Sunday.  1/24/2010.

J and I spent the day doing some shopping for household items and a scooter for his sis.  She had gone to the beach with friends so we thought we’d get a head start on scooter hunting.  We perused the motorcycle market.  One dealer after another offered us the “white-man” price.  (A price for a commodity much higher than any native would pay).  Why? You ask.  Because to most Indians, white man=money.

With empty hands we cruised home to pick up V.  It would be her job to pick out the scooter of her liking.  At around 6p, we were on our way back to the moto market with sister in tow.  J and V on the bullet.  I, on the scooter.  Traffic at this time of night is always horendous.  It’s stop and go on windy, narrow roads.  Battling buses and cars.  I drowned out the noise of blaring horns with my ipod.  The music is a lifesaver.  The sweet sound of my favorite songs puts me in my own world.  Keeps me calm in the chaos.  This thick traffic makes my hand stab with pain from clutching so much.  I see J flicking his left hand from time to time as well.  He must be feeling the burn too.

We stop at one point to check google maps on the iphone.  Its better to verify your destination then get lost at night in India.  “We have to do a u-turn here,” Jason says.  Since we had stopped along the side-walk, on the left hand side of the road, this meant we had to cross traffic to the median and then continue with our u-turn.  I waited until J started going so it was more likely to be safe.  I revved the engine and followed his lead.  I could see headlights coming towards me on my right, but I knew I had plenty of room to pass.  And even so, a person with common sense would break to let me pass anyways.  No person in their right mind would continue or speed up if they saw a person crossing in front of them on 2 wheels.  I could see a set of headlights out of the right corner of my eye but I thought I had just squeezed by.  Suddenly, I felt the back-end of my scooter being pulled to my right… and right from under me.  Within seconds my scooter and I were slammed onto our left sides.  My helmet cracking against the pavement.  It all happened very fast but I remember thinking, push away from the scooter.  Get out from under it and get away. Like a reflex, I did just that, as fast as I could.  I looked behind me as I stood up to see a van had run me over.  Jason was at my side already.  “Are you ok?!  Who did this?!”  He was yelling at the van and letting loose every four-letter word he could think of.  Intermittently, he kept asking me if I was ok.  A nice Indian boy picked up my scooter to push it off to the side of the road.  V still sat on the back of J’s bike trying to balance it in the middle of traffic.  My toe had spilled blood all over my foot and sandal.  I couldn’t tell if it was a bad cut or not.  I just knew it didn’t hurt.  (Which is a good thing).  My knees hurt and my elbows hurt but a quick mental examination gave me the clear that I was actually ok.  I could walk.  No dislocated knees.  No broken bones.  Only a bleeding toe.

The van drivers never came over to apologize.  Never came over to see if I was ok.  I watched them get into their vehicle and drive away.  I felt my blood boil at that moment.  I was pissed that they would just drive off without any concern for the person they had just scraped across the pavement.  Interrupting J’s “Are you sure you’re ok?”  I spit ever four-letter word I could think of at the deserters.  “I’m fine,” I said to J, “Just pissed more than anything that they purposely hit me.  There is no way that they couldn’t have seen me.  And what sane person would keep going?  Speed up?  And hit a person on a scooter with their van??”  (Yep.  I was yelling this to the heavens.  To the Hindu gods.  In the middle of Indian traffic.  To whoever was listening.  Literally, cursing this country and all of its stupidity, at that moment).  I felt positive, that at some point, this country would be the death of me.

To add to the matter, V had just witnessed this whole ordeal while we were on our way to buy her a scooter, which she would have to drive home tonight, in this traffic.  She was shaken up.  It was pretty obvious.  I put on my tough girl face and we pushed on.

We arrived at the moto-market.  One long road of adjascent 2-wheeler dealers with their merchandise proudly displayed in front of their stalls.  Each dealer’s “store” is about the size of a dorm room.  Just enough space to cram a desk in the back and all their bikes at closing time.  As we walked the line I found myself glancing at my toe repeatedly.  I kept thinking to myself, I wonder how many Indian street germs are infecting my open wound at the moment? I couldn’t wait to get home to bathe my foot in peroxide.  After 40 mins of cruising the market on foot, we had found V’s gem.  A 1998, white, TVS scooty.  No gears.  Electric start.  Easy to operate.  (Slower than shit.  But hey, it works for her).  It even had a “Kiss” sticker faded on the front end.  A hippie mobile for a hippie.

