Thursday, 24 November 2011

Time to relax?

On Sunday I left the routine of Bangalore behind. I was more upset by it than I thought I ever would be. I guess in the seven weeks I had been there I had got used to the place. It also was the place I got to know India in a way I know I will probably never see again. It’s just not possible as a tourist.

So now that’s what I am, a tourist. And what better place to start being a tourist than Goa? It is a relatively small state of India on the coast, and as far as I can tell it solely survives on the tourism trade. I have stayed in Anjuna in the north, one of the many small towns dotted all along the coast, since Sunday and leave for Delhi tomorrow. I initially envisioned Anjuna to be a quiet beach town away from the hustle and bustle of India, but then one day while I was in Bangalore someone mentioned how people are always trying to sell stuff on the beach. It dawned on me, nothing in India is quiet and relaxed. So I then came here fearing the worst. What I got was somewhere in between. It is a small town and because of that it is very quiet, but there is still the madness one comes to expect from India.

I have spent my five days here relaxing, eating, reading, and walking. It’s too hot, for me at least, to just sit on the beach, so I’ve done a bit of walking up and down the beach, but certainly haven’t spent all day every day there. Though this seems to be what a lot of the people do here. I would say more than 50 percent of the people staying here are white and 50 percent of those white people are Russian (even the signs here are written in English and Russian). Like I say, this place survives off the tourism trade. Every building is either accommodation, a restaurant or a shop.

For me the impression I will take from this place comes from the stall owners. They are everywhere; as you walk along the path to the beach and even on the beach. And then if that wasn’t enough there are people constantly trying to sell their goods to you as you sit on the beach. Even if you have a book in front of you and blatantly ignore them this doesn’t deter them. But what I have found entertaining is how they approach you.

“Yes darling, you want to see my shop? Come see my shop.”

“Ah darling, come see my shop, just look, very cheap.”

There seems to be a script, of which there are about three variants and all begin with darling. But the funniest thing is when you ask how much something is.

“For you, I give you good price.”

“Yes, but how much is it?”

“Very good price.”

“I know, but how much exactly?”

“You want three? I give you very good price.”

“No I would just like to know the price of one.”

“How about a small one, and a big one, very cheap.”

This can go on for a while. I really can’t wait to get back to New Zealand and look at a price tag, know how much I would pay for it, and think about it, without some woman telling me how cheap everything is and trying to sell me every other item in her shop too.

So, off to Delhi tomorrow. Bring it on.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Only ten weeks, right?

When I arrived in Bangalore I drew up a calendar. 72 days. Ten weeks. I used it as a way to count forward, and count backwards - how far had I come? and perhaps more intimidatingly, how far did I have to go? Because, you see, for all travel is cracked up to be, it also has its moments. Yes, there are great highs, but there are also lows.

There have been moments where I want to throw my Lonely Planet in the air, bury my head in the sand, and scream at the man who just drove past yelling "hello darling". India is exhausting. It attacks you from every alley way, every auto driver and every store. It's easy to gloss over those travel woes and remember them more fondly, as something that contributed to the overall, amazing journey. And even now when I look back on some of those more bumpy moments I laugh. At the time, I assure you, there was little laughing going on, but now I can smile about it. My journey with the auto driver in my first week springs to mind.

A couple of weeks ago, I met a 19-year-old French woman travelling the world by herself. Without sounding too much like some spiritual guide, talking with her was hugely enlightening and empowering. One night she found herself having to sleep at a train station. She spoke of her decision to curl up in one of the seats rather than joining the others on the ground. Her reason for this - she didn't have newspaper to lie on like all the others were. As she sat there, trying to sleep with one eye closed and the other on her baggage, she suddenly realised the ground was awash with movement. Rats, cockroaches, bugs and I hate to think what else. Needless to say, she didn't get much sleep that night. As she told me this story she said it with a smile, and concluded with "well, it's all part of the adventure". And it is, but I don't think that would have been at the forefront of her thoughts as rats crawled around her feet.

There have definitely been moments when I wonder whether I am capable of travelling India as a lone woman. But then there have been those other times when I know I am capable. Some mornings I wake up feeling like I can take on the world - and in India you certainly are taking on the world, or at least a large majority of it. But on the flip side there have been times where I have felt like India is beyond my limits.

