In 6 hours we leave for the airport. It’s been a long couple of weeks of tearful goodbyes, endless meals and gifted sweets, and truly suprising kindnesses. We are ready to go home, but we will miss all our friends and neighbors here. Last night we enjoyed our last nightride on the Enfields. The new owners of each will come this morning to take them to new homes :)
So we are headed to the airport… but we are not home yet! We have unfinished business with the beaurocratic stuff around transporting our Darjeeling street cur; it is not at all a given that she will make it home. The double-talk and mind-crushingly Byzantine procedures around international dog-shipping from here may defeat us, we do not know. The worst case is pretty damned grim.
We go from here to Delhi, where we will arrive tonight, and in the morning we leave by car for Agra and the Taj Mahal. Rumor has it there is a retirement village for dancing bears out that way, so we may have to stop…
Sunday we come back from the Taj, and in the wee hours of Monday morning, we board Emirates are for the first leg of the flight home, stopping over in Dubai. But still we are delayed: due to the dog (if she makes it that far), we must lay over for longer than 6 hours, per Emirates rules; and there is only one flight a day, so that really means 24 hours. So we board Emirates again for the final leg on Tuesday morning, to arrive in San Francisco sometime on Tuesday.
Gonna stop at Pancho’s on Polk Street and Kiji on Guererro immediately. After that we are turning on the invisibility cloak for a couple of weeks.
See you soon :)
Yeah, it’s bittersweet. Cliché, but true. We are seriously going to miss India; at the same time, we will be happy to come back to the States.
There were so many more essays and photos we wanted to post here… every day brought innumerable new stories, images, what-the-fuck moments and revelations… Proustian nano-moments :) Well, we did what we could – a kind of brute force triage – posting what time would allow, and what would not be stifled :)
Given that coming home is also a part of this adventure, what with adjustments and re-entry issues, I think we are going to keep this blog going for some time, and continue to backfill photos and write new essays chronicling our return home and experiences settling in.
So please do keep coming back, as the journey will not be over for a long time yet !
This is Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, a major hero to the underclasses here. His figure can be seen anywhere the Dalit classes congragate: portraits, statues, signs, poojas, parks and plaques. He was the first of the Dalit castes to obtain higher education, earning law degrees and multiple doctorates from Columbia University and the London School of Economics. By the time he died in 1956, he had spent a lifetime fighting against the caste system here, evangelizing Hindus to move to Buddhism, and architecting the very first Indian constitution.
This particular representation of Dr. Ambedkar has been painted on a wall along Bannerghatta Road, a main artery through the city here in Bangalore. Every time we pass by, I have been struck by the unusually articulate style, the gorgeous blue, and the fact that the style for some reason kind of reminds me of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine…!
Click on the image to step back and view from a distance.
I pull around the corner and launch myself into traffic, barely looking to see what I already know is coming at me: a bus, three tuk-tuks, a scooter carrying a family of four, and another scooter with a giant bundle of laundry that the driver is reaching over to steer.
It’s usually best to just focus on the spaces inbetween these things up ahead, and trust that the people behind are doing the same.
In front of me is a blue and white city bus, full to sardine capacity. Without warning, a yellow and black tuk-tuk slips inbetween the bus and me; I swerve, push ahead, and slide back in front of him. A half-block open stretch is pure freedom, with the warm wind and showers of leaves falling from the overhanging trees.
The traffic stops, and I dive into the two-foot wide space between the bus and the cars. I have to tip the bike to the left to avoid the metal rebar that is hanging off the back of an oxcart. A young boy sits on the other end of the pile of metal, piloting two grey beasts whose horns are painted blue and capped with little bronze cones. A stream of scooters and motorcycles crowds in behind me, and we all wait, breathing the billowing exhaust while waiting for the light to turn green.
When we first arrived in Bangalore, and suffered through our first cross-town drive in the back of a taxi, our brains nearly exploded. After twenty minutes, I laid my head on Phil’s lap so I wouldn’t have to watch.