J and I put V in between us as we drove off.  I kept a close eye on V since she’s never driven a scooter before.  It was easy to see she wasn’t quite sure of the balance yet.  I could see her movements weren’t fluid yet.  And it would take her some time to learn to lean.  She did very well after our eventful ride to the market.

We stopped at the Manhattan Bar on our way home.  I was still shaky and needed a beer.  The Manhattan is a rooftop bar that overlooks the city lights.  Its a middle-class place only filled by men.  And it also happens to be the place where I saw a giant rat scurry across the floor last year.  Nevertheless, its a decent place, with cold beer and good eats.  It was a relaxing end to an eventful evening.

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Off the city streets.

I drove off the beaten path.

The scooter and I have an understanding now.  I’m no longer afraid of it laughing at me in its slumber as I try to choke it awake.  Its old and rusty.  But its sturdy and fast.  Starts every time.  I’ve been venturing farther and farther with my scoot scoot because of this new comfort.

I got away from the noise of the city.  Just barely off a busy street.  Its quiet here.  My toes are tickled by sand.  I stand in what must be an old soccer field.  Rusty old goal posts still stand proud, unused.  Vibrant green shrubbery surround this sand field.  Huts poking out from the stubby trees.  Its peaceful here.  I can here the smack of fabric against a rock or tree.  A woman shaking the dampness out of her sari before hanging to dry.  A few cries from children playing in the distance reach my ears.  Little ones, too small for school, since it is only midday.  A man on a bicycle lazily peddles along.  His “cargo” roped behind him.  On his way to make a delivery.  An ancient form of transportation but cheap and reliable nonetheless.

I’m less than a kilometer from my flat.  Happy to have discovered a sanctuary from the urban bustle.  I’m surprised that this precious piece of land hasn’t been inundated yet.  No slum.  No IT buildings.  No push to urbanize.  Why, when land is nabbed and developed so quickly in this growing city?

Cemeteries surround me.  Each surrounded by a cement wall.  Categorized by religion.  Hindu adjacent to Christian.  Muslim adjacent to the latter.  Ancestors resting in their final place.  Moved on to be one with their proper gods.

The air is fresh.  A cool breeze brushes my skin.  No sting in my nostrils from urine, garbage, or otherwise.  I ask myself, How has this place stayed so clean?

Golden Palms Army school lies just down the road.  A giant compound surrounded by a high cement wall.  Shards of glass protruding out from the top.  Keeps the riff-raff out.  The compound, although military, and most likely government funded, still fits the Indian profile.  Maintenance lacks.  The white-wash has been worn away.  Windows dark and thick with grime.  Overgrown landscaping.  The wear of the sun, wind and rain ages the structures.  The buildings are clean enough, I suppose, but by no means meet the standards I would expect from a military school.  This is India.  Standards for infrastructure only hold exceptional levels when coinciding with an IT company.  A foreign company outsourced for cheap labor.  Ebay, Dell, HP, etc.  All stand tall.  Glistening in the sun.  Unique architecture with beautiful landscaping.  Beautiful colored glass reflecting the skies.  They always look alien amongst their native counterparts.

Two little girls peddle a bicycle across the sandy field from me.  Each taking a tun on what must be their greatest form of entertainment.  Their clothes clean but worn.  Possibly the only set of clothes they own.  The girls are barefoot.  Common for lower castes in India.  Shoes aren’t a requirement in this country.  And nobody looks twice at an employee in a shoe store whose barefoot.  I wouldn’t dare journey into the streets of India with unprotected toes.  Its anyone’s guess what lies in the filth and puddles which natives walk through.  But those two little girls are happy.  Unaware of the giant world around them.  This is their world and will be their world until they pass on and join their gods in the appropriate cemetery across the way.  The little girls have what they have and that’s just that.  Nothing more, nothing less.

I’m lucky to know where I come from.  And even more lucky to know what this side of the world is like as well.  Its a contradiction and yet a parallel.  Its inspiration to strive for more.  And its a thought provoker.  If the population keeps growing at such an alarming rate, in this country, and people continue to live in the manner that they do.  No proper sewage or rubbish disposal.  What will this side of the world look like in 5-10 years?  And the people that I know, back home, in that tiny mid-western town, may not be affected at the moment.  But its inevitable.  Eventually, they will.

