INDIA- Part One...

INDIA- Part One...

INDIA– Part One…
This trip begins with some interestingly difficult adventures, if not quite ultimately predicaments. All beyond the predictable scramble of preparing for any such significant travel.

But first, some set-up to this long planned four week travel. This is my second trip to India.

We returned to visit that couple, the groom being Stephen’s second cousin Derek, & Anjana, who is Indian… plus now their children Kavya & Kalyan… who have moved back to Bangalore after living in St Louis, where we have visited them, & they us, over the intervening years.

While not quite “convenient” to my studio’s schedule, Stephen accepted an invitation to make the opportunity a real plan. As he, the consummate traveler, imparts his experiential wisdom that if one does not make early plans, one will not make the travel. I’ve learned much more agreeable grace in saying yes… especially as I have long said I would go back to “Mother India,” so my studio’s calendar has made peace with the complication of vacating for so long, so close to the annual Holiday Open Studio dates. One early plan bows to another…

We flew first to London on October 26, arriving to wait almost six hours at Heathrow Airport before boarding our plane to Bangalore, India. In spite that Stephen had treated us to business class tickets, moving literally halfway around the globe is grueling on a body. I have experienced a first class case of jet-lag in this aging bod for a first time.

Fortunately we landed inside the understanding care of family. We were allowed to alternately nap &/or join in short walks out to accompany Derek &/or Anjana on shopping errands to prepare for the holiday festivities of Diwali, which is a bit like a mixture of New Years & Halloween on the lunar calendar of “the darkest night” of an autumnal new moon. It celebrates the return of the Hindu god named Rama from the darkness of exile to the light with lamps & fireworks… Lots of fireworks! … because Anjana’s father Mohan especially loves them.

The process of coming into the country was so much easier this time. We’d acquired on-line visas, so we only had to give digital fingerprints while they took another photo & stamped our passports… all done quite smoothly. Derek met us at the terminal of the new airport & drove the hour into the city. Even at that hour traffic was rather crazy, but then there is no way to describe how India drives… generally speaking it begins by using right-hand drive automobiles in the left lane. It varies chaotically in a forward moving chaos from there. D explains that the first rule is to look ahead and not actually run into another vehicle. If everyone also follows that rule, all will be well. Meanwhile I can only sit in wonder as I watch the show!

This was the first time arriving in Asia when I really experienced jet-lag. This is exaggerated by coming through Europe, losing two days of time. Flying to Bali or Japan we go west… ahead of world time. Thus we seemed only alternately to be actually awake, between frequent unexpected spells of falling into nap mode.

During one of my waking spells I joined DnA when they went shopping on foot for last minute greens & eggs… a nice excursion allowing me to begin to acclimate. The greengrocer offered some things exotic to me & I watched puzzling the method Anjana uses to pay with her phone & a scan code instead of a card. At the neighborhood co-op we took off our shoes before entering a downstairs space filled with baskets & bins of produce & grains, shelves of small-producer specialties from chutneys to mixes for the wide variety of bread-like goodies I remember loving on our previous visit.

Stephen joined another excursion while I enjoyed another deep nap. Anjana’s mother Deepa was there with her grandchildren K1 & K2 who each were dealing with fevers during this period. Mohan, their grandfather, was in & out as well & is quite attentive to them. A huge pile of boxes containing fireworks lay waiting on the coffee table after one of his arrivals.

All kinds of preparations were happening! Diwali is a festival celebrating the return of a goddess after an exile… a celebration of light over darkness, good over evil. The streets are swathed with strings of colored lights, outdoing even our holiday exuberance!

One custom is the creation of a special Kolam, or Rongoli, a design drawn in flour at the front door to ward off any bad spirits. It is a common element of everyday practice for some homes or businesses. One often sees them on the sidewalk or front steps of shops.

A typical example of of a kolam or Rongoli design…

For this holiday they are often more elaborately made with colored pigments & a certain amount of friendly competition exists between the women. Anjana spent quite a bit of time designing & making hers, adding small oil lamps.

Here Derek is filling the traditional four-wicked lamp stand. Deepa & Kavya stand watching while a row of tea lights add to the glow in the hallway of their spacious apartment. Anjana & Stephen stand in the foreground.

Because the holiday lasts for a somewhat indeterminate amount of time we celebrated two nights with the fireworks. The first night we had some rain, which slowed things down a bit. We first visited Deepa’s apartment to participate her building’s celebration featuring “glow lanterns”… paper hot-air balloons, which took patience to get properly lit, but then they lifted-off to rise, carrying their lovely, gentle glow quite high.

Here Stephen helps with a launch…

The first night’s fireworks were mostly rained out at DnA’s… but a cousin of Mohan’s came for the second night, and after we had dinner we finished Mohan’s stash of mostly quiet devises, many of which were spinning, sparking “tops” called “chakras” which I especially enjoyed.

DnA live in a gated apartment complex of several buildings 7 floors high. The space on which we were playing with the fireworks was the paving of the automobile entrance court.

Stone is a more common commodity here. An amazing amount of the flooring here is polished marble, which, while a quite sensible luxury, is also rather slick, so I am being careful.

The apartment is spacious. The elaborate front door was acquired from a temple by the previous owners who remodeled the place rather fulsomely before losing their wealth.

