Stare.
 
2000 Notebook: Transition XLI
 
   
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6 December 2000
Kingfisher Strong Premium Beer
After my first week in India, I’ve finally found a link between my world in the north and this tropical country. Rainier Ale lives in Bangalore, but here it’s called Kingfisher Strong Premium Beer.

The parallels astound me!

Unlike some of the other Kingfisher brews, Kingfisher Strong Premium Beer is only available in a healthy, six hundred and fifty milliliter bottle—just sixty-one hundredths of a milliliter shy of the twenty-two ounce bottles that are the talk of the town in San Francisco. Admittedly, even that generous serving falls short of the colossal forty ounce bottle of Rainier Ale, but then just about everything else does, doesn’t it?

A big bottle of Kingfisher Strong Premium Beer costs forty-four rupees, or just under a dollar at the official exchange rate. Before comparing that offering with the forty-ounce bottle of Rainier Ale for two dollars and twenty-one cents (both prices include all taxes and tariffs), the discriminating consumer will want to know how Kingfisher Strong Premium Beer’s payload compares to the legendary 7.2 alcohol content of Rainier Ale.

Here, the picture gets a bit blurry. The Kingfisher Strong Premium Beer label says, somewhat ambiguously, “alcohol contents not exceeding 8%.” That’s a claim almost any beer could make, since few beers are that strong. I suspect what the Kingfisher brewers mean, though, is that their beer is just a hair under eight-percent drugs, and thus not potent enough to trigger the higher taxes or different labeling or some other unpleasant consequence of Indian laws governing overly-fortified malt beverages.

But enough numbers, what about the taste?

Kingfisher Strong Premium Beer tastes like cheap crabapple cider and battery acid—not really like beer at all, but it does smack of at least eight percent alcohol. All in all, Kingfisher Strong Premium Beer definitely represents good value for money, especially some twelve and a half thousand kilometers from Mt. Rainier.

7 December 2000
More Living than Dead
I’m enjoying reading the Indian newspapers, especially the obituaries. Actually, they really aren’t obituaries at all, just illustrated change of address notices. For example, I note that, “Sh. Ragunath Sahaiji left for his heavenly abode on Saturday 25th November 2000.” Two days later, “Our Respected Mother, Smt Ram Sarno w/o Late Lalia Paras Ram Karuthia left for her heavenly abode on 27th November 2000.”

And so on.

It’s deeply unnerving—on the most basic level—to travel through a country where the living outnumber the dead.

8 December 2000
Venkatappa and Wood
I saw an art exhibit by K. Venkatappa (1887-1965) at the eponymously-named Venkatappa Museum here in Bangalore.

“I like the paintings,” I told Ravi, “they remind me a lot of Grant Wood’s work.”

“I can see it now,” Ravi laughed, “somewhere in Iowa an Indian is telling some farmer how much Grant Wood’s paintings remind him of K. Venkatappa’s work.”

That could very well be.

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9 December 2000
Dumpster Dog
Geeta and I were walking down Sri Nara Simha Raja Road when we saw an apparently healthy puppy in a trash container at a construction site. Even though I’m not particularly fond of most canines, I thought this miserable young dog deserved a better life, or at least a more dignified end.

“It’s so sad, Geeta,” I said, “that this pathetic little varmint could spend its last hours in a rubbish tip before it’s dumped into a truck and used for landfill.”

“Yes,” Geeta agreed, “it’s a scandalous waste of protein. Look at those workers—they’re skinny as rails, yet they throw away perfectly good meat because of their primitive superstitions.”

“Maybe someone else will want it,” I said halfheartedly as I lifted the scrawny critter out of its dumpster.

“I don’t have much hope,” Geeta said resignedly as she watched the mangy dog limp away.

It’s amazing what you can learn about a country and its culture(s) from an emaciated mutt.

10 December 2000
Jawaharlal’s Masala Dosas
India remains a mystery for many reasons, not the least of which is that I can neither speak nor read the Hindi language. When it’s time to eat, I need the English language, which hasn’t been too limiting in this former British colony.