I fumbled through hand gestures and broken English to acquire the rooftop key from our apartment security guard.  Val and I poked pinholes into cardboard pieces.  These contraptions would act as our “viewfinders.”  Going to the rooftop, this time, wouldn’t involve jumping a ten foot wall and clambering through a window.  Thank god!  A key would ensure an easy entry.

We stood there and watched as the moon appeared as just a sliver, at first, until it was a full eclipse.  A partially cloudy day was a blessing in disguise.  The clouds acted as a filter, making the strain on our eyes less severe.  This is what we saw.

Bangalore Int'l

Rummaging through the millions of photos I have from India I ran across this one.  It was taken in Bangalore this past October.  J had flown me out (commercially), to meet up with him, for a few days of R & R in a quaint hotel.  (Perks of the job).

Just before we took off I had the co-pilot snap a pic.  It’s one of my favorites.  It captures us perfectly.  J, looking quite professional, in front of his flying machine.  And I, a bit smug, I must admit, because I was being chartered home by my own personal pilot.  I remember looking out the window thinking, Life is good.  And I’m the luckiest girl in the world right now.

El Cspitan, hehe.

I looked at J, in the cockpit, and my heart burst with pride.

I thought to myself, Today is a good day.  No.  Today is a beautiful day.

Moments like this make all the stress, strife, and difficulty of living in India, worth it.

It may be Pongal for the Indians but its a holiday for me as well.  Its national miss your family ridiculously day….. I miss you guys!!

“The first annular solar eclipse to be seen from India in 45 years will occur this Friday.”  How exciting!  For exactly 10 mins 7 secs this phenomenon will be visible, starting from Africa, crossing the Indian ocean and ending at the Shandong Penninsula in China.  The next one to be seen isn’t until December 2019.  A rare event and a sweet experience for us expats here in India.  J, Val, and I will be standing on our rooftop at 1:17pm to lay eyes on this celestial event.  I’m excited!

Death by rickshaw.  Ahh!  This article brought me straight back to Lucknow, when our rickshaw damn near rolled over on top of us. 

Death by bus is my biggest fear in this country.  And how appropriate that today, while on my way home, from grocery shopping, the inevitable almost happened.  As I was cruising down the road, in fourth gear, on my handy-dandy scoot, a coach-style bus (used by most colleges to transport students), dead stopped in front of me.  I know that my scoot is sensitive to quick braking so I tried my mightiest to ease my foot down on the brake.  But with my scoot full of groceries and the slick oil easily observable on the pavement I wasn’t stopping fast enough.  I slammed harder, knowing full well that my back tire was going to lock up and slide on that slick pavement.  All I needed was to to avoid slamming into the back end of that gigantic monstrosity in front of me.  If I could just push down a little… bit… harder… As I was already aware, my back end started to slide out from under me.  I used whatever cat-like reflexes I had to balance that rusty old bucket and managed to 1) stop with just inches between my nose and that big box of metal and 2) keep my scoot-scoot upright and ready to rock-n-roll.  With a huuuuuuuge sigh of relief, I popped it into 1st gear and weaved around that crazy bus. 

My motto as a driver, in this country is:  be faster than everyone else.  🙂  If I’m ahead of all the idiot drivers here then I don’t have to worry about running into them when they make stupid mistakes, such as said bus.  Let me clarify by saying, there are no emission standards in this country, no laws requiring brake lights, no turn signals or the like.  The only thing that seems to function on every single indian moto-mobile is the horn.  Oh, and the Indian drivers use the horn constantly!  I have to remind myself to use my horn (consequence of being brought up in a country that utilizes such sparingly and only in an emergency).  I suppose its safe to justify the cause by saying every second driving in this country is warranted as an emergency. 

As a side note, I must say that there are far too many unlucky ones here when it comes to meeting a bus.  Not even two weeks after I’d been here I’d witnessed a motorcyclist hit and killed by a bus.  Yikes!  For a while there, J and I were seeing, on average, 1 dead person every two weeks.  Not necessarily all by bus, but dead nonetheless. 

So, how ironic that I would come home from my shopping venture and read in today’s paper how one unlucky little girl was killed, not only by a bus, but while riding in a rickshaw.  Thank you Times of India for extending my fear of buses not only to when I’m behind the wheel but also to when I’m a passanger in a rickshaw.