One enters into a large living room with a divider to define the entry. A wide doorway, flanked by handsomely carved columns, presumably from the same temple, invites one’s view into the very generous dining room backed by a puja cubicle from the temple with glass doors. It’s a great place they use to display their musical instruments . A round table with a well used turntable hold its center, moving the chutneys & condiments to people whose hands are too involved with the actual process of eating with fingers to pass the serving containers.

Another living space to the right, den or media room, with the television, & the master bedroom & bath. The fully equipped kitchen is to the left with lovely high wood cabinets & another area behind for general cleaning & laundry, which sink receives most of the used dishes to await for the maid.

Beyond all this are three more rooms & three baths. One is used as their office & a creative play space for the kids. One is the kids’ bedroom, & we occupied the guest room, behind which closed door we recovered & retreated from a busy household with youngsters, grandparents, cook, nanny & maid coming & going on some irregular schedule which taxed even Anjana’s capabilities.

Here are the young ones… Kalyan & Kavya… K2 & K1.

I enjoyed watching the techniques as the cook worked. One time I asked to try my hand at making “soft dosa”, a thin lacy crepe-like pancake made only of rice flour, salt & water quickly baked in a shallow wok-like pan before being folded twice into quarters to be served.

Many variations of such are used with the varied traditional components of most meals: rice, either plain or seasoned; dal, a wet paste of lentils, often quite spicy; & a sambar or curry of diced vegetables & much seasoning or spice. Curd, or yogurt cools & completes the flavor profile while sometimes a salad of sliced cucumbers &/or grated carrots adds texture. The fingers of the right hand take on those dance of breaking off a piece of the thin bread to scoop, gather-up & curl ’round a selection of the choices, making a packet to pop into the mouth. Eventually one is simply using fingers to finish gathering & scraping-up & licking off the last bits.

Washing ones hands both before & after is obviously essential!

While forks or spoons are usually available for those not accustomed or facile at this method, but I’ve come to enjoy the logic & tactile pleasure of such a simple method.

The first difficult adventure happened on the plane. When I was wakened for breakfast approaching London I pushed the button to bring the seat out of its recline as a bed & return to the sitting position I saw a curious article curling out of the drawer provided for one’s shoes. As I reached to explore, my fingers felt a strangely subtle crackling tactile sensation… almost “electric”. As I lifted it up I gradually realized it was my iPad! Not thinking, I had tucked it vertically into the drawer to store it, since it was quite stuffed with my shoes. The mechanique of the seat had caught & crushed it into a shape resembling a potato chip!

It was too bizarre to be grokked immediately or to be even disappointed… proving as it does the delicacy of the digital world. But, I was immediately happy that I had decided to bring my laptop as well. My original plan had been to leave it at home as part of my effort to learn to minimize my packing habits. I am traveling much lighter for this month with only a medium roller bag & a backpack, which in turn contains a shoulder bag for daily use & security, keeping passport bankcards & currency constantly with me unless the space is reliably safe.

When I showed the object to stewardess she requested to take it to share with colleagues. Apparently this was a first for all of them! She put it in a plastic bag so I could get it off the plane & find a spot to photograph it before I put it…leaking a shower of tiny sparkling shards…into the dust bin. Yes, it was recently backed-up.

The second of the difficult adventures I mention was a soreness in my upper jaw, which I’d mentioned to my dentist when he cleaned my teeth just a few days before we left, but it seemed insignificant enough that we did not do anything about it. In the flurry of final preparations I could easily ignore it, even as I was increasingly conscious of pressure under my upper denture. By the time we were on the plane I was chewing gingerly, but I’d brought a supply of Ibuprofen to manage the discomfort.

Fortunately, when I mentioned it to Anjana that first day she had a solution for even this in her capacious bag of capabilities. She is an avid runner & has a friend who is also a runner as well as the children’s dentist. Soon enough I was in the office of Dr. Chandan, who made radio-scans to diagnose that a fragment of root from a tooth extracted 3-4 years ago was inflamed, wanting to finally escape.

He asked us to obtain a more thorough scan to more precisely locate its orientation, which was accomplished a day later in a simple office run by a single technician with modern equipment at which I stood… all this during a holiday weekend!

On the return visit to Dr C, a surgeon from outside his pediatric practice was at the ready to do the surgery while Anjana helped with translation of the Hindi/English, which is sometimes difficult for me to understand, particularly around such technical details… all the while filming it with her phone!
Even as he did not have the gentle manner one might expect in the US… his injections of anasthesia were a bit unexpectedly sudden & quick … his manner suggested he was about simply getting the job done well, without prolonging the angst. I have endured so many surgeries in my mouth that I recognize skill when I observe it first-hand. I was never in pain as I felt familiar pressure of scalpel into flesh. His aim was so precise that Anjana explained the piece of tooth simply fell out onto my collar! I’ll refrain from sharing photographs…

I had no original intention to make this a “medical vacation” but the whole thing cost but a fraction of even that recent cleaning!

Now I can move on into more of the actual travel, assured of better comfort!

I’ve been busily writing my journal while making the usual thousands of images to edit & share as I find time to continue posting more of this story here…

Part two will introduce Hampi, the World Heritage Site we learned about on the last visit & which I’ve been eagerly anticipating all these years. What a glorious exploration it proved to be!

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