Sexist Subway

We heard the train pull up as we started down the long flight of stairs towards the subway. With both eyes on each passing step and both ears on the sounds coming from the platform we spun around the corner at the bottom of the stairs and darted into the first pair of open doors we saw as they narrowly missed pinching the bulge of my bum. The Delhi subway is really something else. It’s only about 5-10 years old depending on the line and it’s completely squeak free and mostly aboveground, slicing through the major roads atop giant concrete pillars. As it nears central Delhi it does dip into the earth and live out it’s definition as a subterranean way of travel.

            After a few minutes of catching our breath we surveyed the scene. There was an oddly high concentration of women. Spencer thought of it first. ‘OH!’ he said, we’re in the women’s only car. So we scooted towards that awkward accordion-like area that marked the arbitrary division between the sexes. I was just a few feet into the women’s car and a nice girl actually warned me that I should commit and go the extra two feet lest I get a fine from one of the many undercover female cops that roam the subway. At the next station, a popular one I guess, I began to see the reality. The doors opened and hundreds of men piled into the rest of the train, while a few girls walked peacefully into their reserved car. It felt strange. I was glad that these women were safe, but here I was amidst a sea of men, all struggling for even the smallest amount of shoulder space while laughing and staring creepily at the women’s only car. I felt like a caged animal, sequestered from my prey, which is ironic because it’s the opposite of what this sort of segregation aims to achieve. 

            Ultimately I’m sure it’s better for these women, who do risk being groped by the not so occasional creep. India is a very sexually repressed country, and it manifests very grossly in Delhi. But I don’t think the sexist subway helps men to think things over, it might just put a larger bow on the prize for those who do objectify women on a daily basis. It was a strange thing, to be right there on that line in a country that has to enforce rules of personal contact between the sexes because so many people just don’t get it. On one side, hundreds of rowdy guys, crammed into a fast moving subway, and on the other, forty or fifty women who unfortunately have many reasons to fear the mob that awkwardly stares from their sexual seclusion. It only looks like temporary progress to me. The real changes will only come through cultural awareness and, believe it or not, openness about sex and what it means and what it is becoming in this sexually challenged country.

The Tour

            Going on tour with Aditya Balani was a blast! The tour in a nutshell was four gigs, in three places, all more or less sponsored by the Goa Jazz Festival. The first night in Bombay was a super lame venue called D’Bell, which is obviously some rich guy’s attempt at making a club from a formula, laid out in a book somewhere. The entire place was reflective, so the sound was rough. The smoke machine was a nice touch but every time it was turned on in drowned out our subtle jazz lines, even though really in Adi’s band we all just shred. The drinks were expensive and they only offered the musicians Budweiser. The true highlight of our gig in Bombay was Francis, the young chap who picked us up from the airport and got us to the gig and got us out. He helped convince the taxi driver that it was actually necessary to strap down the back hatch of our taxi van, which didn’t appear to latch and threatened to spill my keyboard, Isaac’s cymbals, and all of our luggage onto the Bombay streets if we hit a bump a little too hard. Francis also gave us his take on his fair city, explaining that it ‘fuckin sucks’ and that all the super poor people have smart phones. He took us to eat some really really spicy pizza sauce that he called Indian food. And he was just generally a hooligan, and a fun guy to have around. At one point he described his hospital stay for a nasty fall he took off a cliff as being 9 weeks. Then he followed that up with, “that’s almost a YEAR bro!” We worked out the math as he hastily ordered the check from the impressively patient restaurant owner.

            That night we stayed with Kshitij, a friend of a friend who I’m glad to know because he seriously hooked it up. Kshitij is a fashion designer and all around good dude. Kshitij you reading this? We made that Wednesday night as adventurous as we could, and we even woke up at 7am to take a walk before taking the cab to Pune, our next destination.

            We didn’t see much of Pune, we just enjoyed the ride, where I got some great GoPro footage of Spencer scratching his nuts during a heavy nap. We went straight to the venue in Pune and my gawdddd was it incredible. One of the best places I’ve ever played. Incredible food, drinks, service, vibe, etc. Check it out: Shisha Jazz Café. The ambience was amazing, a huge open air shed, like HUGE, filled with beautiful jazzy décor and hungry people. That gig went super well and after stuffing our faces we went to some hotel and ate Apple Strudel at 2am with some new friends. There we met Abhishek, another friend of the same friend, and so here we were getting hooked up with cool friends from a cool friend (Andrea, if you should ask).

