Cloudy
58°
Cloudy
Hi 64° | Lo 40°
One Man

One Man’s Plan: Sandeep and Sully – a trip to India

  • A boy sits in an open air market in Bangalore, India. <br/><br/>Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor

    A boy sits in an open air market in Bangalore, India.

    Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor

  • A woman sits on the back of a motorcycle during a daily commute through Bangalore, India. <br/><br/>Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor

    A woman sits on the back of a motorcycle during a daily commute through Bangalore, India.

    Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor

  • A man transporting coconuts on his bicycle makes his way down the streets of Bangalore, India.<br/><br/>Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor

    A man transporting coconuts on his bicycle makes his way down the streets of Bangalore, India.

    Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor

  • A man cutting bamboo sets up shop in the streets of Bangalore, India<br/><br/>Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor

    A man cutting bamboo sets up shop in the streets of Bangalore, India

    Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor

  • A boy sits in an open air market in Bangalore, India. <br/><br/>Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor
  • A woman sits on the back of a motorcycle during a daily commute through Bangalore, India. <br/><br/>Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor
  • A man transporting coconuts on his bicycle makes his way down the streets of Bangalore, India.<br/><br/>Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor
  • A man cutting bamboo sets up shop in the streets of Bangalore, India<br/><br/>Tim O' Shea / For the Monitor

Describing a trip to India to someone who’s never been there is like explaining a dream from last night that makes you sound outhouse-rat bonkers. “And the podiatrist was this super tall pelican with a Wisconsin accent, a hammertoe and a creepy smile who forced me to watch Beaches and eat kelp. And then he tried to kiss me with his huge swollen Barbara Hershey lips . . .” Just like the 7-foot seabird foot doctor, you can’t explain India until you see it, and then when you see it, you can’t explain it.

Preparation for my 10-day trip to India began with a friend loaning me her latest copy of Yoga Journal – you know, the one with the lady doing a yoga pose on the cover. “India? You must read this article about yoga in India and self-discovery!” she said, handing me the magazine. This is in drastic contrast to my co-workers who told me nothing about self-discovery but a lot about what not to eat – as in, “You will discover yourself locked in the bathroom for a day of gastric distress-induced hallucinations if you don’t follow our advice.” Their warnings were endless. Don’t eat salads, avoid milk and ice cubes, eat fruit only if you peel it, brush your teeth with bottled water, close your mouth in the shower, don’t swim in the pool and, for God’s sake, avoid the chicken salad boxed lunch in the office because, “I swear it is not chicken.”

This advice was followed by office-mandated vaccinations and prophylactic regimens. Between the hepatitis A, B and C shots, the polio and typhoid needles and the two weeks of malaria pills, I felt like a preventive-care pincushion, steeped in concoctions recommended by the State Department, my company’s wellness center and that tiny voice in my head reminding me that a sick day 8,100 miles from my binky and favorite pillow would be awful.

The trip started with a delayed flight and a missed connection in Paris, not a bad place to get stuck for a day – except that France’s national social air conditioner was broken during the start of a Parisian heat wave. After sightseeing and melting in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in the midsummer swelter, my one evening in the hotel was like spending a night in a Comanche sweat lodge. Visions of famous Frenchmen visited me as I lay naked, sweat pouring off my body. Jacques Cousteau was a peach, but that Marcel Marceau was far too loud.

And then to India – destination Bangalore, in the southern state of Karnataka, one of the largest cities in India and the center of the country’s blooming love affair with technology. The city has doubled its population to almost 9 million people in the past 20 years, much of it fueled by foreign companies finding top-notch technology talent from the many universities in and around Bangalore. But before I could see this for myself, I watched the Air France chief bursar announce in French and English that by law she must disinfect the plane’s cabin as she tore off the top of two giant aerosol cans and strolled down the aisles, letting the misty-sweet chemicals drift onto us as we settled in for the nine-hour flight.

All the advice, recommendations, shots and menu suggestions did not prepare me for my first commute to work. The road swelled – buses, cars, motorcycles, scooters, more motorcycles, jaywalkers, traffic cops, bicycles, stray dogs, wandering cows, even more motorcycles and a hybrid scooter/car/taxi invention known as the “auto-rickshaw.” Exhaust fumes and the deafening staccato roar of car horns filled the air, everyone using their horns as a substitute for actual coherent driving. Scooters darted in and out of fast-moving traffic as cars swerved and dodged them and each other. Pedestrians made eye contact before stepping into what would be sure death on Main Street but here was only a hesitation and a honk. It was complete chaos – a family of four on a motorcycle (“Baby gets the handlebars!”), a man in a horse and wagon, a teenager pedaling a gearless bike draped with a massive bunch of coconuts and barefoot children walking to school as a pack of ownerless dogs and cows grazed on piles of garbage near a storefront sign advertising “Instant Jesus Vegetables.” No crescendo of sound or rising swirl of action culminating in accidents or confrontations or even a single Long Island Third Finger Salute – just a steady cacophony of movement, and everyone, even the dogs, knew where to go and how to get there.

Sleep didn’t come easily – one night I might crash before dinner and then other nights I’d watch hours of cricket matches and Bollywood music videos, heading to work sleep deprived, wondering why there are no foul balls in cricket and where those people learned to dance like that! And the looming potential of eating the wrong thing was never far from my mind, but when the open butter masala dosa or the naan bread soaked in olive oil or the chicken dish with mint sauce spicier than a kick to the mouth was offered, I threw caution to the wind. These forays into a new world led me to interpret every slight rumble in my stomach as either a natural shifting of its contents or the opening salvo in the War of the Water Closet in Room 624. I’m happy to report that conflict was averted, and all was quiet in my corner of the sixth floor.

It would be easy to dismiss India as too other-worldly to appreciate, too far-removed from my perspective to yield anything other than bewilderment. But I can’t. Indians are not much different than Americans. From the north-south differences in food and dialect, to the dashboard Vishnus to the countrywide obsession with cricket, Sandeep from Bangalore is a lot like Sully from Everett, in his Patriots hoodie, a cross around his neck, a Bruins bumper sticker on his car and a double-meat lobster roll and cheese fries from Kelly’s in his lap. Except Sully doesn’t use his car horn like a nervous tic, and his dog’s at home waiting for his nightly walk instead of wandering the streets looking for a snack with his bovine best friends.

India is a dream – noisy, chaotic, incomprehensible and indescribable. It’s a dream you keep to yourself, holding it in your hands. Trying to explain it only lets it slip through your fingers until it’s gone.

(Comments or Ideas? Email Tim at timcoshea@gmail.com.)

Legacy Comments0
There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.