Two New Yorkers spend six months 18 months!?! in Bangalore and other places in India.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Christmas Is Coming

Commercial Christmas
Originally uploaded by GreyArea.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas -- well, not really. It's in the mid-70s every day (24 degrees C). And without the "trigger" of Thanksgiving and the Black Friday that comes after, when does India decide to put out Christmas stuff? From what I've heard, it's somewhere in early December, logically enough, so whatever merchandise will appear is still unknown.

Our next-door neighbor, a very old Scottish lady who is rumored to have starred in some silent (!) Bollywood movies, put a wreath on her door a few days ago, so that's one sign. And today, on the rickshaw to the gym, I saw a couple girls selling (and wearing) Santa hats. They were in the middle of MG Road (a main shopping drag), going from one stopped car and rickshaw to another.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Day in India

Happy Happy Thanksgiving to Americans, one and all.

For our Thanksgiving, we headed out to The Only Place, for its annual Thanksgiving dinner.

Unfortunately, we hadn't made reservations, and they were full up. I wish they could have fit us in, since it was early, the place was still basically empty, and I had been looking forward to a little schmoozing. But they wouldn't seat us, so we had to made do with takeout. As it was, this was for the best, since Don was feeling a little under the weather, and turkey always tastes better when you're home, right?

The turkey was really good -- not up to that of our relatives, of course, but definitely impressive and much appreciated this far from home. (Please excuse the lack of a gravy boat in the following picture.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On the Treadmill

When we first went to India, I thought that somehow I'd magically lose weight. Maybe I thought I'd get sick for a while (nice, huh?). Maybe I thought that because most Indians, at least the younger ones, are skinny, this would somehow rub off on me. But it definitely didn't happen. So for about 6 weeks before we left Bangalore and again now that I've been back, I've been going to the gym.

I suppose like most Westerners, I first toyed with doing yoga or something here. But then I had to be honest: I'd rather have some abs and a lot less weight rather than still more serenity and inner beauty (I have too much already!). So off I go to the gym each day, sweating and lifting and running and drinking endless glasses of water, all the while listening to horrible dance music.

The below video has made the rounds, but I just have to post it since it so completely shows just what my gym routine is NOT like:

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mobile Paperwork

Because of their possible use by terrorists and other unsavory elements, cell phones take a bit of paperwork to get. The government wants each phone traceable to an actual person, basically.

For this second India stay, I had to buy a new one, because I had lost mine just before we left Bangalore in July. Don still had his, but the number had expired from lack of use. So after buying a new one I also bought two new Airtel SIM cards. And that's when the fun began, because I had to provide the following:

  • 2 passport-size photos
  • passport and visa, for photocopying [my store was excellent, in that were able to do the photocopying themselves]
  • driver's license
  • signatures on just about everything, including on the highly restrictive terms of service, both of the photos, and on the photocopies
  • proof of address

It was that last bit that turned out to be a mess. I had an old letter from a foreign company that I thought would work, but I guess it wasn't good enough. Even less impressive was the delivery tag from the Netflix-for-India company 70mm. As a result, Airtel turned off our cell phones yesterday.

So today, Don and I went back to the Church Street store where I bought my phone, and he got to take a crack at filling out all the paperwork himself.

The best part of the "Prepaid Customer Enrolment Form" is a clause for farmers. In India, people who earn all their income through agriculture don't pay any income taxes, so they often don't have a tax number (I think this is true). Therefore there's a part of the form to sign if you're such a person. When I and then Don filled out our forms, the woman at the phone store tried to get us to sign that part. Luckily we both skipped it -- the last thing we need is the India government asking us where our coconut grove or rice paddys are.

Here's another account of a westerner getting a cell phone. It's interesting that he's also saying what several people told me today: it's a lot easier to get service through Hutch than through Airtel. But we still love you, Airtel, as long as you turn those phones back on!

Friday, November 17, 2006


To continue our temporary impersonation of a full-fledged food blog, I made choley yesterday. This is a spicy stew made with chickpeas, tomatoes, onions, and something sour. The sour usually comes from tamarind, but the recipe I used called for lime juice instead.

This was yet another opportunity to come to terms with the pressure cooker, and I think I'm finally OK with it. Unlike those in the U.S., Indian pressure cookers don't let off a little steam at a time -- most of it builds up and up until it can't stand it anymore. A small steam cloud and a huge racket results -- it's like a steampipe breaking or something. Everyone, including cookbooks, call this small explosion a "whistle," but it's way scarier than any whistling I've ever heard. The "whistles" are so important that it's often how you might time how long to cook things -- "give those lentils three whistles, will you?"

Anyway, after 25 minutes and 6-7 whistles and only a little fear and loathing from the cook, the kabuli chana (brown chickpeas) were ready to have browned onions, cooked down tomatoes, and spices added to them. If I do this recipe again, I'm going to use one rather than two sliced chili peppers -- two was just a little too much for our delicate Western palate. But it was really good all the same -- amazing how a good recipe can transform 1-1/2 cups of chickpeas into something edible and interesting.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fish Curry, Thumbs-Up

The fish curry turned out very good. First I cut the 0.6 kg (1.3 pound) fish fillet up into about 15 pieces and then tossed them with 1/2 t. each turmeric and salt. I let them sit for 15 minutes. Then I heated up about 4 tablespoons of oil and browned the pieces in batches.

