Sunday, February 22, 2009

What is the meaning of this?

Naturally, we run into a few things we don't fully understand here, in our adopted home of Vadodara. For instance, this possibly abandoned carnival ride, in which each rider sits on Santa's lap, stands in the back lot of a low traffic business proposition called the Tibetan Refugee Bazaar. I did see one vendor who looked Tibetan. Lee and I saw some other inscrutable figures there, these giant plastic army men.

I think these are statues in honor of the public servants who designed the liquor laws in Gujarat. Not one to be blocked by the officious of any stripe, I did return to the office of Prohibition and Excise carrying the fragile dream of obtaining a license to buy alcohol. Have you noticed that my initials are the same as Josef K?

The day of the previous post, I left the prohibition office with a list of three requirements. First, I needed to visit the State Bank of Baroda and pay my license fee. The autorickshaw dropped Ben, Lee, and me at the door of what looked like the State Bank of Baroda. We entered, passing the rifle armed military presence, and were told by an english speaker at a desk that, no, the bank we wanted was three buildings down. We walked for a while, seeing nothing that hinted at another State Bank of Baroda, went into a sporting goods store and bought a soccer ball. Then we walked back to the bank to ask again. This time the english speaker sent the rifleman out to the street with us and he pointed in the direction we had tried. We tried again and saw nothing, so we crossed the street, to see if it was easier to spot from there. Ben found it, hidden by a Western Union sign, second story location.

We went in and were directed further upstairs. The right place. I paid and the clerk stamped my application and Wendy's. We returned to the excise office.

Though rubber stamps had been applied to both sets of forms with the clear pleasure of authority, it turned out that only one license fee had been paid. Wendy's. Wendy was four hours away in a weaving village. By this point I had developed a complex relationship with the clerks in the excise office. Though they had seemed pleased or amused to see me again, one actually prayed that we could get this business finished. I know he was praying because I asked. They crossed out Wendy's name on the officially completed form, and passed it around the office. My clerk asked if I had my passport. No I didn't and showed him his own note which listed Passport Copy as point number three on list of things needed. I pretended to pound my head on his desk. O.k. Ok. The copy was good enough.

The last step was to get the supervisors's signature. Oh, he was out to lunch. We all laughed, except for Ben and Lee who were out in the hall because they couldn't take it. So I went out in the hall and waited. Ben and Lee left. When the big man got back from lunch, a minion ran the documents in and they came back signed. I never actually saw his face. His office used to be the end of a hallway, but it was blocked off by a partition wall attached with mending strips. I guess he had his own window in there, maybe an air conditioner bought with kick backs.

I thanked everyone in the office and exchanged nods and smiles. I salute the answered prayers of a clerk.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Those are the Rules -

We've been here over a month, living in Gujarat, a dry state. Did you know Ghandhi was a prohibitionist?

O.k., fine, so we've experimented with living without a few cold ones, except for a single day on the island of Dieu. We've known all along there was a loophole in the alcohol law, that "foreigners" could purchase alcohol licenses if they showed proof of residence, passports, location of identifying scars, etc. This past Saturday, Valentines Day, we decided to exercise the loophole. Incidentally, some radical Hindus attacked openly romantic couples in Delhi that day, shearing heads of the romantically inclined and painting their faces black.

We went to a fancy hotel, the Express, for dinner and to buy from their liquor shop. We got there at nine and the shop was closed, but dinner was very good. They said we could return on Monday, and purchase our license and beverages. Closed Sunday. So we went back today for lunch, bringing our lease as proof of residence, passports, Indian (not US) size passport photos, etc. They couldn't sell us a license because we had been in the country for more than thirty days.
Lunch was very good.

We then got into a rickshaw and went to the office of Prohibition and Excise on Jail Road. The licenses are about $20 apiece, limiting purchases to one case of beer, one bottle of spirits, or one bottle of wine per person, per week. The affable bureaucrat made triplicate copies of everything and we signed them. Oh, and we would have to go to the Bank of India on Tower road to pay for license. Oh, and we would have to return after payment to the Prohibition office . Oh, and we couldn't complete the license today because the superintendent was out. So I will try to complete this tomorrow, but I'm betting it won't work because the apartment is in Wendy's name. Oh, and she's going out of town for a few days to work in a village and she'll need her passport. So if I go on to gamble on completing the license, she'll have to repeat the same set of steps to get her license when she gets back. And there is no way this the end of this story.

