Sunday, January 30, 2011

Girl's Night out in Bangalore!

"wear what you wear when you go dancing in bars" said Shubha, as if it's all perfectly obvious!
"In Almaden?"
We laugh but it seems like a good excuse to go shopping!

On Saturday night we head off, all 16 of us, dressed a tad different from my everyday attire here, where I favor the kurta (long tunic) and jeans or leggings, for my first experience of Bangalore at night.

Bangalore holds up to its reputation as the "pub capital of India". We literally head to the sky!! The Skyye Lounge is a new bar on the roof terrace of a 16 floor building. We arrive about 9.00pm, by which time the place is already rocking. It's a people watchers heaven. This is almost the first time I have seen female legs exposed since we arrived in India! - mini skirts abound! Everyone is here from the bright young trendy things, the wannabes,  the "I was cool in the 80's and haven't moved on" (collars still turned up!), and of course the Moms on the loose! Cocktails flowed, (over priced as everywhere).  In India, where everyone male or female seems to be a dance-a-holic, even tho' the music was dire (or maybe I'm just too old to appreciate endless, no change in pace rhythm!), we danced and danced, under the stars. Also, in true Indian fashion, there was a lot of fun and laughter. The views over the city at night were great, and being in the open air, under the stars, with all the glam of an upmarket designer bar was quite something.

The three components of social activities in India seem to be: dance/music, fun and then, of course, nothing is complete without food. So we moved to a mid-night buffet in a Bangalore Hotel. All that dancing does make you hungry!

Home in the early hours, great evenings, thanks girls!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy 62nd Republic Day India!

The kids in the neighborhood created this rangoli (floor art) - hence the unusual spellings! At 9.00am the neighborhood convened for the flag hoisting. A lot of people were dressed in traditional india clothes in the colors of the flag (green and orange). I was straight from the tennis court and not appropriately attired! Simon and Wills were off work/school today - but Adam lost out being away at camp - though I'm not feeling sorry for him as I'm sure he's having a lot of fun.
The security team in their uniforms marched up for the flag hoisting ceremony. They had been seen practicing over the last few days.
The flag was duly hoisted as confetti fell from its folds. It was a very nice moment being part of this ceremony with our neighbors here in Vista.
The man of the day is obviously Mahatma Ghandi, who was duly honored. There followed a short presentation in the club house with some dancing (wouldn't be India without!) and presentations from some of the older kids about freedom and what it means in the world today. Their talks centered on the movie "No-one killed Jessica." The movie is the story of a model, Jessica Lall, who also worked part-time in a bar and was shot dead in 1999. The alleged killer was the son of a wealthy congressman, the witnesses all suddenly disappeared or suffered from amnesia and the verdict: not guilty. Following intense media and political pressure the judgement was appealed and eventually the alleged was rightly found guilty. It's a movie I now wish to see.

I leave you with some of my favorite words from one of India's, no the world's, best.

"Be the change you want to see in the world"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mysore - the British came, built palaces and left!

Although, Mysore is the city of palaces, we only visited the most famous, which was built, destroyed, rebuilt several times since its original conception in the 14th century. The current structure was erected by a Brit, Henry Irvine. The current Mysore "royal" family still live in part of the palace.
It's a truly magnificent building both inside and out - but no cameras are allowed inside. The decoration inside is stunning: ceilings, windows, walls, doors and floors all have paintings, stained glass, engravings, inlays, carvings - the works - well worth a visit.
Next, the boys got a choice: camel or elephant? They went for an elephant ride.
This was a very well trained elephant; he would curl up a rupee note in his trunk and pass it over his head to his master.
 We then drove out of town, up Chamundi Hill, from which you get a spectacular view of Mysore. Unfortunately my pics didn't do the view justice. Mysore, being a much smaller town than Bangalore and lot less cosmopolitan, meant we were more conspicuous. A group of young turks wanted their pic taken with my white, westerner Simon, until they saw the younger model. Simon was then brushed aside and Adam became the subject of multiple pictures and poses.
At the top of the hill is a beautiful Hindi temple, honoring the goddess of Chamundi, who in folklore killed the demon king of Mysore in a fierce battle. There is a fearsome idol of her wearing a necklace of skulls.
Ads turned into my Bindi boy with bindis on his face and neck and the traditional red strings round his wrist, given by this lovely rolly polly guy!
As we didn't want to be home too late, as the next day Ads was leaving for 5 days under canvas in the hills on a school leadership camp (where he still is - I am counting the nights!!!), we left the other delights of Mysore for another visit.

Where were we this weekend???

