights here are a little chilly.
The first thing I noticed during the drive in from the airport was a particularly hideous woman winking at the truck drivers. Wait… that’s no woman! It’s a hijra! That’s right. Remember, India is, I believe, the only country that allows a third gender on its passports: eunuch.
Entering the city from the suburbs, I was struck by the sight of gorgeous, ornate orange and white Hindu temples…. with clothes lines strung between them! Hey, whatever works.
Further in town was a giant billboard of Canadian comedia Colin Mochrie! I assume one of his shows is appearing here. I wonder if he knows that his image towers over India’s silicon valley?
I’m reminded of another disturbing image I saw in Bombay: a billboard put up by GQ India proclaiming the most influential Indians in the world. On the top five list were Salman Rushdie, Fareed Zakaria and… wait for it… Russell Peters. Yes, Russell Peters. Hey, good for him.
In a store I saw another disturbing ad, a giant poster for the clothing company “Urban Yoga”. Its tagline? “Spiritual active wear.” And yes, it’s just basic sports clothes. If you know me, you know why that turns my stomach.
The first night in city I went out for drinks with my old friend JJ and some of his friends. We were at a bar called “Opus”. Interestingly, the staff were wearing jerseys with the number 8 on them. Why? Because someone figured that “opus” must be short for “octopus”. Seriously.
I learned then of Bangalore’s new fundamentalism. Like Bombay in Maharashtra, Bangalore finds itself ruled at the state level by a right wing, fundamentalist Hindu government. Their edicts include a curfew at 11:30pm –that means no food or beverage service anywhere after that time. The edict includes a dress code for women who work in bars and –get this– a rule against dancing. Yes, dancing! It’s like living in the movie Footloose!
At Opus, I was surprised and pleased to find an Indian hard rock band doing excellent covers of songs by Black Sabbath, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, ACDC and others. I say surprised not because rock music is supposedly transgressive in a conservative culture, but because, as one Indian pointed out, the youth of modern India are not turning to the West for their cultural cues. Rather, they seem proudly content to revel in strictly home grown, Indian cultural content, from Indian music to Indian films to even Indian fashions.
Still, here’s a sample of the band playing. It’s also interesting to note the conversation happening in the foreground. I believe it’s about recreational drugs, but I refuse to either confirm or deny that possibility. Sorry for both the audio and video quality.
At one point during the performance, one particularly sexy young woman stood up and –gasp– danced! It was only for a few moments, so the morality police didn’t have to show up. But suddenly I understood the fundamentalists. She had only gyrated for a few seconds, but my thoughts had certainly turned immoral. Dancing is evil, I say! Evil!
The next night I spent with a new friend, AP, who took me to dinner atop one of Bangalore’s highrise restaurants. It was at the end of that lovely evening that the first twinges of “Bangalore Belly” struck. I barely made it back to my room in time. Memories of the gastric hell that befell me on my first trip to India, 14 years ago, haunted me. Was this the start of a multi-day Hell? But no, some chewable Immodium later and I was ready for my flight to Goa. But was Goa Gut in my future?
Greetings from the International Centre Goa, a hotel on the campus of the University of Goa.
Want to hear something a little weird? I pre-paid for a hotel near the beach downtown, via Expedia.ca. Then I received an email telling me that the university had already pre-paid for a room for me at the ICG. Then, upon arriving at the beach hotel, I was told that there was no room, and that they had made arrangements for me at another hotel.
In essence, for the first time in my life, I’ve arrived in a new place to discover that I’d been registered in THREE hotels. The plan is to spend one night here on the gorgeous and huge campus, give my two lectures in the morning, then spend my remaining two days in the beach-y hotel downtown.
My old friend SM is being a very gracious host here in Goa. I’ve already had my first taste of Feni, and have walked along the beach to take in the angry skies and the angrier waves.
See, it’s Monsoon season, so almost all of the White tourists are gone. Instead, the place is filled with (non-Goan) Indians. They seem to all be men. I’m told that they come here for the cheap alcohol and for the opportunity to cheat on their wives. Based on what I think I’m seeing, maybe they’re cheating with each other!
I haven’t had a chance to update this blog in a couple of days, so let me say a few things about my last day in Bombay a while back. First off, I had an excellent meeting with the clinic I’d come to India to see, and I think a research partnership might not be far away.
Then another friend, PS, showed me the Bombay animal hospital and her own cat sanctuary. For many Indians, dogs are tolerated 4-legged urchins, but cats are pests akin to rats. It was heartbreaking to see so many ill and abused animals, but also heartwarming to see that some people were eager to take care of them.
Later that night, another new friend, PD (a Bombay film producer; what better guide to the city can there be?) took me out to a trendy bar in Bandra, then drove me home at 2:AM through the erie but gorgeously abandoned streets of Bombay at nighttime. We passed a silent parade of residents, walking many miles to the Ganesh temple. Apparently this is done every week on Monday nights, since the thing to do is to arrive at the temple at dawn on a Tuesday morning. It sounds simple, but it’s really a remarkable sight, a touch of the pious and the ancient in the heart of the bustling engine of modern India.
Ahh, Bombay, you elusive tease.
During my visit to Bandra earlier in the day, I took some time to walk along the promenade on Carter street, which overlooks the angry sea. It’s a special place where young couples go to steal kisses in a conservative society. They do so in hilarious fashion, hiding in bushes or behind umbrellas or both. I tried to get a photo on my cell phone of two pairs of feet protruding from behind a large umbrella shield, but my hand slipped. Sorry.
But I decided then to take a few more photos of the promenade. Hey, this was my first real tourist moment of the trip! Enjoy.