Day 82: Back home

And we’re back home. I slept through the 3 hour flight and barely noticed the two bawling babies around my seat. I was still dazed and confused when we headed out, but I was awake enough to call a bluff when I had to. The Swiss were heading off to Mysore to join the rest of them, and they almost jumped to take a taxi for 5000 when I pointed them to Ola outstation. Half the price, the taxi driver showed up in under 15 minutes, and YZ was all over again about saving his life and what not. Haha! This was an easy task after all.

I got off near the bus stop and took a 500 to home, and slept till 9 PM. It is always fun to be welcomed home by Scotch, now when she’d broken through Amma’s chains, there was more zest in her jump. Good to be home.

“You sleep, S. I will take care of you. I think that pigeon out there is trying to disturb you. I will shoo it away!” Scotch

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Day 80: Diversity, Planes and 2 AMs

A few days with the Swiss students and the differences in our lifestyles and work styles are very obvious. All the visiting students seem to be extremely distracted always, needing a constant prodding to bring them back to the discussion. On the other hand, they all seem to be creatively blessed, while the Indian students typically think about traditional, lecture-like discourses. Despite being from one country, they themselves seem to be happier being alone than with others. On the other hand, the Indians have a herding mindset, where we want herd them and ourselves into groups all the time.

It was hilarious at lunch, where we were planning to show a few different cafeterias on campus to the different Swiss students but before we turned around, they were all gone; off on their own in their own different directions. If anything, this project has brought a few Indians together and that’s a plus, I guess.

Off to New Delhi

Today is the day that TallSwiss, YZ and I fly to New Delhi. From what I’ve heard, there are a few events hosted to celebrate the 70 years of Swiss-Indian friendship, and Radio Namaste has been invited to broadcast these proceedings.

If the trip leading up to Delhi is any sign of all the fun that lies ahead, then I’m in for a fancy two days. ChristU arranged a taxi for the 3 of us and we were off by 1630 for a 2130 flight; no wonder I hate flying. But I’m glad we got a head start considering what was up next. We just got out of the major traffic blocks in the city and were about to hit the highway to the airport when we had a flat. The cabbie was courageous enough into thinking he could park in the right lane, in the center of the entire roadway, and change into a spare. Nopes! I had to almost armtwist him into pulling over to the side and he actually took only 10 minutes to get us up and going again. Very impressive. And the Swiss managed to hold their calm, which was a bonus.

I learnt a new aspect of the Swiss today. If the ticket was being paid for by another, they were ready to use it to the fullest. There was a USD22 upgrade to a better seat, and a better dinner, and we picked it after deliberating for a little under 4 minutes. While I was wondering how much difference it would bring to the flight experience and if the cost was worth it at all, they had already paid for it and were considering dinner location. So, thanks to their agency, we flew premium economy.

And since the dinner was paid for too, we had dinner. On the ground. Since the flight was delayed, the dinner on the plane could be an early breakfast. I always thought Indians were the squeeze-till-you-drop kinds. But apparently it’s a universal human thing.

Hypocrite much?

The great luck from the flat tyre continued and our flight was delayed by an hour and a half. That gave us enough time to get YZ drunk and have him talk about JC. Between us, he spoke about what a dead-weight the HOD was during the Indian visit to Switzerland last year. He told us about how he would pick two meals for himself every single time because they were already paid for. You all already know of my read on the HOD considering his poor leadership vision. So, none of this was surprising at all.

But what did surprise me was hearing about all of this from YZ. Between him and TallSwiss, they had already proved how petty they were. We had jumped to an upgrade, purely because someone else was paying for it. We had decided to eat two dinners, purely because someone else was paying for it. And we had talked about stealing everything from the hotel room if the hotel was not good enough. Anyway, we’ll wait and watch!

2 AM check-ins

The 3-seater all to myself was a bonus on the plane. So, premium economy it is. But we eventually got into the hotel at 2 in the morning, and the check-in process was a million years long. I think the 20 minutes seemed that long more because of YZ and his tantrums. They had to fill one extra paper in because they were from outside. So, yeah!

