Before you think the title of this blog implies that one month in to our family gap year, we’re feeling despondent and on the verge of throwing in the trowel, rest assured we are very far from this.
I chose this title for a few reasons: 1) The changes in this city 2) Benji getting the blues and 3) India’s RULES which are chasing us wherever we go.
Firstly, Bengaluru is not the city it was when we lived here in 2009. We found it fairly hectic back then, difficult to imagine as the tranquil ‘garden city’ of India as it was once described with it’s tiled-roofed bungalows and sleepy, leafy streets. But NOW? Well, let’s just say there is absolutely no trace of that city. It’s gone, obliterated by bulldozers and pollution so thick you could slice it like bread. And the traffic, don’t get me started on the traffic. Or the noise. Anyway, you get the idea.
But to be fair, we came to Bengaluru for two reasons and two reasons only (and no, it wasn’t to visit our old home or haunts, fun as that was.) It was firstly to see Deepa and Gopi. Deepa worked for us as cook and cleaner and carer for Lily when we lived here and both she and her husband, as well as their son and Deepa’s sister Priya worked their way into our hearts, particularly when they suffered a terrible tragedy and lost their younger son while we were living there. We’ve always stayed in touch with the family and the reunion with them was just wonderful.
Secondly, it worked out brilliantly well that a friend from Nairobi’s NGO is based in Bengaluru and she asked me some time ago if I’d be interested in writing some blogs voluntarily for the organisation in exchange for lodging in the city. It would have been expensive otherwise staying there, but more importantly, a writing challenge is always, for me, the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick which I find almost impossible to turn down. Especially when it involved such fascinating research and learning. What I was unaware of when I took the offer up was that it would, if willing, involve travel out of the city into smaller towns in the north of the state of Karnataka for six days. A chance to get out of Bengaluru? Yes, please. And a chance to not be fearing for Granny Amma and the children’s lives every time they crossed a road? Hell, yes!
That’s right, they all came with me. Whilst Andy stayed behind to catch up with some work, the five of us caught an overnight train to Bagalkot. I won’t go into great detail here of what my work entailed as I’ll be posting more information as soon as I can over on my writing blog, but I interviewed (with translator) a large number of beneficiaries of the NGO on issues such as child marriage, malnutrition and violence against sex workers. It was all fascinating, sobering stuff, but at the same time, heartening to see what this NGO is doing to tackle the problems and empower, in particular, women and girls. Here are a couple of sneak preview shots I took of some of these women and girls:
While I was off working, Granny Amma and the children explored the largely un-touristy areas of Northern Karnataka, visiting temples and palaces well off the beaten track. Once I was finished with what I had to do, I joined them and we had a day trip to the old ruined kingdom of Hampi (more touristy), nestling amid lush green paddy fields and amber-glowing rocky boulders.
While we were walking around Hampi, Benji said to me (pretty much word for word as I wrote its straight down afterwards):
‘Mama, can we leave India now?’
‘Because it’s too hot,I keep getting my cheek pinched and I HATE it when people put their phones in my face and say ‘Selfie! Selfie!’’
Oh, my poor boy! I barely had the heart to tell him it’s going to get a whole lot hotter than this over the coming months. It also made me realise just how benign Nairobi’s climes really are. As for the cheek pinching and selfie’s, well he’s right. It’s a pain up the backside. But I think it’s hard for people to realise that they are NOT the first to ask for selfies that day, they are about the hundred and twenty fifth. (I am pleased, however, to report that spirits have soared on that front when all three of them realised they could work this situation to their advantage and ask for money in exchange for a selfie! So they now ask for ten rupees before getting snapped, my little mercenaries. Hilarious :-))
Here's another Benji anecdote:
The second town we stayed in, Koppal, on friday night we decided to go on a mission and see if there was pizza available anywhere. For I don’t know how many years, this has been a tradition for our family, to bake our own pizzas. Obviously there’s little hope of that here, but it doesn’t mean we can’t go out for pizza. We were informed by the hotel reception there was indeed a restaurant in town that served pizza so the five of us zig-zagged our way across the pock-marked excuse for a pavement as cows and rickshaws grunted past us. Ooooh, the anticipation for my little Benji! The sweet promise of pizza AND way more significantly, food without any spiciness in it. Pure joy!
But (you know what’s coming don’t you), after a very long stomach-rumbling wait for cheese and tomato pizza, at which point Benji was literally falling off his seat with hunger, he took one big bite and….yep, it was spicy pizza. He battled bravely on, but it was just all too much. The bottom lip quivered. Then the top. Then he sobbed uncontrollably all over his spicy pizza. I just didn’t have the heart to tell him to eat it. So I called in the waiter, explained the predicament and asked if he could please bring a non-spicy pizza. After much head-wobbling and another looooong wait, another pizza was served up. Benji took one bite and his eyes opened wide. But no tears, so it must be ok. He looked guiltily at me, then back at the pizza. What is it? I asked. The tomato sauce isn’t tomato sauce, he admitted. I took the slice of pizza and peered at it. Yes, it was ketchup, generously smothered ABOVE the layer of cheese. Not that Benj was complaining. So he hungrily gobbled up his ketchup and pseudo-mozzarella pizza - a friday night pizza experience not to be forgotten 🙂
Before I sign off, I'd like to mention a few of these rules that we are finding as we wade through the bog of Indian bureaucracy. Here are some examples of things we have been told off for doing so far:
- Drawing things in museums. To do so, we must first apply in writing to the government.
- The children going on the play equipment in parks. Actually, it turned out it was not play equipment but exercise equipment and this is only for adults. The play equipment comes in special smaller children’s parks but this is very much for the under-5’s.
- Walking on the grass in parks
- Climbing on walls
- Drawing in parks
- Taking photographs of your own paintings in parks. Because the painting should not have been painted in the first place. OBVIOUSLY!
Mystifying, I tell you. We’re not very used to rules (there were few in Kenya) so when the above happen we just tell the children that some rules are so silly they really need to be broken. We’ve always been on the lenient side when it’s come to letting our children climb things but yikes, is it a no-go here. I’ll leave you with a photo taken a few months back in Nairobi of Maya and Lily outside the National Museum. I can't even begin to imagine what the reaction to this behaviour would have been here 😂