            The magic really starts here though, in Goa. We flew to Goa the next morning and were shuttled to our beach cottage straight away. And when I say beach cottage I mean it. We were right there on the ocean, or a short walk away at least. We went for a swim in the warm murky water, and got ready for our gig that night. It was a small crowd at a bar that had a bit too many wicker chairs painted white to kill the vibe, but it went well. Isaac actually played so hard that he accidentally threw a drumstick at me. I picked up my keyboard and tipped it over onto his drum set like a toppled dinner table and then Spencer and Adi started sword fighting with their instruments. We didn’t finish the show, everything was a mess. Like I said, we shred.

            The food at this place was amazing! The chef even took a picture with us, but then he gave me a broken email to send it to, and it’s bounced back a few times. Shame, because he really deserves this smiley photo. It’s very clear we loved the fish curry. I’m pretty sure that night was our first night to sleep, and we had Lucy in tow (Spencer’s lovely girlfriend), who flew all the way in from Seattle and met us in Goa, what a champ. So for the first time in a few nights, we really slept.

            I don’t know what happened the next few days, but it all falls under the umbrella of pure magic. Our amazing friends from France who we met in Delhi (mentioned previously I believe) had serendipitously decided to travel to Goa at this time and we worked it out for them to come stay with us for the first few nights and we had such an incredible time. We played our second gig that night after a full day of hardcore chilling. I also met Geeta, my fantasy wife from a small village around the corner who works on the beach peddling random beachy junk to tourists that step into her tarp/corrugated tin roof shed that she so innocently guards.

            That night Adi drove to North Goa with Nitika (who works for Wikipedia, how cool is that??) and we never saw him again. North Goa is the more party-oriented area of Goa. We stayed behind to chill. And chill we did. That day we rented scootys for only 300 rupees + 100 for the petrol, which is equivalent to about $6.50. There were 8 of us so we had 4 scootys, and I was enjoying my time with Heloise as my passenger.

So we hopped on our scooters and fought through the super chill Goan traffic towards the village of Verna. We were in search of a particular ‘waterfall’ with healing properties but ended up finding a different one just by asking random people on the side of the road. We made it, swam, laughed with some locals, even ate some Chicken Biryani that they gave us (MMMM incredible) and experienced the strange sensation of hundreds of small fish nibbling at your skin in water that is so murky you can’t even see two inches deep. After we found a private swimming hole not too far upstream and allowed the ladies to de-clothe with the trust that we wouldn’t stare like the locals would, we took a few funky underwater photos and were on our way. We ate at a restaurant just down the road, completely empty, and I wonder how they stay open, they’re in the middle of nowhere next to this waterfall…

 

On our way back we took a different route and accidentally ended up at a beach where we played soccer with some locals on the sand and Pierre and I both equally messed up each others feet in one crazzzzzy kick. Then we dipped in the ocean and headed home to return the motos by sunset. We made it just in time and were spitting out the twilight bugs as we cruised into port and returned the scootys. I gave the key and helmet to someone else, I was so out of it, and almost risked the moto getting stolen, but I figured it out, despite my sudden memory freeze.

 

Then we happened upon this guy singing karaoke at a hotel (his own solo show) and he literally sounded exactly like Sting. It was INCREDIBLE.

 

The night was laid back, we ate some decent food at a place down the beach and walked back and staked our claim on a small patch of sand in front of our cottage and did some nice chilling into the night.

 

Then 2:30 rolled around and the fishermen started to come for their boat so Spencer started helping them push it and what was thought to be an invite only trip ended up getting Heloise and I on the list as well and we shipped off into the night on a rickety wooden boat with 8 men in their underwear chanting work songs as we carried a net out to sea in order to catch us some anchovies. I wish I could describe it, but it literally was like a dream. It was like being in a boat with Vikings, just minus the spikey hats. One guy was in his underwear, and he was the main dude, shouting at all the rowers, and the work songs went on forever as they rowed and rowed out to sea, not too far from the shore. Then after an hour or so when we had dropped the net and I guess the guys on shore were pulling it back in, we were serenaded by the sound of millions of anchovies fighting for their lives as the impending net closed in around them. It sounded like the hardest rain I’ve ever heard, and every once in a while one of them would leap into the boat and flop around in the ankle deep puddle at the bottom that kept getting larger. It was incredible and deserves my full attention some day, not just a quick mention in a blog.

Serendipititious

            Serendipity in Delhi is more prominent than Dengue fever, and as far as I know it is not transmittable by mosquitoes. While every day of my life here seems to be graced with some small example of the magic, there are a few instances that beg to be written and remembered. I’ll go for the ones worth going for.

