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Friday, February 1, 2013

Morning, in India

What the heck time is it over there, anyway? a Minnesota friend texts, You seem to be on the computer around the clock!

While I admit to having spent mid-night moments on the computer, the confusing truth is that time in India is eleven and a half (yup, a half, go figure…) hours ahead of that in Minnesota.  While Rita is going out on an errand before supper, I have just gotten up at the usual time of six o’clock in the morning.  The sky lightens, but the day starts with a thin gray fog of mist cum air pollution that burns away in the sun

Residents of neighborhood apartment buildings go out to work, their movements marked by an elevator call of three clear xylophone-like tones, weirdly reminiscent of the old NBC trademark sound, but with the first two tones reversed..  The couple next door have abandoned their morning and evening shouting matches in favor of slammed doors.  The only daily street vendor is the leafy greens seller, the call enumerating his wares resounding from stone buildings and compound walls as he passes by on his bicycle, a bundle of his wares tied in a damp cloth behind him:  "Aaaak-kuraluuu, thota kura, batsa kura, go-o-n-go-o-rruh'!!" On occasional days, we might hear the long-handled-cobweb-duster seller, hollering 'Boos Karra, Boos Karra!", or the salt seller,with his "Oop-POO, Oop-Poo!"

I remove the corner-ties from the four wooden sticks suspending the mosquito netting, reinforced and formed by a grid of cloth tape into an “inverted box” over our bed by night, and fold it into a dusty, lumpy ‘pillow’ at the foot of the bed. Plump up the pillows, straighten the coverlet, and lie on the futon-firm bed for my daily dose of yoga postures.  (I’m no pro, and draw the line at lying on the floor, from which I cannot rise without help.)  Then I pull aside the window curtains and turn on the fan to clear out the stale night air.
Brotherinlaw has already busied himself in the kitchen, putting away air-dried dishes.  Sisterinlaw comes downstairs and  makes a cup of Indian tea for everyone except me.  (An occasional cup will do, thank you.)  We take turns scanning the news in two differently-slanted English language newspapers and sharing bits of it with each other, while an Indian nightingale churns out a hearty throb, reminding us that there is beauty in addition to necessity…
Don tennis shoes for a walk, in the cobbled rock driveway and stone path around the house, around the neighbourhood, or, if the driver comes early enough, around the red beaten earth municipal track several blocks away.  At the track, depending on the hour, there may be equal numbers of women and men, or mostly men, of the neighbourhood and city, walking singly or in pairs, silent or chatting, wearing comfortable versions of Indian or western clothing, with flip flops, sandals or tennis shoes, earnestly putting in their daily rounds before going off (or home) to work.  Contingents of middle aged and older men sit, chatting and/or passively eyeing the walkers, from benches in one corner, women in another, and grannies and mothers on tiered seating, encouraging children learning to rollerskate on a concrete rink next to the outdoor basketball court which, with an open field and two storied gym cum community center.
Then it’s home for a quick bath (a hot one if we’ve remembered to turn on the geezer (hot water heater) for just five minutes) and a hot breakfast served up by our sister-in-law.  This year it’s possible to buy ready-made batter for a traditional breakfast dosai (soft or crisp crepe of fermented lentils), which we eat, with or without condiment, egg, or potato curry, most every day.  (Previously, one had to soak black lentils and rice overnight, and grind them into a thin batter, in a noisy, powerful blender.) Dosais are fried on a very hot  griddle, surface cooled with a sudden dash or a swipe of cold water just before frying.  Batter too thick, the dosai will lump up, and cook to a breadier texture.  Too thin, and it will spatter. Just right and there you have it, delicately brown on one side, sometimes crisp, and white on the other.
As with chappatis, rotis, and uttapams, dosais are eaten with the right hand, deftly tearing off a piece at a time, scooping up and wrapping a morsel of curry of patchadi (spicy relish) to pop into your mouth.   Eat a piece of fresh fruit after every meal:  papaya, banana, and seasonal ‘loose jackets’ (think large, delicately flavoured tangerines with, of course, loose peels) are available every day, besides guava, or an occasional thick peeled, sweet grapefruit, fallen from a tree near the house.
To be sure, I could go on all day about just the morning routine, but enough for today...It's noon, and I have yet to finish telling you about Indonesia.

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