Settled in to my room and I thought of all the times in the past when it was me and my room. There was that one month in Richmond, VA, when I was settling in to my second stint in the US, and learning to be free all over again. And then there were those 2 weeks in Minneapolis that started off with a wonderful hair spa and massage. Nice. And the week in Milwaukee for the Scrum master certification, with all that female power-play amidst grown men, was one to be remembered.

And then this one adds to the list.

“Aaah! Traveling is pain, sis! I just got back from a camping trip and I can’t stop panting and puffing. I can only imagine how bad your panting and puffing must be.” Goose.

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Day 79: Stand-still

Traffic in bangalore has been progressively worsening and today was rock bottom. One of these giant trees near the university fell down, smack in the middle of the road. A temporary shanty was destroyed, as was the bus stop right by it. And that meant hour-long traffic snarls.

The previous day had been a mess too. But I thankfully had a premonition about it the minute I reached Agara, my half-way point. A quick detour and I saved myself some traffic blocks and reached on time. The Danseuse had been stuck at Agara till college time and had to eventually take one of the rape buses. Today, she drove with me, and the tree issue happened.

10 to 9 and we were still about a 20mins walk from the uni, almost an hour and a half into our journey. Some strange premonition again told me that things wouldn’t get any better in the next few minutes. I swerved into a lane nearby, and parked the car at someone’s door front. The gentleman was thankfully nice and allowed me to park at a more safer spot, despite it being on top of a garbage bin. Danseuse and I ran to college through A-town and were in class on time. Traffic issues do bring this entire city to a stand-still and is such a pity.

People and their chatty ideas

Anyway, we got an overview of the project needs and realized that we had to create a jingle for the radio show that we would be hosting. A half-assed effort ensued because TallSwiss and I were double-timing between this and the work for New Delhi. It seemed like the other two would work when we were around and the minute we went to the other project, there would be nothing happening at all. Very unfortunate. If only people took pride in the work they did!

The reality sunk in when we listened to the others’ jingles and they were all pretty cool and ours was only a little Meh! Sometimes, the most chatty ones have the most stupid ideas and the whole team’s ideas are derailed. Chatty and the lazy ones.

Chatty and lazy? What about the most hungry ones? We always get punished, but we get the most interesting ideas when we are hungry” Scotch

Day 71: Morning hike

Dad, mum, Scotch and I went on a post-breakfast morning hike, up the Anuvavi hills. There’s a little temple mid way up the top that I remember going to as a kid as well. Remember my confusion with growing up and everything else looking smaller. It happened here too. I remember it to be much higher, steeper and more strenuous than what it actually was this time. 

What do you mean it was not that bad? I had to keep climbing and I thought it will end with every ten steps. But it went on and on. Think I counted a million steps up,  S” Scotch 

Day 69: The great Indian madness

The great Indian madness called the roads. Driving home to visit the parents in Coimbatore, and the 6-hour drive has been fun. It’s almost symbolic of our manic lives – a random pedestrian walks across your path, carefree and wanton; a cow parks itself squat in the middle of the highway, oblivious to the high speed travel; an annoying family honks their way past you from behind, unaware that multiple lanes exist for a reason. And through it all, you’re stuck in your little metal bubble, behind the steering wheel, with the false illusion that your control is the reason you’re still alive.

Fish fry… Strange incense… Hot poodle poop… Man not showered in three days… Biriyani, Oooh where was that biriyani. Turn around, S” Scotch

India Calling…

I would’ve safely assumed it to be me dreaming, about all my favorites together in the same fantasy, had I not known better. A recent tragedy left Switch, DShah and me shopping all weekend, something that took us across seas and to a world we had grown up in. And yet, so close home.

