And you thought I was done talking about my bathroom

As I’ve adjusted to life here in Bangalore, my complete fascination with the most mundane parts of life have begun to wane. Gradually, the excitement and terror that accompanied buying bananas for breakfast, doing my laundry or walking to work dissipated.

Well, that’s partially untrue. The walk to work will never cease to be somewhat surreal — scooters whizzing past me, dodging cows. Goats lazily chewing leaves as I pick my way through the crowd. Something about that will always remain a little bit nerve-wracking and wonderful. But I digress.

You may remember my adventures with my toilet my first week here. I call them “adventures” most sincerely, as they demanded everything a good adventure demands: bravery, persistence, a little bit of luck. And of course, they had a happy ending.

So imagine my surprise when, while I am away at work, this sprouts from my floor unannounced:

Poof! New toilet.
Poof! New toilet.

Yes, that’s a toilet. One that any of us would recognize right off the bat. And yes, it’s just sitting there where my nice little hole used to be. And no, I was not expecting it.

To be honest with you, dear reader, who was probably hoping I was done sending you photos of my bathroom, I have mixed feelings about this new addition. Certainly, it’s nice to have a more familiar place to, well, sit. Very sudden, though. My father suggested that it was the work of a toilet fairy — akin to the tooth fairy — who grants good little foreigners Western-style toilets. I’m inclined to agree.

I’ve found this newly-sprouted toilet to be a fairly good analogy for life here in India: Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you don’t.

You discover that the laundry regiment you thought you’d perfected isn’t so perfect when you go to work in damp pants that didn’t dry overnight as you’d hoped they would. You go to buy bananas and can’t access the ATM because a very large bull has taken shelter from the rain directly in front of the door. And every day on the way home from work, there’s a new, different, equally lazy-looking goat munching on leaves.

Simply put, while the terror may fade, there’s really no such thing as “mundane” here. Not for a tourist, anyway. And I think I could get used to that.

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“Distractingly pale”

I was hesitant to write this. A voice inside my head kept sarcastically saying “Oh, fabulous idea, Holly. We needed more white people writing about race.” And then the little voice would roll its non-existent eyes.

Normally, I would listen to it. But everything in this article has been eating at me, devouring me, really. The photographs, the skin-lightening cream, the intense stares of strange men in restaurants. None of it sat well with me — instead it churned and bubbled and brought to the surface ideas and questions that needed to be addressed. This blog post is the result of those two weeks of boiling contemplation.

But at home, I’m too fair. At home, everyone is trying to get darker, by roasting in the sun and lying in the death traps they call tanning beds. But here, just yesterday, I saw a commercial for Vaseline that lightens the skin. I don’t know what to make of that. There’s dissonance being created in my head — and my gut.

I still feel odd about it, because I’m just not sure I have the language yet to talk about this. But with a little reassurance from my editors, I decided that, words or not, I ought to give it a try anyway.

That time when I got really, really lost

Last week, I was sent to cover the awards ceremony for PNLIT at Puttenahalli Lake. A beautiful little oasis in an otherwise frantic metropolis. The folks around there have been working to restore it for quite a while, and the progress they’ve made is impressive. I was excited to head to a part of Bangalore I hadn’t seen before and see the lake for myself. I was also wildly underprepared for how incredibly lost I was going to get.

My auto rickshaw driver and I shared no English or Kannada, but my co-worker had spoken with him before we departed. He seemed to know the lake — how lost could we get? Very. The answer is very, very lost.

Once we started closing in on my intended location, my driver began doing something unnerving: looking at me for direction. He’d slow, point to what might have been a lake or an open field and look at me questioningly. It did not please him when I simply returned his questioning look and repeated the only directions I knew: “Puttenahalli Lake, Entrance.” So he’d speed back up and drive a little while and slow back down and give me the same questioning look. Finally, I nodded, although I had no idea where I was, we sorted out payment, and then I stood in the middle of the street for a little bit, wondering if I was anywhere near where the ceremony was supposed to be. I could see a fence that was allegedly around the lake. The lake, then, was much bigger than I had expected. The adventure began.

Looking back, it’s clear I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. If I were to behave this way when lost in the wilderness I would die almost instantly and I would never be found. Because looking back, I’m pretty sure I just picked a road that looked kind of walkable, and started walking down it with purpose. Fifteen minutes passed. I had found what appeared to be a neighborhood. I had almost gotten hit by a bus. There were more cows than people. And finally, gratefully, I saw a landmark I recognized from Google Maps: Topspin Tennis Academy. “I’m almost there!” I thought, triumphantly. And immediately thereafter hit a dead end.

Optimism and patience worn thin, time running out: I decided it was time to cave and call my source and beg for directions.

“Hi! Sorry about this, but I appear to be lost…”

“Oh, no problem at all. Where are you?”

“By the Topspin Tennis Academy!” I replied proudly.

“… Alright. But where are you? What’s around you?”

My heart sank.

“A tennis academy?”

“A tennis academy. Anything else? No? … Let me call you back.”

I had this lingering feeling that she would not be calling me back.

Thankfully she did, with this advice: “No one knows where you are. Or where that tennis academy is. Get in an auto and tell the driver to go to the Millenium Brigade Entrance.”

It seemed like some sort of magic password. And when I repeated it, multiple times to my driver, it worked, more or less. He whisked me away to an entirely different place, in the opposite direction of where I’d been walking. I arrived only 15 minutes late, and throwing Rupees at the driver and scurrying across the street, made it in time to see the award being officially given to the recipients.

Learning about Bengaluru’s lakes

And reporting on them. This was a fascinating story to cover. I learned a lot about community activism in Bangalore, about governmental bodies (for better and for worse), and about the neighborhood I’m living in. Take a look here.

After decades of delays and legal complications, the finish line for Mestripalya Lake is in sight—but just out of reach. The lake, located in Koramangala 3rd Block in East Bengaluru, is ready to receive water, but until the project is transferred from the BDA to the BBMP, it cannot be filled.

I’ve also had the privilege of shooting my own photos for assignments, so check those out too!

The inlets that are to bring in water from the stormwater drains into the lake.
The inlets that are to bring in water from the stormwater drains into the lake.

My thoughts on foreigner admission prices

Since apparently those exist. After a little touristy rage, I get over myself, and have a think about foreigner pricing and my experiences in northern Karnataka.

But it just seemed a little unfair. Like a jab at me for daring to be a tourist, for daring to come and gawk at the gorgeous architecture and history captured in the cliff face overlooking Badami. What made my gawking any different than everyone else’s?

Check it out here.

P.S. There were monkeys (shout out to Jill) in many locations on my trip. Expect many photos later.