In case you are wondering Wonderland is my new name for India. Actually, I stole it from a book called Holy Cow that I have been reading but don’t tell anyone. It’s written by a woman who came to India, hated it and vowed never to return and then came back and loved it. Hmm… sounds familiar! Anyway in my humble opinion its a bit of a rubbish book so I reckon you should just read this instead…
Hopefully by the end of this post you will be halfway to seeing exactly why there is so much to shock and surprise you about this place.
This week, as I’m sure those who are well informed by the BBC will already know, we realised that we are experiencing the worst monsoon in India’s history (well, last 100 years at least!). I think you probably knew before we did in any case!
The rain returned after a blissful fortnight of sunshine but we go shopping come rain or shine so it didn’t bother us. I have spent insane amounts of rupees on dress fabric recently so Saturday was just another one of those days. When I get home I will look like a Punjabi for the first time for a long long time. I reckon I will have approximately fifty salwar kameez by the time September comes around.
This time round we got a free club sandwich at the dressmakers. I have been pushing my luck recently and for today I have requested barfi and halwa. I was half joking the first time but they took it seriously, so obviously we were obliged to accept the offer… Indian hospitality strikes again haha. We will have to drop hints for a candlelit dinner next time 🙂
Jenna discovered that she had lost weight so all her punjabi suits are being tailored a few inches smaller. Actually what he told her was “You were fat, now you are thin” in his crude English. We tried to explain the subtleties of the English language but sometimes it’s just funnier to listen to how they try to communicate sensitive subjects like that! Also when he realised that I was partly Indian he said I can pay the balance when I come back to India sometime because he can trust Indians. I knew there was an advantage there somewhere!
Saturday evening all the volunteers went out to a pizzeria. Jen and I got back a bit too late and so we met up with them later at a place called ABC farms after an hour or so in a rickshaw trying to locate the restaurant. The moral of the story is: don’t ask a rickshaw man a question that begins “Do you know..” because the standard answer is always ‘yes!’ or that head shake thing that is a cross between a yes nod and a no nod and can mean anything from ‘yes I do’, ‘no I don’t but I’ll pretend I do” or just ‘I’m sorry, do I know you?’
We met up with the guys by fluke at a place called Ola and then we went to a place called The Shisha Cafe which sounds like it might be modelled on a turkish harem but was actually quite classy. Then we went to a place called 10 Downing Street that thankfully didn’t look like the real thing in the slightest. We have a curfew of 10.30pm which I think is a bit crazy but we stayed out much longer because it was the LINK guys (a bunch of volunteers from Scotland) final few days in India. I drove the rickshaw part of the way home and so did the others then used it as an excuse so that he wouldn’t extort quite as much money from us.
The next day we went to Mahatma Gandhi road. There’s an MG road in every town in India and he’s on all the banknotes so I think they quite like the guy. Well I had some photos developed and they came out really well. I have several pictures of the children at City of Child and I think I might have to kidnap a few before I leave Pune. Jen and I also got some passport pics so that mum can replace the one of me in her purse from 1995 and I can start looking like the older bossier sister again. We both had to wear Louise’s bright pink floral jacket because our pale pink clothes (you may recall all our clothes are now pale pink) sort of paled into the background.otherwise. So we have genuine smiles on our faces at least!
In the evening we went to a place called A Thousand Oaks for yummy ice tea and snacks. We bumped into a couple of other volunteer type people who told us about a place called Not Just Jazz by the bay. We got onto the guest list so that we could avoid the astronomical entry fee that was the equivalent of about 3 months Indian wages.
Unfortunately we had a really dodgy rickshaw wallah and he took us here there and everywhere but not where we were meant to be. When we arrived home we were all really mad so we decided to go out to a local place called Palazzo. I felt sorry for Stephen because he was all cheery when we got in and we all three kinda tried and failed to be all smiles. When we arrived at Palazzo after 5 flights of stairs we found out there was a private function. Anyway we hung around outside for a bit waiting for the all important question – What is your good name? and eventually we got invited in.
Well this was pretty cool given our run of bad luck and there were several hundred bemused faces wondering what three white girls might have to do with a Parsi baptism party. Well anyway it was great – we went round meeting and greeting and getting asked questions such as “Do you know Queen Elizabeth” to which I gave several contradictory answers. It felt like the mad hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland. Our cups were constantly refilled and we were given a huge meal and dessert.
In exchange for this mini banquet they asked us if we would sing songs, so we became the amateur entertainers for the night. Louise told me she felt like she was dreaming as we proceeded to provide renditions of Lean on Me, Wonderful Tonight, Summertime from Porgy and Bess and other show tunes. Very surreal. When we relayed this to the others whe we got home Tim suggested we ought to be in Namaste or whatever the Indian version of Hello! magazine is.
This week we mostly had to put off work on our report because we were busy doing relief work. The river burst its banks and when they opened the dams a bunch of people had their houses float off down the river or just become seriously waterlogged.
So we made up food parcels of rice dal flour toothpaste soap etc whilst some of the other volunteers had the unenviable task of wading waist deep to deliver them to families affected by the flooding. There was a small army of Indian guys who had come down to help us pack but it was a case of Too many cooks etc instead of Many hands make light work because it was pretty manic! We went down to the river banks and it was really scary because at some points the water was up to my thighs and all the villagers were pointing as if to say “too much water in that direction”. They obviously thought us totally mad.
We managed to get a skeleton version of our report done all the same and we started fleshing it out. We have been looking at Ofsted reports of really rubbish schools to try and figure the best way to say not very nice things in a very nice way and so far I have to say I’m quite impressed by ourselves!
This week we also sent the Link guys on their way so they are probably recovering from jet lag in Bonny Scotland as I type. They ended up saying bye for about an hour and a half so it was funny as in the end we were laughing just trying to get rid of them…
Yesterday we finally got round to booking our train tickets as trains are now running into and from Mumbai Central. You have to fill out a separate form for each train each with all your contact details on it and then wait for it all to be processed. The woman at the counter was a bit funny – she said the policy was to line up and buy each individual ticket separately (3 people, 7 journeys). That is a bit of a joke given that queuing never entred the Indian vocabulary haha
After several hours we finally mapped out a route and found trains that were available so we are readying ourselves to leave Pune next Saturday. We finally made it to Not Just Jazz last night which as the name suggests played less jazz and more ‘Take me home to West Virginia’!
Well looking forward to wrapping stuff up in Pune this week and can’t wait to report on my Rajasthani/Punjabi/Himalayan travels. Don’t miss it.