So in an attempt to keep my eye on the unique things when life becomes mundane, I've had an idea for the blog. A series of unknown proportions, I'll start small, and slowly expand my reach to other parts of the city. This first one: The Neighborhood.
My house is located in the small section of the city of R.T. Nagar, called Sultan (or Sulthan) Palya. See, it works like this, you have Bangalore District. Which encompasses a large area around the main city, engulfing lots of villages. Then you have Bangalore City itself. Inside the city you have sections, which are large segments of the city. Some of the more popular names are Jayanagar, Banashankari, Basavangundi, MG Road (not really a section but hugely popular), Gandhi Bazaar, R.T. Nagar etc. Now inside all of these bigger sections, you have small sections. Such as: Sultan Palya; which is in R.T. Nagar, which is in Bangalore City, which is in the District of Bangalore, which is in the State of Karnataka, which is in the Country of India. Make sense yet?
If I exit my apartment and go to the right I almost immediately hit K.H.B Main Road. A main road that dissects Sultan Palya, this road connects Dinnur Main Road (which goes to R.T. Nagar) to Outer Ring Road (a highway type road that basically circles around Bangalore.
K.H.B Main Road with the restaurant "PUNJABI FOOD" Across the street. The two white cars are part of the driving school that is there.
K.H.B is a busy road, always moving, always with people. Compared to my road, it is well-paved. The road I live on is mostly gravel, broken pavement, and pot holes. Bikes driving by the apartment go slowly, swerving around pot holes, bouncing over gravel. It's strange to see so much broken gravel and bad infrastructure when you notice the house across the street from me.
Looking up from the road, a manicured stone wall and gate close in a modern-style house of luscious plants. I say a manicured stone wall to differentiate between the rest of the stone walls in Bangalore. Most are simple brick, or cement walls. Flat, originally white, now brown or black with soot, they are easy to make and erect. This wall is a grey stone, designed and cut in certain ways to match the house. Aesthetically, it is way more appealing than other walls. On top and inside of the walls, the manicured nature of the house continues.
Tropical vines and palm trees adorn the small walk-way leading into the house, creating a shady spot during a hot day. Just inside the gate there are always three vehicles. One motorcycle, one small Suzuki, and the rare, but ever-more-visible-in-Bangalore Mercedes-Benz. Most people in Bangalore with a family hire a driver. They bring the kids to school, drive parents to work, and take care of basic chores. Once I saw a beautiful blue S-series Mercedes driving down the road, a man driving and a woman in the back seat. It was obvious from appearances that the woman owned the car, and the man was driving. Hell, if you're going to own a car that nice you think you would want to drive it yourself, right?
This car across the street is similar. Only once have I seen it leave the house and actually be driven around. Other than that the car does one other thing. Or I should say the driver does one thing to the car. Every morning between 11 and 12, the gate to this house opens, and the driver brings the Mercedes out onto the street. He then goes back inside and comes out with a bucket of water and a sponge. And every morning, tenaciously, relentlessly, this man washes his client's Mercedes. Even when it's not dirty (and it never is) he carefully washes the front, back, the wheels, the hub cabs, never leaving one spot untouched.
This is looking out from the steps of my apartment building looking to the house across the street. John's car is that Maroon Scorpio on the right hand side of the photo. The second photo is just looking a little up and to the right from the first.
One morning as I arrived home from my bike ride, a woman from the house, still in her nightie came out with a Golden Retriever with a beautiful coat, and an even better demeanor. She exited the main gate of the house with this dog, unleashed, and it quickly followed her over to an adjacent gate on an empty plot of land. I also noticed that on what looked like this big empty drive way, at the very end were two more cars inside a gate. Their cars as well? I'm not sure, but they used that plot of land for the dog.
Enthralled that I hadn't played with a canine companion for many months now, I stared at this beautiful dog.
"Your dog is beautiful" I quickly stammered from across the street.
She gave me a faint smile as she exited the plot and closed the gate behind her and the dog.
