Welcome to part two (read part one here) in what I’m now guessing will be a never-ending series of tales from the ‘hood. Oh yeah, from my neighbourhood, which is conveniently located more or less in Frazer Town in downtown Bangalore. Just outside my door I have a beautiful park on one side and a stunning church on the other. Within a few blocks I have two mosques, the Frazer Town high street and super places to chillout for a coffee and date with my laptop or enjoy my favourite minced lamb dish. Then within a mile or two there is a slum, a small market area that my driver says I shouldn’t walk around unaccompanied and also (from what I understand) the oldest goat market in town. Bangalore isn’t like any other city where I’ve lived. There is an energy to the street life that is completely different and wonderful to me. Well, most of the time anyway.
Every time I step out onto the high street or toodle off down the wider avenues that serve as impromptu markets I’m always amazed at the ingenuity and diversity of Indian entrepreneurs. In my neighbourhood, on the park, we have an auto rickshaw repairman who brings his toolbox and jack every day to the same spot from morning ‘til sundown repairing ‘autos’. There is no signage, no significant inventory I can see and no shelter from the rain but it is a busy business in our little area. I wish that I spoke the language and could properly interview him without the need of an interpreter. I’d love to know if this is a family business, how long he’s been at it, how he deals with monsoon season and what he might be doing instead if he could do anything or be anyone.
There are tons of folk who own and manage fruit, vegetable and other wonderful food carts along the wider lanes. Near us, just past the park, there is one street with a sidewalk that is lined from corner to corner with blanket after blanket piled high with fruits and veggies. The fruit and vegetable sellers here in Bangalore do the most amazing and original job of stacking the fruit into perfect pyramids. They always stack the pyramids so that the vibrant colours of the fruit seem to jump from the stalls and blankets by piling the yellow next to the red and then the green…it’s wonderful. They all have very old-school scales. Well, at least they look old-school to me. The last scale I have personally used was at the grocery store back home in Barcelona. It was electronic, with buttons that had illustrations of the fruit or vegetables to be weighed. Once the bag of produce is on the scale, the only thing to do is push the right illustration and magically a label for the bag is ejected with a barcode and the cost and weight spec’d out. But here the old metal scales with weighted disks still reign king.
In addition, there are cobblers who have tiny huts no larger than a closet and who sit around, sometimes meditation style, and make and repair shoes from morning until long into the night. There are men preparing wonderful smelling food which I still haven’t had the guts to try actually – partly because I don’t know what the food is and how to order and partly because I am not sure about how my ‘white girl’ stomach will handle it.
For me, for whatever reason, the most original entrepreneur I have come across in my neighbourhood sets up shop about two blocks from home. He has a cart that he must roll to the same spot every day. It’s freshly painted white, has big wheels like in the old west and a roof with a small awning to protect him from the sun as he passes the day ironing clothes without any electricity to power his iron. That’s right, a mobile ironing service. And he’s a MAN! I do love that part. I’ve only ever seen women working in the laundry shops or working as housekeepers who tend to the ironing. So for me to see a man with a push cart that boasts an open fire under it that heats an old-fashioned iron up is just splendid. It’s like something out of a movie, something from the past…something from India!
The guys I see pee’ing on the side of the road around Frazer Town really make me stop and raise an eyebrow. It’s so common here that I’d guess my Indian friends don’t even think twice about them but for me a little red flag is raised each and every time. If they are gonna do it, which they are, I definitely prefer the guys who squat down to pee much more than the guys who just whip it out and go for it…especially the drunk guys who forget which way they should turn and they pee, willy out and proud, in the direction of our oncoming car.
Last but not least, I still haven’t grown tired of our local little sleeping beauties. I don’t see them every day but they do make me smile every time I do. I worry for some of them because they fall asleep or lay down way too far away from the sidewalks and too far onto the street at times when they decide to curl up like kittens and take their afternoon cat naps. It’s really insane. I love napping as much as the next guy but I do it on the sofa now. I also love sleeping at the beach or the river under an umbrella or tree in the mid-day heat. But those spots in no way put me in any danger from oncoming cars, motorbikes, cows, stray dogs or auto rickshaws. I am in awe of these guys and their nerves of steel because I simply couldn’t relax enough to even sit down for 30 seconds where some of them choose to nap.
Things are so crazy different in India. The differences are so much greater for us than they ever were moving from southern California to Barcelona, Spain and that’s why my daughter and I love it. Is it always easy because of the cultural differences? No, not always. But this is exactly WHY we chose India…because even just stepping outside for a walk around our neighbourhood is an adventure.