Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Christmas Challenge

Christmas feels like ages ago, rather than months (minus the plural) and it’s funny to only now begin writing about it. However, this is an opportunity for me to relive those Christmasy moments traditionally designed so that family and friends might lay down their arms and peacefully come together in mutual respect for an almighty being they fear and love (given enough faith) (and for some, enough alcohol). I’m in India. I think that won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this blog. Incidentally, being in India I’ve placed myself very very far away from the bulk of my friends, family, an almighty being, and those afore mentioned weapons. Though telephones and this internet connect me to the many people in this world I love, and the multinational corporations we’ve learned to worship are only a coca cola bottle away, I was most fortunate to spend my Christmas with a friend I haven’t seen in…well, years.

But before I get into the festivities bit (of which I would like to hold a contest for most bizarre Christmas moment, and then, walk away with the crown if possible) I’ll start this blog off with some pictures, and words to match, of my trip up to Ahmedabad to meet up with Jumana…


One of the first things I did after reaching the industrial city of Ahmedabad is leave.

It’s not that I didn’t like the city, I didn’t, what I wanted was to get out and see the countryside of the larger state of Gujarat. My excuse and destination was a bird sanctuary about 70 km southwest of there…out in the middle of nowhere. Getting to the Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary meant an appropriately confusing local-bus ride deep into the countryside where village life remains much as it has for the past many centuries (the cheet-o’s and marborals hanging in every shop window can attest to that). Working with the local public & private transportation system I didn’t manage to get out of the city until about 3:00p.m. and hoped to reach the sanctuary before sunset.

The bus ride was typically “Indian local” which meant that I was likely the only white person to ride the route in a long time. True to form the bus quickly got off the populated roads (highways) of the area and barreled down on the potholey winding death roads I’ve since associated as this countries contribution to the adrenaline sport variety. The road we were on weaved wildly through stunning farmlands connected by dots of quaint villages existing to service them. That meant I got out my camera for pictures. That meant I got still more attention from the other passengers. That meant we shared food, conversation…and my camera. My camera I happily sent around the bus for people to take pictures of whatever they wanted. I’ve learned that it’s often very interesting to see what other people find worth taking pictures of in their own country. In a situation like this one advantage of having a digital camera is that, those people so interested in using it, can instantly see the photos they just captured. Even better, is that with a digital camera I can quickly delete handfuls of these blurry pictures, pictures taken too close to someone else’s nose, and pictures of the back of about every seat on the bus. Again, it’s a wonder what people find worthy of taking pictures of in their own country.

At one point the bus stopped and everyone got excited and jumped off (but me and one other fellow with the camera). Not being alone on the bus I felt secure in knowing that I probably wasn’t going to die due to something living on the bus ready to pounce; though I was still quite curios what all the commotion was about. Until, I realized what they were doing. Centered around an old holy-looking fellow, everyone was there posing for a picture. The photo was snapped, the holly man looked mildly perturbed but otherwise in good spirits, and everyone jumped back on the bus to zoom off.

The bird sanctuary was the stop at the end of the line and I was the last remaining passenger. Upon arriving there the bus shut down, everything was silent, and I had one of those quiet moments of unease. I suspect if someone was there with a movie camera a tumbleweed would have taken its cue and rolled alone through town. Where’s all the action? Where’s all the evening-time interest in migratory birds? Where am I supposed to go? At that moment I thought it a good idea to enquire with the bus driver when the last bus would be by to take me back to the city. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was standing in it. Blast!

However, as the bus driver and I were staring questioningly into the entrance of the park, (I wasn’t about to jump back on the bus for another 3-hour bumpy ride home) two big “deluxe” buses appeared on the horizon heading in our direction. Spilling from the seams with children, the buses stopped behind us where a few of their teachers got out to deal with admissions to the park. We got to talking and they invited me aboard their bus with the promise to take me back to the highway when we were all done tormenting the birds.

And that’s how I wound up floating on a 116 sq-km lake at sunset, in small boats, with well over 100 kids spilling from each boat just as they had from the busses.

Back on the highway it was quiet and dark but in this country I am never alone. Me, being in India, I feel like I carry an avalanche probe above my head with flashing lights and audio signals stating that, “I’m probably pretty lost and wouldn’t mind a bit of advice”. I always get it whether I ask for, want it, or not. So, after some time we flagged down a jeep and I was on my way back to the city to play around with Jumana.