I set the fish aside, poured off half the oil, and then came the excitement.

I turned up the heat to high, added four dried red chili peppers, and fried them until they were "plump and black," as the First-Time Cookbook says. This caused a lot of smoke, but it was all over quickly and noone was hurt.

Then it was time to add some mustard seeds and cumin seeds (1/2 t. total), let them crackle for a bit, and then fry a large, chopped-up onion (or five small ones in my case) until it was golder. And then I added spices-- garlic, ginger, chili powder, coriander, cumin, and more turmeric. I fried everything until the oil separated from everything else (the Indian term for this is to "bhuno"). I added 2 cups of water, returned the fish to the pot, brought everything to a boil and then simmered it all for 15 minutes.

It turned out great. I was worried it would be too spicy to eat, but the fried peppers seemed to make the broth peppery rather than hot, and the sauce was excellent when mixed with rice.

I'm thinking that if I make it again, I might throw in a few sliced potatoes along with the fish in the last step. And I'll know not to be too scared of those dried chiles.

Early Morning Wedding?

Well, if it's about 8 am on Wednesday, it's probably time for a parade with a band and a horse-drawn carriage! At least it was this morning, on our street.

I'm guessing this was a bride on the way to her wedding, along with an attendant. I wish I had a better idea what she was holding. And I wish I had a better shot of all the flags the band and marchers were all carrying. If anyone out there can help fill me in, I'll be in your dept.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fish Time

Tonight we're making Bengali fish curry, (Maachher Jhol), using the always useful and encouraging First-Time Cookbook.

I'm very excited, since i haven't cooked any fish here in India yet.

I know very little about the fish I bought -- kingfish. It looks like a non-oily whitefish. It also cost a lot -- 600 inr a kilo ($6/pound). Of course, I only got about .6 kilos, but I feel the pressure if it turns out lousy.

Pictures coming tomorrow if I can manage to photograph it in a non-hideous manner.

Monday, November 13, 2006

So Many Books

The internet at the apartment, hasn't worked since we got back. Although this has cut down a great deal on frivolous browsing, having to buy Wi-Fi in hourly chunks has also made me disinclined to blog much at all. I've been busy with some freelance projects, and Don's been busy at work, so we haven't seen so very much of India (at least Bloggable India) in the past few days in any case.

Yesterday, I headed up to the Palace Grounds, which do hold a palace. However, it's also used for a lot of other things, including the wonderfully named Princess Academy horse-riding school. But I wasn't there for horses, I was there for the Bangalore Book Festival, during which publishers and bookstores rented stalls to sell books directly to the public.

There were publishers in Hindu and Kannada, Tamil, and other major local mother tongues. There were stalls by university publishers, such as Oxford and Cambridge, and scientific/technical publishers, including Elsevier and Macmillan. But my favorites were the stalls of the local bookstores, and I picked up a couple oddball books from them, including Three Men in a Boat and some short stories by J. F. Powers.

Just about all the stalls seemed to be doing a good business -- I got there around noon, about an hour after it opened, and crowds were already dispersed through the whole enormous building.

Oh yeah, and there was parasailing! Behind the building, not among the stalls. I didn't get too close, but I did see a man's torso floating up, about 30 feet in the air. I couldn't decide if it looked just scary, or scary and fun.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


The internet at the house remains busted, and so I find myself buying Wi-Fi down the street a lot. Because the two sellers are Infinitea and Cafe Coffee Day, I'm in a near-constant state of buzzness.

Today I decided to mix it up a bit, and ordered Infinitea's CHILLED CHILLI CHAI. I somehow elided over that middle word, and it was a big mistake. The drink looks like whisky, smells like diesel fuel, and that chilli makes it really really burn. Ow. Fresh lime soda here I come.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Dewar's Found

Sunday we went on a short walk through some of the older neighborhoods to the north and west of us. One highlight was walking by Dewar's bar, a landmark that's been around since 1933, when this area, the Cantonment, was one big barracks for the British.

It was way too early to stop by, at least for a drink, but I was glad to know where it was. The roads are fairly twisty by it, so it will take a bit of concentration to find it again.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bug Fight

And I'm back too. I got in early Wednesday. So far I've managed to (mostly) unpack, go on several walks, make messes and then clean them up, and stay up a little later each day.

But what I'd like to talk about at the moment is our never-ending battle with the roaches and the bugs, who got very cocky during our absence. We've been moving stuff out of the kitchen's cupboards and spraying poison to reduce their numbers. One horrible surprise this morning was our canister of atta (wheat flour), which had fallen prey to web-weaving moths of some sorts. And their squirmy grub babies, a dozen or so which fell on the floor when I dropped the thing on the ground (and screamed like a little girl).

The canister had a tight-fitting lid, so the little buggers must have been growing from the inside out. But what were they doing for water? I'm a little too grossed out at the moment to clean the tin -- it's still sitting on the counter. If I knew any six- to eight- year schoolkids, I'd give then the whole thing and ask them to make it into some sort of science project -- it's a little like a terrarium, after all. Another option would be to pitch it into whatever yard it is that holds the rooster we hear each morning -- I'm sure he'd like the little grubs as well as the wheat, and it would be great revenge for us.