Sunday, September 17, 2006

Getting Around

My 4th day in Bangalore and I'm finding that it's a huge-ass city.

I've no idea how big exactly, since I effectively only travel about 30 miles an hour on the rickshaw. I love these little 3-wheeled pollution-spewing, rickety wagon-with-engines psuedo-cars. I find the bumpy, vibrating floor soothing. Also I totally dig that you can practically stick your entire body out the door and feel that heavy thick traffic smog rush past you. Sure, I'm too aware of my lungs these days, and my skin is decidedly gritty. But occasionally the air clears, and you can say hi to folks in the auto next to you since they are 3 inches from your face. Lovely. Seriously.

Also haggling with auto-wallahs, trying to decide if he's gonna drive you round and round the city to up the meter, which language would be best to use with him--all of it..good times, good times. I'm finding it really hard to tell one street apart from another here. I've my own home and workplace down, but everything else looks like every other street.

For the most part, if I wanna get someplace, the auto-wallahs find it for me and take me there. I still haven't decided if they really don't know where they are going or if they just wanna circle the block one more time. I tend to give 'em the benefit of the doubt since a). I've no other choice, I don't know where anything is. b). And here's the kicker...every other street or so is a one-way, but the direction of the one-way changes every two days or something. So it might take you 10 minutes to get from point A to point B, but going back might take you twice as long. Why do this? It's best not to ponder the whys too much.

Travel is very cheap--for less than a dollar, I can usually get anyplace I want to. And people are overwhelmingly nice. They wanna help you for no apparent reason. And no it's not because I have "foreigner" sketched across my forehead. It might be, but I don't think I look that firangi. I blend. I blend.

Also, I rode on the back of a motorbike two days ago. Helmet-less. Holy shit. I asked the dude I was with to please drive slowly, which he did, probably risking our lives in the process. Did I mention I saw a motorbike accident our last night in Delhi? Well I did. It was completely horrible. The dude's head had smashed open, blood everywhere. I'm over it, but it is
branded into my brain permanently. I was more than a little nervous when I saw our proposed mode of transportation. I kept thinking, "man, that concrete looks oh so hard."

"Can we take an auto?"--Me
"No problem" *head nod*
"I'll pay for it."--Me
"No problem" *head nod*

It turned out to be fun. There's nothing quite like having one of those giant, ugly lorries brush by your knees as your driver squeezes between that maruti and bus. And also driving into oncoming traffic on your tiny little scooter, reaffirms life.

My work. I started two days ago--a day ago officially sort of--and so far I've been to a couple of meetings. I'm still learning how things function, and what my role exactly is. I'm grateful that the smaller, staff meetings (that doesn't include community members) are in English, which I hope is not for my benefit alone. But whenever I'm not at a meeting, and I peek in, they are talking Kannada.

I've met some cool people--a lot of mallus, I'm practicing my Malayalam. It's torturous to hear me talk my mallu to some very patient people. In my defense, I think a large reason why I'm having so much trouble stringing sentences together is because I'm not used to talking politics, culture, or human rights in Malayalam. I've no words in my language, only in English. It's interesting. Sometimes I just give up, and switch to Hindi or English. The organization I work for is this small, but vibrant human rights NGO. I will write more about it later.

We have moved into our house. We did it bright and early yesterday morning. I like our home a lot. We have a mango tree, a garden, our own bathrooms and this huge balcony. We live in a busy area of town, which has its pros and cons. Biggest con being there's a lot of "aimless youth" just hanging out outside the shops across the street. I'd prefer they hang elsewhere. But I haven't had any problems so far.

Overall, life is chugging along as it always does. It's been stressful. But I can feel myself settling. Slowly, I'm getting used to my new life. I am already feeling pangs of homesickness, but nothing too terrible. After a particularly stressful day, I wrote this in my little notebook that I carry around with me. It made me laugh when I read it the next morning.

"I hate that I'm a foreigner in India. I feel like screaming, "you don't understand, I was made to belong to you." and India is bitch-slapping me in reply."

She's calmed down since then:)


Blogger Steve Zavestoski said...

OK, I'm all caught up. Here's my deal...I was in India from Nov. '05 to June '06 on a Fulbright studying links between Indian activists fighting polluting multinational corporations and international NGOs (e.g., Greenpeace, Amnesty, Pesticide Action Network, etc.).

I kept a blog about the experience called The India Zavelogue. Somewhere buried in there are my thoughts on the 4 days we spent in Bangalore. Since we returned I've been blogging on The Curious Stall.

So, I've enjoyed reading about your experience(s) for a range of reasons. (1) We lived in Kerala for four months. I take it you are Malayalee, but raised in the U.S.? Quite a few of Kerala's best and brightest head off to Bangalore, though increasingly Ernakulam is attracting its own IT critical mass, so you may find quite a few people to practice your mother tongue (if you call it that) with. (2) I found that environmentalists in India are very much aware of the way in which msot environmental issues are really human rights issues, so I will look forward to hearing more about your work, especially if it has any intersection with environmental (defined broadly) problems. Are you aloud to say in your blog the NGO you are working for? (3) Your observations are honest and with a unique set of eyes. I thought as a sociologist I was able to see aspects of India that the average American would be blind too, but it sounds like your educational and work background, combined with your family background, give you very interesting insights into life in India.

You mentioned you've already acquired new views on issues like development. I hope you'll write about this more. But I'll also keep checking back for the funny (Chalega!) and sad (..."ambassador sucks!" I can't believe the comment about the hotels) stories. BTE, from the title I thought that post was going to be about a taxi ride in an ambassador.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What pollution are you referring to regarding autorickshaws? Bangalore autos run on LPG and hence there is hardly any smog (the only pollution is from lorries and trucks and other deisel vehicles)

12:58 PM  
Blogger Andy's Life in India said...

So glad that we caught up. I mean it when I say that you are not alone here. I know how frustrating, chaotic, fun, and exciting it can all be.

4:45 PM  
Blogger said...

funny..funny post. Don't forget to drink coffee from banglore.

11:45 PM  

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