I spent Christmas day with Jumana (and to a lesser extent her friend) mucking about Ahmedabad using our imagination to help pretend it was, I fact, Christmas. Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram wasn’t very Christmasy though it certainly had the air of kindness and caring that we are meant to associate with the holiday. Walking the streets didn’t provide the typical twinklelights or decorated evergreens, but, from outside MacDonald’s was looking especially festive. A scientific quest attracted us to test whether a MickeeDee’s chocolate milkshake might taste here as they do all over the world (they don’t), and it was here that we met with the most amazing of consequences. Also at that MacDonald’s, perhaps also testing global flavor consistencies (he does have a unique advantage to capture a larger sample size), was none other than the man Santa Clause himself. Wow!

Just to make sure: yeah, the menus about what you could expect at any MacDonald’s. There is the usual French Fries, Coca-Cola, Fillet-o-Fish. And look McAloo Tikki, Chicken Maharaja Mac, Crispy Chinese, Shahi Paneer. Nothing weird there. Oh, but wait, they’ve a McVeggie! It may not have an amazing name but I bet it’s got an amazing taste. Mmmm, look at how the mayonnaise takes center stage to hold the whole of the package together. That’s something else!

But Christmas dinner wasn’t at MacDonald’s (turns out even Santa wouldn’t eat there), rather at an Indian styled fast-food joint where fresh vegetables are chopped, eagerly fried, then refried when served and placed amongst an array of colourful chutneys designed to blast the meal off into space. Jumana and I were our usual gluttonous selves that we were in that city (and later in this city too (Mumbai)). To feed such a habit we order a mix of about everything available. My holiday taste buds where satisfied when I discovered that when a particular globule was dipped in a particular chutney it tasted exactly like Pumpkin Pie! It should be noted that I use the word “exactly” rather liberally here, as few things in India taste “exactly” like their western counterparts. Come to mention it, few Indian versions of western food taste even remotely similar to their western counterparts (just ask Mike about the Banana split, or sit and ponder what it means to eat “American chopsuey,” a common food on Indian-Chinese menus). It’s not a far stretch to understand then that this miscellaneous item was far closer to any Christmas Pumpkin Pie than any pumpkin pie here will taste.

I should say too, everybody would be better off if they lived in cities with Monkeys...

Well, Ahmedabad treated us well. I would have been bored to tears (or perhaps (if I can be allowed right now to make-up a word inspired by the word “ecocide”) driven to industriacide) if it wasn’t for the non-stop giggles Jumana and shared over who-knows-what. –Oh damn, a Google search tells me I’m not the first to make up that word; lucky for me history is ripe with multiple people independently being the first to invent the same thing whilst being allowed to take the credit. Err, right, now where was I? Oh, yeah so Jumana and her friend spent a day here in Bombay. I wanted to mention that so I’d have reason to show this picture (a Newsie’s kick in the 1000+ year-old Elephanta Island Buddhist caves). A shout out to the lovely ladies of my NorCal life!

Yeah we got into trouble for it, but at least afterward we got a picture with the security guard!

Oh yeah, and this picture, too. Jumana signing autographs as the heroin from the French Film Amélie. That sure got the attention of the boys.

Oh, oh, oh, and this picture too. It comes with a funny quote I'll add here in just a minute. This is a Chikki walla i.e. A fellow that sells chikki (nutty sweets of a special type). Well, I was casually on my way to the train station and thought his chikki looked tasty and his chikki cart especially agreeable for a picture. I asked, he said sure, I snapped a photo. It was only then that another fellow standing there asked me, “Why is it that you people,” (meaning foreigners) “always take so many of these pictures?” Hmmm, I didn’t really have an answer for him. The best I could come up with was a compliment; that his country was beautiful, and apart form experiencing it, capturing it on film was the best that we foreigners could do. He seemed satisfied, I bought some chikki, and shared it later on the train between conversations.

Hmmm, well that’s it really. I dropped Jumana at the airport early the next morning and picked Tiff and Mike up the following day…

Oh, but wait, one more thing (promise), the Weirdest Christmas Moment Competition 2005! Unfortunately I have no picture to prove it, but what you’ll find at the end of this video speaks for itself: 24mb

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Ryan,

Your blogs are certainly a nice contradiction from the normalcy that takes place in my world. Though I turn a shade darker than a pleasant forest green with envy from reading of your experiences (as I sit in my cube), I say keep it up. Write more and feed the shutter bug. -ryan