Tag Archives: India

Don’t drink the water – on your first day back!

Being sick in a different land has its own challenges.  A wretched persistent UTI coupled with a dose of Hubli well water runs.. mmm.

Sometimes I am glad of the medical world.  Despite my gung ho attitude about all things pharmaceutical at most times.  Tonight after a day of being pretty much flat on my bed, Umesh – our young accountant from SRDS (where I am working) organised a trip to the Dr for me.  First, he took a token – Number 30 – at the doctor’s clinic around the corner.  The one who’s office waiting room is always overflowing.  An hour later he went back to see how things were progressing. There had been no progress and the Doctor, in fact, had not arrived as yet.  The crowd was even greater than usual.  “Come back at 9,” they said (it was 6.30) so he traipsed to 4 other clinics in the area – all were either not there or similarly packed.

“Ah but let’s try Dr Nayan the lady doctor.”

We hopped on the bike – me a little gingerly – tucking my long Indian style overshirt up so as not to get caught in the wheels and set off in search of this highly recommended lady doctor.

The waiting room was lit by a bright light – two rows of plastic chairs facing each other.  A drug company calendar on the wall, a big notice pinned to the door warning of the dangers of breast cancer.  And a small tasteful drawing of a lady holding a baby gently – with a sign which said “Save The Girl Child”.

After some time the door opened and a pretty woman in a bright sari – Ashwini – ushered me into the Doctor’s office.

Dr Nayan was a gem.  An older lady who had been practicing in that tiny clinic for 32 years.  She questioned me with interest about my purpose here – congratulated me on doing the work ‘at my age’  and gave me a thorough examination on her narrow bench.

Toward the end her husband arrived – (a Pediatric Doctor) we were duly introduced and he expressed great interest in our work of rainwater harvesting.  I should have given him a card – sometimes we forget simple connections like that.

Duly laden with pills and potions in a nice enviro bag I paid Dr Nayan the huge sum of
Rs 410 – less than $10 for a consultation that I was entirely satisfied with.  She has made a fan.  I know where I shall go if I need a doctor another time.

We rode back home – bananas and curd (yogurt) for dinner followed by my first dose of pills.

Work fast please – I have work to do.  And yes right now it is time to rest.

(Update two days later.. better.. rested.. ready for work tomorrow.)

What I saw on my way to the Wine shop

Tonight is Saturday. . being a well trained Westerner I decided perhaps tonight was the night to enjoy some wine. Those of you who know me well .. also know I appreciate a good red. That’s not so easy to get here in India and requires some intrepid adventuring to arrive at the wine shop.

Quite why it is named the ‘wine shop’ I am unsure.. but that comes a little later in this tale.

It is past sunset .. and the last light is fading as I leave my room in the ‘Scholar House” in the BVB Engineering Campus.. a sprawling campus.. of many buildings and hundreds of students.. the Deshpande Foundation where our office is located forms part of this campus.

As I traverse the way to the main gate I am surprised tonight as there are heaps of labourers scattered all over the place in the fading light cleaning up the gardens, cutting, scraping, digging and even sitting on the roadside painstakingly clearing the weeds from the paved road.
Perhaps a special occasion is on the way.. there are lots of them.. so it will be no surprise. But this seems to be a concerted effort to get the place tidied up in one fell swoop.

I reach the main gate – and here the cacophany really begins.. cars, buses, motorbikes, pushbikes pedestrians .. and down the road a herd of cows. I cross… there is a speed hump just up the main road.. for those in the know it means the vehicles have to slow down so there is time to cross even if it appears they are bearing down on you at a great rate. That’s half way across.. and next is to make it to the other side.. I manage.. I am relatively safe for the moment.. ah here are the cows.. a bit of wide berth is required.. you never quite know when they will toss their head.. if you are in the way – its not advised.

Its been raining today so the road has lots of puddles and its muddy. Another set of obstacles to discern and avoid and of course the cow dung cleverly disguised as small piles of mud.

Now I have reached the back road. .. and here are all the many evening food stalls.. selling anything from chicken biryani to bhel puri to dosas and goodness knows what else. They are doing a roaring trade as the evening traffic passes.

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I have a destination in mind.. there is a small shop on the way that sells things I like.. such as curd (yogurt) in a plastic bag. .. not my favourite way of buying it but its easily available like that.. and a particularly good toothpaste made by a great Ayurvedic company called Patanjali. Even the toothpaste has the name of a saintly enlightened Being on the box. How can you go wrong?

I buy some incense (agarbatti) that turns out to be not to my taste.. – some cracker biscuits – they are found to be quite good and the curd which sits creating a wet spot in my shopping bag. They know me now in that shop… I like to go places I am known.. it helps the stress of being stared at all the way everywhere.

And on up the road – soon to reach the ‘wine shop’. Now here is a challenge. Wine shops are most certainy not frequented by ladies in India. So it is really running the gauntlet to enter. .. I head to the most unoccupied spot on the counter.. and the man tells me: “Yes red wine – other side.” Luckily I am a foreigner and despite the crowd of now staring men, I get served straight away.

