Sunday, May 31, 2009

If by "Digestion" You Mean "Constipation"...

In India, there are appoximately 700 distinct foodstuffs considered “good for digestion.” In fact, if you are eating Indian food with an Indian, and said Indian begins a sentence with “It is...,” you can be 95% sure that the next words out of said Indian's mouth will be either a.) cooling, b.) good for health, c.) good, na?, or d.) good for digestion. Almost never will you here the more expected “hot as all get out to begin with, and eating this stuff would make you sweat in a meat locker.”

Friday, May 29, 2009

Offing the Offal

It seems, in Belapur, at least, that Saturday is Trash Day. Not “Take Out the Trash Day” or “Pick Up the Trash Day” really so much as “Burn the Trash Day.” And the scent was not one that brings back the rustic nostalgia of a camp fire. Rather, it brought to mind a raging tire factory inferno. I decided to hold my breath until I passed the fire and was pleasantly surprised as I realized that, with the heat of it still gratuitously warming my back on this hot summer's day, the strong wind yielded one side of the fire completely without scent or noxiousness. However, that same wind soon enough offered up for my olfactory enjoyment the scent of the plastic-and-rubber conflagration located a few hundred feet down the way. Luckily, I only noticed it occurring in one of the three blocks I walked past on my way to work. I just hope it wasn't too early for everyone else to have been goaded by their wives to “Go burn the trash already!”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Only Conceivable Reason

Sanjiv: Hey, Rajiv!

Rajiv: Yes, Sanjiv?

Sanjiv: Let's sell milk!

Rajiv: ...okay...

Sanjiv: Only...we'll sell it in bags!

Rajiv: But...why?

Sanjiv: Because I hate people!

Rajiv: Brilliant!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Breakfast in the Morning

Breakfast this morning at the hotel buffet was uneventful, in my opinion. But this forum is not for me - it's for you, my ever-interested public, so write about it I shall.


It all started with the batura - everything was fine before the batura. You know how batura can be - that greasy, flexible, thin, almost diaphanous flatbread. Well, it was on offer on the buffet table, and what else was I to use to eat my egg bhurji and chola (chick peas-in-sauce)? So, though fully aware of its proclivities, I decided to add it to my plate. This course of action was going fine until, sensing that I had painstakingly piled just the right amount of both egg bhurji and chola on my fork, I'm sure, the batura got up to its old tricks again. When, for the third time, the batura refused to yield to the pressure from the tines, I knew for sure it was mocking me, and along with that knowledge came the concomitant disdain that accompanies one's realization that one is being mocked by a greasy grain-based foodstuff. I looked around, but the room was empty - it was only the batura and I, locked in a battle of wills.


It was during this cessation in the ongoing battle that is any Indian meal - an acrimonious pas de deux between my stomach's will to nourish me and my tongue's pride in its role as protector of my esophagus from progressive corrosion - that my spicy-ridden maw seized the moment and thought of the mineral water I had been promised several minutes earlier, whose arrival in my glass was being delayed because the night staff had left the cooler locked but taken the keys home with them.


Just then, a tall sikh, moving quickly and, ostensibly, purposefully, passed my table carrying a meat tenderizer. As he began to bang unapologetically upon the intractible (to the would-be intruders' minds) lock, I hastended to inform my waiter, who followed, that I was quite content with just juice.


He eased my concern be informing me that it was not just for me but, rather, for the good of all those would would come after me as well that this alternative had been decided upon.


Therefore, I felt little guilt when the hammering stopped as a large lower panel of the cooler clanked to rest on the floor. Nor did I cringe very much, and, if at all, only with a knowledge that my cringe should be shared by all those future patrons who would desire chilled beverages, when the hammering resumed and the lock was finally compromised through blunt force.

Smack, smack, smack...

However, even when I was finishing up, thinking the best part of my first meal of the day behind me, I was given the opportunity to re-evaluate my subconscious assumptions. It only makes sense, I suppose, that if a child has to be told to do something, then that thing is not natural. Some cultural norms, however, seem to be rather universally accepted as desirable - kindness to one's fellow man, for example. However, when you spend enough time in one culture, or cultures that share many values, you sometimes begin to assume, without even realizing it, that certain other behaviors are universally strived for. Chewing with one's mouth closed, just to pick one example. The opportunity I was afforded this morning of sitting next to two Chinese guys at breakfast was an assumption-busting blessing, as it slowly dawned on me that the "smack, smack, smack"ing I was hearing wasn't one unintentional mishap or anything extraordinary, but rather just the way these guys ate. I am not an expert on the Chinese language, but it sounded to my ear like Chinese, they looked Chinese, and, most convincingly, in my opinion, the accent of their "smack" was a perfect match for that of a guy I sometimes ate near in school. And he was Chinese. So, anyway, the point is that I feel liberated and thankful to these two gentl...to these two men for smacking, as it were, me out of my assumption-filled rut and opening my eyes, by opening their half-masticated food-filled mouths, to the many wonderful differences in this world of ours.

