In our last episode, Help Desk and No Inquiries indulged their forbidden love, and Sage made plans to break the legs of anyone seen using their phone. And now, today!
We eat breakfast at the rooftop restaurant, feeling the breeze on our faces, watching the hawks wheel and careen in the wind. I’m giving a storytelling workshop tonight at the ICB, Bangalore’s improv theatre, and we are heading to the city early. We wait for the Uber driver outside the hotel.
Though we are just twenty kilometres from Bangalore, Google Map’s time estimate is “anywhere from 50 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes”. ALWAYS RUSH HOUR NEVER CHRISTMAS! The driver pulls up. He’s in his early twenties and we haven’t even made it to the main road before he’s bouncing his head up and down, looking between his phone and the road, five seconds for each. Unwilling to have a ride like yesterday’s, I ask him to put the phone down. He does, for ten minutes, then picks it up again to look at Twitter. I am furious.
As I said in my last entry, this is why I never get in cars in Toronto if I can help it. Asking a driver to drive differently only makes them angry and it’s exponentially worse when the driver is a friend. Give me the subway, the streetcar, the bus every time. I tell the driver that if he looks at his phone again we will simply find another driver. He is angry too, of course, so it’s another tension filled rush hour ride. When we’re a twenty minute walk from our destination he picks up his phone and browses Twitter for the last time and I ask him to let us out. He does, we pay him, and walk away.
It’s a tremendous relief to be out of the car. Todd and I walk together. We go slowly, because Todd is feeling achey and nauseous. We talk about how lonely it feels to have been with friends for so much of our trip, and how much we miss everyone we’ve met. Our goal is a street lined with bookstores. We are standing together on the sidewalk trying to figure out if we’re close when I hear someone call, “Sage! Sage!”
I often hear people calling my name, because when someone’s calling “Hey!” it sounds exactly like “Sage!” and so I’m always whipping my head around and smiling and saying, “Hi!” and then laughing when I realize they were not talking to me at all, so that’s my first thought. But the third time it’s really clearly Sage and I think – WHAT IF IT’S ONE OF MY STUDENTS? When I taught storytelling at Seneca College, about 60% of every class had come to Canada from India and I have secretly harbored the hope that I will run into one of them during our trip. But when the young woman gets closer I definitely don’t recognize her.
She smiles and holds out her hand. “Hi! You don’t know me, but I’m taking your storytelling workshop at the ICB tonight. I couldn’t believe it when I saw you and just wanted to introduce myself.”
Oh, magical place. There are 10 people in my workshop and TWELVE MILLION people in Bangalore. I know!
I shake her hand heartily and wish I could explain what a difference she’s made just by saying hello and how much less lonely we both feel now. She heads off with her friends and we’re still trying to figure out if we’re in the right spot when a man comes up to us. “Do you want a tuk tuk ride?” he asks and we say no thank you. “Do you want to go to the crafts market?” We say no thank you. “How about a bong?”
Inside my head I am laughing very hard – my sum total of legal and illicit substances amounts to one beer when I was nineteen years old – and we say no thank you and figure out where the bookstore street is and head down it. Todd is still feeling shaky, so we stop at a coffee shop and order coffee.
I say, “I am really dreading just one more trip back to the hotel, much less seven more,” I say.
Todd nods. “Yeah, I hear you. Let’s just have a look at hotels in the city and see what we can find.” It takes just five minutes to find a great deal on a nearby hotel and we both agree wholeheartedly that it’s worth eating the non-refundable bill for our first hotel in order to stay in the city. We book the nearby hotel, we go to our room, and Todd, who is feeling chills now, has a lie down.
After a couple of hours Todd is feeling himself again. We stop at a pharmacy just in case. Here antibiotics are for sale without a prescription, and we buy 10 Tylenol and 12 antibiotics and the bill comes to 48 Rs. (90 cents). We take an autorickshaw to the workshop venue. The students pile in, and we begin. Everyone is engaged, everyone is eager to learn.
