Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) has spun past me as a whirlwind blur, and I can hardly believe that we’re leaving tomorrow morning bright and early for our very last stop on the Indian map! As compared to the other cities we’ve visited, our time in Bangalore has been simultaneously more and less eventful. We’ve had a lot less sightseeing and a lot more waiting around; sometimes museums and historical sights haven’t been open early enough for us, and once an art museum we attempted to visit was without electricity, which meant we ended up at the somewhat antiquated science museum instead. All in all, it’s been a brief visit full of contrasts to a city full of contradictions in a country that embodies both words.
We arrived from Mumbai on Thursday morning and knew we were somewhere new the second we stepped from the cabin of the plane. The air here is barely humid and not hot at all, in stark contrast to all of the other cities we have visited thus far! The first evening, we were treated to an amazing dance/ theater folk art performance called Yakshagana, and the combination of movement, elaborate costumes and Hindi dialogue was mesmerizing, even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying. . . . Apparently it had nothing to do with bad monkeys, since that’s the only Hindi I know!
Notice that the female character in the orange is played by a man. . . . it's interesting here that the culture is extremely homophobic, yet there is no stigma for men around playing the role of a woman in a performance, and young men (12 to 25, maybe) regularly hold hands on the street without being thought of as "gay."
Look at the face on the left. . . . doesn't he look like he's saying, "You wanna piece of this?!"
The photo on the right is a 12 year old boy who was an AMAZING dancer! In the middle picture, look at the detail in the costume. Each of the performers does his own makeup and costume. . . . It takes HOURS!
I was sitting on the floor in front of Mary’s first row seat (so that I could take better photographs of the dancers), and throughout the piece I kept looking back at Mary or elbowing her in the knee, both of us trying to contain our laughter because of the way the dialogue was peppered with the popular nasally exclamations, “huh,” and “huh-huh,” which she has been practicing so that she can say it with the proper Indian inflection. After the performance, she asked whether it was supposed to be funny and was told that the piece depicted a very serious story. “Oh no,” she said wide-eyed, with her hands on her cheeks, “I was giggling the whole time!”
After the performance, a few of us went walking and did a little bit of shopping at a local Indian department store with a huge selection of salwar kameez, and when we returned we picked up a light dinner from the lobby café and retired to our rooms for the evening.
Friday was an eventful day for the city of Bengaluru due to the detonation of seven low-intensity bombs around 1:30 p.m. on the city’s west side. If you watch any news or listen to your NPR, you probably heard about the event (as well as the subsequent blasts in the state of Gujarat). Our morning schedule, which was a visit to a school for teacher training, was uninterrupted. After lunch at the hotel, however, as we gathered to depart for our afternoon museum visits, we were told about the bomb blasts and that our program was being delayed for at least an hour while they watched the news and made a decision about whether it would be a good idea to leave the hotel.
It was sad to hear that the bombings had happened (this isn’t a regular occurrence in Bengaluru), but I wasn’t particularly worried about my own safety as I laid on my posh white five-star hotel bed among fluffy pillows watching CNN IBN (the Indian version of CNN) on a brand new, state-of-the-art, wall-mounted flat-screen TV, secure under the care of our cautious, astute USEFI guides (not to mention Gagan). The only thing I WAS concerned about was whether, back at home, my mom might wake up to see the news reports and get nervous about my whereabouts. I spent my hour online, working on my blog entries and double and triple and quadruple-checking the U.S. version of CNN’s website (I was guessing that, because they’re a reputable news source, they would also be a good measure of the media coverage the bombings were getting in the states). Once I saw the event show up in the list of top stories, I decided to call home. I felt guilty waking my mom up at 5:30 on a day when I knew my dad was off from work, but I kept imagining myself leaving the hotel for the afternoon, and then my mother waking up and turning on the news to be greeted by the sensationalized violence of terrorism abroad. I imagined her looking up my travel itinerary and panicking upon the realization that the location of the bombings and my current whereabouts were a match.
With my mother’s fears assuaged (and she really wasn’t that worried, anyway, and assured me that she was smarter than to panic), I reported downstairs, where it was decided that we wouldn’t leave the hotel. It was too late to have any real time at the museums anymore, and the news was reporting that most of the city’s shops where closed too. Despite the day’s violence, however, Gagan told Mary, Joan, Karinsa, Diane and I that the dinner at Rachana’s house could still be arranged. I hit the gym briefly before preparing for the big event. I was late getting downstairs because I had decided to wear my new sari, and Gagan’s brief tutorial wasn’t enough for me to be able to organize six feet of silk without multiple tries and multiple problems.
