This story begins last Sunday, when I went with a group of local lads and lass from work to the wedding of another of the fellows from work, Basanth. He had invited me to his wedding on the second day that I was in the office, so I think he was taking a bit of a punt. But the Indian people seem to be eager to share their life with others as I have had many examples of people inviting me places and offering assistance above and beyond. So anyway, with images of “Bend it Like Bekham” in my head (I have no idea how to spell his name and I really don’t care), I piled into the car at 7:30 Sunday morning and off we went.
There were two car loads from the office. The car I was in, which was a slightly warm Mitsubishi Lancer, was being driven by Keiran. He’s a charming, tall, local fellow of about 24 or 25. Sharing were another fellow, whose name eludes me, and a young lady, whose name also eludes me. I wasn’t aware of the details of the trip, but it turns out that we needed to be there by 09:30 if we weren’t going to miss out on the major part of the ceremony. Now, think eastern suburbs of Melbourne and Ballarat. Now, take away the multi lane freeways. Take away any sense of road rules. Take away any and all speed restrictions. Add to the mixture cattle being herded along the side of the road. Also add trucks driving the wrong way up the road. Don’t forget to multiply the amount of traffic by a factor of at least 10. Oh and of course into the traffic you must insert donkeys, pushbikes, cattle ON the road, slow trucks, smoke belching buses, slow cars, fast cars, motorbikes with 4, 5, 6 people on them. Now the road must have potholes. It must also have faded white lines that are there specifically to be utterly ignored. It must have every form of dangerous hazard that Victoria has spent the past 30 years getting rid of. And don’t forget, we have to be there before 9:30 or we miss the main bit.
We did get to the village with 20 minutes to spare, although it was a miracle. Along the way there were many “exciting bits”, such as the time we were driving up the exhaust pipe of a huge, smoke belching truck as it lumbered past another huge, smoke belching truck. I was wondering why “our” truck was behaving the way it was when it suddenly pulled in front of the truck it was passing far too closely. Keiran stood on the go pedal to rocket us toward our destiny when he suddenly swerved back in behind the trucks, because hulking down on us at a great rate of smoky knots was yet another huge truck driving on the wrong side of the road! Remember Tom Cruise and Goose in Top Gun when they did a fly pass with the Russian MIG? Well that was me as this damned truck thundered past on OUR side of the road.
As we approached the village (which I suspect has more people than Geelong, but I may be wrong. Yeah, right!), I was wondering why there were so many Brahman cattle being herded along the side of the highway. When we got to the village I saw that today was cattle market day and the joint was teeming with Brahman cattle. Apparently this happens once-a-month and this was the day.
Now of course, getting to the village was only the start. Now we had to find the place where the wedding was happening. So Keiran warp-factored from rikshaw driver to rikshaw driver asking where it was. Between them, each speaking a different grab-bag of languages, they were able to learn where the wedding was being held. It was during all of this that I was able to have an out-of-body experience and watch the village people go about their business. Actually it was more like the village person because there were lots of Indians, but not too many construction workers, policemen and whatever. (Hands up those who have no idea what I’m talking about. We’ll meet after the lesson and talk about the wonderful music of the 70s).
So, at the wedding we finally arrived.
The wedding, which extends over a 2 day period in which time the happy couple don’t get much sleep at all, was not quite what I expected. But then we were there for only two and a half hours out of a total celebration time of 36 hours. But in that 2 1/2 hours we ate a fully laid on meal twice (separate meals, separate times), saw the actual passing of vows, met a lot of the families and managed to pass on our congratulations. Basanth was joyed to see us and, as usually happens, the sea of people parted in front of me as I moved through the thronging well wishers. I still don’t really understand why that is; maybe it is politeness or deference or something else. Whenever I am walking through a crowd or in a shop or whatever, people move out of my way when they see that I am an outsider. Maybe I need to check my deodorant. It didn’t happen in Saudi but it does here. Anyway, I was the buzz of the moment as I took photos of the happy couple. There were the thick end of a thousand people in the audience behind me and everyone on the stage stopped while I took my photos. Oh and by the way, the happy couple were smiling, but not at the moment I took the photos. It seems to be that taking photos is a serious business so no smiling is allowed.