Indian roads, and Bangalore roads in particular, are like a life-and-death video game: anyone, or anything, can come at you from any direction, at any time, for any reason – car, bus, motorcycle, camel, scooter, ox-cart, bicycle, cow, goat, old women, young men, pony carts, monkeys. You must be ready to steer or swerve around them, accelerate, or slam on your brakes at any second. At night it just gets worse because a quarter of the people drive without their lights on, and the other three-quarters drive with their brights on, ensuring that everyone is periodically blinded.
The other hazards (apart from the traffic, the animals, and the people) are the roads themselves. Some sections are smooth and paved, while others are dirt and gravel; most have large random holes where unmarked roadwork is, or was, or might be, taking place. Piles of sand and bricks from construction projects spill out and cover parts of the roadway throughout Bangalore. There are frequent, randomly placed, speed bumps.
We hadn’t planned on learning how to ride motorcycles in India, but Phil fell in love with the Enfields, and I fell out of love with having to depend on a driver. Phil learned to drive the Machismo with me on the back, between 10 p.m. and midnight – the hours between when most Indians go to sleep and when the dogs claim the streets.
We rode through the outskirts, through villages quickly being absorbed by the city, on roads that disappeared into dirt track, while being chased by ragtag packs of feral dogs.
The bike was old, unreliable, and difficult to start. It abandoned us over and over, leaving us in sleepy alleys, surrounded by dogs, and on deserted country roads, surrounded by dogs. We would walk towards civilization with sticks and handfuls of rocks for protection, hopping up and down and shouting when a tuk-tuk rolled by. Then we’d attempt to explain to the driver, with no common language, how to get to our house, while having no idea where we even were.
One Sunday afternoon drive turned into an epic two-day adventure, when the bike’s engine exploded oil all over the highway. We were welcomed into a tiny village by a committee of about 30 children who gave us a house-to-house tour while the mechanic repaired the bike well enough to get us to the next village. In that village we found another Enfield mechanic who finished off the repair. By then it was late, so we found a hotel, spent the night, and the next day we had the most stunningly gorgeous drive back to Bangalore, on a road we would have never found without our mishap.
These breakdowns and mishaps were as entertaining as anything we had set out to do purposefully. Landing in random places has shown us more of India than we would ever have seen otherwise, and the hospitality we were greeted with over and over again made both of us feel quite comfortable launching ourselves into unknown territory, with unreliable transportation.
One afternoon, we took the old Bull to a local mechanic to repair a small oil leak. When Phil went to pick it up after work, the bike was in a thousand little pieces, and, according to the mechanic, who by now we were certain was crooked, absolutely everything was wrong with it. One week and a couple of hundred U.S. dollars later, Phil retrieved the bike, and that very night it died on us once again, next to a field of blue tarp tents and camels, and the requisite pack of wild dogs.
By now the thrill of the unknown was getting in the way of Phil getting to work, and we decided to stop pushing our luck: our plan was to sell the old Machismo, and drop the cash for a brand new Thunderbird for our final six months in India, and then sell that before we headed back home. But before we could sell the first one, our regular mechanic insisted on having one more go: he rebuilt the engine, top to bottom, cursing the previous mechanic under his breath the whole time.
This time, the old Machismo started easily, and ran like a dream.
In the meantime, I learned to ride the new bike. A shiny red Enfield Thunderbird Twin Spark. For days I just looked at it, terrified to try. It looked bad-ass and menacing, with these low-slung curves and more metal that I was sure I could be in charge of. But I knew that if I could learn to drive it, I would have freedom. The kind of freedom that isn’t available when people have made it their duty to take care of you. By this point I was sick to death of being the expat white lady in the back of a car with tinted windows, and my relationship with our driver, Mustaq, had become strained. I dreaded even having to go grocery shopping, or to go anywhere the required a car to get me there.
Phil gave me a nudge and a few lessons on a quiet street.