We headed out into the rain and waited for two auto-rickshaws to take us for the rain drenched forty minute ride out to Rachana’s house. On the way to her house, we stopped by the fabric shop that Rachana’s family owns (it’s run by her sister Devi and Devi’s fiancée Dei). Rachana had been concerned that we were being overcharged for the fabric and clothing we had been purchasing in cities during our trip, so we looked for a while at the shop, sat cross-legged on the white raised platform surrounded by pillows, chatted and had cups of chai. We picked out colors and patterns from the brightly colored shelves of fabrics, which were then whisked off the shelves and spread over the floor or draped around us in rapid succession. I bought a few sets of fabric for some new salwaar kameez, though I’m not sure where I’ll end up getting them stitched! They’ll be beautiful, however, when I do! One is orange gauzy silk with paisleys and subtle sequins (can sequins be subtle?), the second is avocado green with embroidered earth-toned spirals, and the third is cream and green crepe silk (luxuriously soft fabric!) with a design that looks a little like hieroglyphics.
Everyone in the shop on the left, and on the right Karinsa (in the foreground) and Diane (in the background) try to make decisions about fabrics
Karinsa is happy with her decision (and Joan looks on in the left photo)
While we were in the shop, Diane went into the shop next door to find herself a ready-made blouse to wear under the saree she had purchased. She came back into Devi’s shop wearing a blue blouse made of lightweight fabric and asked me why there were such big points in the front of the blouse. “Yours doesn’t have these!” she exclaimed. Everyone looked at my blouse and, lo and behold, I had been wearing it backwards for the entirety of the evening! It was a truly embarrassing moment, and everyone laughed hard enough to bring tears to their eyes.
The other funny moment at the shop was when Rachana asked us what kind of food we liked (the family had been planning for our visit and worrying about what they should make and what we would like to eat). Mary (being her usual mischievous, sarcastic self and in a very serious tone of voice) said, “Anything is fine, except that I really don’t like Indian food, so I hope it isn’t Indian food.” At this, Rachana became wide-eyed with worry as she stammered, “uh. . . .uh. . . .” Suddenly, Mary came clean, saying, “I’m just kidding. I LOVE Indian food!” Rachana laughed hard and long, and so did the rest of us!
After we’d hemmed and hawed extensively over the expansive choice of fabrics, we left the shop and headed for Rachana’s family’s home. When we arrived, we were excited to meet her mother and grandmother, and to have a tour of their beautiful house. We left our shoes at the door (which is customary at most places in this country) and stepped onto the pristine marble floors to survey the scene. Everything was very elegant. We were taken upstairs for a tour of the full home, and one of the most interesting rooms in the house was the room for prayer, which had a beautiful shrine as its centerpiece and which was peppered with small statues of a variety of gods and goddesses as well as candles, flowers and little steel bowls of turmeric and other powdered colored substances.
Back downstairs, we got a glimpse of the kitchen and pantry, well-stocked with spice mixes and foods like potatoes, red onions and rice. We also saw the Indian-style lunchboxes that family members take with them to work and school. They are short and cylindrical stainless steel dishes with little stainless steel plates built into their lids and clips on the sides to keep them closed. There’s something about them that I love, and I’m hoping I can bring a couple home with me (if I can find them somewhere around here). They interlock and stack together so that you can have a little tower of talis (which is like tapas in Spain: lots of little dishes eaten together as a meal instead of only one plate).
Before we settled down for dinner, Rachana’s mother and sister whisked me upstairs at Gagan’s request to tell me how to properly wear a saree. You start by tucking the end (knotted so it can’t fall out so easily) into the top right side of your petticoat (we’d call it a slip). You then wrap it around once, and pull out all of the fabric that will be pleated, holding it bunched up in your hand. Next, you decide how long you want your palu to be (a palu is the part of the saree that comes over your shoulder like a scarf). You then pleat the remainder of the fabric. The pleats are usually five or six inches long, and Indian women can whip the silk quickly and evenly between their fingers into a thick, even pile of organized fabric. You tuck the pleats, facing the left side of your body, into the front of the petticoat and then pleat and drape your palu, deciding which style you want to wear (and there are many)! After my saree was correctly wrapped, it felt much more comfortable to walk! I had been told, by Gagan, to wrap the length of fabric around me three times, when it should have only been one, which resulted in a stride that looked like my knees were tied together! Learning how to wrap a saree from Rachana’s mother was a really special experience for me. She showed me how to do it and then told me to take it off and try again by myself. I only made a few mistakes, and Devi watched carefully and helped to make sure it was right! Everyone loved the fabric I had chosen, and everyone thought the saree looked great on me. I love it so much that I really want to find occasions to wear it at home in the states!
