05 February 2008


There are many ways to meet men in India if you're a man. And one of
them is playing the (bamboo) flute. I met a whole cast(e) of human
characters playing at the ashram Saturday morning, tucked away in a
quite corner between the parrots and river, at the border of the Neem
tree's shade. Waiting fruitful hours for a friend.

If people were on time I might never have time to practice.

But I'd like to write a little bit about Azad. Azad is older than your
average FYBcom ("first year business commerce") degree student,
because he's from a family where he had to work. He lives in a joint
family with three bothers (one of them married) and his parents, in a
small house with three stories and a lot of love. His two brothers
have rickshaws and won't let him because he's the youngest and there's
a lot of affection there.

So he's worked retail in various fabric showrooms I guess and at some
point got sent to Kerala to the main branch of some sari (Indian
womens' traditional dress, all the wedding pictures, you know…)
showroom. Ernakulum, Kerala for one month.

And the first day after work the Kerala people take the six new
Gujarati workers out to the bar. Now in Gujarat we have prohibition –
it's the only Gandhian thing they've kept around except the money,
perhaps – and Azad's family doesn't have the kind of money to go to
bars or hotels [Indian English = restaurant] anyhow. So it's his first
time and they ask what does he want:

Whiskey, Rum, Vodka etc.

That all falls under daru here and its strictly prohibited you
understand, both legally and morally. A convergence for once. So Azad
[freedom] says no and they say, well, will you have some "juvvar
pani"? It's good for your health, natural, and does no damage.

Of course.

The literal translation of "juvvar pani", naturally, is barley water,
and away they go, six Gujaratis and 25 healthy bottles of barley
water, and I think the phrase most appropriate, roughly translated is,
"much merriment was had by all".

From the bar they go to the hotel [restaurant] and have the typical
kerala rice meal some of you must know and love so well – a banana
leaf with a huge pile of rice, surrounded with different curries and
pickles and dark hands wet with coconut making big balls of rice and
curry with much tossing or shoving (depending on elegance and
background) towards the mouth.

The great part was the way Azad described the rice meal, insofar as
his amazement at the exotic foods and strange customs of the Keralans,
was exactly as an Amerikan or equally foreign national would have
described. Total amazement and pleasure at the use of the banana leaf,
incredulity at the quantities of rice, and positive disgust/glee at
the unprecedented (for North Indians even…) use of the right hand, how
the curries are dripping all the way down to the elbow!

This Azad would interrupt his studies to tell me that the very trees
were dancing from my flute playing, and that his boss would play Tabla
and note the flowers would freshen and crispen from the music. Welcome
to the poetry of freedom.

His family is Brahmin and he knows all the necessary rituals to make a
little side business during wedding season. Apparently the time before
Uttrayan (when the winds come, 15 Jan) is verboten for weddings,
because the air is stale. But some NRIs [non-resident Indians] do it

Azad says that NRIs may eat, drink, and live in a foreign country, but
they always come back to Gujarat to get married to a Gujarati girl.
Frequently they're in a hurry so their weddings are first, closer to
the forbidden time, and then the real Gujarati wedding season is on,
and ever goes crazy will silk and sarees and hopefully nice tips for
the priests.

If it's anything like the Mexican wedding and the waiters, he's got
nothing to worry about…

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