I took a day off yesterday. Not just because it was Saturday, but because I needed a break from the onslaught of a world of differences out there. So I didn’t leave the house, ordered in food and spent all day browsing, reading and critiquing (how on earth is that spelled?) a few chapter’s of Karl’s book. My stomach was still a bit angry with me and I simply couldn’t face the idea of the battle I have to fight when going out – for rickshaws, road crossings… – so I simply allowed myself to be lazy and told myself that there was no point to feeling guilty for not exploring. Sanity first. That was a pretty good idea. After a very spicy (ok, for Indians: mild) lunch of potato curry and rice, with me sweating away with tears in my eyes from the spiciness, I started to feel better and made some plans for today: Museum in the morning, mall in the afternoon. Dinner was leftovers from lunch – Indian rolls filled with paneer. Yum. I definitely need to learn how to cook simple Indian dishes. Doesn’t seem to be all that complicated, really, if you have a few basic spices.
This morning I did feel much better and, after my usual cornflakes breakfast, gathered my courage, ignored my worries about finding a rickshaw to take me from A to B of each stopover and ventured out around 9.30 to make my way to destination number one, Raja Dinkar Kelkar museum, #1 on Tripadvisor’s list of things to see. 9.30 is fairly early for the Indian Saturday and traffic was pretty low. I went to the rickshaw stand and success, the first driver both understood me, knew where it was and wanted to take me there. Hurrah! It must have been about a 30 minute drive and the further we went, the more traffic there was. Again, I don’t think you can imagine how terrible the exhaust fumes are, but you’ll see a picture of me with my scarf wrapped around the head to cover mouth and nose, the preferred way of travelling for most women in a more or less successful attempt to avoid the pollution. Most Indian ladies have the scarf wrapped around their head completely, keeps the hair nice and neat, too. The driver had an incense stick and I hope it is more effective for good luck than it is against the fumes.
It was a good idea to start so early. The museum is in a fairly big building in one of the older parts of Pune. The entrance fee for foreigners was 200 rupees, about 2,80EUR . It’s quite normal for them to charge foreigners 10x the price of Indians – you get used to it and I guess it’s like a Tourist tax, and totally worth it considering how filthy rich we are compared to the average Indian. It took me about 2 hours to get through everything, and almost every piece was very impressive. I did not take any pictures because I think they usually make for really boring slideshows, but here’s a few facts and interesting things from/about the museum (and you can also get a bit of an impression from the “Collections” section of their website). It’s a collection started by a private person and displays 2500 folk artifacts all types of Indian art and craftsmanship, mostly from the 18th and 19th century. The whole collection is apparently much bigger with more than 10000 pieces, so only a fraction is on display. Both the range and the quality of the items are amazing. From wooden temple gates, beams and ceilings with intricate ornamental designs to pottery, jewelry lamps, kitchen utensils, clothes, bead work instruments – the craftsmanship and precision of the ornaments is simply incredible. I found it fascinating that there were so many specialized kitchen utensils: lemon squeezers, unripe (!) mango cutters, noodle makers. Seems the kitchen gadget fad started way before QVC… One thing I took away from the whole exhibition: Hinduism is complicated. There are so many gods and goddesses and they all seem to get created in various fighting situations, and you usually have a choice between various numbers of arms and heads you can display a god with. Ganesha, for example, the Lord of Obstacles, has an elephant head with one tusk, and usually has anywhere between 2 and 16 arms when depicted. There are generally quite a lot of arms and heads around. They probably have some kind of meaning, too, but for now I don’t even have a basic grasp of who’s who in the world of Hinduism, so I suspect those nuances will continue to elude me for quite some time.
Another thing I found quite nice is that the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany donated towards the conservation lab and some exhibition cases. A nice thought knowing that at least some of the tax money goes to a worthy cause The collection of erotic nutcrackers was rather amusing, though harmless (and sadly not sponsored by the Foreign Office of Germany) and the wonderful spice boxes (masala dabba), traditionally with 7 compartments for the most commonly used spices, made me think I need to find one somewhere and bring it. Gorgeous. There was also an interesting bit about the chewing of betel leaves, Tambool, which has narcotic ingredients, and was traditionally consumed before love-making (recommended in the Kamasutra) for fresh breath – a highly addictive and at least formerly very common habit, which stains saliva bright red. That might explain the stains on the stairway towards the office. I’ve been wondering about those. I’ll investigate… but not too closely, I think.
