Date: Thu, 16 Jan
1997 21:02:46 -0500
From: Rashmi <<ashmi@SPL3.ECE.DREXEL.EDU>
Subject: Before I forget
To: Multiple recipients of list WORDS-L <WORDS-L@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>
The Bangalore leg of my trip was hectic. My folks are fine and seemed very pleased to have me home. Looking back I seem to have spent most of my time eating. My mom cooked all kinds of goodies that I'd almost forgotten. Yum, most of them. Nothing as exotic as sheep's head though.
I caught up with the extended family--my dad's sibs and assorted cousins. I hadn't met one branch of the family for eight years and had fun catching up. There were two big parties (in my honor!) and several small ones with, you guessed it, lots of food. The li'l baby cousin who used to tail my brother and me is now 22!
B'lore appears to have grown every which way devouring neighboring villages and towns. It's official: I've turned into a wimp. The traffic scared me stiff and I didn't dare drive. The city seemed more crowded and dustier than I'd remembered. Many of the landmarks familiar to me had either disappeared or changed beyond recognition.
People seemed to be able to juggle a busy social life and work with remarkable ease. I was on vacation and had to scramble to keep up! For those who came in late I came back from my last trip feeling old and fat and poor - a complete luser and uncaring daughter to boot. None of those impressions were substantially altered this time 'round but they weren't reinforced as strongly.
We went on a mini-vacation to Coorg. It's a tiny province (one of the smallest of British India) about 200 (?) miles southwest of Bangalore and famed for its beautiful landscapes. Nestled in the blue hills of the western ghats it was discovered by the Brits over 200 years ago and was under direct British rule from 1834 until independence in 1947. Various pioneer types made their way through the dense jungle and deep ravines and ridges buillding roads and planting coffee estates both of which survive to this day. Many of them stayed on after independence though their number has dwindled over the years.
We walked through a 150+ year old church (now a rather decrepit museum) whose walls were covered with dedications to people killed at sea, who'd died on the plantation, who'd been killed in "the Great Battle of 1914" etc. There was a sign in the adjoining library (converted from a disused fort) requesting 'Serene silence please. Have respect for thought.' (I kid you not.)
Coorg has managed to retain (a lot of) its distinctive culture, language, cuisine, dress (the Coorgi women tie the sari 'reversed' from their counterparts elsewehere in the country). Mercara, the largest town in Coorg, appeared to me "quaint" in the sense that it seems to have remained relatively unchanged over the years that cities like B'lore and Mysore have witnessed rapacious growth. Its small-town character was surprising considering the affluence (coffee, pepper etc. are lucrative cash crops) of the region.
We stayed in a "remote" cottage tucked away amid acres of coffee and spice plantations. It was very quiet and unspoilt and tranquil with beautiful blue skies, crisp cool (roughly 65 F) breeze and small cotton-wool clouds sailing high.
We passed through mile after mile of tall slim silver oaks encircled by pepper-vines; shiny dark green coffee leaves (walking through coffee plantations is delightful: the bushes need shade so they are surrounded by trees containing interesting bird and insectlife and you have sunlight filtering through the branches); rubber trees with taps on the bark; orange and lemon groves; cardamom, bay-leaf and other spice trees - all very beautiful and fragrant. Add to this the pale blue hills visible everywhere on the horizon. We trekked through the "reserve" forest to the (river) Cauvery and spotted clumps of fungi (most of em poisonous and unedible) and spoor of elephant, bison and wild boar. My mom, the amateur botanist, had a ball.
On the way back, we stopped at Bylekuppa, one of two Tibetan settlements in the state. It's a dusty little hamlet with a curious mix of South Indian and Himalayan architecture and culture. In many ways it was your typical village with scraggly rows of houses with whitewashed walls, red-tiled roofs, concrete floors, bouganvillae creepers, banana and papaya trees in the yard. But then there were the lamaseries (monasteries) built Tibetan style with gates and walls painted a bright red, their inner sanctums lined with walls of placid Buddhas and the acrid smell of butter lamps; dozens of monks of all ages in vermillon and ochre colored robes (the younguns were very cute); stupas with spinning prayer drums being circled by elderly men and women twirling prayer-wheels (gains one merit, they explained); Tibetan script--I'd never really noticed it before--on signs; prayer flags fluttering in the breeze from every street corner; "Boycott Chinese Goods" signs; tea-shops with Tibetan food and Hindi film music blaring from the stereo...the local souvenir shop carried "Chicago Bulls 3-peat" shirts.
I scanned the passing faces for signs of, I dunno, resentment, hardship, discontent, despondence, but couldn't make out much beyond a noticeable sunburn. It must have been quite an adjustment for the original refugees leaving their mountain home for the dusty plains of Karnataka. Two generations of Tibetans have grown up here with few firsthand memories of their homeland.
In the Cultural Imperialism department, I knew that NBA games were broadcast all over the world and that da Bulls were the favorite team of everyone from Venezuela to Vanuatu. Imagine my surprise (and disgust) at finding the NCAA championships (both basketball and football) being followed there. yuk.
One of the cable companies had recently begun airing some soaps and sitcoms with Hindi voiceovers to the amusement and derision of many. (Hindi isn't very popular or widely understood in the south.) Watching The Simpsons in hindi was a hoot and had me ROFLing. No celebrity voices tho', none that I could recognize anyway. Guess they didn't know how to translate buttmunch...Beavis and Butthead was on in the original English.
Did I mention how much I ate?