Note to the reader: Before any aspersions are cast, remember that the term is "cultural stereotyper," not "racist," as my genetically Chinese friend in high school had no problem hiding the food he was gnawing from others at the table. Also note that I at no time made a judgment of the inherent morality of chewing in a viewer-friendly manner - or any value judgments on it at all, for that matter. Moreover, if I did find it in some way grating or vexing, that would really be my problem, not theirs, wouldn't it? Further, since I'm not saying that all Chinese people do this - only that those with whom I've come in contact seem to do it at a higher rate than people of other nationalities - the truly correct term would, I proffer, be "keen observer of the human condition."

Dinner in the Morning

I went to the front desk of the hotel where I was staying, hopeful but not optimistic that they'd be able to tell me where I could find some vittles at the hour of 20 past midnight. The guy at the desk made a few calls but ultimately told me nothing was available except junk food. I raised an eyebrow in a way that indicated I was neither neither stranger to nor foe of junk food. He went on to say that it may be unhygienic, which made me think he might have meant greasy fried food made in small, dirty restaurants rather than the candy bars neatly perched upon brightly lit convenience store shelves I had initially pictured. I thanked him and returned to my room to eat my bananas and see how protein powder tasted in water.

Upon reaching my room, I received a call from the front desk. The many-minded behemoth that is the staff of the K Stars hotel had been able to find a "non-junk food" restaurant open at that hour. I slipped my shoes back on and returned to the front desk, where I was told to follow a man dressed in a bellboy-type uniform with the words "K Stars" on the breast who spoke very little English. I did as instructed.

The first restaurant, right next door, turned out to be closed. We turned back and went down the street in the opposite direction, coming upon a bustling eatery whose lighting and decor made me think, for some reason, that it should be full of Arabian prostitutes. Perhaps this was because it reminded me of the dance club area of the hotel where I stayed in Morocco which, while not full of, did have a non-zero number of Arabian prostitutes.

That number was three.

I know, because there were three women.

There were no women at this restaurant, but there was food. Upon being seated, I told my escort, who, I found out, was named Laloo Pandey, that I would be fine and he could go. I was worried that he would be getting behind in his work. I tried to give him Rs 20 for his trouble. He motioned that he was fine and that I should order. I did so and tried to indicate that if he wanted to order something, he was free to, and that I would pay. He magnanimously declined.

Still, he refused to let me fend for myself.

"He must be waiting to make sure I get the food I ordered," I thought.

Seven or eight minutes later, a waiter arrived with two sets of plates, placing one set in front of me and one in front of Mr. Pandey.

"Oh," I thought, "He must not want to be rude and tell the waiter to take his plates back."

Then the waiter brought out the food I'd ordered. He began to dish it out onto Mr. Pandey's plate first.

"Oh," I thought, "He must not want to be rude. He will probably wait for the waiter to give me a portion and then add his portion to it."

The waiter placed two butter rotis (thin slightly crispy tortilla-like entities glistening in a glaze of butter) on the mini plates in front of each of us. He then took his exit.

It was then, when he made no motion to indicate that I should take the food in front of him, that I realized that that night, Laloo Pandey and I would dine together.

Which was fine, really. Even my portion of the food was more than enough. And he was considerate, ordering another helping of butter roti for us and making sure I had enough water after we had shared my first bottle.

He escorted me back to the hotel and, not only that, but also to my room, the number of which he had asked on the walk back. As we got closer to my door, I began to think, "What else do you want from me, Pandey? I've fed you. Given that, a tip seems a bit much." Would he want to quickly jump in the shower? Or catch a flick on the room's TV? I had no idea.

Luckily, when I opened the door, he made no move to enter, and I thanked him and shook his hand as he turned to leave.

I mean, I don't know what Pandey thinks of Western courting mores, but you're not gettin' into my room on the first date.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Volver

Well, just like Jack, I'm back. Except it's not the past. So I guess it's more like Sun, Ben, and Lapidus...At least so far, it's nice to be back. Six months in the U.S. and not once did a policeman I asked for directions in turn ask me for a dollar. And, failing that, Rs 10 - which can usually buy you here what $1 can buy you there. However, it happened yesterday. Then I told him how much I make, and his requests ceased - turns out he had some sense of decency after all. And that was nice, as it freed him to ask me about the cute girl walking by. "How about her?" the cop asked me. "Cute," I told him. His expression indicated he found my answer acceptable. "Do you have her number?" I asked.

He did not.

Apparently, I was a bit slow on the uptake, for it seems an out-of-the-blue inquiry of "How about her?" accompanying a finger pointed toward a girl is not an offer, nor, even, a business proposal, but, rather, indicates a request for an appraisal of how attractive the listener finds the pointee.

Other than that, while I look for a place to stay long-term, I'm in a hotel room that not only has a toilet seat, but a TV and air conditioning. Feels a little overly luxurious, but I'll be out of here soon enough, I suppose...

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