After all its not every day an older foreign lady enters the sacrosanct wine shop on her own at night!! The man produces first a bottle of white wine.. “No I want red” I say.. then comes a bottle of port.. “mmm not right sorry.. it looks like that but that is not wine.”

“Oh” he says and out come two small bottles of very dodgy looking pink stuff… “Oh dear .. that’s it?”
“Yes” he says. OK I give up .. “I shall have a small bottle of vodka please.”

and I pay and scurry out.

Made it.. and along the way there is a juice shop. I am heading for a fresh orange.. “Pack please to take away”.. when a motor bike pulls up beside me with two quite okay looking men on it.. “Madam do you need help?” the front guy says.. “No thank you I am OK” I say.. “Oh Madam you are safe.. Hubli is a safe place but if you ever need anything you can call me”.. “Oh thank you” I reply and I begin to walk away.. “Oh madam don’t you want to take my phone number?”…. “No thank you-  I am perfectly fine.. good night.”

and on to the orange juice shop.

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The adventures of an evening in Hubli are a little different from a stroll to the corner store in Perth. I hope this small tale inspires you to venture into other lands.. the rewards are often unusual and can shift your point of view in just a moment.

Where People Smile from Their Hearts

Landing in India late in the evening – as usual the Passport Control guys were a bit grumpy and authoratative.. but that’s their job.  I didn’t have the exact address of where I was going so that caused a little “humphy-ness”.. but once that was over – all else was easy.

Yes I got ripped off.. or should I say I allowed myself to be ripped off by the taxi tout outside the airport.. and probably paid at least $10 more than I should have for the ride to the hotel.  The driver had an ancient car, had no fuel and we had to queue at the gas station  and he got lost.. ha!  so what.. we drove a little.. and saw the sights .. not that they were so attractive in the industrial messiness of the airport area.. but finally we found the bright lights of the Orange Suites Airport Transit Stay buried in the back tracks and he dropped me off.

I paid him less the toll fees – that had remained unmentioned .. “Oh madam I am a poor man” he said with a smile…. “yes” I said .. “I know .. but I will be a poor woman if I pay you all you ask!!” and off he went laughing.

And into the hotel.. 5 ‘boys’ waiting for the luggage..

The one who escorts me up in the lift wearing a bright blue T shirt that just makes him look like an Adonis .. I compliment him on the colour and his face lights up like a gem..

Oh the place of the easy smiles that come with the heart.. this is India.. I do so love this land of crazy intensity – noise, dirt smells, garbage and people that grab your heart and expand it to encompass the world.

And my hotel.. oh lucky me.. I scored a good one.. its a one star trying hard and succeeding to be a 3 star.. a hairdryer no less!!  and clean .. AC and a fan.. hot water.. what more can a girl want for only $24!

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In Search of Dinner

A walk down the road in search of where I may eat tonight:

I leave my house where I am living, down the dusty staircase to collect my ‘chappals’ (sandals) at the entrance – yes they will last another day I hope – the shoe repair man did a good job but really they are on their last legs.

Shoe repair man
and out the squeaky gate. The street I live in is a dirt road, lined with double story houses, dogs in the street – one is becoming my friend, but tonight she is more interested in another dog and doesn’t say hello.

As I come to the end of the street by the hospital, more people are walking – a group of young men casting their curious eyes at me as always in this city where there are not too many foriegners and I am worth a look. That rather strange looking old westerner.. ‘what is she doing here?’
And on down the busy side road – motorbikes in dozens, auto rickshaws, and the occasional car.. oh here by the side in the rubbish dump someone has dumped something that the buffalo like.. as I came past earlier there were a herd of cows there, but they have been replaced by the big horned dark grey beasts – a whole group of them. and no this is not rural India .. this is the city of Hubli.
I walk on crossing to the side of the road where I have my back to the oncoming traffic – this is the correct side to walk on in this land – they have to avoid me on this side.. ah I am being greeted by two young men.. ‘Hello Mam’ .. I know that I know them .. but who?  ‘The resaurant is closed to tonight’.. ah the boys from the kitchen of my favourite dinner place.. good to know as I was half planning to go there.

And on up the street.

I am headed to the ‘supermarket’ a place I haven’t been before to check it out and see if there is something there I might like to buy.
There are a myriad of possibilities of places to eat on the way .. ranging from ‘Bombay Chinese Fast Food’ carts – to pop up ‘hotels’ that look pretty good serving biryani but with chicken and I am not too big on ‘non-veg’ these days.

