Saturday, March 20, 2010

Books, Brooms and Bindi Marks

Bangalore, India
I had planned on writing every two or three days but I woke up at 3 am Friday morning (2 pm Thursday afternoon Alaska time) thinking of all the things we'd seen the day before and realizing that America now looks very, very boring to me. We spent the day exploring Bangalore and saw so much I could write a dozen posts just on the experience.

Bangalore, India
We stopped at the public library which had a field of rose bushes planted in a neat and orderly grid in front and went inside. The librarian at the front desk looked up rather suspiciously and told me I couldn't take pictures and I pretty much obeyed him though as you can see I sneaked a few because I couldn't resist. The main room here had two pigeons flying around near the upper windows and it smelled just like any library anywhere in the world--apparently that lovely dusty book smell can be found in libraries everywhere.

Bangalore, India
I wish I could have taken pictures of the main entrance where a three-foot black stone Buddha was ensconced in the warm mahogany walls that were topped with a ledge featuring little carved elephants or the public drinking fountain that looked like an old-fashioned soda dispenser with a silver cup chained to it. I tried not to stare as a man poured a drink then tipped the cup back and artfully drank without the glass ever touching his mouth. Mom says Indians do this all the time and are masters at sharing cups without having their lips touch the vessel.

The books were very old and very tattered and there was one section with a sign that said "Blind Books"--though I wondered how someone who was blind would actually know that that's what the sign said. One of the books was titled The Technology of Snack Foods.

In the upper level that overlooked the main room there were men sitting at tables reading newspapers. Of course they looked up to stare at us and wonder who we were and we tried not to stare at them but the picture it made would have been wonderful with the walls carving around the rotunda and all the men reading. Newspapers are a bit of a luxury so they come there to read and it all had the feel of a men's club back from the days of the Raj.

Bangalore, India
Outside the building were a group of women sweeping the streets--a common site actually--with these handmade brooms and each of them bent over in the most awkward position, I wondered how they managed to work for so long without their backs killing them. One of them was obviously in her last trimester of pregnancy and I thought about how good it would have felt to have spent the day hunched over a broom when I was eight months pregnant.

Bangalore, India
We stopped by the Tippu Palace which was next to an elementary school and while we wandered alone through the 18th century pillars (I never saw another tourist the entire day) we could hear the noise of children playing. Tippu was a maharajah that ended up surrendering to General Cornwallis--the same Cornwallis that didn't fare so well in the American Revolution. Apparently after the British lost the war there they headed for India.

Bangalore, India
It was unfortunate really because if the plaques on the palace walls can be trusted he was an enlightened, fair and decent king who accomplished a great deal for his people.

Bangalore, India
And finally, just before I gave out from exhaustion and dehydration we visited the Bull Temple which has a giant statue of a sitting bull carved from one enormous piece of black granite. I don't have any good pictures of it unfortunately, partly because while the experience was fascinating it was also very strange and awkward.

I wondered if I'd feel out of place in India and strangely enough so far I've felt in awe but always comfortable--until we visited the Bull Temple. We had to remove our sandals and walk across the extremely hot stone slabs into the place where the bull sat, decorated with flower garlands and streaked with white and red and yellow paint.

Bangalore, India
The man--a priest perhaps?--kept telling me "Come, come, come" as he lead me around the statue, directing me to pat the bull for luck. When we made it around to the front he dumped a handful of faded jasmine blossoms into my startled hands, scooped up a thumb-load of red powder and swished it across my forehead to give me my first bindi mark.

It all felt so strange, so unusual and I didn't know quite what to think of it all. I was ashamed for being so awkward and such an intruder but then I was glad I was there to experience something so different and new to me. I tried not to think of the ants crawling over my feet and the things I'd stepped in as I'd tiptoed around and wondered if I was doing anything that was a huge taboo but all in all it was exciting and wild and wonderful.

Have I said that I love India?

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Peach Rainbow said...

beautiful post!

Suzie B. said...

Tell us more about the bindi mark. What is the significance of it in that region? Can you wash it and go back to get another? Can you put one on yourself? I'm sure most of us have seen those red marks but I haven't given it much thought till now.

Scribbit said...

They're a blessing mark as far as I've heard, and I'm sure he'd be happy to give out more as he asked for donations each time. :)

They wash off easily, they're just a powder. Though you'll see people with them rather faded that they've had for a while.

branda50 said...

I love reading your descriptions about India...The pictures you select to post are so interesting...Would you be nervous to travel there if your mom was not with you?..
PS Oh my aching back...

Headless Mom said...

Wanted to let you know I'm reading and taking all of this in. I love your stories of India. Your joy in traveling there is childlike and infectious!

Heart2Heart said...


I love reading about your trip to India. I find that when I read about them from a blogger's perspective and not the travel channel hosts perspective, they see things completely different as well as the experience.

I love feeling like we are right along side you as you visit this amazing place.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Chrissy Johnson said...

My knee-jerk reaction (ashamedly) is envy, but that quickly fades into awe and gratitude. Gratitude that you're sharing this with so many with such an unpretentious, open, loving eye...this is just like reading some sort of modern EM Forster tale.

Patricia L said...

Any insight as to why you weren't supposed to take pictures at the library? Just curious. Sounds like you are fitting a lot into your days there!

Elizabeth Thomas said...

Thanks for sharing these great pictures and your vacation with us.

Jen at Semantically driven said...

I went to India in the early 1990s and still remember how I felt my first day there in New Delhi. I spent 7 weeks overall in India and apart from being sick a couple of times I really enjoyed it. I've reminisced about some of it on my blog because it made such an impact on me.

Adventures In Babywearing said...

Wow, seriously amazing, Michelle!