After about two hours of taking in all those amazing details, I ventured out again – and boy was it hot out there all of a sudden. I walked towards the main street, completely packed with cars, and tried hailing a rickshaw. For 5 minutes, all ricks were already taken, and the one that stopped then didn’t want to take me. I decided to walk on and finally found a rickshaw stand with a few ricks waiting. The first driver didn’t want to take me but the second one heard my destination, S.G.S. mall, and waved me in. Phew. I was getting roasted in the sun, so I was really glad to finally have found a driver. It was about 20 minutes to the mall in heavy traffic, and I was really glad when I arrived. Having offline maps with me on my phone is absolutely brilliant, by the way. I always check whether the drivers is going roughly the right way (allowing for one-way detours and traffic, of course), so I know that he isn’t taking the scenic route. As the lady I met in Mumbai said – never trust a taxi driver
The mall really looked like any mall in the UK to me (we don’t have that many “traditional” malls in Germany). The one difference was a security check, frisking and having the bag go through an x-ray, before you were allowed in. Once I mastered that the cool, air-conditioned mall was like a haven of respite. It wasn’t too full, I was still fairly early (noon). Inside the mall were lots of familiar brands – McDonalds, Subway, Nike, Reebok, even Marks & Spencer – and a few unfamiliar ones. I did a stroll around all the shops, and only ventured into a few (of course the ones I didn’t know from home). There was a small department store where I bought a top and some colorful dupattas (scarves), and a book/toy/dvd store where I couldn’t resist buying a book for half the price it would be on Amazon, and two emergency Fruit & Nut chocolate bars (OMG!!! Cadbury!!!). I was getting pretty hungry after that, so I decided to visit McDonald’s. There wasn’t really much of a choice for “authentic Indian food” in the mall and to be honest I think in our touristy attempts to experience the “real life in India” we tend to overdo it with the traditionalism. It seems much more every-day-Indian to me to stop by McDonald’s in between than to only eat Indian food. Same applies to clothing, by the way – most younger Indian women I see either wear mostly Western wear, or only wear Indian wear/fusion to work. And of course I wanted to find out what the Indian localized menu of McDonald’s is like.
I ordered a Maharaja mac, a chicken burger that’s basically the equivalent of the Big Mac, with chicken instead of beef, and a vague taste of Indian spices. There was one thing I hadn’t considered, though, which I realized when I was staring at the burger in its box. The burger was drowning in lettuce (check the picture, I’m not exaggerating). Lettuce which may or may not have been washed using unfiltered tap water. After a brief moment of consideration I figured “what the hell” and ate it anyway, fishing out the tomatoes at least. So far, about 4 hours later, I haven’t regretted my decision yet. Fingers crossed. Fully stuffed I did a bit more window shopping, and went into The Body Shop, curious about the prices. The prices confirmed something that I have been thinking about a lot – the incredible disparity between the rich, middle class and poor in the city. A 30 min rickshaw ride through half the city is about 90 rupees, around 1,30€. Entrance to the museum for an Indian adult 20 rupees, 30 cents. Eating a full meal at McDonalds is 180 rupees, 2,60€. A tunic at a nicer store (you can get them much cheaper on markets etc) is somewhere between 500 and 1500 rupees, so between 7 and 21€, with the latter being quite a steep price for non-designer fashion I think. And a 250ml bottle of Shea butter body wash at The Body Shop is 400 rupees, that’s 6,60€, roughly the same price as in Germany – and still some people buy them. And I see people with iPhones, iPads, expensive cars when the majority can barely afford a scooter to get to work, or is pushing around a cart with vegetables through the heat. It really is quite mind-boggling and difficult to come to terms with. It does help me feel a bit less like a complete filthy rich bitch though – or at least like I’m not the only one, when some privileged parts of India are quite obviously in the same situation, and a lot less ashamed.
Philosophical musings aside, I decided to grab a slice of dry cake for dinner as that wouldn’t spoil, and a coffee to go. I was given both “for here”, and I wasn’t in the mood for complaining, so I sat down, had my coffee and somehow managed to wrap my cake in it’s paper plate and pack it. Leaving the air conditioned mall was quite a heat shock, it had gotten REALLY warm. I was immediately approached by a Rickshaw driver who said “S.B. road, yes” to my best Indian accent pronunciation of my destination. I had just happily plopped into the back of the rickshaw when he said: “250 rupees, yes?”. The look I gave him must have been priceless. That drive is maximum 100 rupees and I may look like a stupid westerner but I sure wasn’t going to have him rip me off. “No, meter!” I replied, shaking my head and tapping the meter which they are legally obliged to use, already reaching for my bags. By the time he had replied “150, madam” I was already out of the rickshaw and another driver was approaching me, giving his shady coworker a fairly critical look and said “S.B. road, here”. I got into the rick, and sure enough, he started the meter, as he should, and on our way we were. Rickshaws in Pune have two types of meters – the old type, which displays a number that once upon a time was the actually price in rupees but is now multiplied according to some obscure tariff card (currently it’s pretty much x 10), and the modern ones that display the actual price on an electronic display. It’s important to make sure they start the meter, and they have to. So far I haven’t once had a driver not start the meter, they’ve all been good so far – except Mr. Shady Driver at the mall.
The way back gave me a nice opportunity to look around a bit. We passed an incredibly busy market with everyone shouting and haggling. I was quite happy to observe the bustling crowds from a distance, tucked away in the back of the rickshaw. When we arrived near the apartment, the driver let me out (90 rupees… 250 rupees my ass!) and funnily enough I had to cross the busy street, all 4 lanes, and didn’t think twice about it. It’s not so difficult when you’ve done it a few times, really. Seems like there is a bit of adjustment happening after all So now I’m in my room which is nice and cool, wearing my salwar kameez, the best thing invented for hot weather since ice cream, and will enjoy the rest of my afternoon. I have water, dinner, WiFi - what more do I want? And tomorrow it’s back to work for week #2. I’m ready, this time around.
- Hailing rickshaws and avoiding being ripped off for pros
- Museum visit
- I ate lettuce! OMG!
- Saturday, all of it
PS: Today’s gallery has a bit of a mix of photos, some from the previous days that I hadn’t posted yet. Enjoy!