Saturday, July 26, 2008


It was like it was all brand new - like I’d forgotten all of Caca’s Rules of Overseas Flight.

I didn’t take out my contact lenses before leaving the house.

I didn’t eat dinner at at the massive food court before going through security.

I didn’t stake out a seat in the lounge as close to the gate door as possible.

Instead, I focused on updating the blog. I got so involved in it that I jumped when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Is there an alarm clock ringing in your bag?” There was indeed a ringing alarm clock in my bag. Clearly it had been driving her and the others nearby quite mad.

Once on the plane, I was still in my beatific fog.

I didn’t put in earplugs.

I didn’t remember to chew gum.

I didn’t even scan the in-flight magazine to find out which Bollywood movies they’d be playing.

In fact I’d forgotten there’d even be a movie.

I guess I was in the moment. Talking to my seat-mates and whatnot.

And the ears didn’t pop once despite not taking proper precautions.

When I finally noticed that I was on a plane, and that the movie had started, I found out that my armrest was dead: no movie sound, no light, no pushing the red button to call call the air hostess to complain about it.

No problem; the lovely woman next to me allowed me to plug into hers. “I saw it last week,” she said. It was quite funny. I never did get the title. It may have been The Krazzy Four. As in, four mental patients get leave for a day and all hell breaks loose.

My seat-mates and I were quite a trio; the yogi-in-training with the tiny bladder on the aisle, the kind corpulent woman in the red headscarf the middle, and the skinniest NRI IT worker in the world on the window - a man so thin in fact that he could slide past the middle woman to get to his seat. Of course there were crying babies everywhere. The bathroom was trashed in no time. I loved it.

Midway through the flight I remembered again how to fly, and inflated the neck pillow and put on the eyeshade. They didn’t help. It seems the so-called Ambien that the pharmacist in Mysore gave me last year had either expired or was in fact a caffeine pill. Between that and the endless gyrations of my too-big neighbor, not much sleep was had. Oh, well.

In the Frankfurt the bathroom I put on the glasses and used the neti pot while scores of women watched.

Then I gave the Indian phone card a try; it worked, and I was able to text my friends in Mysore.

Four hours into the Frankfurt-Mumbai leg of the trip, the large seatmate disappeared and was replaced by a thin postdoc from Bangalore who now lives in Germany. She and the young IT fellow seemed surprised when I didn’t want to borrow the headhones for Om Shanti Om because I’d already seen it. She looked at my red-and-black Punjabi dress. “You must like Indian culture?” Yes, I said, Very much.

She spoke Hindi (as well as Kannada, German and English) and agreed to hang out with me at the Mumbai airport, where last time I nearly missed my connection because the gate was never announced.

In the jetway I got a whiff of that wonderful, indescribable incense-burnt-damp smell that I love so much. Slightly different than South India - a bit fainter - but quite similar.

In the so-called lounge, during the interminable wait for the gate, we talked about how difficult it is to get halal meat and good vegetarian food in Germany. At one my new friend lit up and gestured towards a man walking nearby, and I said, hopefully, “Did he announce the Bangalore gate?”

“No - it’s Yash Chopra,” the famous Bollywood film director and producer, who is so well known even I know who he is (which surprised her). There he was - a small grayhaired man, making his way through the airport at 1:30AM like it was no big deal.

We arrived 45 minutes late at the brand spanking new Benglaru International Airport. The pilot - a woman - made apologies about the tardiness of the flight, but said that it was understandable in light of the “recent tragic events in Bangalore.” I wondered what she was talking about.

This time when I walked down the plane steps, I sniffed the air and knew exactly where I was.

It was still dark at 5:45AM. Many men in yellow reflective gear were standing around awaiting orders as we walked towards awaiting shuttle bus. The new airport is spacious and as of yet unfinished. Three stories. Shiny escalators. There were scores of officials working the Customs area, and we got through quickly. Of course I tried speaking some Kannada with my agent. He was amused at first, then seemed a bit annoyed. Luggage claim was also a breeze.

And Ammu was waiting for me at the gate, flowers in hand (it was my birthday after all - although he didn’t know that. Yet), He was accompanied by his new driver, Manju - whom my friend Jammu describes as an international man of mystery.