In the living room, we talked for a while before we ate, and when we did eat, the size of the table prevented us from being able to eat all together with the family. Therefore, the family insisted that the four of us eat first, while they served us and while Rachana’s mother slaved over the stove preparing fresh loaves of roti (roti means bread, and in this case it was chapatti). It was a little bit of an uncomfortable experience for all of us to sit there eating without our hosts, being served by Gagan and Rachana and Devi, who hovered around constantly piling more food onto our plates against our protestations. Everything was delicious! We had rice and homemade paneer (cottage cheese technically, but with larger blocks of curd) in a red sauce, excellent potatoes (aloo, though I’m not sure what kind), some delectable chicken cooked with greens, and a few other delicious dishes besides. We even got to try some delicious homemade onion raita (in the U.S. Indian restaurants always have the raita with cucumbers, but I thought the raw bits of red onion in the yogurt were even better) and homemade lemon pickle.
After dinner, we sat and talked some more, and were served delicious caramel custards for dessert before we finally organized ourselves for some photos and presented the family with a gift before getting on the road. On the way out, we were taken upstairs by Rachana’s mother, who wanted to show us their separate guest cottage, which occupies their third floor. They insisted that we should come back and stay with them in their guest rooms, and Rachana invited us all to their wedding, which will be sometime near the end of next summer. If I can work out the price of a plane ticket, I just may take them up on the offer!
Women of the house on the left: Devi at the top, then Rachana in pnk, her grandmother in orange and her mom in the blue. On the right, Dei joins in next to Devi and Gagan (of course) next to Rachana
On the way home, Devi drove four of us in her car, while Mary rode on the back of Dei’s motorcycle (I begged off of that one because I was wearing my new sari and I didn’t particularly think it would be a good idea to try to go sidesaddle for forty minutes on the streets of Bangalore!). Despite that we tried to resist and told them that they should stay home and eat, Gagan and Rachana, on another bike, escorted us all the way back to the hotel. The family ate late that night because they had spent their evening taking care of us. Visiting the family was definitely a highlight of the trip!
Our Saturday in Bangalore was somewhat less organized than usual, due in large part to the fact that we were trying to rearrange the schedule to include some of the activities and sights that we’d missed due to the bombings the day before. We spent more time than usual waiting for the bus in the morning, and then traveled to the Government Museum, which we discovered didn’t open for a while. We took a walk in a lovely park while we waited, and discovered a courthouse in the midst of the foliage.
Women in firey colors against the red museum. . . Callie, Elizabeth and Samantha
Bamboo-lined road through the park on the left, court building in the middle and at right
When we returned to the museum, it was officially open but was without electricity (there are regularly brief blackouts or flickers of the lights here in India), so we were ushered into the museum of science and technology next door until the lights could be restored. For a country so technologically smart, with so many brilliant scientists working in fields like engineering, it was sadly underdeveloped. The science museum had a few key pieces that would make it fun for kids: one huge mechanized plastic dinosaur that roared and rolled its eyes and a room called “fun science,” filled with buttons to push and wheels to turn and mirrors that could make you fatter and flip you upside down (I shot a few photos just for fun).
After a sprint through the unexciting science museum, we traveled back over to the art museum and were finally allowed to head inside. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best museum we’ve visited, as it included the same types of things we’d seen (and at better museums) in other cities. However, after the visit to the Government Museum, we traveled to a fine arts college to view their art gallery, which was AMAZING! The gallery was new within the past year, and it included a surprisingly wide array of modern and contemporary art, as well as a very nice collection of shadow puppets, which were beautifully painted and mounted on wall-sized light boxes. It was sad that we had to rush through this one! At least, however, I had time to take a variety of good photos for my ongoing art research.
After yet another quick and gratuitously huge hotel buffet luncheon (where Jill got sick to her stomach after challenging herself to an all-dessert lunch), we left for another round of cultural visits. We stopped briefly at a theater and also visited the Bull Temple, a Hindu temple which has at its center a gigantic black bull, said to be Shiva’s companion. Compared to some of our other temple visits, the Bull Temple was quiet and the traffic was slow. We took off our shoes and entered the temple, walking around the bull and, in doing so, keeping him on our right, which is protocol for travel in Hindu temples.
Inside the temple: Ganesha on the right
The bull: side view on the left and offerings from the front on the right
Besides my musings on educational structures and social hierarchies in India, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the variety of religions that call this country home. Hinduism, in particular, has several very interesting tenets, and I’ve enjoyed visiting the temples because they are each so different. You really never know what kind of a scene you’ll find inside! Though I didn’t go on the visit, some of our group visited Mumbai’s Kali Temple, where there were such intense, pressing crowds of people that they could hardly move. They were also told there that they needed to pay large sums of money to the gods, and their foreheads were smudged red when they returned later to the hotel.
