Jumping into India — Day 7

When you walk out the hotel front door in India, you are accosted instantly by its beauty, misery and noise in one full gulp, especially the noise.

I remember Bangkok’s gridlock, and just days out of Taipei’s crazy-fast traffic, I take it all back.  Bangalore is the worst traffic I’ve seen–ever.  Cars, trucks, motorbike trucks, mopeds, tuk tuks or auto-rickshas, ox-drawn carts, bicycles, pedestrians, peddlers, beggars, it’s like a roadway checkerboard with every piece jockeying for space.

My car and driver arrived 10 minutes early.  My driver introduced himself:  “I am Immanuel de Ortiz, I am Christian, a Catholic and I drive Toyota.”   Immanuel is about my height, 5 ft. 4in., beanpole thin, wears a white uniform and a very big smile that is one centimeter short of a grin.  He has been driving for 33 years.  Within 5 minutes, I knew I was in good hands.  And his English was mostly understandable.  The official language of Bangalore, being in the Indian state of Karnataka in the far south, is Kannada.  Most Indians speak their own state’s official language and English, perhaps Hindi or another of the 100 plus dialects.  When asked how many languages he speaks, Immanuel humbly said 8, but proudly pointed out that his son and daughter in college both speak 10.

I swear the neighborhoods changed every other block.  Extreme poverty with people sleeping on the sidewalk, then a wealthy mansion behind locked gates, and endless blocks of small shops and men outside the doors hoping someone, anyone, would enter and buy.    Earlier that morning, I read a sentence about India that seemed to say it all, the India I was seeing as we streamed by in that small Toyota:  understanding India is like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.

Where to start?  Let me give you the snips as I saw them.  Sign reading “kind attention roadusers”.  A 24K gold mahajarah statue in a traffic circle, his back symbolically to a McDonalds.  Flower or tinsel offerings on the dash or door of vehicles, above a storefront, at the entry of homes.  A young beggar girl in sari turning cartwheels for cars stopped at a red light, then knocking on  car windows for money.  Groups of school children, all wearing the same uniform, primary boys in white Bermuda shorts and pale aqua polos the cutest of all.  Trash everywhere, often swept into piles…along the sidewalks, roadside, giant piles at the edge of a park, small streams with so much debris it looked as though you could walk across the water.

Bangalore used to be called the Garden City because of its temperate climate and dependable monsoons that bring rain to keep bowers of trees green year-round and a seemingly endless variety of flowers in bloom.  Seems like a California/Florida/Hawaii climate to me, sub-tropical.  I saw bougainvillea, plumeria, bottlebrush, roses, hibiscus, Rose of Sharon, morning glory, orchids, bamboo, elephant ear, lantana, poinsettias, shrimp plant—and a host of mystery trees and flowers.  Hope to learn the names of a sky blue flower and tall, dense trees with flaming orange or lemon yellow blossoms.  Immanuel didn’t know the name of either, but began to point them out as we approached:  blue flower!  orange tree!  yellow tree!  Sometimes I beat him to the punch, which made him laugh.

More recently, Bangalore has become India’s Silicon Valley.  In the eighties, General Electric started the parade of foreign technology companies that set up shop here.  Engineers from all over India come to Bangalore for good jobs and benefits—not to mention the temperate weather.  The city is building a metro, due to open February 2011 and encircle the city of 6.5 million by 2013.  And boy is there building—and more building—and MORE building.  It’s impossible to drive more than a half mile without seeing construction for the Metro, a new luxury hotel, or the latest foreign investor joining the prosperity party.

But alongside all this prosperity is an overwhelming amount of poverty…over half the population without running water, living in shanties or crumbling buildings…endless shops and tradespeople competing for a precious few rupees, the starving, the homeless.  For this side of India, one night at our luxury hotel would be a year’s earnings, a fortune.   On the west side of Bangalore, we drove through a mile of dark and black grim-ness…every shop dedicated to fixing cars, trucks, mopeds, machines and tools…black pools of grease…grimy, black machines…dark, nearly black-skinned, barefooted men on their backs in the dirt wrestling broken parts…clusters of dark men in dark clothes struggling to make a living.   Oppressive.

Immanuel joyfully announced “Christian area” as we drove through one section.  Surprising, since 80% of India is Hindu, 18% is Muslim, and the remaining 2% is everything else.  I saw Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Pentecostal and Catholic churches, a huge Indian Christian Cemetery, and a block-square complex named Little Sisters of Poor Home for the Aged.  And of course I saw sacred cows everywhere: on sidewalks, lying wherever they want, in the streets, in parks.  No elephants yet, but I did see two wild, shy monkeys at the Bull Temple.  This temple is one of Bangalore’s most elaborate landmarks, 16th century, and features a black 16-foot high bull of Lord Shiva.  The bull is pale granite, but the monks oil it daily with coconut oil to make it black.  An attendant asked me to remove my shoes before entering the temple and walk around the bull.  Leaving, I was blessed by a saffron-robed monk who put the red bindi mark on my forehead and gave me a handful of fragrant flowers.  Nice experience.

It was a full day.  I feel full.  This first day in India turned out to be a big gulp.


Globetrotting Donna

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