I have avoided being run over, managed not to walk in cow dung tonight, crossed the street three times, and arrived at the ‘supermarket’.  Its a bit of a disappointment really .. certainly not your ‘Dorabjees” the fancy Western stocked place in Pune – but I buy some tomatoes for a ‘salad’ fix, some washing powder and yogurt for breakfast and escape back onto the street again. Prefer the small family grocer shops so won’t bother with that again.
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Now for the ‘wine shop’. They are getting to know me even though I have only been here twice before! They don’t even ask what I would like – but produce my preferred red .. it looks like it has aged on the shelf – totally dusty – a vintage bottle I’d say! They call them ‘wine shops’ but everything is wine here.. including the nasty little bottles of homemade hooch that makes people who drink it lie down in the middle of the street and sleep. Social drinking is not really a thing here and most of the men in the wine shop seem to be here for the serious business of getting drunk. I scurry out pretty quickly – stashing my bottle in my shopping bag.
Now for dinner.. there was a likely spot on the way near the chai shop – time to try somewhere new.
Its a simple place – hot in here.. but they turn the fan on for me after they have got over their surprise at seeing a foreigner in their shop. I order a paneer mutter masala spicy please, with butter roti – Paneer – the white cheese of India with peas and a spicy gravy – and two flat breads to go with it.. it comes and it is delicious – I chose well.  As I go and pay – all for the cost of $2.20 – the son asks me the perennial questions: ‘Where are you from? What are you doing here?  Where do you live?’ and then: ‘How was the taste?’ – ‘Very tasty’ – I reply. ‘I will be back.’ Nice family – a pretty wife preparing vegetables near the door who returns my farewell with a flash of a beautiful smile.

I leave feeling fortunate again – I am so lucky.
Now as I head along the street, a crowd is forming further down  .. and drums and some sort of trumpets are playing .. and now fireworks.. ah a wedding procession.

I go back back past the buffalo, wending my way through the traffic jam created by the  procession, past lots of people – and I realise how fortunate I am that I am not a person who lives in fear.

My essential belief is that as I move through my life with a sense of safety and friendliness that is what surrounds me.

Even as the culture of India dances around me and sets off fireworks that sound like bombs, I feel safe. I am so lucky .. if I was of another nature I would be unable to live as I do – to have the opportunity to experience the heart and soul of this land.
Thanks India, and thank you also to myself for allowing myself to be and continue to learn the ways of this land.

A Day in Mumbai

Mmm feels like coming home now – how interesting is that .. only a short time ago Mumbai felt like a big and strange and impossible to navigate, city of crazy drivers, manic horns, terrible pavements and incongrously majestic buildings stuck between the falling down heritage mansions.  This morning as the overnighter SRS Travels Non AC sleeper bus manoevered its way through the traffic, the ‘sweeper’ or bus boy yelled the stops as we neared the centre of the city.

I felt comfortable .. I knew where I was – I was prepared to get off.. it would be the right stop.  No more nervous indecision about: ‘is this the right place’.. yep Google maps helps but also I am way more familiar with this huge city now than ever before.  It almost feels like home.

After 12 hours on the night bus now for a bit of a trek across the overpass walkways that take you through the highrise slum of Bandra station area  to find my hotel.

IMG_6990-smallWhere slum dwellings are built one on top of the other to a shaky 4 and 5 story height.. and on the other side of the walkway there is a field of brilliant green of ‘palak’ a market garden of spinach in the city.
IMG_6989-smallAnd out the other side of the tracks, and down the stairs into the melee of the bus station.. oops nearly got backed into by the rubbish truck.. no beep beep of backing sound just the banging of the flat of the hand on the truck door to warn unwary wanderers behind the vehicle.

Still not certain of which direction to go.. a helpful Auto rickshaw driver points me in the right way and I negotiate rubbish, broken pavement, myiads of motor bikes, pedestrians, dogs, rickshaws and buses to wend my way up the street.  Its early but very busy.. and there a chai stall with a friendly stool to sit on.. I perch myself and sip the sweet hot milky brew out of a tiny glass.

And there just a little further on is the ‘Rat Hotel’.  No its not really called that.. its just that here is where I did the epic rat rescue so from now on in my mind its the Rat Hotel.  Actually I like it.. a bit of a hole in the wall.. the people are friendly.. they remember me.. they take care of me and outside the frenetic rush of the railway station road is a feast of sounds and sights and life intensely there.

Market stalls, vegies set out across the pavement, any number of food stalls, busyness, shoe shops, dogs, grocery shops, pan beedi shops, the lassi wallah, people everywhere of all shapes sizes and creeds, wending their way through the intense street life that is right outside my door.  A quiet hotel? .. No not really, but I have ear plugs and where in Mumbai do you find quiet with over 20 million people living in this incredible city of contrasts – chaos and life.

These days I can manage to relax into Mumbai and to begin to understand why people really like to live in this immensely incomprehensible city. A city that that will blow your mind in a moment and show you her face of generosity, of wealth, of desperate poverty – piles of garbage, street children, transvestite beggars, high rise gloss – and always in a flash of a smile and the connection of eyes, the depth of her heart.

 All this is Mumbai – a city of dreams.