Friday, August 23, 2013

इंद्रधनुष Indradhanusa (Rainbow)

     We sit on the cheap squeaky metal chairs in the main room of the service center, waiting for at least twenty minutes for the repair worker to tell us if our purchase of a replacement LCD screen was the right solution to our currently out of service tablet.  “I’m hungry.” I say, and fiddle with my camera settings out of boredom.  This is the second time we have visited the Asus service shop on Lalbaugh Main Road.  Last week, Sanjeev’s GPS led us in circles through a Muslim ghetto in an attempt to lead us there.  We ended up having to park on the side of an adjacent main road in what was also an area populated largely by muslims.  I had walked down the filthy road observing the crows, goats and chickens scraping for food amongst the garbage thrown on what would serve as the sidewalk.  Women walked by in their burkas, and I kept myself from making eye contact with any of the men.  I hate these parts of the city, even if I only come across them occasionally.  Bangalore as a whole is a dilapidated place, but the muslim ghettos are its worst representations – serving as real life models of what the world would look like after an apocalypse.  Odd man out is the Hindu that walks through these areas.   

     This visit however, we managed to avoid the ghettos and parked in the visitor parking lot of the still-in-construction building that contains the service center.  The friendly and smiling security guard directs us where to park, and the inside layout of the service center reminds me of a small hospital waiting room.  Except for the low speaking voices in Kannada and Hindi, it’s too quiet inside, and I hear saws going off in the empty parts of the building. 

     After waiting for a good half hour, we decide to head up the street a few blocks to have our lunch at the MTR restaurant. Today, the company is known for its high quality ready-made food mixes and spice packets available everywhere, but its original and quite dated restaurant in Bangalore still keeps its doors open.  I was hesitant to eat there considering the run-down state of the area, but it is the only place within walkable distance, and it’s supposed to be very good food.  Down the main road, the muslim to Hindu ratio appears to have evened out, but I am still in a defensive mood.  The lower level of the restaurant is crowded with patrons, and a passing waiter makes a sort of grunt and motions with his head to take the stairs to the second level dining area for seating.  At the first level of the stairs, I see a colorful mirror portrait of Krishna playing his flute, and I immediately relax when I see that everyone eating here is Hindu.  A waiter motions for us to follow him and pulls out two red plastic chairs for us to sit on at a large marble-topped table.  There are three separate elderly married couples already sitting at the table, and I feel rather puzzled that he is asking us to sit here when I see other tables in the room are completely open.  I don’t want to refuse his request though, and we both quietly slide into our seats.  Next to me an old uncle, neatly dressed in traditional white cotton South Indian attire patiently waits for his food.  Next to him, his wife sits quietly; just as nicely dressed in a pressed green and pink silk sari, gray hair smoothed back into a neat bun.  Directly in front of us sit an aunty and uncle in their late sixties.  They are more causally dressed in their ethnic wear and chatter in Kannada between themselves.  We order dosa and chai and quietly murmur to each other.  Though the elderly couples are polite in acknowledging my presence, I feel awkward.  Sanjeev sits in his best polite stance, back straight, hands folded in his lap, and I know that he feels the same.  We sit in silence for some time, and I feel as though being inside this restaurant, I have stepped back in time a good thirty years.  The layout, the seating, the people, everything inside this place seems to be reminiscent of an older, much different India. 