The poster above decorates the hallway outside the Prohibition and Excise office.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blow Horn: a Short Vacation

Last weekend we hired a driver and took a trip. Wendy made a great contact with a double ikhat weaver who is willing to share his secrets: some of this technique has never been documented. She won't be able to witness the whole process, which takes months to complete, but his willingness to talk about the work is a breakthrough.

We did a lot on this four night trip. We climbed a temple studded mountain with religious pilgrims and various hustlers. We got up at 5 a.m. one morning to hire a jeep and guide to look for asiatic lions in a huge forest preserve. And, along with various deer, birds, and wild boar, we saw a pair of lions. That was a primal moment. A tribal herdsman waved us down and directed us toward the huge animals. We had to drive off the legal road to see them, which added to the excitement. The guide and driver risked their licenses, but seemed just as excited as we were.

We also walked around an ancient Mughal fortress, and spent a night in a lodging built into an upstairs section of an old cathedral on the island of Dieu, a former Portuguese holding that didn't return to Indian rule until 1960. No surf, but a beautiful spot. At Somnath, we visited a meticulously restored Hindu temple on the shore of the Arabian sea. The high security included metal detectors, pat downs, and armed guards. Great music on shenai, drums and bells. Oh. Right after that, Wendy stepped up to her ankle in a gutter of raw sewage. A little black dog helped clean her, but she had to ride back to the hotel in an autorickshaw by herself.

We saw the recent remains of at least four accidents over the five days on the road. Early on we passed a big freight truck that had simply broken in the middle of the cargo area and sagged to the ground. We saw the still smouldering remains of a head on collision between a freight truck and a smaller, unidentifiable vehicle. Both had burned down to twisted, gray metal.

Traffic ranges from cows, to oxcarts, to bicycles, to autorickshaws, to tractors pulling wagons full of people, to wildly decorated freight trucks, to passenger cars. The whole road is fair game going in either direction. Honking never stops, is in fact expected and encouraged. I sat in the front seat, a mixed blessing, especially at night. We made it back.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Baby Cow

This afternoon Ben and I turned the corner from our building, on the way to eat lunch, and encountered a sacred cow and newly born calf. The calf was standing, but the holy mother was still licking it clean, and the afterbirth remained dangling. It was fascinating. I forgot myself and got too close. The big cow lunged at me, protective mammal style.

Lee had seen the two shortly before, while before the little one stood up. Someone got too close and the mother butted him.

Later, Wendy saw a man carrying the calf wrapped in burlap and calling for the mother to follow. I'm sure he was leading the two to a safe place.

These cows are everywhere, strolling across busy streets, walking along sidewalks and through the park, mostly occupied by eating garbage. Legend has it buses won't alter their course for humans, cars or rickshaws, but they will brake and swerve for cows. We considered making two cow costumes, standard two people per costume, so we could make safe passage across these absurd streets.

The cow shown above is not the birth mother, but another cow browsing a sweet shop.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Out Sick

Lee and I were out sick yesterday. We each spent a long night exploring a range of gastrointestinal
possibilities. So we napped and read most of yesterday. Wendy went to Amnebad to visit one of the world's great textile museums, the Calico Museum. She also made great contacts at a National University nearby. Ben took a hired car to a World Heritage site near Champeneer. (Local spellings all approximate). Ancient temples and a solo mountain jutting out of the plain. Ben got back about four, so we had time for the driver to take Ben and the recovering Lee and me for a ride into the countryside. We picked a road straight west that crosses a large river just before it empties into the Arabian Sea. We saw lots of small agriculture, lots of camels, and wildly decorated cargo trucks. This drive help satisfy my need to know where we are. Up until then we'd just dropped out of the sky into Delhi, then dropped into Baroda.

A photo of Ben and Lee at a fair put on by Wendy's department appeared in the local paper. The expat community keeps to itself here. We don't.


So yeah, we're curiosities here. That we surprise local people by our simple presence creates a nice balance and a counter to orientalism. If this place seems exotic to us, we seem exotic to them. This family stopped their vehicle to take photos of the foreigners buying wicker furniture at a street stand. So we took photos of them taking photos of us. All very friendly and good natured.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Crummy, private detective style shot of the Delhi Barnacle.