Keiran, who needs to drink less red cordial, wanted to leave just on midday. Also the young lady, who had been a mine of information about all things Indian and pertaining to people less than 25 years of age, was desperate to get home to her boyfriend (I didn’t ask the obvious questions about arranged marriages. Wrong time, wrong place.) So we took off just after 12. But between them they concluded that I needed to see at least one of the local sights, so we drove around the village looking for the way to the gate of a local temple. This took us through the cattle market, past the back streets of the village and up a hill. The road stopped at the gates to the temple compound, which has been built amongst the huge boulders that make up the small hill. We entered the compound, took off our shoes, and went in to see.
This is the second temple I have been to now and each time someone in the group starts doing the motions and repeating the mantra. Even among the young people, religion is very important here. That’s not to say all young people because the bright lights and glitz of the modern world is slowly taking over, but there are still a lot of young people who seem to adhere to the religions of their parents. Oh, and one other non-related thing I find humorous. In Australia we talk about “vegetarians” as being the exception. Here they talk about “non veg” as being the exception. Aint that great! But gimme a juicy steak any day.
Thursday night I was invited to an outdoor restaurant at one of the better hotels in town. One of the fellows at work was leaving for Melbourne the next day. The expat community here has a similar feel to Saudi, with people chipping in to include others in expat activities. I haven’t got involved in the long term expat community yet, and probably won’t, but I gather it is quite large. But amongst the people at work there is a healthy social life. I went bowling last night with a team from work. It wasn’t my team but I was invited along by the organizer, a fellow from Melbourne, because that’s what you do. You help your fellow expatters by including them in social activities.
The restaurant on Thursday night was wonderful. It was a Vietnamese restaurant in an open gazebo in the beautiful, tastefully lit gardens of the Taj West End hotel. Being Bangalore (notorious in the past for mosquitos), this was a recipe for disaster, especially since I hadn’t brought the radioactive insect repellant goo that I got in Melbourne and was told to wear everywhere. But there wasn’t a mosquito in sight. What all of the hotels here do is “fog” the place just after sunset. I would hate to know what the fog is made of, but it must be safe for humans (I presume) and boy, does it get rid of mosquitos. I have been told that the main time for mosquitos is the hour just on and after sunset.
So a great night was had by all.
Now, the run down to the end. I’ve just had a shower, cleaned myself up a bit, and now need to get ready for the afternoon’s adventures. After lunch I’m going to take a rikshaw ( aka “auto”, “autorik”, “tuk tuk”) to a new part of town for me. I gather it is the centre of town and is known as Bangalore Central. The attraction, apart from all of the shops, bazaars and interesting sights, is the promise of a “good” supermarket on the 4th floor. Now, I think to myself “A good supermarket wouldn’t be on the 4th floor because then all of the good stuff that people have bought at the good supermarket would have to be carried down 4 floors. Hmmmm. We’ll see.” It has also been described in such a way that it is within my walking distance of a good internet cafe and Brigade Rd, which is accepted as being one of the best and more interesting areas of genuine Indian street life in the city. So who knows what could happen. It is the good internet cafe from which I hope to send this missive.
And that leads me neatly into my lesson today. India is a land of striking contrasts. At my 4 star hotel I am paying Rs220 for an hour of internet connection, which isn’t much really as it converts to about $A5.50. At the internet cafe I’m aiming for, they currently have a deal where you can buy 50 hours of internet, in a brand new, modern, hunky dory setup, for Rs700. See if you can figure out that comparison, especially as the full, non-deal price for the same 50 hours is only Rs1,500 which is $A30.
Until next we read.