 Part I

            So I was talking a lot to this girl I had met in my first few days here, but for some reason we could never hang out. We always had different things going on, and it started to feel hopeless. I hadn’t seen her in probably two weeks when finally we had a date to look forward to. She was having a little ‘shindig’ in Hauz Khas Village to celebrate the end of her nine-day alcohol fast. Everyone has their own accomplishments, so let’s not get too judgmental here. It was all set, I was gonna bring the boyzz to HKV and we’d have a grand ‘ol time. But after we had been out way too late the night before from other serendipitous series of events, when faced with the prospect of going out again we just couldn’t do it.

             So I broke the news, got a few casually angry texts and went to bed. The next day it seemed I was forgiven, and if I wanted to meet up and go to a temple to see the final celebration of a national festival I was invited. I had expressed interest prior, but I had to bail yet again, because that night we had to burn the Ravan that the kids in our neighborhood had been building (a 30ft bamboo/paper mache structure filled with M-80’s and burned to the ground). It seemed like the end. I was never gonna see this girl, so we left it at that. We had been out exploring some new areas with another faculty member (from India) and to top it off we went to a Tibetan restaurant in a neighborhood that we had never been to… Lajpat Nagar IV. As we sat and waited for our food, she walked right by the window while casually peering in. I couldn’t tell if she saw me, so I went outside and sure enough she had, but was probably debating whether or not to make anything of it, seeing as I had epically failed to hang out with her. But if for nothing but the sake of serendipity, her and her friend came and sat down with us for a few minutes. Her friend was going to a wedding in a few weeks and was in this neighborhood to buy an outfit. We were there to eat Thupka soup. After she made some hilariously insensitive jokes but ultimately harmless jokes about dog meat and Tibetans, she was off.

        Sure, not too insane, perhaps one paragraph too long for such a simple story, but you have to understand that Delhi is home to 22 million people, it is 20% larger than New York and all the boroughs and our place of meeting felt too random and too perfectly timed to just be a usual ‘small world’ occurrence.

Part II

             We had a few couchsurfers at the place in the first month of living here. First it was a Brazilian guy and girl, second a Spanish guy, and third an Israeli. All these people were awesome, friendly, and so excited to stay with us (have I mentioned our apartment is SWEEEEEET??).  With each person or pair we explored a bit of the city, spent some time with some of our other local friends, and just created connections that will surely stretch into the future without any sense or urgency to maintain contact but with the comfort of knowing that you’ve got friends out there in the great big world.

             Well it’s been a while since we’ve had any couch surfers and a busy schedule has kept us from traveling much, although Spencer and I have just recently returned from a gig with Tarun (the school director) in Bangalore, and we met up last night with a few of our French friends. They had just been to Amritsar (a trip that I wanted to join them for but couldn’t because of a gig in Delhi), and Alice was telling all about it, the cold, the golden temple, etc. When suddenly her eyes lit up and she said ‘OH YEAH!’ – we ran into The Brazilians AND Javier and we all slept in the Golden Temple. I thought that was a pretty serious omission and was surprised it hand’t been blurted out sooner but mostly I was so stunned that the independent timing of all four parties involved could work out like that. Alice, a French student studying at the local University, Javier, a Spanish dude traveling India for 6 months, and Regina and her friend from Brazil, traveling Southern Asia for a year. All end up in the same city in a different state independent of each other at least 3 weeks after last having seen each other, and end up sleeping in the same room. Think of all the factors at play. If we hadn’t hosted them. If we didn’t know Alice. If I hadn’t gotten dinner with Alice and the Brazilians in HKV one night to discuss a possible trek. If Javier had chosen any other day to go to Amritsar. Too insane really. And Alice was the only one (besides me) who knew everybody, and pulled the whole stunt off. Who knows what kind of timing it took for her to first run into Regina in the street and then later Javier. Wowwwww!!

 Part III

 We had a Spanish couch surfer and as we headed out towards the main road one night somebody stopped us and asked what language we were speaking. ‘Spanish of course!’ Turns out this guy needs some people to translate a script for a National Geographic documentary he’s working on, and while we are supremely under qualified, Spencer and I accepted the challenge. Right place at the right time. Since then we’ve met so many Spanish people so we’ll have no trouble fine-tuning our rough draft.

 Part IV

            I went to Hauz Khas one night to meet a couple friends and when they had to leave I decided I would stay. As I was talking to some new Spanish friends I bumped into a girl who I thought was my friends girlfriend. She wasn’t, but the seed was planted, I had a reason to talk to her. But having interrupted a conversation of my own I said I’d catch up with her later and finish up my embarrassing conversation that was dusting off my Spanish with some big Spanish guy in a red sweater who lives in Spain and builds toll roads.