In contrast, the quiet contemplation of this temple was nice. Outside, several vendors had set up shop, and among them was a woman selling carved wooden henna stamps, which were purchased for classroom use by several of my colleagues. With her was her toddling daughter, who was absolutely the cutest child I have seen in India. She was crawling around playing with the fragrant flowers that some of the other teachers had given to her, holding it up and trying to hand it back to us each in turn.
Cutest baby in all of India!
Joan tries to buy henna stamps from the baby's momma, while she crawls all over them!
From our afternoon of brief visits, we traveled back to the hotel through the flower market, where we were supposed to spend some time, but which we had to drive through due to time constraints and because a bomb had been diffused near the market sometime earlier in the day. There was just enough time for showering and changing and wrapping my saree as well as I could (better than my first try, but by no means were the pleats expertly executed) before we set off for our scheduled home visits, which would allow us, in pairs, to visit the homes of local teachers, to dine with them and to visit with their families and friends. Based on the stories we told each other in the morning, each home visit was different from the next.
My home visit was scheduled with Angela, and we were driven to a beautiful gated complex (which housed military families) and pointed in the right direction by the driver of the car we’d traveled in from the hotel. We walked up to the door, which was cracked open, and found ourselves suddenly greeted by a colorful crowd of people. While at some households our colleagues were met by a single husband and wife couple, our host and hostess had invited colleagues from school and a couple of their children to boot! It was a little overwhelming at first, but, as it seems to go with Indian families, they were extremely hospitable and made us very comfortable. Immediately, the women commented on my saree (they were surprised and excited that I had tried to wear traditional Indian dress), and I confessed that I knew I hadn’t done the best possible job of putting myself together. The ladies all told me it looked pretty good for only my second night’s try, but one woman offered to teach me another method for wearing my saree. Of course, I jumped at the chance! She whisked me upstairs and showed me a second method that involved wrapping my palu over the shoulder from front to back and pulling a pin from her own shoulder to secure my palu in place just right.
Throughout the evening we drank delicious, sweet homemade wine (it tasted like port, which, if you’re Carlin, you know that I love) and chatted about our schools and our countries. The girls who were there were 12 and seven, and both of them performed songs for us, with the older girl adding a Bollywood dance, and the words to the song, which were mostly Hindi, also included the random phrases, “rock your body,” and “everybody on the floor,” which were hilarious to hear from her as she swayed her hips and jerked her shoulders just right in her pretty red and gold skirt and shirt and with her short haircut and cute little glasses! I told them the story about my monkey attack and about wearing my saree blouse backwards, which gave the ladies a good laugh (and all of the people there but the hostess’ husband were women).
Then it was time for dinner, and I was treated to what was hands-down the very best home-cooked meal I’ve had in India. There was delicious homemade paneer, fantastic warm and chewy, buttery parantha, soft white bread rolls with a dish made of mashed cooked veggies, a tasty rice pilau with fried onions and even some tender mutton stew (which I tried for good cultural measure). I was in foodie heaven! Dessert, which was kheer (rice pudding) was also excellent! I told the hostess, Neena, that it was one of my favorites, and she said, “Everything is your favorite!” because I had been telling her that all night (and it was true!). However, I especially love all things pudding in the dessert realm, and I was impressed with the delicious milky pudding. We finished our dinner off with a chewy, green, flower-flavored hunk of pan (pan, I have to admit, is NOT my favorite!), and then Angela and I sat for a while with our little hostess Zuha between us asking us questions. She asked us our favorite Indian foods (dosa, parantha, roasted skewered chicken for me), and also wanted to know what we like to eat at home. She was shocked when I said “sushi,” and my answer sparked a long line of questions from all around the room! “How big are the pieces? Isn’t it cooked at least a little bit? Do you put anything on it? Isn’t it covered in blood and guts?” Soon thereafter the conversation started to peter out and we exchanged gifts (which is customary in all situations involving hospitality in Indian). When the phone rang and it was time to head out to the car for the ride home. Despite that our schedule said we should make it back by 9:30, our car didn’t pull up to the Taj until nearly midnight, and then there was packing to do before the morning plane for our final destination (so soon!). . . . Trivandrum (and I’ll spare you the full name of the city for now) here we come!
Much love and many butterflies,
Callie/ Ms. Cook
- Current Location:Kandy, Sri Lanka
- Current Mood: anxious
- Current Music:M.I.A. ("Paper Planes")