I took to it easily. Surprisingly easily, as if I’d been riding my whole life. It felt like a cross between a bicycle and the unruly horse I used to ride when I was a teen. It was thrilling. Bangalore was my oyster. Mustaq would no longer be my babysitter. I was free. I was cocky. I crashed. It hurt. I got back on and rode to the hospital. I lay on the couch for a week, and have a nasty scar on my arm.
Carefully and humbly, I began riding again. I followed Phil and learned how to cross a mobbed intersection by tucking in next to something bigger than me, then moving when they moved. I learned to wend my way to the very front of the mob at any red light, then blast out ahead of the traffic before anyone else. I began to see the patterns within the chaos. There were rhythms and agreements. I learned to stare down and honk, and stop quickly, to push forward like I’m trying to get to the stage. I learned to expect that someone is going to be turning right from the far left hand lane, and to not freak out when they did.
Indians, in one sense, are excellent drivers: they aren’t considerate drivers, or safe drivers, but they do seem to be pretty good at not hitting each other. The most amazing thing about India traffic is that no-one gets angry when drivers make bonehead moves. But heaven forbid you actually hurt someone: a few months back a bus driver hit a child on a congested road in Bangalore. Justice was violent and swift:
A mob beat the crap out of the driver and set the bus on fire.
About once a week Phil or I get pulled over by men in uniforms who may, or may not, be traffic police. Two or three of them set up shop on a street and flag drivers down with a stick. Once pulled over, they issue a fine that is based, in our case, on the color of our skin.
“No turn. One thousand rupees, Madam.”
“For what?” I ask. “What did I do?”
“No free turn. Six hundred rupees, Madam.”
“You mean there are actually rules ?” I say, pretty sure I’m talking too fast for him to understand.
“Five hundred rupees, Madam.”
“Are you even a real police officer ?” I chide, leaning over to see if he has two stars on his shoulders.
“Three hundred rupees, Madam, you must pay.”
“You take me to the police station and I’ll pay there,” I say, and smile with a snappy head tilt.
He waves me on with his stick.
Most of the license plates in our area of Bangalore begin with “KAO5.” The “5″ looks like an “S,” making it “KAOS”, which is simply stating the obvious. I should hate all this chaos. I should be terrified, but I’m not. I adore the lawlessness of it. Sliding though the crazy streets, I feel like my childhood hero Evel Knievel. People do stare, even more so than usual: Indian women rarely ride motorcycles, and my white skin is a double shocker. But on the bike I move fast enough and am concentrating hard enough to barely notice.
With us both riding, more and more of our weekends are spent on sojourns outside the city, rolling though idyllic scenery, through small villages, seeing animals and birds, and beautiful lush farmland. The countryside, where 80% of the people live, is where India shines. The insane confusion of the city gives way to an ancient way of life that, aside from the introduction of televisions and cell phones, hasn’t changed in hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The perfumed air is sweet with the mysterious smells of wood and earth, animals and blossoms.
Every trip we make on the bikes that ends after dark is finished off nicely with the double dog dare:
There are two particular wild dogs that lurk at the approach to our street; they know our bikes, and they hear us coming. By the time we get to their hiding place they are in position: they lay in wait until we get close, and then give mad chase, barking ferociously while taking bites out of the air, near our legs.
We laugh and scream like seven-year-olds, and then take another lap just for fun.
[ Thanks to Aman Sagar for the photograph, and to Ranganath Krishnamani for the Kannada script - which, by the way, means: "Awesome bike; awesome girl." ~ Ed. ]
We have just celebrated completing a year of creative work, building the design team here at Adobe in India. We had a week long Summit gathering, bringing our staff from Delhi and Chennai to Bangalore, and we capped the week off with a great overnight trip to Dubare Elephant Park (highly recommended!). For the trip, five of us opted to ride Enfields instead of the bus; great fun, with a great bunch of guys.
Standing, left to right: Ranganath Krishnamani (he designed the poster we are holding!), Sumit Dey, Zinal Patel, myself, Sharan Grandigae, and Prasanna Kumar.
Crouching, left to right: Eugene Jude, Aman Sagar, Sreedhar Ranganathan, Jaydeep Dutta, and Nakul Kumar.