July 16, 2008
Just so you don’t think too well of my ability to accept the inconveniences of loss of electricity and simply take on a philosophical approach, this morning I was at the same café but with one hour to leave to Bangalore for a meeting with the chairman of the power plant I’m studying and the person I have to convince to voluntarily disclose all sorts of data and help connect me with the communities from which they gather crop residues… basically the guy who will either kill or resuscitate my project. I needed to find a few reports online and the power was out again. And then on for 10 minutes, then out halfway through my download. Needless to say, my blood pressure peaked as I was waiting for my “lifeline” to resuscitate.
Now I’m on the train back to Bangalore, I’m sick of going over reports and outlines and questions, so I’ll put the work aside for bit and tell you a bit about Mysore.
Mysore is a place where I could actually live. I don’t know if it will make it into my often cited favorite cities of the world (San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and Lawrence, Kansas), but it is a place that lets you breathe and stimulates at the same time. Mysore is a small city (by India’s standards) with less than a million people. I’m staying at a hotel in the center of the city, but I’ve spent much more time at the Yoga shala away from the bussle of the center.
As the world-renowned capital of Ashtanga Yoga, and there are hundreds of yoga students from Europe and the U.S. living here to practice yoga with the highly respected gurus. The relief I feel when I am able to hang around with other Westerners makes me feel slightly ashamed at my inability to “integrate” with Indians, and it also makes me understand why I see foreigners, especially if they have a different language or skin color self-segregate in the States. When you come from similar cultures, the level of effort of interaction just drops drastically. Although, I must say that my most interesting conversations have been with those who are have grown up surrounded by the culture of India, but have become somewhat Westernized, which eases the cultural barriers.
Granted, the inability to integrate is mostly just language barriers. Less educated people here generally do not speak English unless they have a job as a shop keeper or auto-rickshaw driver, in which case they know either enough to get by or have a surprising command of the language. Although you really cannot tell who is highly educated or not simply by their job; I hear there are surprising exceptions.
People in high positions and with college or graduate-level educations usually speak English fluently. Yet Indian English is very different from American English and often times the lack of comprehension goes both ways. My problem has been that during interviews, I expend so much concentration translating the Indian English to American English in my head that I have far fewer brain cells left for actually processing what is being said and coming up with something intelligent to say in response. So I end up coming across very dull-witted.
Back to Mysore, where you can gain a dozen friends in an afternoon hanging out in the open air café behind the yoga shala, I could easily be happy for months. Plus the locals are so nice and laid back. Even when I get into arguments with a group of rickshaw drivers over the fare, it is more of a friendly banter than an aggressive exchange.
The city is also quite clean. The train station, which were always rather revolting in the North, is practically spotless. There are trash cans (this may not sound significant to those of you back home, but a trash can in India can be exceedingly hard to come by). My nose is rarely offended. And it is very safe. Oh did I mention the weather is amazing? The monsoon is in full swing, so it rains every afternoon, but the temperature stays between 75 and 85 with a nice breeze.
Yet, the most noteworthy thing about Mysore is the architecture. There are some truly amazing buildings strewn all about the city. The Maharaja’s Palace is quite magnificent. But the ones I really love are the old buildings that once must have been rather glorious mansions for some very rich people who lived in Mysore long ago. Most of them are now quite run down. They look like they haven’t seen a can of paint in decades and that is likely the least of their troubles. Some of them have been converted to auto parts stores or other such unexpected commercial pairing. I am trying to think of how to describe them in words, but I think I will just post a few pictures in a few days.
The thing I love about them is how their grandeur has been reduced to a shadow, yet the beauty is not gone, just transformed and worn in by a long, difficult life. They’ve seen countless monsoons, layers of dirt and diesel, and have sheltered the lives of many. It is the same sort of beauty that you see in a very old woman with deep lines, hollowed cheeks, and tired, but wise and exquisite eyes. You can see that she was once gorgeous and now has worn her body to its limits. Yet this beauty is in many ways more stunning than that of a girl of twenty.