On the way out of Bangalore we stopped to visit Jammu, an authorized Chicago ashtanga teacher who has been living here for the past four months while she awaits papers saying that she can take home the Indian baby she’s adopting. The baby is utterly adorable, and even let me hold her a bit. We went for breakfast, where I feasted on masala dosa and iddly-wada-sambar. Just the thing for a cloudy, coolish day.

From them I learned about the 9 explosions in Bangalore the previous day. Apparently some group had detonated them all at once. Somehow, only two people were killed. (On Saturday, there were 16 explosions in the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad ).

Then it was on to Mysore. The drive was interminable. At one “intersection” (there are speed bumps in villages, which force vehicles to slow down) we stopped and picked up a garland of fresh fragrant jasmine. I wanted to place it around the Ganesh statue on the dashboard, but apparently it was too late. “You have already smelled the flowers,” said Ammu. Apparenty you must take your pleasure AFTER offering it first to the deity. This also seems to apply to food and everything else.

In Mysore there is more traffic than ever. It seems that everyone has a Tata Indica car these days (including Ammu). My old room at the Kaveri Lodge was taken, so they put me across the hall in 17, which has a three beds, an Indian toilet, a TV and no running water in the bathroom sink. Within an hour I’d had a bucket-bath (there was still some warm water left in the tap despite hot water lasting from 5-11AM) and organized my things and had a 25-litre bottle of water delivered my room. Then it was time for a nap. They were out of topsheets, so I used the newly-gifted silk sleeping bag liner under the grey wool blanket (it’s cool here today) and went down for three hours of deep, dreamless sleep. Amazing.

I was still in a numb, jetlagged, half-asleep state, organizing my things, when I got a text message from Ammu: “Pls see towards chamundi hil rainbow u can se”

I went down the hall, walked out into the roof and looked towards Chamundi Hill. There was indeed a HUGE rainbow that I could see. Wonderful.

After reorganizing my things - it took awhile to remember where I’d put the wad of cash I’ll need to convert to 27,530 rupees for the shala fee - we drove up Chamundi Hill, where it was too cold, windy and foggy to wait in line to visit the temple. We scurried down, and dined on set dosa and corn soup at Saptagiri. Then we stopped at Nilgiri’s grocery and picked up some things (soap, cereal, soymilk, cleaning products (the room is a bit filthy even for me), washing powder, cashew biscuits, chikki, bananas, lemons).

Since my room doesn’t have a hook for a mosquito net, I stopped at the little shop on the corner and got a plug-in Odonos, a chemical solution to the maleria problem. The teenage shopkeeper and other shoppers were amused by my attempts to say “Sakoo” (“Enough”) when he asked me if I wanted anything else, and he had me say it over and over again. Finally I resorted to Hindi - “Bus! Bus!” - which caused even more giggling.

Back “home,” I said hello to the owner and the night watchman before going up to my room and cleaning up and changing into my PJs. Then I called down for a topsheet.

It was brought up by the former night manager, Manju. Apparently he no longer works here but wanted to say hello (he’s the one who picked up the phone when I made the reservation the other day). He was out of breath as he handed me the sheet. He looked at me, concerned.

“Why looking so dull today, Madame?”

No birthday could possibly have been more complete.


On Sunday I will try to register at the AYRI. Apparently there are 400 students here - this is a HUGE number for monsoon season - and who knows if they’ll have room for me. There’s a conference, too. Hopefully they’ll let me in.


  1. You did forget all of the rules of intercontinental travel, but the stories are great, kinda like that one Seinfeld episode.

  2. Anonymous9:00 PM

    Cara, so glad you made it to India! As a birthday present, Kirby gave me a hairball in your honor. He is quiet, keeps to himself and only eats at night. We have lured him out of hiding briefly each day. He really loves Robert playing on the conga drums. He's going to try to channel Indian music so he stays connected to you. Have a great day with the guru! The Engel Family minus boys

  3. "he's quite, keeps to himself and only eats at night." Sounds ideal! Thank you for watching him.