Monday, July 27, 2015

In Which I Missed the Bus

OK, fine, so The Bus Gambit didn’t go very well.

Two weeks of living in the Indian countryside and I decided that it was time to venture into Bangalore proper on my own. And not by texting Papu the congenial autorickshaw driver to come pick me up at campus. No! I was going to ride the bus!

“O, it is to laugh!” said India, then yanked my underwear up in an atomic wedgie.

I spent an embarrassing number of hours Friday scouring the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation’s website, plotting my Saturday morning ninja strike. I had times. I had routes. I thought I knew where the bus stop was, just up the road from campus. In retrospect, I see that I was one of those stray ducklings trying to waddle across eight lanes of interstate highway.

According to the schedule, the 212 bus should be by at 8:30 a.m. Conscientiously, I left my apartment early and strode purposefully to where I thought the bus stop is. Except there was nothing to indicate a bus stop – no sign, no bench, nothing. I shuffled down the street and back up: no bus stop.

Finally, I sidled up to akka, behind the counter at her shop, and asked, “Bus?”

She shook her head.

Twisting my left arm into a Z so that she could see my watch, I tapped its face and said, “8:30?”

She laughed merrily.

“No, 8!” she said, and I the silly American dork who thought the BMTC bus would run according to the schedule on the BMTC website. What is this, Switzerland? No, the bus comes by at 8-ish, maybe 7:45-ish, maybe 8:20-ish.

“Bus stop?” I asked pitifully, and she pointed to the spot across the road from her shop, where I should like to point out there is no sign.

Fine. Fine! I bought some cookies and angrily crammed them in my mouth as I stomped over to school, where I brooded in my office until I could hitch a ride to Bangalore in the faculty van. For comfort, I looked at the stupid schedules on the stupid BMTC website and saw that the stupid 212 is supposed to come at stupid 8:30. Who do I call??

Oh, right, nobody. I don’t speak Kannada.

Anyway, after the very kind Nishad, who also teaches here at IIJNM, showed me around his Bangalore neighborhood and we ate some delicious dosa, it was time to go home. But I hadn’t researched many city bus routes, so I got an autorickshaw to the central KR Market.

And may I just say wow.

You know those photos you always see of India? Of people people people everywhere and vendors lounging behind pyramids of pomegranates and cows and women in their saris and women in their burqas and everything in the world for sale and shoeless children and an inexplicable horse cart and trash and hawks looming over the butcher stalls and the odors. The odors! Jasmine and pee and curry and rotten meat and exhaust and BO and sandalwood and burning trash and bread baking and India. Just India.

Did I mention the crowds? I found myself buying a kilo of pomegranates and I’m not sure why except that I clearly had entered some sort of fugue state.

As for the buses, well, there were a bunch parked over here and a bunch idling over there and the nutso Bangalore traffic in between and the noise from the freeway flyover providing an overarching soundtrack to the rest of the noise and I loitered over here and shuffled around over there, crossing the road and then crossing it back and looking hopefully at each bus that came around the corner.

Finally, impulsively, I just got on one, handing the attendant 50 rupees, getting 20 back in change, and immediately regretting my decision. I didn’t even know where it was going! But because the universe is kind to idiots, it headed down Mysore Road, a road I actually know.

But then I panicked. What if it turned in a direction I wasn’t familiar with? Not that I’m familiar with any of them, really, but what if I ended up in, I don’t know, Calcutta?

So impulsively, I got off.

And then I sat at a bus stop on Mysore Road for about half an hour, considering my options. I could wait for a bus whose number and route I knew, but none of them came by. I could become a silent bus stop weeper, and that definitely was tempting. I could start walking, but the distance seemed daunting, maybe 15 miles.

Or I could just flag down an autorickshaw, even though I vowed I wouldn’t, even though I smugly told people that I Believe in Public Transportation, even though I wanted to be independent and self-sufficient and a cosmopolitan woman of the world.

Of course India had other ideas. I flagged down an auto and was vague enough about where I live that he agreed to take me there. Miles into the countryside he kept looking at me like “Here? How about here?”

