For a weekend with few plans, the past few days were marked with distinctly Indian experiences. I may not be traveling much (something I hope to correct sooner rather than later!), but as my best friend reminded me today while messaging on the oh-so-useful-yet-increasingly-annoying medium of Facebook: “You know that experience is the most important! If that experience comes at the local store and not mumbai that’s okay!” So I’m going to see this weekend as time full of Pune experiences. This place will be home – it already is, to some degree.
One of my favorite memories of Pune thus far is last Friday’s Diwali party with my coworkers at Akanksha. Diwali is Hindi festival of lights. In very simplified terms, it is a celebration of good over evil, of light over dark. This year the holiday actually starts on Thursday, so our party was a warm up to the real event. The dress code mandated at traditional dress, and almost everyone (especially the women) brought out some beautiful examples of Indian fashion. I was lucky enough to borrow a sari from a coworker. (While I fully intend to buy a sari of my own at some point this year, I want time to explore all of the saris. All of them. Then I can pick my favorite(s).) I was also lucky enough to have wonderful coworkers who could put said sari on me and lend me jewelry to complete the ensemble. (It was kind of amusing to see my coworker fold the front of my sari from behind me – the top of her head maybe reaches the nape of my neck. She couldn’t see a thing. Most of the time I don’t feel particularly tall here, but this certainly was an exception!)
The HR team really pulled off a nice party. It was a lot of fun to sit and chat with coworkers who I see come in and out of the office but never really speak to. It was also funny to see the shape of the party – it was fantastically reminiscent of a classroom. Everything at Akanksha speaks to people’s past lives as teachers. Every meeting and group gathering – it runs like a lesson, and everyone always comments on how much easier it is to work with kids. How this played out at our party: we spent about an hour making paper lanterns, then competed in teams to make an Indian sweet (basically a dumpling filled with toasted coconut and sugar), and then we ate. It was a lot of fun, and I was vividly reminded of school holiday parties.
After the Diwali party wrapped up, I went out with a coworker and her friends to a fantastic restaurant near my apartment. It was a stunning venue – lights under glass tables, lit ponds, and simple modern tables. To get into the restaurant, you descend a staircase that highlights the space and atmosphere. It was breathtaking. I will certainly be going back – even though it is only open Friday – Sunday and reservations are non-negotiable. It had pretty good thin crust pizza, to boot.
Saturday was an experience, unfortunately not in a positive sense. I had agreed to help run a booth selling Akanksha art products as part of an ongoing fundraiser. The sale was close to my house (5 kilometers), and it didn’t seem like a big deal. The sale itself was fine, but transportation to and from was horrendous. The rickshaw drivers were just beyond awful. I was overcharged both rides, and the second ride was disastrous. Despite agreeing to the meter when I got into the cab, he kept insisting on 100 rupees (an absurdly high number for that distance) and then wouldn’t let me get out of the vehicle. Then he wouldn’t take me all the way to my place – I ended up walking another 15 minutes to my house. The walking didn’t bother me, but overpaying for a ride that didn’t even get me close to my house was infuriating. I actually screamed at the driver, saying that he shouldn’t have taken my business if he was going to cheat me and lie to me. Not sure if he understood, but hopefully he won’t agree to one set of terms and then change his mind halfway through.
It’s not really about the money, although I am being careful to stay within my stipend. It’s the lying and cheating and general lack of work ethic that I see in most drivers. In Bangladesh everyone tried to make an extra buck, and while difficult to handle sometimes, I understood the need. Rickshaw drivers here do whatever they want and then expect extra pay for… I really don’t know what. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it’s super frustrating given that I rely on rickshaws for travel.
With the horrible rides on Saturday, I didn’t really want to deal with rickshaws on Sunday. Some distance was needed from those things. So I ended up watching a Bollywood movie at the cinema near my house. Hindi is a beautiful language, and it’s fun to sit and just listen to language. The movie itself was pretty bad. It reminded me of the time I went to see Mission Impossible 4 in Korea with a bunch of friends. It was an awful movie, but the dark theater provided a quiet space to escape for a bit. I enjoyed being in the theater. I think it might be a monthly treat – one afternoon in the theater seeing whatever big movie has come out.