"Hey buddy, what's up?" I said in a high-pitch to this curious canine. He stared back at me. Many middle and upper class families in the area own various well-groomed dogs. For instance, the house adjacent to my building, shrouded in a combination of well placed plants and architectural features, houses a large German Shepard. And when I mean large, I mean his head comes up to my waist, if not a little higher. His bark is quite loud too and he doesn't seem to friendly.
So I tried being friendly to this dog, while keeping myself on guard if he was in fact a true guard-dog. "What's his name?" I asked the lady, hoping she spoke English. In an almost perfect accent back she said "Nike".
"Come here Nike! C'mon it's okay." The dog trotted over towards me and stopped some 5 feet away. "It's okay, it's okay" I told her. She got low to the ground and it became obvious that this was a playful dog, her submissiveness was more than obvious. The dog-owner began to smile as Nike came over into my arms and I started petting her head and under her jaw. Nike closed her eyes as I got behind her ears. I wonder how often someone played with Nike, I've never seen kids enter or exit the house.
I try everyday to encounter Nike outside, but since that day have always missed her. It's funny to think that such a nice household, so well manicured, with so much (apparent) money, could live next to conditions that, coming from America, I would say are unacceptable.
That gate is where the lady takes the dog. To the left, you can see the empty lot and all the black trash that is piled there.
The streets near and around my house are littered. It seems that you can't get away from them. It's a good idea to carry a handkerchief, especially in the morning as these are the times when most people are burning the trash. Open lots scatter the junctions of roads. Sometimes over ridden by weeds, such as tulsi (which is holy), and always a lot of Castor plants. Some vines that look like potato vines, and small flowers. But always trash. Always trash, and always burning. Sometimes these lots are green and full of bright, amazing life. Bugs and snakes crawl and climb, weaving their way through plants - the way life should be. It's when I see a mouse pulling in a piece of plastic into his little home that I begin to grow concerned.
Sometimes the leaves are grey with soot. Soot from everywhere. From the cars, rickshaws, the burning trash. And waking up in the morning, smelling the smoke, and even noticing that your bathroom is a little smokey - it doesn't exactly leave you excited to start your day. If you look past that, there is a lot of beauty in India - everyone always says that. It can just be difficult looking past the ugly parts. What's more, is that when we succeed to look past the ugly parts to see the beauty... well that doesn't mean the ugly goes away. Maybe just a big plastic barrel at every corner would change people's minds to littering. We'll see....
Some open lots have lots of tarps and branches holding up these tarps. Many homeless live here. Legally? Probably not, but I've never seen the police come and beat them and kick them out. At night I see some sleeping outside, some in their tents, but as simply as that, it is their home. When I walk by they are always cleaning dishes, or taking showers, and more. I could go on, but they do the same things we do everyday! They are no different. Except they have no money, no opportunities, are put down by the rest of society....
Do we just keep looking past the ugly to see the beauty?
Okay, enough pessimism. As I walk down one street towards Sultan Palya main road, the road begins to get narrow. As the road gets narrow, the streets get smaller and more people are doing their chores on the street. The other part of the observation is that as the streets gets smaller with more people, the income of each of the households I pass also falls. Culinary and medicinal plants begin to show up on door steps, from tulsi and aloe, to small curry leaf plants and more. The eyes also begin to watch me more. Looking at my t-shirt, at my phone, at my bag. I've gotten used to the staring, and for the most part ignore it, but when that one persons holds sight of you... from 30 feet before you pass them to 30 feet after you're gone and you know they are still looking at you. It's hard to read them, and who knows what they are thinking.
Most of the roads are pretty similar. Some small, some large, poor and wealthy living side by side. Mercedes can cruise by with a scarred little boy with no shoes plays in the trash and dirt. It's sad to say that once walking around observing all the trash I saw some hypodermic needles sitting freely on the street. With the kids. And the dogs. And the rats.
I speak about what I see here in India. And what I see is a lot of trash and stuff of that nature. But don't get me wrong, I love it here. It's a beautiful place with tons of opportunities and a lot of lessons. Like I said, do we just look past the ugliness for the beauty? Or do we get rid of the ugly so that everyone can see the beauty?
I'm not sure, but I'll say this. Without the dirty, India would not be as beautiful.
Stay tuned next week for.... the next part in the series: The Apartment