“Just a little farther!” I kept trilling with a winning smile, pointing an indefinite finger in the direction of Just Up There.

Finally, after he sadly indicated what he’d never get another fare back into the city from that far in the countryside, I paid him double the meter – 500 rupees (about $7.75).

Fine. Fine! And a big fat whatever.

I’ll try again next Saturday.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

In Which I Have Some Roommates

It wasn't so much the frog, but the fact that he brought a friend. And the fact that they were lurking behind my bedroom door. And the fact that a sizable lizard and all his friends seemed to have joined them.

At least they eat the bugs.

In Which I Fail to Procure the TP

This is a little indelicate, and I apologize, but: I'm almost out of toilet paper.

I'm watching my single roll go inexorably down down down, despite my best efforts at moderation, and I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do about it. Maybe steal some from work? I feel like I'd be discovered, and "Toilet Paper Thief" doesn't seem like a label I want to acquire after just one week here.

I've tried buying some, but TP is weirdly hard to come by in the villages around the school. I discovered this when I sidled over to the little shop nearby and tried my very best to get some.

The store is run by a very nice lady that everyone calls akka, which means "sister" in Kannada. I don't actually know her real name, so I usually just stick my face directly in front of hers and start talking. Anyway, if I want eggs or laundry detergent or those insect repellent coils that will give you cancer, the smoke is so toxic (I bought two the other day), her little roadside shop is the place to go.

But I needed toilet paper. I felt sure she'd have it. Unfortunately, she doesn't speak English and so far I only speak about five words of Kannada, so communication can be a challenge. Mainly, I rely on my village idiot grin, an expression of pleading hopefulness and gestures so flamboyant that I automatically win every game of charades in the whole world for the next month.

Anyway, I approached akka's store and bent conspiratorially over her front counter.

"Paper?" I whispered, because it's embarrassing.

She gave me a blank look.

"Paper," I tried again, the tinsiest bit louder, and gave her a knowing nod.

Still nothing.

"Toilet paper," I suggested in a strained stage whisper. "Uh, WC? Bathroom? Washroom?"


Desperate, I curled my right index finger into a hook and frantically stabbed the air in the direction of my bottom: "Paper," I repeated. It was not my finest moment, I'll admit, but it did the trick. No dice, though.

Instead, I bought a fizzy apple drink and a package of cookies, slinking away with my sad consolation prize.

Maybe I can sneak into the students' dorms and steal some TP from there.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

In Which How Weird Is Too Weird?

When it comes to the taste of water, I mean.

Obviously I boiled it until half of it was evaporated, but it still tastes... odd. Maybe it's just a matter of getting used to new water. Indian water! And anyone who says water doesn't have a taste has never been to central Florida. Or Bangalore, apparently. This water definitely has a taste.

But too much of one? I've been contemplating each mouthful. And the electric kettle does have some sort of weird, mineral-looking grunge on the bottom, which I'm unable to scrape off.

So, ha ha, yep.

Maybe I'll just wander over to the village this afternoon and see about a new one.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

In Which Oh Good Grief, Not Again

I'm not saying it's the most pitiful thing in the world, but it certainly makes the list: the dorky, desperate hope that compels you to keep checking all the bags lurching past on the conveyor belt, even though you've checked them twice before.

Maybe third time's the charm! Maybe this time the navy blue suitcase that clearly isn't my navy blue suitcase will, um... magically be mine! Maybe it will contain all the stuff I'm generally indifferent to -- the 11 different iterations of breton-striped shirt, the mediocre hairbrush -- but now treasure with a fervor usually reserved for snake handling or fan fiction.

But nope, my suitcases decided to loiter in Frankfurt, for the pretzels and beer, apparently. Meanwhile, I arrived in Bangalore.

Unlike when I moved to China and my bags went missing for several days, however, this time I vowed to handle it with fewer tears and more equanimity. A man named Franklin is on the case, and when he told me that maybe my bags went to New Delhi, I did my best to smile beatifically. Who wouldn't want to go to Delhi? It's great there!

He said maybe they'd arrive tomorrow, but maybe not. Swell! I'll just toddle over to the village and buy a sari!

Welcome to India. I really am thrilled to be here.