I still have four weeks to go - so my calendar tells me - and I know there will be more of those lows. But with each day spent here things have become much, much easier. In fact, just today, when some man said "hello gorgeous" to me as I walked past him, I just shrugged, laughed, and continued walking.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

An Indian-style story

On Thursday this story ran at the top of Deccan Herald's front page -

It was high drama on Museum Road in Bangalore on Wednesday. Jaffer Jaweed, a 20-year-old engineering dropout, had the police and the fire force on their toes when he threatened to jump off Hotel Museum Inn. And jump, he did, courtesy Stupid Cupid. Upset that he couldn't marry his lover, Jaweed jumped from the rooftop, before he could be talked out of his dare-devilry. He escaped with injuries.

A series of four photos accompanied the story - three of him in various stages of falling and one of his face as he stood on the rooftop.
On page three there was a larger story.

There have been many stories that have caught my attention while here, for various reasons - the bizare content, the extremely long and confusing introductions, the introductions that don't make one bit of sense - but this story in particular caught my eye enough for me to take note of it. For many reasons - it covers a topic New Zealand media does not touch on, suicide, and not only did it touch on it, but it included photos of this man as he tried to commit suicide. But the real gem in this story, I think, is the line "And jump, he did, courtesy Stupid Cupid." The writer clearly had fun with the story, I'm just not sure that the content really warranted a 'fun' story.

Bargaining, Hana style

There are two scenarios when I am shopping, they go something like this -

"Hi, how much for this?" I say, pointing to a shawl.
"250 Rupees ma'am," the stall owner replies.
"Oh ok, and what about this one?"
"250 also ma'am."
"Ok, I think I like this one," I say pointing to the first one, "yea, I'll get this one, 200?" I say, lowering the price because I know this is the game we have to play.
He looks at me, "225, ma'am."
I toss up whether it's worth bargaining over the 25 rupees, it's not, "Ok," I say getting out my wallet.
I hand him 250, "keep the change," I say walking off.


"Hey, how much for this?"
"For you ma'am, I will give you two for 400 rupees." I had seen the same wall hangings in another shop and had been told one would cost me 350.
"Oh ok, I will get two. And how much for this?" I say, pointing to a key chain.
"100 ma'am, and where are you from?"
"New Zealand," I reply, knowing we are about to have the same conversation I have had here about 100 times already.
"Ah, so you know cricket?" he says, rather excitedly and pretending to hit a ball with a bat.
"Hmmm, sort of."
"Daniel Vettori? Stephen Fleming?"
His friend, who I hadn't noticed until now, also pipes up, "Chris Cairns?"
"You know more than I know," I joke with them.
They start to wave around their pretend bats. I do my fake, slightly awkward laugh, getting out my wallet.
The shop keeper gets out a (real) calculator, "so for these", he says pointing to the two wall hangings, "400", he types into his calculator. And for these, he points to the two key chains I have decided to also buy, "200". He also types this into his calculator.
"Ok, thank you," I say, thinking I probably should be bargaining but I know I am already getting it for much cheaper than I would have at the other shop.
"But," he pipes up, "for you ma'am, I will give you discount." He types something into his calculator, and up pops 500. "Ok ma'am, 500 rupees?"
"Sure, that sounds great," I say to him, not really sure how I've managed to lower the price without actually bargaining.
"Are you happy with that?" he questions me.
"Yes that is fine with me."
"Good, a happy customer makes me a happy shop owner."

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A few oddities from the newsroom

*PR people are constantly appearing in the newsroom to talk to the reporters about whatever it is they are paid to care about. Probably every 20 minutes or so another one appears. And if it's not the PR people, it's somebody who has a bone to pick about something in their neighbourhood. I still can't believe they let these people into the newsroom, it takes up so much of the reporter's time. I have seen a reporter laugh in the face of a PR person though.

* There are not enough computers for the reporters so they all play musical chairs during the day. When one person leaves to go on an assignment someone else grabs that computer, then they come back and the second person is kicked off. You can see how this can get exhausting. Also there is one telephone between about four reporters. They all use their own personal cell phones to make calls - apparently, their phone bills aren't too high.

* This leads onto my third point - often the reporters will go into the corridor/stairwell to conduct interviews. I'm yet to figure this one out.

* They have no work cars. They all use their own personal vehicle, usually a motorbike, to get around. My chief reporter couldn't believe it when I explained to him I take a work car when I need to leave the office.

