Pune playboy postscript

When Mood Music
2006-03-18 10:46:00

Thursday 16th part 2
Foraging: totally yummy alu methi and parathas with to-die-for home-made lime pickle then watermelon juice, followed by sugary fennel sweets to cleanse the palate at at street-cafe (“Uncle Dev’s pure veg”) at the corner of Vinod Pathak (aka One Church) road and Connaught Road, just across from the GPO. Very welcome after a day of getting hopelessly lost and the hotel needing to re-check my passport!

Friday 17th
achieved a few of my objectives today:

  • a long internet session, including checking up whether I’d upset a friend (fortunately no) and on my internet banking. This place has to be the best cybercafe I’ve seen in India: clean and nicely designed, modern-ish machines running Windows 2000, camera-card readers, headphones, webcams, decent monitors and keyboards
  • bought a decent streetmap of Pune. It has the former, British, street names and not a hint of Marathi but is geographically accurate.
  • drank two very welcome mango juices at a roadside stall
  • bought an idiot’s guide to Hindi (most folk here don’t speak it but Marathi uses the same script so eventually I should be able to read roadsigns). I can now read Devanagari script numerals, having learnt them from platform/stance signs at a bus station.
  • got to the tribal museum my guidebook had recommended, and met the director thereof (and of the research institute it’s part of). He seems a very decent chap and I was happy to meet him later to be taken to his museum shop – it’s in a south-eastern suburb and I’d have never found it on my own. Quite a fun ride on the back of his scooter there and back. The research foundation seems a very worthwhile thing, as does the shop, enabling tribesfolk to enter into commerce selling ‘traditional’ paintings and other crafts. I’m not quite sure that introducing them to capitalism (another of my bug-bears) is a good thing but if they’re already in its grip (and there are signs that some are being ripped off horribly by local government officials), then any funds that reach them will be welcome. I’ve bought some books and cards, most of which will probably end up as presents!
  • some magnificent contrasts that help define India to me:
    • coming out of the museum, I was dogged by a gaggle of kids demanding 50 rupees! When I refused, a couple acted as if they were mad, presumably to garner sympathy for their affliction.
    • Then, just outside my hotel, I passed a skip. In it, a bloke was raking therough its highly potent organic contents for useful stuff.
    • Next, at my hotel, I sat on the verandah and a waiter just came over and sliced the melon I’d bought from a roadside stall. Amazing service for around 3 UK pounds a night!
  • I’ve just spoken to the HIV-counselling person whose colleague I met on the bus to Pune. She’s on a teaching break just now and so has asked me to call her next Friday. I don’t know for sure if this is where I’ll fit but there’s no harm in finding out. Looks like I’ll be in and around Pune for longer than I’d originally thought. However, despite (or maybe because) seeming London-with-chappatis (there’s KFC, Pizza Express and bloody McDonalds!!!), I’m getting to like it.
  • hotel washed my very manky clothes for 100 rupees.
  • bought 3 collared shirts for 400 rupees. Wearing these and smart-ish trousers makes me feel for comfortable, not least because it’s what most blokes I’ve seen in India wear. I couldn’t wear the other ‘uniform’ (a nehru cap, long shirt and lunghi) without feeling an utter tosser.
  • finally braved my hotel’s shower after discovering that if I let it run long enough, the water goes from freezing to tepid. Oh the joys of wearing clean clothes on a clean body!
  • Back to Uncle Dev’s for food (paneer ghungroo and methi/radish parathas). I also bought half a kg of the afore-mentioned lime pickle. More crowd-watching – even saw a local skin-head! The owner/manager talked with me a bit about foreign news, especially the latest US attack on Samarra in Iraq. He showed me yesterday’s (i.e Thursday 16th’s) Marathi newspaper: of course I couldn’t read it but the pictures of bloody bodies were enough to make me feel ill. (Reading about it in the BBC news pages: it’s a propaganda op with fortunately few casualties so far. I wish I’d been able to tell whether the newspaper pictures were from this op or simply library/stock photos.)


Saturday 18th so far

  • very poor sleep because the bloke next to me kept his fan on full blast all night.
  • powercut 8.30 to 10 am due to lack of fuel, which makes the US-India nuclear fuel deal that bit more understandable. (While India hasn’t signed the non-proliferation treaty and so can’t normally be supplied with fuel, it can if this will prevent fuel-starved reactors from doing bad things. Can anyone who understands nuclear physics please comment on the science behind this?)
  • Visited the hotel toilet twice: not so much mughal’s revenge as mughal’s delayed-action annoyance!
  • Along with the powercut, there was a lack of water in the system. Once I’m done here, I’m going back for a shower.
  • Came here to check on various stuff and blog. Very glad I brought my toilet paper. The cafe’s in a modern mall which has a sit-down toilet. I had to clean the seat first because someone had stood on it but now I understand why – there’s a dripping tap at low level and I now look as if I’ve pissed down my left trouser-leg. Currently sitting on newspaper (and a ply-bag to protect the cafe’s chair), hoping that it will absorb the more unfortunately-positioned damp patches and imagining you buggers laughing at me. Not going to move from here until it’s dry! I thought that after this my guts would calm down but the gastric pain has just come back for another round.


Mughal’s revenge?
I’ve realised that I can’t be strictly vegan here without major issues that I don’t want to face. (I was also advised this by another vegan friend who has spent a couple of years living in India: during this time he relaxed his code.)

  • Unless I insist on ‘kala chai’ or ‘mahin dudh’ and the facilities are available, chai automatically has milk. On trains, the chai-wallahs carry flasks of hot, milky water which they dispense into paper cups with tetley tea-bags. I’m not keep on buying drinking-water in plastic containers for obvious reasons and because the bottles are known to be re-filled with yucky tap-water by unscrupulous operators. I did buy some this morning now in the hope that this will help me get through the current problem.
  • Where I can, I’ll have rotis but Uncle Dev told me that they only had parathas (buttery flat-breads) available. I was hungry and in no mood to haggle or search for elsewhere and am reasonably convinced that cows here are treated with some respect. (Who’s going to deliberately damage their beasts-of-burden? Despite being a modern city, there are plenty of bullock-carts here?)

So last night I ate Uncle Dev’s recommendation of paneer ghungroo (cheese in a spicy gravy) with methi-stuffed parathas. However, I’m hoping that my gut flora not knowing what to do with this heavy lactose meal is the cause of my digestive problems. I’ll avoid paneer from now on and eat just rice tonight in the hope that this cleans out my system. Meanwhile, I’m very glad I don’t go anywhere without my rapidly diminishing stock of bog-roll and am not looking forward to using newspaper when it runs out!

None of the above stops me from believing that I should return to eating a fully vegan diet in the UK, for all the practical and compassion-based reasons that kept me vegan(-ish) in the past, hopefully avoiding the ‘ish-ness’. I’d appreciate any help with staying on the straight and narrow you lot would care to offer.

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