Edison, New Jersey, should be called Little India or something more desi, Edisonpur or Edisonabad maybe. It beats and breathes the lives of  the countless Indians who migrated to greener pastures back in the flourishing days. It symbolizes man’s quest to find home around any surrounding that he is thrust into, and if not successful at that, the drive to create it.

The glistening jewelers, with brilliant creations adoring their window showcases, line both sides of the strip. Eateries flaunt their melange of sweets and savories; sugar cane juice made to perfection, complete with the ginger pieces and pinch of spice, is worth every last drink. The pan shops have everything from calcutta sada to the stuffed meetha. If you woke up from a slumber and found yourself amidst these saree shops and salons, you would have a strange familiarity of waking up in a suburb in Mumbai. The ben-jis and babus, saree or kurta clad and conversing in fluent, authentic gujarati wouldn’t help much in judging your bearings either. I could have sworn this little town was the sister of some lost town had a sister in Modi-land.

The jewelery market here is bountiful with wings spanning into gold ornaments, raw gold and a dozen precious stones. Every visitor travelling back home stocks up on these goodies, a ‘loss-proof’ investment I hear. Not only do the adroit jewelers make sure you buy three times your intended purchase, but they provide unsolicited advice on handling Indian Customs as well (pun intended!). Make sure to keep your ears open when those special jewels rain down. With a strict cash-only policy, it is definitely a world in itself.

But none of these stores and the shopping came close in satisfaction quotient to what a foodie derived from the numerous options here. The Saravanaa Bhavan here, one of the four in the country, and many across the world, is a mouth watering treat for any lover of South Indian food. We found ourselves wanting to order at least four items from each page of the colorful menu. A true to its roots sambar vadai and bona fide mini idly were the perfect start for our lunch. For the main course, between us we managed to order a mysore masala dosai, adai aviyal and kara dosai. The special meals were the typical home made feast, thorough to the point of having the mango chutney and appalams.

The climax was the genuine filter coffee, nursed to perfection in their stainless steel tumbler and davara ;) I don’t know what it is between us South Indians and Coffee. Tea is always the travel drink, the compromise you force yourself to, when you don’t have the luxury of home made filter coffee. But coffee is the drink of the kings, OK, I can argue with you for an hour on that one.

I still debate the actual source of the flavor; I know it’s somewhere in space between the coffee powder, that strong chicory, that filter that gets passed down generations and the davara-tumbler. The aroma that floods the vicinity, the minute the hot water starts to seep through the freshly ground powder, is out of this world in all senses. Contrary to the now-hyped latte or cappuccino’s smooth and delicate froth, the filter coffee has a rusty, bubbled froth. No coffee is complete without that froth, balanced precariously, an inch beyond the tumbler top. The trick lies in pouring the coffee from the highest point your hands can reach. And it is this little white dream that separates the tea from the coffee, the luxurious from the mundane.

The filter coffees in hotels added all the glitz and the glamor within these basic requirements; the inverted-tumbler-trick is still my favorite. Sitting miles and years away, thinking about our visits to Annapoorna and picturing God mix the sugar and coffee in his slick movements, I emptied the coffee into the dabara and peeped in, anticipating the ingeniously placed extra serving of sugar down there. I was expecting too much after all.

The meal had been etched in memory for days to come; the adai aviyal after two long years was not going to be let go off that soon, was it?

The touching finale was the rain drenched dandiya in JC. While we stood, tucked under the comfort of the shades, and gorged on the bhel puris , the hundreds of staunch Gujaratis went around the circle, with ritual-like dedication, making the drizzle all too trivial. Dames dressed in flowery dresses danced about, while their better halves tried being up to the expectations in more senses than one. The sheer mix of ages in that group astounded me; old women, jackets over their saree to beat the cold, danced about not missing a step. The entire scene, the whole day, had been too mystic to be real,  and yet thousands of eyes had blinked through it.

I saw pot holed roads and got bitten by mosquitoes; drank genuine filter coffee and ate fresh vadu maanga. Would they let me miss home at all?