* The newspaper entirely consists of hard news, particularly the front page. If it's not hard, it won't be run, simple as that. This became evident one day when someone in the office went over to the chief reporter and said a shop down the road had a real life elephant outside as part of some advertising campaign. I thought "wow, an elephant, that'll make a cool photo" (and I think that was what the woman who told the chief reporter about it was thinking), but the story the chief reporter saw in it was the elephant was impeding on public space. Stories always have a hard angle.

* My next point is of a similar vein - their stories are written very differently. They are not afraid to load intros with names, places and information. I would say the average intro is about 50 words. It's been quite hard for me to get used to, and reading a newspaper here with very limited knowledge proves to be quite a battle, particularly political stories.

* The public use the newspaper as their key source of information. India is one of the few, if not only, countries where newspaper readership is still growing. It makes the newspapers very powerful places. People pay attention to them. It does, however, make more work for the reporters as they constantly field calls from the public asking them if the petrol price is actually increasing, or if that road is actually closing for the day.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Please ma'am

As a rule I came to India telling myself I would not give to beggars. I had read warnings against it enough times to realise it probably wasn't the best idea. It may sound heartless, and don't you worry, as I walk past those beggars I feel heartless, but it comes with so many other problems that the best thing to do is to ignore.

The main problem is once you give to one, they all see and continue to hound you. Often, also, these beggars are working for someone. It doesn't make me feel any better about not giving to them though.

Today I broke my rule. As I was waiting to cross the road a young boy, no older than four, came up to me and wrapped his arms around my leg. Then another girl, about eight, came along too. What do you do when there is such a young boy clinging to you, with the most heart breaking look on his face? So I gave him 10 Rupees, and the other girl 10 Rupees.

Then I realised why I had read so many warnings against giving to beggars. Two other girls proceeded to follow me up the street. They were only about six and had to run to keep up with my pace. "Please ma'am, please ma'am, please ma'am, please ma'am," they said on repeat. Probably the only English phrase they knew. I could see two other children up the street also begging and knew if I gave to these girls, I could be hounded all the way up the street as more and more caught on that I would give. So I did what I told myself I would always do, I ignored.

What I regret, and what pains me, is not that I gave the first two some loose change, but that I ignored the rest.

Friday, 4 November 2011

I've found the wealth

It's easy to see the poverty in India, be it the beggar on the corner or the makeshift home set up down some alleyway, but it's not so easy to see the rich. Sure you constantly see people walking around with the latest smartphone, but just walking along the footpath looking at what is directly in front of you it is the poverty that is glaringly obvious.

I have ended up in a somewhat different situation - I am living in the wealth. It's not somewhere I expected to be, yet here I am living in a sixth floor apartment with a cook/cleaner and going to art exhibition openings and being introduced to some of Bangalore's most elite.

I've already touched on this, but basically mum worked with someone who was from Bangalore, who knew someone, who knew someone, who knew Nina - the woman I am staying with. We keep getting asked how we know each other, we both look at each other, shrug, and reply in unison "we don't". I initially felt guilty for calling on the help of people I didn't know - but since getting here I've realised that's the way this world works and it all evens out in the end. I am sure someone I have met over here will one day end up on my couch in Wellington.

Living with Nina has certainly been an eye opener. She has been great at including me in things she does, including the other night when we went to an art exhibition opening, followed by dinner at Bangalore Club. It's hard for me to describe the Bangalore Club because I cannot think of any New Zealand comparison. It's basically a space with bars/restaurants/pools/tennis courts/library, anything you could want in one area. It costs an arm and a leg to be a member, and takes forever to become one (it took Nina five years of being on the waiting list to join). This particular club - there seem to be a few around the city - is famous because Winston Churchill was once a member and he owed the club 13 Rupees - the debt has since been written off. You can practically see the money oozing from every building, it isn't somewhere the average tourist would be able to see. But because of my unique living situation I've been able to see this other side of Bangalore.

And then there's Lewy - the cook/cleaner. This has probably been the hardest thing to get used to, and not just because he doesn't speak English. I often feel like lady muck sitting in my room reading my book as he brings me a cup of tea and fills up my water bottle, before coming in and giving me the sign that dinner's ready. It's so far removed from what I am used to and I have to stop myself from saying "sit down and have breakfast with me," - not that he'd understand anyway.

I know the wealth is in India, and boy is it there, but now not only do I know it, but I've seen it, I've lived it.