Friday, 31 January 2014

“Sir, I absolutely love your perfume.”

(from Saturday, January 18, 2014)

Because we are obsessed with South Indian food, we decided it was only appropriate to learn just how the magic happens. A small group of us eager learners, armed with notebooks, hovered around the portable gas hotplate (think high-powered camp stove) on Anu’s rooftop. Attempts to take meticulous notes on her process were quickly and unanimously dismissed, as ingredients were added, mixtures were tasted, and flavors were adjusted. In the end, a spread of ragi dosas, idlis, rice/millet upma, and chutneys graced the countertops, and we gathered on the floor to enjoy our creations.

(Anu makes sure it tastes just right!)

(food coma) 

In other news: We found a “permanent” home in the nearby village of Vijanagar! The flat is on the second level of a family of three. Not only are they the sweetest, most accommodating couple, but also their five-year old son has already recruited Taylor for his cricket team.

We celebrated the lease signing in the only way we know how: Up Beat Lager, Karnataka's local beer.

Favorite quote of the day, as we are sitting in the back of the rickshaw applying our high-powered bug repellant: “Sir, I absolutely love your perfume.”  J

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Get in there and mix like...this.

(from Wednesday, January 15, 2014)

First morning run on the streets of Mysore! With no idea about where to go, we set off as far away as possible from the hustle of the main road for some quieter back streets. We were greeted by men huddled in tea stalls, women attending to morning chores, and school children waiting for their commuter vans. Although the dearth of traffic was a relief, we were confronted with new obstacles: cows, roosters, dogs, goats, and pigs. We aren’t in Brooklyn anymore.  

Feeling renewed and inspired, we decided we were ready for our first thali – a traditional Indian lunch with a selection of various dishes, along with rice, curd, and sambar. Skipping the Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor suggestions, we went straight to the source: a rickshaw driver that we have grown fond of.

This landed us at the fast-moving, packed Hotel RRR (not actually a hotel, but the marketing seems to work). Although it seemed chaotic when we entered, there was a seemingly well-established system. We were instructed to wait for our table by hovering over the chairs of a couple eating their thali; we hesitantly complied.

What transpired afterwards is quite a blur. Banana leaves were laid on the table and servers circled around each other heaving curries and rice onto our plates leaves. When a regular patron sitting at a neighboring table caught a glimpse of our dainty eating style, he approached us – in the midst of his own lunch – to school us. Within seconds, Taylor’s food was trenched in ghee and masala, and the Indian man had his hand in Taylor’s food, as he modeled just how one is to adequately mix everything together – something that cannot be attained with utensils. Before we could “thank” him, he was already back in his seat and reengaged in his own meal.

Thanks to our rickshaw driver and the friendly RRR customer, our first thali was an absolute success.  

The Godfather of Gokalum

(from Monday, January 13th)

Despite the haze that followed our first meeting with Mali Gandhi, we somehow stumbled upon what has become our absolute favorite eating joint: Anu’s. The “restaurant” is on the rooftop of the family home, and everyday Anu, the mother, prepares a healthy, homemade vegetarian buffet of fresh vegetable curries, salads, dal, rice, chapati, and, of course, dessert.

The place was packed with foreigners of all ages and from all over the world, who have somehow managed to retreat from their homes and jobs to practice yoga for months at a time. Because of the communal eating space, we quickly determined who knew the most about the neighborhood: a bald, British fellow named Richard, who is on Mysore-visit number 732 to practice yoga. Richard pulled through – he knew a guy who knew a guy, and so we were introduced to Harish, who had a friend, Ragu, who took us around to a few homes, which were awkwardly still occupied.

Feeling uninspired, we decided to stop for a coconut on the side of the road, where we met two guys – one Australian and one Englishman - who were experts in “Amazon Hallucinogenic [Therapy?]” and were holding a retreat to bring people to enlightenment. Hmmm. No worries, despite Taylor’s curiosity, we did not follow them to their homes, but we did take their advice on a sage, old man they knew who could find us a place. Little did we know, these two entrepreneurs/ hippies/ therapists were sending us to The Godfather of Gokalum, Shiva. Unsure of how we would track this Godfather, we were instructed to look for a long bearded man in orange robes. And so we did.