             So when I had exhausted my Spanish and had grown bored of the topic I set off to find this girl. There she was seated with like… 7 other girls at the other end of the rooftop bar. So I approached, said hello, and met her friends. I got to talking to one nearby, named Alisha, because we both connected on the topic of music. After the usual Q&A she said she was about to study in Boston. Oh! That’s where I studied, I went to Berklee. Oh! I’m going to Berklee. Small world? Mostly just the fact that I didn’t know any of these girls at all, and here is a girl getting ready to ship off to Berklee.

            She couldn’t make our show the next day and we didn’t really talk after that. But a few weeks later after a music festival I found myself at a small ‘after party’ of about 10 chill people and who was it that came down to let us in? Alisha. This time I was with another group of people who I only knew one of prior to that evening. No direct connection. Even the person I knew well didn’t know Alisha. She’ll probably come over this week to play some music and talk about Berklee. Insane.

Somebody Died

            It wasn’t somebody I knew, but their body, tightly wrapped in a white sheet was only a few yards from my apartment, the subject of a few dozen gazes and a showering of flower pedals, various ornamental fabrics, and a few tears. It was a surprise, a funeral right there on the street in front of my house, blocking all passage to the main corridor beyond. Spencer and I nearly walked into it but when I spotted a homemade stretcher hosting a body like figure I put two and two together and we quickly turned our heads and…. decided to spy from our balcony, undetected.

            What we saw wasn’t spectacular by any means. If anything it was just so strange that we couldn’t really relate. Mourning was minimal, there seemed to be more of an air of attention- a few tears but the focus never strayed from the light conversation being held among friends in remembrance of the dead and an intense adornment of cloth, sweets, flowers, and ultimately this weird cage thing that looked like it was made at the creation station from pipe cleaners. Not to say it wasn’t genuine and beautiful, but it was so different from anything I’d ever seen at a funeral that I could only visually categorize it as an arts and crafts project.

             We followed the body as 6 guys hoisted it onto their shoulders and walked right out to the main road, through 6 lanes of angry afternoon traffic, all the while leaving a trail of Indian crackers and sweets (they were throwing them at the body as they walked) that were crushed by pedestrian steps and car tires seconds later. This might as well be about the same as lifting a corpse onto your shoulders and walking through 20mph heavy traffic on I-5 in downtown Seattle. They walked about a quarter mile to the local temple where a brief prayer was performed and a few tears shed. All the women in the group entered the temple while the body was hoisted into the back of an ‘ambulance’ (a small van about half the size of a VW bus equipped with little more than a plywood bed) and the hatch was left open as the body was carried away to it’s fiery disintegration.

            It was such an interesting custom to witness, and SO hard to relate to or understand even in the slightest. But rather than try and ask all the questions on my mind I just enjoyed the spectacle and said a prayer of my own for the deceased. I was happy to see they were well loved, and I hope my curiosity didn’t offend them.

The yoga stare-glare

Spencer and I do yoga about twice a week at a pretty chill studio in a hip neighborhood a few kilometers away from our place. By hip I mean you see white people. Nobody has beards (unless they also have turbans) and thick rimmed glasses. There is no coffee served here. But it is a good place to do yoga with other expats and affluent locals and also pick up a box of pancake mix from the imported foods store on the way home.

I’m getting better, inching my desperate fingertips closer to my toes every session (even growing my nails out to let it happen sooner), but still not practicing on my own or doing the things necessary to improve between sessions. I just know that I must be that guy that makes people uncomfortable because I ‘peek.’ You know, nothing perverted or anything, but it’s tough not to check out the scene when I’m already holding two opposing limbs in the air and then I’m asked to lift a third by a teacher whose english is fluent but grammatically delayed. So here I am with my head between my legs, red faced and shaking, and what am I supposed to do but look up and glance over at one of the flexible fine women who are executing the poses with great success.

This is my apology. I promise I only peek to make my yoga better. I would never disrupt the sanctity of the studio for a trashy glance at a female in a compromising position.

Sincerely,

The dude still trying to touch his toes while you grab onto your shoulders with your arms threaded through your legs.

ENT

I went to the ENT a while back to get my vocal cords checked out and here’s how it went down.

Took an auto to the Saket City Hospital, about 6 miles south west of where I live. I walk in and pass the “Premium Lounge” and think, hmm that’s interesting, I wonder who gets to go in there. Two minutes later, I’m being shuffled into the premium lounge without having said a word, written a check, or flashed any of my fancy bling. I’m guessing it was because of the color of my skin. While inside I was offered tea, and I watched as he poured packet of packet of milk and stirred it up into a nice pale cream. A few moments later a lovely young lady asked me for 1300 rupees. The consultation fee. I coughed it up and was soon on my way to see the doc. When I got to his office we chatted and he apologized for the charge saying that this wasn’t a consultation, as we had already consulted in his private practice, this was going to by the laryngoscopy. So I went back and handed them back my bill with a couple notes and asked for the refund and that I would pay the balance. Something confused them greatly, but they assured me that I would grow tired standing at the busy reception and shuffled me back to the premium lounge.

