Posts Tagged ‘Hindu’

Enfield Puja Mojo

Before we started riding the Enfield for real, we took some local advice and brought it around to the nearest Hindu temple for a puja. This is very common here; people bring bicycles and motorcycles to the temple all the time for a ritual blessing. Given the traffic and driving conditions here, we’ll take any advantage we can get.

The temple holy man had us park the machine in the proper spot, and purchase some flowers, floral garlands, coconuts and limes from a nearby vendor. He lit a spoonful of something on fire and wafted the smoke about the bike; we warmed our hands over the flame and then placed our hands over our hearts. Then, chanting all the while, he strung the garlands onto the front of the bike, and made various marks on the bike’s frame with kumkum. He placed the limes underneath the front wheel and instructed me to run them over, while he continued chanting.

Finally, he blessed us, placed a lotus blossom over the speedometer, and sent us on our way, with his business card and a request that we e-mail him the photos we had been taking throughout.

True: On the way home, we ran out of gas…

Happy Ugadi !

Today is Ugadi, which ushers in the New Year, but only for Hindus in two of the thirty-two Indian states: Karnataka and Utter Pradesh. There are more than 30 different versions of the New Year in this country – I’m not sure that even Indians can keep track of them all. All week we’ve been trying to gauge the importance of the holiday through our filter of Christmas? Easter? Thanksgiving? Presidents Day? But like most of India, it falls outside any familiar reference point.
We got up this morning and the front of house was decorated with flower garlands and colorful chalk drawings. Our maid/cook/helper/nanny, Rathnama, brought me into her quarters to show me the sweet bread she was cooking for the celebration.

This was the first time I’d seen her living space. It was smaller than any of the other rooms in this obscene villa we’re renting here in Bangalore, including most of the bathrooms.

Normally when the guilt of good fortune kicks up I can quell it quite easily with a stiff dose of gallows humor, but there in that tiny room with Rathnama, her husband, her niece, nephew, and their baby all sitting on the floor preparing for the festivities, there wasn’t room for anything, least of all the bad jokes that would usually be darting though my head.

I smiled and kissed babies and tasted the treats, and wished them all a happy Ugadi; then, despondent, I climbed three floors to my air conditioned bedroom, slipped back into bed and spent the next two hours trying to sleep off my white guilt.

To be here as an American it is impossible not to feel the accident of your fortune. Technically, I have nothing, but I was lucky enough to be born in a place where my nothing is worth a lot more than their nothing. I’m guessing that in Ugadi, as in most significant celebrations, there is an element of reflection involved; and today I did little else.

Holy Guys Not So Holy

After a crazy trip through the market we went to what we thought was a safer bet: a nearby Hindu temple. One by one, we paid our respects to a large number of the vast array of Hindu gods, and made a small to less-than-small “donation” at each station. The picture above shows one of the holy men at a station belonging to the god in the background. On our way out of the temple, we were approached by a pair of women, who had been making their own worship rituals here, and wanted to speak with us in private. They told us, in very hushed tones: “If you want to give money, please do; there is a box outside the temple for that. But you should not give money to the men in the temple, they just steal from you.” I guess religion is the same all over :)

Would You Like Buttermilk With That Order?

Food is the big problem. It’s not Indian food in general, it’s the specific meals. Breakfast is served at our sort-of hotel. Every day there are new horrors under the promising stainless steel domes. One day there are bright yellow pancakes, watermelon, and vegetable stew. The next day there is yellow dal, puffy white things, and something they call French toast. I’m learning to like it.

At work, Phil’s lunchtime choices at the Adobe cafeteria are limited to “pots of mush,” while mine involve roaming the streets until I find something I recognize as food and pray to the 330,000 Hindu gods that it won’t make me sick.

Tonight we decided to call out for food so we could hide from the world and watch bad movies like good little Americans. It took me half an hour and two trips down to reception to figure out how to dial the phone. When the restaurant finally answered things only got worse.

Everyone in India speaks English. We heard this over and over while preparing for our trip. Everyone here does NOT speak English. No. Not at all.

There are 1652 different languages in India, and 350 of those are considered major languages. English and Hindi are the official languages, and how they communicate with each other. The accents are thick, and the words sound like rubber balls bouncing down stairs. Our communication barrier is compounded by the fact that these other languages are written in the squiggly alphabet, making it impossible to take an educated stab at pronunciation.

After resorting to a fake Indian accent by putting the em-PHA-sis on awkward syl-LA-bles and popping my P’s and T’s, I managed to give our address, phone number and place our order, I hoped.

Time ticked by and no food arrived. Since beginning work in India, Phil has been going in to an office every day; for the past ten years or more he has worked mostly from home. This is a big shift; by Friday evening he hates everybody and everything. He is hungry. He wants food and a Coke – not too much to ask.

Eventually the food arrives, but there is no Coke, and the order had somehow mutated from butter chicken and butter naan, to butter chicken and buttermilk. “WTF… who orders buttermilk with their chicken?” Phil railed.

I am determined to find it impossible to be frustrated with people for not speaking my language, when I am in their country making no attempt to speak theirs. Phil is too hungry to refuse not to get upset. I dump the buttermilk in the sink, have a few bites of butter chicken and wait for breakfast.