In galaxy, far, far, away?
No. Were we visiting a 5 star resort at some exotic location?
Or maybe we popped back to the motherland for the weekend - good old British call box!
Or did we call in to see Obama at the WhiteHouse, by bike? - if you look closer, that is not a limpet attached to Simon's back, that's Wills clinging on for dear life!!
None of the above, we visited the Infosys Campus at Mysore. Quite an incredible place. All the pics above were taken there this weekend! Simon had been there all week for work, during which he got a double exposure to tobacco - by chewing paan (and swallowing it - which you're not supposed to do) and sharing a hookah with his team! Ads, Wills and I drove down from school on Friday for the weekend.
Saturday morning we were all set for some serious sightseeing only to be told by security at the gate that there was a "bandh" for the day and we were advised to stay within the confines of Infosys. What!!!!!!!
A Bandh is a government strike and expected curfew. The governor of the state (Karnataka) decided to prosecute one of his ministers for selling state land to his friends and family on the cheap. The ruling party took exception to this and hence protests were expected. To keep the peace, a government strike was imposed, and all were then expected to stay home. Shops were shut, no government run transport etc. There were, apparently, a few pretty tame protests which were quickly dispersed. So I guess the Bandh was a success!
Corruption in India: not unheard off, corruption in politics sadly par for the course worldwide, but a bit more overt than pork barrels, lobbyists and the old school tie network, maybe!
Infosys' campus in Mysore is essentially a corporate university. One of Infosys' principles with its thousands of employees is to "catch them young" and train them the Infosys way. These new college graduates spend 3 to 6 months being brought up to speed on this delightful campus, which has bowling, soccer, most racket sports, swimming, movie theatre etc. Those that stay the pace and pass the test are let loose on customers and the rest go home.
We spent a day enjoying the facilities!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Can you teach an old (or not so old just yet) dog new tricks!

Today was my chance to learn the indian skills of rangoli, mhendi, sari draping, roti rolling and to cap it off a spot of Bollywood,
We started with rangoli, essentially the ancient folk art of sprinkling marble dust in intricate patterns and symbols on the outside threshold of indian homes. The green pot represents Pongal, the harvest, an overflowing pot is symbolic of a good harvest and the white lamps, well even I got that one -Diwali!
Apparently, the "good" southern indian housewife, gets up in the morning, washes all her floors, wets the area outside the house (so the marble dust does not fly away) and does her rangoli (like the flower above or an even more intricate pattern) to frighten away any bad spirits that arrived in the night, and all before showering or even a cup of tea.
The "bad" south indian housewife - our teacher was very scathing about this - produces something not quite as beautiful:
I had to have a go - looks pretty straight forward - sprinkling sand on the ground - no way!! Something about pinching the marble dust between your thumb and next finger, rubbing your thumb and a steady line of vibrant color will be produced - dream on!!
One "exceptionally bad, unmarried" south indian lady!  - but it was a lot of fun.
Next came mhendi, the painting of intricate lace patterns on your hands with henna. A bit like frosting a cake!
Then sari draping - how a strip of silk, with a few twists and turns, in few minutes can become the most elegant mesmerizing outfit! Our ladies looked wonderful until they moved! Apparently, for us foreigners, you can buy the pre-stitched/assembled, ready to wear version which will safely negotiate an evening out without unintentional reveal!

Last but not least, the Bollywood lesson, what fun and what a work out. Luckily I was taking the pictures, so no glimpses of me in action - but we all managed a few minutes of (almost) co-ordinated dance, complete with scarves, hip wiggling, sultry glances and cheeky moves:

A landmark on the ex-pat voyage!

I remember, when we first moved from the UK to the U.S, I felt it was a real sign that we had truly arrived the first time I bumped into someone I recognized in the grocery store. I remember all the details, it was QFC on the Pine Lake Plaza in Issaquah and the lady was a german lady I had met playing tennis. I'm not sure I ever saw her again but that's not the point!

In San Jose, I'd feel it was a really bad day if I didn't see someone to crash shopping carts with or wave my Starbucks at on the Almaden Expressway's Safeway Plaza.

Well, yesterday I achieved a double hit, here in Bangalore!! First I met a fellow Indus mom at a furniture store, I was looking for a bed - no joy. She bought 4 items of furniture and some towels!! Then at the bookstore I spotted 2 ladies from the 'hood.

Does this mean I feel we belong - no, but it's definitely a mark of passage and seems something worth blogging about!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The $1,000,000 question...............

What does ex-pat Helen do with her days?
So a typical day - well, I don't really think I have got as far as a "typical day" yet but this is what I did yesterday.

