Red Shift (II) — Hope and the Banyan Tree

November 5, 2009

I’ll write this while I still have power.  It flickers off at irregular intervals, part of the official load relief program, so the Hindi Times says.  This makes it sound planned, but it’s not.  Sort of like “Quantitative Easing,” the U.S. load relief program.  It has the small businesses in Mysore in a tizzy, because they never know when they’ll have consistent power.  When you’re running a foundry and everything cools off in the middle of a run, it makes for a sticky mess.  The government still happily adds new customers, nevertheless.


I spent the morning trudging around in search of a place to rent a motorcycle.  At Palace Honda I am introduced to several clerks and then eventually ushered in for a sit down with the big cheese.  We discuss, mostly in sign language, what size bike I would like, the color, for in town or off road use, etc.  When the matter of price arises, he happily announces “Rs 52,000” (about $1,000).  “Awfully high,” I say, “for two days.  This is a rental isn’t it?”  “Rental?”  “No rental.  That is not possible.”


I hear that a lot here.  A cot in my room for my son.  “No, sir, that is not possible.”  Directions to walk to the zoological park.  “No, sir, that is not possible.”


I asked my driver to take me to the silk factory yesterday.  Instead he took me to some stores where he probably gets a commission.  When I inquired about the silk factory, he assured me that this was the same thing.  “It is silk,” he gestures..


After returning from Palace Honda I ran into Shiva for the second time this morning.  He drove me up to an internet cafe yesterday, only it turned out to be just a telephone, fax and Xerox place.  Close enough.  After asking a half dozen people, someone finally directed me over the hill and down the other side to the real internet  café, a basement with a dozen grimy cubicles and no cafe.  That should be the motto of  India.  “Close enough.”


Shiva wears a nice light blue silk/wool blend sweater and speaks English I can sometimes understand.  He would like me to rent his services for the day.  300 rupees.  If the motorcycle doesn’t work out, Shiva it will be.  Close enough.


After returning to home base from Palace Honda, I decided to ask the maitre d’ if he knew where I could get a motorcycle rental.  Ah yes, indeed he did.  Turn left at the end of the cement wall and walk down the lane.  Turn in at the second gate (the first one will be locked) and there is a woman there who handles rentals.  I ran over the directions with him several times and backed out of the office smiling and nodding.



Walka walka.  I see Shiva eyeing me from his perch across the street, but now he is used to this odd American who walks everywhere and he leaves me alone.  I avoid the large brown puddles in the oceanic potholes of the lane and hip hop to the horn toots that are one’s only warning of impending death.  The second gate leads into a dark and dangerous looking alley with several large and apparently empty warehouses.  The first is for construction.  The second for import/export to the U.S.  I walk further into the shady darkness.  A few people pass me but do not look at me.  I nod benignly but nobody is warming up.  Questions about motorcycle rental prompt vague waves down the path.  By this time I am walking under the biggest Banyan tree I could have ever imagined.  It shades the equivalent of a city block.  Now I can see that a few of the small warehousey looking things are actually houses with little gardens.  I walk farther and the paved path turns to a dirt track.  Way at the end among the trees is a newish looking building with a man washing a car out front.   I hail him, but at first he ignores me.  I’ve come too far to be dissuaded so I walk up next to him and ask about the motorcycle rental lady.  “No, there are no motorcycle rentals here.  This is a film studio.”


“A film studio????”  I am incredulous.  But why not?  The Green Hotel used to be a film studio back in the ‘50’s.  There is a print of a half clad starlet on a hidden wall to prove it. Finally, the car washer looks at me and tells me to go down the dirt path behind the “film studio” and ask there.  “There are college students over there,” he says.  I’m not quite sure of the implication.  Is it that college students are the types who ride motorcycles, or is it that they are more likely to speak English.


Trundling down the indicated path I indeed spot a young man in the dense undergrowth who looks like an actual college student.  I’m feeling pretty ridiculous by now, but what the heck.  “Do you know of a lady here who rents motorcycles?”  He smiles.  “No, there is a lady here who rents rooms, but no motorcycles.”  Ah, I think, a rental agent.  Close enough.


I walk the half mile back to Vinoba Road with the student.  He is new here and not too interested really in chatting, but I learn he is a graduate student at Mysore Technical University studying for a degree in computer science.  He programs in C, C++ and Java, but no, he isn’t going to be rich.  The people who get rich are the ones who go into banking.  Computer programming is not well paid, he says.


Next I try the hotel’s travel agent.  He speaks good English.  Yes you can rent motorcycles in Mysore, but the minimum is a week.  Well, I think, that will do.  There is no store to rent motorcycles, but he has some contacts, of course, and will call me at 12 o’clock.  “Will that be satisfactory?”  “Oh, yes,” I say, thinking maybe I will make a fallback plan for the day.


Not so bad really.  The morning has offered me two things most useful in life – hope and experience.  After all, I’ve met several interesting people, seen the giant banyan tree, met someone who works in films (even if it is road film), and gotten more comfortable with my neighborhood.  Not a motorcycle rental, true, but maybe tomorrow.


Close enough.


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