When we do the detail exercise and I ask them to take the sentence “The person went to the place carrying the thing,” and replace every vague word with detail they come up with “Shah Rukh Khan leaps into Lake Ulsoor carrying a basin full of water,” and I suddenly think, “HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT SHY LITTLE SAGE OF LONG AGO IS STANDING IN BANGALORE TEACHING STORYTELLING TO THESE AWESOME PEOPLE? ALSO WHEN CAN I COME BACK?”
The two and a half hours passes in the blink of an eye and I am sorry when it’s time to end the class. After many hugs and thank yous Todd and I catch an autorickshaw and have a quiet, calm, lovely ride back to our new hotel.
At six a.m. we grab our backbacks and head for the Metro. I’ve looked at the map, and we can cut four kilometres off the trip to the old hotel to pick up our suitcases if we take the Metro to the end of the line. We walk into the Mahatma Ghanti Road Station. It is shiny and gleaming in the dawn light. Todd and I go through security. At the ticket desk I tell the clerk where we’re going, and she gives us two black plastic tokens.
We tap the tokens on the entrance gate, and go through. The trains come every thirty minutes, but we’ve lucked out and one is due in nine minutes. We wait with just a few other people. When the train comes, it’s three cars long and there are lots of places to stand. The announcements are in either Tamil or Kannada first, then in English. We ride four kilometres aboveground and it feels dreamlike, as if we’re riding the Chicago El in a parallel universe where clotheslines and palm trees abound.
At the last station we hire an autorickshaw driver. It is the most Amazing Race-like ride we’ve had since we got to India. He is very fast and spends most of the trip lurking between massive buses then darting out at the last minute to make headway. It’s scary and thrilling at the same time and his alert confidence makes us feel safe. Even with his tricks it takes 90 minutes for the 16 kilometre ride. We gather our suitcases, gladly eat the hotel fee, bid goodbye to Doggle Mountain and have an uneventful Uber car (because of the suitcases) 90 minute ride back to the Metro station. We stand in the hallway outside our hotel room and as Todd’s getting out the key I say, “Let’s pretend we’ve just arrived in Bangalore. Let’s find the wonder in this city, too.”
Todd unlocks the door, saying, “What an easy ride from the airport, huh? Let’s see what our hotel room looks like!” and we both laugh and go inside.
Todd is still feeling achey, so he lies down for awhile and then we go for a short walk to have Andhra cuisine. Our placemats are real banana leaves. Todd orders a vegetarian thali and I order chilli chicken. Three servers come and spoon our meals on our banana leaves with a massive pile of rice. It smells TRANSCENDENT. I dive into my chilli chicken and as I’m writing this my mouth is watering just with the memory. I finish the chicken and the server asks if I would like more gravy and YES PLEASE I WOULD LOVE MORE GRAVY and by the time I finish my banana leaf is so clean it’s almost ready to be used again.
Todd asks if it’s cold in the restaurant and I say no, and feel his forehead which seems fine. So we walk for forty minutes to the venue again for today’s workshop. Here are things you can buy from roadside vendors in Bangalore:
* pink cotton candy
* more pink cotton candy
* wooden cobras that move really realistically
* all the pink cotton candy that you could possibly want
Badminton, hawks, and cotton candy. I can’t wait to find out what else is on the List Of Things I Didn’t Know Were Big In India.
We walk past a temple and I see a woman stop her scooter and bow her head for a moment, then zoom on. We pass a granny playing on the sidewalk with her two granddaughters. The letter boxes are small and the word “LETTERS” is hand painted. We pass a bowl of water and biscuits for any passing street dogs.
The workshop venue is near Lake Ulsoor and we’re early so we walk around the lake. There are lazing street dogs lying in the sun. We see three ducks and then, to our surprise, a little black rooster strutting around all by himself. A group of men is rowing a boat together but very slowly, the water and the sun and the day are so peaceful that we are all on the verge of lying down in the sun with the street dogs.