     A waiter brings each of the couples their orders.  Every individual is served a plate of idli (steamed rice cakes) and steel bowls filled with sambar, and coconut chutney.  The dish is complete with the addition of a tiny bowl filled with ghee.  The aunty and uncle in front of us happily drizzle their fattening ghee on their idlis and skillfully use two spoons to break apart the idli and dunk it in the chutney and sambar.  We wait, trying not to look at them all eating.  After what seems like forever, our dosas are placed in front of us.  I feel compelled to eat with my right hand in the presence of elders, and manage to tear apart the dosa and scoop up chutney without making a mess.  The food here is traditional Tamil style, and perfectly spiced.  In a gluttonous mood, I decide that the dosa isn’t enough for me, despite that it’s thick and cooked with too much ghee.  We order two plates of dahi vada (curd with a spiced doughnut).  In the meantime, the aunty and uncle opposite us start on their second plate of food, a bowl rice and dal in a spicy sauce; a dish I have eaten myself but fail to recall its name.  The server finally brings us our chai, served in good-sized silver tumblers.  He gives us each two tumblers, one filled with chai, the other empty.  I sit for a moment somewhat self conscious about the task that is before me.  The two tumblers means that I will have to perform a stunt with very hot tea without burning myself or carelessly spilling it in my lap.  Traditional tea in the South is served with sugar spooned into the cup without stirring.  Mixing the tea and the sugar is done by pouring the contents of one tumbler into another repetitively; effectively mixing the sugar and enhancing the taste of the tea.  People accustomed to doing this can pour the tea from a foot above the other tumbler without spilling a drop.  I however, have only done this a few times.  I manage to mix my tea without burning my fingers too much, and I only make a small spill.  It’s made with the cheap residue tea available everywhere, but it is prepared in a wonderful way and reminds me of side stand tea from the chai wallas in Delhi.  We finish our tea and overfill our stomachs with the dahi vada.  For some reason Sanjeev gives the server a large tip, who makes sure to ask Sanjeev twice if the amount is really for him.

     As soon as we exit the building it begins to rain, and we dodge traffic to cross the intersection, running down the sidewalk to find shelter from the downpour.  I cover my camera with my kurti and skillfully avoid the cracks and holes in the sidewalk as I run.  We find a store with an awning and take our refuge next to three other men.  I wipe the water droplets off my camera and sit on the entrance’s marble ledge while we wait.  A few minutes later, the coast is clear.  Sanjeev tells me to go back to the service center and wait for him while he crosses the busy street to use the atm.  I walk back down the brick laid lot and lean against the entrance wall.  Across the long glass wall, a security guard with chiseled features who looks to be either Nepalese or Assamese directs the random cars and people to their respective places.  I notice the appealing architecture of the building’s complex in front of me, and the neatly maintained shrubs and plants.  I fidget with my wet hair, attempting to smooth and reshape my limp curls.  Three middle-aged women, clad in traditional saris walk by me, each giving me a sweet smile that I return.  As they pass me by, speaking in Kannada amongst each other, Sanjeev comes around the corner.  I know that they are speaking about me, so I ask him if he heard what they were saying.  He replies that they were impressed with my appearance being fully immersed in Indian culture, complete with my mangal sutra necklace.  As we walk back into the large building I can’t help my smile knowing that the women approved of me.

     Back in the service center waiting room, we are told that the new LCD screen has not fixed the problem and that our tablet is still not working.  He informs us that it is most likely a video chip in the motherboard that has gone bad, and that it would cost more than the tablet is worth to replace it.  We pay out another $100 for the extra screen and spare part and pack up our useless tablet.  On the way home through the obnoxiously loud traffic jams, I vent out my frustration about the death of our hardly used tablet, and the waste of invested money in an exaggerated, breathless ramble that keeps Sanjeev laughing the whole ride.  I swear off buying useless electronics and pout the rest of the trip. 

     Back home, I retrieve a squealing Bubby from his bedroom and take the elevator downstairs.  Outside the entrance of my block, I see fresh puddles in the uneven brick layout, and know that it has rained in this area as well.  The sun is getting low in the sky hidden behind the rain clouds, and the evening light is tinted a beautiful pinkish orange.  I let Bubby pee and decide to make him take a round in the complex.  Coming around the corner of another block, with Bubby behind me doing his speedy spider walk, I begin to see the edges of a rainbow in the South.  Around the bend, I see its true brilliance, colors vivid and distinct, its wide arch peaking high above me.  I stop and admire it for a minute, deeply breathing the moist cool air, and finally head back to my block.  I don’t ever recall having seen a rainbow in India.  Perhaps it is a sign good luck to come.

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