"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser


Kayoko and I are in India for two weeks for multiple purposes. We started in Delhi, as guests of our friends Vicente and Isabel (he former Brazilian consul general for Los Angeles, now ambassador to India).

The Ambassador’s Residence is a spectacular white-columned business whose elegance was matched only by the Pimentels’ hospitality—from roast turkey, tortelloni, and brown gravy for our “Thanksgiving” meal to escorting us to the perfect shopping spots (Kayoko wearing black Indian khurta), historical monuments, and rickshaw adventures in Old Delhi.

Visited the Gandhi museum and memorial, walked in Lodi Gardens, and commanded the kitchen to prepare my version of aglio/olio. Next, on to Mumbai to meet with below the line producers for AEI-Prince Avenue’s upcoming production of Krishna Shah’s TAJ (will meet in London with director Michael Radford on way back to L.A.).

11/29 Update

A swirl of southern color—from brighter saris to match the flowers—to billboards advertising candidates and McDonalds. Hung out one day at the pool of the magnificent Taj Mahal overlooking the Indian Ocean, to catch our breaths. Lunch at Trishna Seafood—swarming with waiters and Chinese-influenced Indian seafood; and exquisite Indigo, its sister restaurant in Manhattan. Prices more reasonable than Delhi, people friendlier, language more musical, architecture colonial British monumental—coconuts, bananas, serious shoppers (fewer beggars in evidence, though the slums were alarming in their proximity to opulence and their viral spread even through the new city). Bustling beyond belief—skyscrapers in every direction going up, internet instantly available just about everywhere. Service RAMPANT—you can’t even fart in the men’s room without someone there to thank and assist you (not that we’d think of it). Sky much clearer, air healthier, people see the future in their laps. Vodka servings stingy! Glad we lugged along duty free Kettle One from L.A. Indian Sula wine—chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc particularly nice, medium-bodied and savory—just a touch of fruit. Paratas with delicious cappucinno for breakfast (complimentary!)—airport transfers the cost of a $3 tip. Dollar rising against rupee while we’re here. We’re indulging at lunch, skipping dinner—Kayoko filming everything and wearing kurtas (I keep pushing for bhurkas, but no luck so far). 90% of middle class (which dominates people we saw in Mumbai, where in Delhi it was either mainly upper or lower) women insist on having and displaying their bellies (so I fit right in!).

Finally we’re delighted with Jet Airways—its efficiency makes Southwest look like a dinosaur. You’re at your gate literally within MINUTES of entering the airport, WITH your seat selected—whether it’s in Delhi (18 million people) or Bangalore (12 million). The planes are sparkling clean and new, and warm meal on every flight (Delhi-Mumbai, Mumbai-Hyderobad, Hyd-Bangalore) even if it’s only one hour! No alcohol served on planes. No hassles with security for luggage or hand-luggage: the system is focused on serving the client, not the other way around! The scale of this country is incomparable—34 MAJOR languages, so the newspaper stands typically have 15-20 newspapers—all of them having color photos on every page, and typically at least 6-7 papers in English. The papers are so fascinating you can’t skip a page—cobras running wild in a village, monkeys being patrolled by scare-monkeys, eve teasing, and all written with an English literary that defies belief for an American. English itself is vastly different from city to city—hardly intelligible (to either side) in Hyderobad: you clearly order two cappucinos and get one espresso, etc (poor babies!). I could go on and on, but you know me. I prefer short emails… Sorry!

Ken on Peacock Throne (location for Krishna Shah's TAG), Ramoji Film Center, Hyderobad

Grade school students at Lodhi Gardens thought I was James Bond—how far Bollywood is from Hollywood!

Leaving Bangalore

From our Leela Palace room, watching bald eagles and Indian eagles soaring. Peacocks on the lawn. Bright orange blossoms on trees. Blue skies with clouds. Enough to overcome the shocking disappointment of being interdicted from playing gin rummy in the Library Bar. Exquisite buffets for breakfast and lunch (choose one!), but the best is the coriander chutney (bright green) and the bright orange onion chutney, which I immediately mixed with my scrambled eggs and spread on freshly-baked parata. Bougainvillea blossoms used as decorations everywhere, the saris and the blossoming orange and lilac trees in kaleiodoscopic harmony.

Frustrating fun to see the newspapers filled with films and books banned for ‘political incorrectness,’ murders at weddings, cobras attacking villages, cows wandering havoc through the traffic (the cost of killing a cow causes hapless bus drivers to lapse into hit and run). Delightful chargrilled chicken with green curry on the side on the plane to Delhi.

Accompanying Kayo to meet Mrs. Reddy at Grameen Koota in the far outskirts of the city—a quiet oasis of palms and figs and mimosa that reminded me of Louisiana. There for 2 days she filmed the work of lending to poor women without collateral. Grameen Koota started with $450 in 1989 and now controls funds of nearly $40 million—lending to over 100,000 women with a 100% return rate. Kayo got a good start on her documentary!

Bangalore extremely pleasant weather—70s, breezy, blue skies with delicate clouds—people even friendlier than Mumbai. More women driving (nearly none in Delhi, some in Mumbai). Parliament houses spectacular, visit to the Bull Temple—a 10-ton statue of a black bull with saffron-robed monks on both ends offering candle and water sacrifices—in the midst of the swirling peanut festival with blocks and blocks of raw and prepared peanuts for sale. Beggar children in this city cartwheel up to your car at every stoplight. Very difficult to ignore them, which is the only way not toward madness. 15 years ago I couldn’t wait to leave India. But it was a different country then. It has entered the 21st century as a massive force to be reckoned with, all without leaving its past the least bit behind, and all because its culture and education have not only been magnified but have become distinctly Indian—though the British influence is still heard in the intonations of every encounter.

Six attendants at the Leela packed us into our car as we departed with driver Suresh (very sad to be seeing you leave today, M’am and Sir, it is not a good day for me as a result), 2 Leela attendants at the airport to meet the car at the airport and get us through to the gate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just loved the way you describes India. Looks much better the my India. But next time, put better pictures of me , ok?