Each day starts with a scramble to throw on some clothes and get the kids to the bus stop for 7.30am. Not as bad as it sounds as they have breakfast at school. Ads wears his formals (which he won't let me take a pic of) - but consist of pants, a regulation brown belt, short sleeve shirt, tie, regulation socks and the most revolting brown lace up shoes you can imagine - 3 days a week. Once I have waved the kids (well Wills - Ads has forgotten my existence once he has even one horrific brown shoe on the bus) on their way, all is quiet.

When I get home I find Simon pacing and no driver. We later get a text from Kathik saying "the happiness he had the day before had all gone when he woke this morning, and he will call with details later." Very cryptic but transpires to mean that sadly his wife has had a miscarriage and they are at the hospital. Simon takes a deep breath and the car keys and drives into the jungle of aimless cows, jumping pedestrians, dodging auto ricks, overcrowded, underhelmetted motorbikes - which make the morning drive to work all the more exciting.

I then walk to the club house to join other Indian, French & Canadian ladies to "shake it with Mogli"
Our aerobics instructor is gorgeous - just like a twenty-something Mogli. He arrives on his motorbike - his helmet on his arm and his black hair blowing in the breeze. He then leads us in a mix of aerobics and Bollywood. As we try to emulate his flexibility, moves and rhythm he is never with out a smile (or maybe he's just laughing at us!!).

Then, I walk home and contemplate my driverless state. Feeling adventurous and buoyed up by a cup of chai (thanks Sweetie!) I head out of the 'hood and grab an auto rick.
We bounce and shudder to the Leela Palace for the Overseas Women's Club weekly coffee morning, which is a hive of female activity and chatter. For us womenfolk landing in Bangalore, once our husbands are settled at work, the kids at school and we have a roof over our heads we need friends, solidarity in our plight, help and reassurance from the more experienced, and things to do on a daily basis.
First thing to do on entering the room of a thousand female faces all in chat mode is to spot a familiar face. This I managed. So having thought I was driverless and confined to barracks, I am soon driving with a new friend (I hope!) to Commercial road - for shopping! Such are the ups and downs of life as an ex-pat in this wonderful exotic country.
 Commercial Road is a bustle - the Indians like to shop. We go into a myriad of different shops with plentiful arrays of splendid colors, patterns and fabric - spend some money (not too much I hasten to add -Simon might read this!!) and ear mark some stores worthy of a second visit. Although a lot of women wear all western clothes, I feel more comfortable in a tunic and jeans/leggings - or maybe thats just an excuse to shop!!

Home in time for another cup of chai and then the sight of the yellow Indus bus number 3B rolling down the street. The kids jump off, come into the house for a snack and then disappear to the club house to play and I head out for a game of badminton - which I play with more enthusiasm than skill. I need to remember my tennis two handed back hand is a no-go on the baddy court!!
What will tomorrow bring? 

Monday, January 10, 2011

A "Wonderla" Indian Amusement park - same or different to the U.S?

Welcome to Wonderla!! - Wills' 6th birthday treat.
As expected lots of water and lots of thrills (again - I took the behind the camera stance for the day!)
Water was clean and warm - solar heated! Ads, especially, was happy to see the solar heating. In a country with no apparent re-cycling, lots of pollution etc - this gave him a glimmer of hope.
Ads and Pranav took to the skies upside down and their stomachs I'm sure inside out! - but they wanted to do it all again!
Plenty of differences as well. The food for one - real Indian fare (not the best) but cooked there and then - and yes for the less adventurous toasted sandwiches and fries (but still cooked in front of us) and I won't tell you what it cost to feed the 5 of us!
Big discrepancy between the "in the water" attire of the ladies and the guys...
Copyright Helen Towers 2010
Look at these beautiful school girls in the wave pool in their uniforms and the ladies to the left in their rich blue saris. Yes, all fully clothed in the water. But the guys - why is it the ones that really shouldn't are the ones in the skimpy speedos? I did take some pics but couldn't bring myself to post! 
What do the life guards carry to protect themselves from the sun?
A standard issue black umbrella - sensible idea? When I was lubing up Simon & Ads, to protect them from the sun, lots of Indian kids came up and asked for some sunscreen and proceeded to rub it on - not sure if they really knew what it was for or they were following  the "mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the palest of them all?" In the stores here the "whitening/lightening" skin creams are as prevalent as the anti-aging ones in the U.S. Our new game, when looking for each other in a crowd, or in one of my pics is a spin off of "Finding Waldo" - "Finding the White Wones!"
We had a great day, the unbridled happiness and smiles of the Indians at play is infectious! Even the groups of teenagers/youths/young people have an unrestrained "joie de vivre"

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The flexible speeding ticket and the protection of stray dogs!

