INDIA ADVENTURES DAY 19 AND 20: In our previous episode, Open Mic Storytelling in India is damn good and the 40 minute walk catches up to poor Todd. And now, today!
We wake up and have our eerie There Will Come Soft Rains breakfast then back to the hotel room for Todd to lie down and continue recovering while I write. One of Todd’s coworkers comes and takes us to lunch at a Bengali restaurant. I drink a drink made with lychee juice and eat fish with a mustard infused curry WOWIE KAPOWIE and I know I keep exclaiming over every meal but people EVERY MEAL IS TREMENDOUS and so what can I do?
For dessert we are served small clay pots filled with mishti doi which the internet reports contains milk, jaggery (sugar), and yogurt but I can hardly believe it – the intricacies of the sweet creamy texture surely include hours of work and a hundred ingredients. After dessert we say our goodbyes to Todd’s coworker and then it’s back to house arrest for Todd who is still feeling punky.
We play the game Jaipur (no relation) and Bubblee Pop on the website Board Game Arena and listen to a Tina Turner album and outside it begins to rain. We open the windows to listen to the thunder. A crow sits on a nearby building and crabbily talks to itself. A man standing under an overhang puts his hands out to feel the water like he’s a little kid.
I see people running from the drizzle like it’s made of fire and am bewildered but then it ACTUALLY begins to rain, sheeting down so hard I can’t see across the street. I’m making a video of the rain when I see movement out of the corner of my eye and there’s a young man on a roof cleaning the eaves out right in the middle of the worst of the storm.
Todd rests, I write, we drift off to sleep.
In the morning, Todd is feeling well enough for a slow saunter around the block. It’s just past seven a.m. on a Sunday morning and Bangalore is asleep. It IS Christmas, rush hour DID end! We cross the street back and forth just because we can and listen to the birds as we walk. We pass a manufactured (not handwritten) sign which reads “Gun Shot Here”.
It’s unclear what the sign means, and my best guess is that the nearby store sells ammunition. But I wonder what would happen if you had to put that sign up everywhere in America where a gun had been shot. Would you be able to walk down the street, or would you end up lying on the sidewalk, tangled in signs?
Across the street (Which we cross! Look at us! Crossing the street with a slow strut!) we see a massive Catholic church. Inside the service is being given in Tamil or maybe Kannada, the booming voice carrying outside to passing people. Two street dogs lounge on the church steps.
Todd is feeling the marathon pace of a .3 miles an hour, though, so it’s hotel breakfast (I am delighted to find that my seat is taken already by an ADORABLY sleeping kitty)
and house arrest again until Todd’s coworker arrives with his wife and generously takes us out for lunch a second time. We go to the Andhra restaurant and I have that chilli chicken on banana leaves again (for real, when Todd is listing reasons for me to come back to India with him that chilli chicken is going to rate right after the friends we’ve made).
Can you guess what happens next? Rest! Writing! By the evening Todd’s feeling well enough to venture out to the bookstore. On the way we pass a man sitting on the sidewalk replacing smartphone screens for his waiting customers. He makes it look easy and it’s certainly fast. We go inside and that used bookstore smell fills my nostrils, that smell that promises adventure and lyricism and visiting imaginary worlds. There are books piled everywhere, everywhere, and I feel like crying. I miss bookstores like this so much. I haunted them like a benign ghost for years and watched them close down one by one until kids think a bookstore is Indigo Books, the first floor nothing but magazines and smartphone accessories, the second floor a massive coffee shop and the books shoved into one small corner all by themselves.
But as I walk through the store I see young people in every aisle. A woman is sitting on a chair reading a book, children are picking up books to show their parents. In one of the aisles I see a teenage couple sitting on the floor. She’s leaning against him and he is reading to her in a soft murmur. I stand there with a huge grin, trying to beam the words, “DON’T LET THAT BOY GO” into her head.
The books are 60% English and 40% Tamil, Kannada, and Hindi. I see How To Play Badminton, Seeking an Indian Protestant Ethic, and Feminist Rani: Interviews On Gender Equality. Romance novels from the 1980s are disproportionately represented and I show Todd “Vacancy: Wife” and “The Italian Billionaire’s Secretary Mistress”. Although I’m sure the book English Bites is about food, I want it to be about how awful the British empire was – English BITES. We make a note ask Nitin and Deepti if it’s okay to send G. the book Like A Girl: Real Stories For Tough Kids by Aparna Jain. I see a young woman with a bobbed haircut shaking her head at the book her friend is holding up. She speaking Hindi, but every fifth word is the English “misogynist” and I immediately like her.
Todd picks up two Hindi storybooks for children and we head out. When Todd was in India last year he met Manas Dewan, who travelled with his partner through eighteen countries on a motorbike. His book about their travels is called Dear Journey, and it’s only available in India AND it’s definitely in stock at the Crossword bookstore. We hop on the subway and ride to Majestic station (think Yonge and Bloor) and in order to transfer to the green line.
I’ve been wildly curious about the Ladies Only car since I heard about them years ago and so I venture past the Ladies Only sign and wait with a small group of women for the next train to arrive. There’s a security guard assigned to every entrance of the train, and the woman in khaki who runs the Ladies Only car makes sure only women are waiting. We board and I laugh when I realize the cars aren’t separate – that I can see Todd about one hundred feet away. But there’s an invisible line that none of the men are crossing, and the crowd abruptly stops at that line. There’s nowhere to sit, but hardly anyone is standing and I have all the room I want. Some of the women are chatting, some are silent. I like it very much.
We get off at the next stop and go directly into the mall (like Queen Station and Eaton Centre). Many of the stores are Western but sari shops are everywhere and it seems to be The Night Of Beautiful Dresses, but oddly also The Night Of Pregnant Women – in the first ten minutes I see more pregnant women than I have in the past year, no exaggeration.
On the first floor we find the Crossword kiosk. It’s a pathetic collection of Western books on four low bookshelves and I feel sad all over again about the bookstore we visited this morning. Todd asks about Manas Dewan’s book and the clerk says no no, this is just the ANCILLARY kiosk, the real bookstore is on the top floor. What a relief! We start upstairs, exploring every floor as we go. I stop in the restroom and see a Washroom Etiquette sign and wish that we had them in Toronto – the number of times I’ve walked into the bathroom in Toronto after a snooty hipster and had to wipe HER pee off the seat before I can sit down is LEGION. A small train with ladybug cars on it careens by, squealing children inside. We pass a Scary House, a virtual reality roller coaster, and a fish pedicure stand with four aquariums and comfy chairs YOU KNOW LIKE AT EATON CENTRE.
I pass a woman with bobbed hair and wonder if she’s from the bookstore but then I see three more bobbed heads pass by. I wonder if it’s like the 1920s in the States – a statement. On the top floor we find the real Crossword bookstore, and the Manas Dewan book.
The food court is half Western fast food and half Indian – that half is tempting but every stall is swamped. We end up at a fancy vegetarian thali restaurant. We sit down and a server comes by with a metal basin and pours perfectly warmed water over our hands preparatory to our meal. The dessert is our hands down favourite – crispy flatbread soaked in sweet syrup, like a roti and jalebi got married and had a delicious baby. On the way home I callously abandon Todd to the very crowded all gender section of the subway car and ride in the Ladies Only section, standing but with room enough to spin in a circle with both arms outstretched. (I mean, I don’t. But I could.) One man accidentally crosses the invisible line into our section, looks horrified, and quickly backs up.
Back in the hotel room, we read our books and fall asleep. We have one more day in India before heading home.