After a short time the doctor came looking for me because what should’ve taken 2 minutes was still underway after 10 minutes passed. With a few angry words in Hindi he grabbed my bill, handed me some change and took me to the back. I apologized for my passivity but what was I to do from the lonely confines of the premium lounge? He said it was no problem and gave me the scoop as we walked towards the endoscopy room. Because the procedure was thought to cost 3600 rupees but only came up as 3200 in the computer the front desk staff was trying to find miscellaneous charges to add to my bill to get the extra 400 out of me. Of course, this is a multi million dollar hospital that has a reputation at stake as well as a large endowment and he told them it was not their responsibility to reverse bargain just because I had expected to pay it.

He assured me that the level of care was just as good as in the states, but that it was lower down the ladder where things still followed the broken systems and customs of Indian business. I nodded affirmatively as I searched the room. I was sitting on a hospital bed, a little unnecessary for a laryngoscopy, and there were 4 snake-like cameras hanging from an open plywood closet a few yards away. It began to click that this was the endoscopy room, for all sorts of internal exploration, and it would be silly to think that they reserved any of these wiggly spies for the privileged procedure that is the laryngoscopy. So as he threaded a thick glowing device of modern medicine up through my nose while excess local anesthetic dripped down my lip and into my mouth, I tried my best not to gag.

I’d do it again. $60 in India, $1200 in America. PS my vocal cords were fine.

The system in disguise

Accomplishing simple tasks can be quite an adventure in Delhi. There are no lines to order food from a fly-infested street cart, just as there are no lines to guide traffic on the road. A 10 person pileup at the register at the local market is not unlike the orgy of auto-rickshaws and motorbikes that whittle their way to the front of of the jam and continue to push the envelope of what might just be ‘sticking out a little too far…’

But despite all this mayhem, the more time I spend here the more I notice the skeletal fingers of a decrepit and outdated system poking through the thick layers of dust that have piled up over the years. And just as you might deal with an old and frail being, you are inclined to treat the system with respect and seek to understand it, while simultaneously bottling up your secret frustrations with it’s inadequacies.

But the fact is I don’t really mind the chaos. There is a method to the madness of necessity here. If you want to buy something at the grocery store, you barge your way to the front and set your things down with a sense of respectable demand. If you want to get anywhere on these roads, then you put about 50% of your chance of survival into the hands of other drivers who have the option of stopping for you or crushing you. Usually they choose the former. If you have a shopping list, you go hunting for it, stopping at all the niche markets that might have this or that because there is no supermarket. If you want water then you walk to the corner store and huff the 24 liter jug back to your place because you sure as hell can’t drink the tap. If you want to party, then you bribe the cops. If you want lunch, then you pay less than $1USD for a meal and they’ll deliver it for free. If you want to mail a letter, then you take some dry stamps and dip them in a cup of sticky water and slap it onto your envelope and wave it around to dry. If you want to say hello or approve of something or just impress a local, then you wobble your head smoothly from one side to the other and pretend like you know what it means. If you want to catch a bus, then you run. If you want to stop a bus, then you step in front of it and hold out your hand and act like you’re not scared. If it rains, it floods. If you want concrete then you make it on the street. If the road is soon to be paved, then they pour chalk around the cars that are parked and pave around them. If you want to park for months on end, then you leave your car in one place and come back with a mighty duster. If you want clean feet, then you avoid the dog poop. If you want clean air then you don’t live in New Delhi. If you want to find an address, then get ready to feel hopeless. Streets aren’t really labeled, there are no ascending or descending numbers or letters, nor does anything make sense. Neighborhoods have names, within neighborhood there are alphabetical blocks (not in order though) and within blocks there are numbers for buildings, but no unit numbers – it’s either ground floor (basement), I don’t actually know what the real ground floor is, 1st floor (2nd floor), 2nd floor (3rd floor), etc. Often times auto drivers don’t even know where to go when you tell them the block and so they pull over frequently asking local shopkeepers where the specific “address” if you can even call it that might be.

Laws don’t stand for much here. Courtesy is mostly personal. Yet somehow 21 million people get by, and if you learn to follow the faint outlines of their systems with same ruthlessness it takes to drive their roads, you might just figure it out too…