Read the fine print.

I love coffee. I brought my own supply of French coffee to India with me, as I had heard there were differences in preparation, etc. A French press was my coveted, most needed appliance. A morning cup or two of coffee starts my day. I am quite thrilled with the expression, no coffee, no prana. It fits me and my habits enabling my need to drink a cup of Java before doing anything else.

Within this ritual, I enjoy coffee with half in half, whole milk will do in a pinch, and life in India was all a pinch;) Milk is not in cartons in India. Rather instead it comes in pint sized plastics bags.

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Many people still have it delivered every morning by a milkman, left in bins outside their doors. I was picking it up at a local bodega. I was in awe the first time, with the packaging, figuring out how to get it open, not spill it, and then transfer my precious milk to another container for safe storage in the refrigerator. Yes, I know, quite a bit of thought just in milk, but my coffee is important, and I really don’t enjoy it as much black, though desperate times can call for desperate measures.

I didn’t think much of it when the packaging was a different color one morning out replenishing my milk supply.

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However, I was wrong. The next morning, as I poured my lovely milk into my precious coffee, and went for my first glorious sip, I almost choked! I thought maybe the milk was spoiled but it was also spicy? Was it goats milk, or something else?! How could milk be spicy? Well, in India it can be. I read the packaging, and there were ingredients, beyond cows milk. Unknowingly, I had been given buttermilk accidentally by the store clerk. Unlike the buttermilk here in the States or elsewhere, this had spices in it like cumin and coriander, not exactly what I wanted to be flavoring my morning cup of Joe…sigh, it was stomach churning and yet as with everything there being so precious, I felt so wasteful in not being able to consume it. Joyfully I had made enough coffee for a second cup, which I drank black, but at least not filled with cumin. Funny how something can seem heaven sent, even when it’s not your ideal, as it’s better than none, or at least palatable! Another lesson learned, read the fine print, no cumin in my milk please.

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Devaraja market

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“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.” Yes, I love Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and this favorite line perfectly denotes the Devaraja market in Mysore. Though I will admit I mostly saw the madness!

I went there on a Saturday after being at Mysore palace in the early morning. It was really an excursion to take in the experience and maybe get some essential oils and powdered pigments for painting. There had been a man hawking anklets in front of the palace, I rebuffed, telling him I was headed to the market, saving my rupees for shopping later. Who know he would be following me for the rest of the day?

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I was obviously with friends, as the open market in Mysore is not somewhere to explore alone, and preferably with a guide or someone who has been there before. My friend Stan had mentioned a great place to get incense and oil in the market that he had been too ten years prior. He had told me about a young boy, Syed, he had met and taken videos of that had very high quality goods. No sooner had we walked into the full vibrancy of chaos, when Syed was right in front of us, now a grown up 23 year old!

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Syed was so wondeful. He, as well, remembered the earlier visit! He took us into the back of his storefront and happily started ordering us chais to get from his workers as we sat and smelled his incense and oils. Oh, the swelling pride that glowed in his face as he described his mother hand-making the incense, and showing us the difference in color as well as scent in ingredient choices! A true labor of love handed down generationally. His grandfather had won awards in Mysore for his craft with oils. Syed was passionate and joyful in his duty to continue the family business.

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I admit, I wanted them all! The scents were divine, heady and intense, but also pure, subtle, and refreshing, a great combination! My order was ready after drinking about four chai. The conversation was worth the time spent. I loved learning about Syed, his family, his exhuberance, and his work. When all was finally said and done, yes, with the anklet guy still hovering right outside the kiosk, I bid Syed farewell, and said I was going to explore the rest of the market. He looked at me and exclaimed, “But you can’t! Don’t you see, you are so blonde and white, you are the Mark of the market!” I laughed and assured him I was in good hands with my friends and that we were only going to loop through, no more purchases, he was confident with that and let me go.

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The anklet man was quite persistent. he not only followed me and found me at the market, but stayed with me negotiating all the way back outside to the scooter..he earned my purchases that day!

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Gateways

“Often we pass beside happiness without seeing it, without looking at it, or even if we have seen and looked at it, without recognizing it.”
― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Walking the streets here in Gokulam, I pass by so many different houses. They each have commonalities, such as entry gates. I truly enjoy the unique aspects and art that takes hold of the utilitarian principles of what could be such basic structures, helping make such welcoming and beautiful homes.

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Welcome to India

So I’m exactly a week into being here. India is a noisy place, seriously, it is very loud here. Stainless steel dishes clattering in the sink, that sound like piles of glass shattering, beating laundry, imagine throwing wet towels against concrete as hard as you can, then magnify it, repeatedly, and the constant honking horns. Horns, apparently, are the only form of signal I’ve seen for intersections, turning, and hey I’m coming through, watch out! Then there are all the stray dogs that during the day seem innocuous enough, but fight and run in packs after dark, barking and up to no good, usually right around 3 am….there are other noises too, homes being built, new water lines being put in. It’s quite remarkable to see a crew working with not much more than hand tools while in bare feet rip up asphalt, dig out trenches and lay new pipes then cover it back up all in one days time. No gloves, only a very rare jackhammer…truly backbreaking work. Yet they do it, and so much worse, but all without complaint, dutifully, and I think with the gratitude of being fortunate enough to have work.

Intermingled amongst beautiful homes are lots treated as garbage dumps, and pretty much right around the corner are squat houses without much too them, equivalent in size to an SUV, but hey it’s a roof, with four walls. The truly maimed or crippled sustain by living in the garages or floors of unfinished new construction, keeping watch overnight. Again it’s shelter, from the dangers of the night. The police do patrol with decent frequency in the evenings, but it would still be unwise especially for a woman to traverse alone after dark. Almost every dwelling I’ve seen has gates and walls, many with areas of barbed wire or broken sharp glass pieces embedded in the tops. All the windows are covered in bars. I’m not sure if it’s to protect against critters or other more nefarious reasons, most likely it’s for both.

I’m not very street savvy, my intellectual gifts, unfortunately are lacking in that area. Granted this is not my usual element. I can navigate around just about anywhere in New York City without any problems or fears, but let’s just say I’m developing a learning curve of stranger danger here. Thankfully I do have some friends here, that have been before, and have shown me the ropes.

Yesterday afternoon walking right in front of the Shala a van stopped filled with young Indian boys, they were gesturing to me, talking and smiling as if to ask me something. My usual polite helpful nature had kicked in and I started walking over to see what they wanted. Mercifully I was with a friend, Stan, who basically freaked on me, yelling for me to back away. I was ridiculously naive and at first didn’t understand, as these boys looked sweet and harmless, but I’m not home, I’m in India and looks are deceiving. Stan chided me as I walked back over to join the others in front of the Shala, with and incredulous expression on his face, as he said, “Didn’t anyone ever warn you not to talk to strangers?!” Alas I have a hard time remembering not everyone operates with purity in their intentions. I admit, it’s difficult for me to assume otherwise. From now on sadly if I leave to go off alone, I will take pepper spray in one hand as a talisman to remember to be wary but hopefully not ever need it. I say all this with the counterbalance of having encountered wonderful, kind people here, friendly and helpful. Being mindful accepts the unexpected, both the good and the bad, but at least now, not unanticipated.