Sunday, January 14, 2007

Cricket and Samosas - Week 1

My first week living in Hyderabad has been one of extremes. On one hand there is the expat life, and on the other, the veritable but unfortunate contrast of local life. One life is the one from behind walls and tinted glass, the one with doffed caps and smiles, sirs and accomodation, the kind of world in which no matter how messy life gets in the morning, it comes back cleaned and starched by 6pm. It’s a world in which there exists a magic book wherein any request is almost instantly granted, the only stipulation of course being that one cannot wish for a second magic book! Darn... This life is beyond the any inveterate comfort, and, at times, beyond even comforts of predilection. It is not so much a spurious world as a world removed, detatched, and perhaps anachronistic, as technologies and possibilities that exist in our world are only far-off dreams in the world that exists within a stone’s throw of our apartment complex.

Tall walls and a road buzzing with the honks and motors of auto-rickshaws separate our world from the shanty tents that squat nearby. Shelter tenuously exists, held together by wire and hanging stones over a nearby wall, a pole anchoring the roof of the home. The smells are foreign and deep, striking and poignant, an uncomfortable tale of desperation, perhaps dispair and surely discomfort. It is not a contrast that is unique to this part of the world. It is a contrast that one can witness on any continent and at any point, but one that is equally striking the world over. I’ve been fortunate enough to bear witness to some of the contrasts that bring humility and appreciation to circumstance, images and memories that impel me to withold judgement or to offer explanation. I think that such images carry a gravitas and a responsibility. It’s cliché to talk about making a difference, but if witnessing the extremes of life make you a more compassionate person, than that’s a difference enough.

This was an absolutely brilliant weekend, my first in Hyderabad. Saturday morning lent itself to a cricket match of 20 overs, and a final result that was a near draw. I even bowled and fielded during the intermission, a nice interlude from the plastic chair that I'd rode during the first 20 overs. During the afternoon we toured the Charminar area of central Hyderabad, a confluence of traffic, capitalism and Islamic heritage in Andrah Pradesh. With vibrant colored saris, a flurry of honks and jingle of bangles, we disembarked from our car into the real world of Urdu, Hindi, and Telugu that is AP in India. It’s a fast-paced, close-up world of hands and smiles, golds and pinks and blues and greens, piles of fruit and gritty yellow taxis, standing water and bare footed, big-eyed, kids enthusiastically hawking bangles and sunglasses while displaying impressive English. It’s a world of families, photographs, penetrating gazes and the occasional introduction. Although I was dubious of the introduction, it usually concluded not with a sale but with a smile. It would end with a soft handshake and a welcome.

Charminar means four minarets, or towers. It’s a building that dates from the 16th century and is known by some as the Arc de Triumph of India. We climed to its top for a cost twenty times more than for the local Indian – 5 rupees for a local, 100 rupees for a foreigner.

Upon exiting a cute bare-footed girl began to follow us, asking for bangles. When we stopped for a chai and cookie, we offered her one of the 4 rupee treats (10 cents). She refused near the store, so we thought it better to offer food away from the leering shopkeeper. She followed us, darting through and under fruit stands, around rickshaws, scampering without hesitation or regard for what lay underfoot, a damp, festering earth littered with ditritus without name or form, and not what you’d want between your toes. She eventually took the food, though she continued to follow us until we eventually boarded our car.

We also engaged two boys selling plastic bangles out of small cardboard boxes. They told us of their schooling and football skills. A woman naerby came to observe our interaction. Shielded by a burqa, but without the veil covering her face, she watched us. When a break in conversation presented itself I offered her a “salam,” to which we bantered the only two lines I know in Arabic. It was a short interaction wherein we both said hello, how are you, and good, but it was a small victory with spoils of smiles. She walked away immediately thereafter after extending her hand to me to shake.

Today after a brunch at the Novotel, a delectable pile of savory and sweet treats, we explored the Persian tombs and Golconda Fort that make Hyderabad famous, or at least known to some techies or India buffs. What Hyderabad is actually known for, however, are its diamonds and pearls. The Queen of England’s crown contains a diamond from the Golconda mines, and nearly 90 percent of all pearls pass through Hyderabad for polishing and setting before going on sale across the world. This information, of course, came from a reputable source: our driver.

An evening of crafts and samosas and Malaysian corn in a cup, we enjoyed our spicy street food atop a crumbling wall and beneath the gaze of a score of onlookers. Week one from the other side, two worlds away from California...

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