For today’s lunch, I chose to dine at Jawaharlal’s Veg Restaurant. (There are two basic types of eateries in India, veg and non-veg, or vegetarian and omnivorous, respectively.) I was attracted to Jawaharlal’s philosophy (as printed on the menus); it seemed to represent a nice balance between Eastern mysticism and Western pragmatism.

    “Nothing is as rewarding as true enlightenment, but a good masala dosa is better than nothing.”

I’m delighted to report that Jawaharlal’s masala dosas were better than most.

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11 December 2000
Off My High Horse
I received a fan letter from a woman named Claudia Scribble56. (Although she never said so explicitly, I believe “Scribble56” is a nom de guillotine.) Ms. Scribble56 wrote:

    I accidentally stumbled upon your web site. Ouch! I know I am not being very compassionate, plus I never email anyone but my kids, but I felt compelled to tell you that you need to get off your high horse and be real. You give artists a bad rep.

Although I was chuffed that she credited me with giving artists a bad reputation, I’m only carrying on a rich tradition of artistic excess and indolence that dates back to the time when some people were risking their lives stalking mammoths to barbecue while others—the artists—were taking it easy in the safety of the cave, illustrating the hunters’ toil.

Ms. Scribble56 is correct, though, that I do need to get off my high horse. For too long (one thousand, eight hundred and six days in a row, to be precise), I’ve been wasting the time of my seventeen readers with my useless writing. And so today I shall impart some very practical information on showering in times of little water.

Now that I’m off my high horse, it’s time to cleanse myself of the accumulated road dirt and horse oil. In practice, that means showering and washing my clothes. But, since clean water here in India is at a premium, I really should conserve resources. And to do that, I shall employ a technique Tatiana taught me when I was in Leningrad: showering while dressed.

Here’s how it works. You jump under the shower fully dressed. Once you and your clothes are soaked, turn off the water and shampoo your hair. Turn the shower on again just long enough to rinse the soap from your hair and onto your clothes. Massage the suds into your clothes.

Repeat.

Put the soapy clothes in a sink or bucket, then bathe as usual. Wash the clothes again if necessary. (Measure the runoff with a good light meter; the water should be well above zone six.) Rinse the clothes, and take pride that you’ve cleaned your garments and your person using about the same amount of soap, water, and energy as a normal shower.

Now that I’m off my high horse and smelling better than most artists, I shall head for the bar and drink to Ms. Scribble56’s good health.

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12 December 2000
A Novel Excuse
I just came up with a new—and very good reason—for not writing anything today: smoke is pouring out of the power supply cabinet in my cheap Bangalore hotel room. I must shut down my computer immediately; all those fetid sparks can only mean that my poor machine is chewing on semi-digested electricity.

Oh well, it was time to hop on the train to Mumbai anyway.

13 December 2000
Numb and Amazed from Bangalore to Mumbai
I’m enjoying the twenty-four hour train trip from Bangalore to Mumbai, née Bombay. What an incredible tableau of endless slums punctuated with luxury apartments, long traffic jams of trucks, buses, ox carts, and sports cars, and thousands upon thousands of the billion plus people who live here. I find it easy to believe that I am in the second most populous country on earth.

I have almost no idea what I’m seeing. I’m watching a foreign film with a ridiculously complex plot and very few English subtitles. This is one of those times when it feels right to be numb and amazed, and I am. It’s a little like being drunk, but without all the unpleasantries of that altered state.

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14 December 2000
Mystery Bite
I’m not easily alarmed, and so it is that I’m not too concerned that someone—or perhaps some thing?—has taken a large bite out of the edge of the sheet in my Mumbai hotel room while I was out buying beer. I’m absolutely certain it wasn’t there an hour ago.

As a routine precaution, however, I have armed the Swiss army knife on my bed stand and have decided to sleep in my clothes.

It always pays to be prudent when you’re on someone else’s territory, especially when their (its?) mouth is as big as yours.

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©2000 David Glenn Rinehart