Long story short: By the end of the day, we had multiple people involved in finding us a “permanent” residency, which made for some “tough conversations” in the days that followed. Nonetheless, we secured ourselves a room in a flat with three Chinese yoga students for the month of January. Oh, and none of our roomies speak or understand any English (and we know nothing about the Chinese language). Learning experience for all, as well as many stories of miscommunication.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Wait. Why are we in India? Forget it. Just hold my hand.

Our morning began with an early, unexpected “wake up call” from the front desk informing us that Mali Gandhi, our advisor from the Regional Institute of Education at the University of Mysore, was on his way over to the hotel to “officially welcome” us to Mysore. Feeling completely ill-prepared for any sort of formal meeting, we attempted to clean up and fuel up. We took full advantage of the complimentary South Indian breakfast at the overpriced Hotel Regaalis by devouring endless amounts of fresh squeezed fruit juice, curd (yogurt), idli, pongal (a rice and dal stew with cashews and dried fruit), sambar, eggs, and the list goes on. Just as we were scrapping our plates clean, a jolly Indian man plopped down at our table. It took us a solid three minutes to figure out that this man was our advisor; not only were we expecting Mali Gandhi to be a woman but he never actually introduced himself.

After some confusing discussion, it was clear that Mali Gandhi had not read our research proposal and was unclear as to why we were even in India. Despite multiple attempts to explain our goals and ideas, we were left feeling quite bewildered. About everything. For example, Mali Gandhi repeatedly said that there was no way we could possibly conduct any sort of meaningful research in only six months and urged us to talk to Fulbright about extending our stay. When we explained our grant was only for a six month time period, he countered by telling Taylor that before getting to work, it was essential to take Tiffany on vacation to Goa. It was at this point that Mali Gandhi determined we had reached the goals of our first meeting. As we walked him out of the hotel, he grabbed Taylor’s hand (a sign of friendship).  Just as we were about to part, he invited us to a movie, obviously. A wee bit baffled, we graciously declined.

Thanks for joining us for t time. More posts on the way. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Breathing, Meditations, and Sun Salutations: From Bangalore to Mysore

 We greeted the day with an early morning yoga class on the sprawling lawn of the school’s garden. The brisk morning air felt renewing as Satish, the yoga teacher at DPS, led us through a private session of breathing, meditation, and sun salutations. It was probably the most surreal experience that we have had in India thus far. (We do realize that we have only been here a few days, but this was really quite incredible.)

Before departing Bangalore, we met Manju and her family at a posh Euro-Indian, eatery – think Upper East Side, New Yorkers. Although we felt quite underdressed next to Manju, in her colorful Indian garb, and her son, in his extremely stylish and well-tailored suit, we absolutely loved the rich and breathless conversation that poured out over the two-hour lunch.  The depth of our conversation saw its way through the politics of the 1947Partition to the current national debate surrounding education.

Next stop: Mysore

When the doors of the taxi opened in Mysore, a man, dressed in an extravagant blue kurta, opened the doors to the Hotel Regaalis – a quite bourgeois spot, which we became quite self-conscious of in the days to follow. After we watched each other run (yes, this was weird) on the solo, aged treadmill in the “fitness room,” we faced the difficulty of trying to find a place to eat on a late Sunday night – we were not quite ready to take on the street food. With a recommendation from a young man at the front desk, we ended up at a local spot around the corner, which was essentially street food (so much for that avoidance). Nonetheless, this was a monumental moment: our first Mysore masala dosa – an Indian “crepe” filled with potato, cabbage, and spices galore. It was fiery as all hell and absolutely delicious. (It is probably important to note that Taylor was, at this point, struggling with severe stomach issues, which made this meal quite tricky and somewhat intolerable for him – not that this detoured Tiffany, though!)

When we finally returned to our hotel room, we found our first “t time” guest waiting for us in the curtains. Feeling quite inadequate about how to escort our lizard friend out of the room, we (embarrassingly) requested help from the staff at the front desk. An enthusiastic young man arrived with an industrial vacuum and “kindly” chaperoned the little guy up the vacuum and out the door. Not exactly our intention, but it was certainly efficient and effective.

Never a dull moment, Mysore.