Yesterday Karthik and I were on a mission to get curtains (well he was driving and I was shopping!) when we got pulled over by the police. Amazingly the traffic was so light that it was feasible to be caught speeding - a very rare occurrence to be able to get anywhere near the speed limit driving in Bangalore!

The police guy comes over smiling and he sends Karthik, who is also still smiling and totally unfazed, to the police car behind us. I have absolutely no idea what is happening/going to happen at this point and am still sitting in the car. Karthik then returns to my window and said he thinks he'll need 100 rupees (like $2.50). I ask him if this is the fine.

"No madam. The fine is 300 rupees but as I was only 7 km over the speed limit, I think it is worth only 100 rupees"..... and off he trots back to the police car with 100 rupees.

As we drive off I ask - so the fine is negotiable? Karthik smiles - "No madam it is not negotiating - it is talking.........and also I gave the constable 50 rupees" (Maybe that also was talking...)

Later, I went to a meeting convened in our neighborhood to deal with the issue of aggressive stray dogs infiltrating the 'hood. There are literally thousands and thousands of stray dogs in Bangalore, it is a real problem. As they get plenty of food from the ample supplies of trash, they seem in the most part pretty healthy and have plenty of energy to procreate very efficiently.

You would think a couple of stray dogs in the 'hood would be an easy issue to deal with but no!! Firstly in Bangalore, as in the rest of the world, there are staunch, vocal, animal lovers, and consequently no dog, even rabid and aggressive, can be euthanized, or even relocated. Yes, it is even illegal to relocate a stray (which means homeless?) dog. They can however be sterilized, but first you have to catch them - not something I am volunteering for! They will then be collected and snipped but then released in the same place!

Apparently last time there was a stray dog issue in the 'hood, pressure was put on the management, and the dog "mysteriously" disappeared. Maybe that is the way to go!!

If you google 'stray dogs Bangalore' (yes - I have too much time on my hands!!), there's a sea - no ocean - of discussions, newspaper articles, complaints, police memorandums etc.etc. and there are no bigger issues to deal with?!?!?!!?

Crazy, wonderful world we live in!!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Best excuse I've ever heard!!

"Sir, little late sir, a cow charged into my motor bike".

Firstly - Indians like to please - so "little" here meant 2 days!

Secondly -this is entirely plausible! - Karthik, our driver comes to work on his motor bike and there are numerous sacred cows on the roads some of whom are a trifle aggressive.

Karthik is our fount of knowledge and wisdom here in Bangalore - he seems to know short cuts through the maize of streets here, answers our probably seemingly obvious questions about life here without bursting into laughter or rolling his eyes and when his duties have extended beyond the roads to the go-cart course has maintained his cool!
Wills was too young to drive here by himself and I thought I (and Wills too) would be safer if I stayed behind the camera lens!

Simon has driven the car - his maiden voyage was a tad timid but now he uses his horn like a native (horn means I'm coming thro' - make room or.....) Apparently the golden rule is to look ahead as if blinkered and leave the back of the car for the other users of the road to worry about.

Luckily for Karthik, Simon added the first little mark of life to our new vehicle - had a little issue reversing.  Yes - we have graduated from our Volvo wagon to an SUV - not sure about this as a positive move but definitely as a passenger its a lot more comfortable!

Who was in Cubbon Park on New Years Day?

Well we were, with our modest picnic, together with lots of other families all with bigger picnics, huge family groups and their best clothes - all to celebrate the New Year. The Indians sure know how to picnic! This little girl was so gorgeous in her party best!
The family groups came equipped for all eventualities and entertainment. For anyone who thought sari's are restrictive - not at all - anyone for badminton?
Then, again the contrasts of this amazing country - the old and the young, the lovers and the lonely, the poor and the not so - rubbing shoulders or at least under the same photo lens!
And the park itself is a huge refuge in the centre of Bangalore - away from the traffic and the chaos - but the realities of life are never far away - lurking behind every seemingly calm bamboo tree are the goods, bads, beautifuls and uglies of life - This is INDIA!!

If you're buying......everyone is selling!

We spent New Years Day at Cubbon Park in central Bangalore. The vendors were out in force. This wonderful old guy, such a character, was selling Indian snacks which he mixed on demand from the behl and spices in the bowls in his basket.
I couldn't resist taking lots of pics of him as he moved around the park touting his wares. If it wasn't for the zoom lens on my camera I'm sure he'd have thought I was stalking him!
Yes- everyone was selling from the old to the young. How old is this balloon salesman?
This was to me the tastiest looking snack......the roasted corn looked and smelled very yummy.

Sadly, Adam elected to go for the tried, tested and most unhealthy!!