Originally, I had wanted to drive out of town yesterday, but then it was raining cats and dogs, so I just ended up going for a coffee at the Juhu Mocha with a Scottish expat whom I had met a week ago at the other Mocha in Bandra. I find myself going to Mocha quite a bit. Anyways, this Scottish expat is a teacher in training at the Mumbai Rudolf Steiner School, which is kind of interesting. On Wednesday she, her friends and I went to a club called Seven, which happens to be located in the sixth floor of a shopping mall. This club actually would have a nice view, except it was of course dark. The music was as usual total crap – why on earth people love Bryan Adams so much that they have to play three songs of it, is beyond me. But the crowd was ecstatic and sang along with full gusto.

Then yesterday I went to Club IX with our American Mumbai tour guide, her boyfriend and another expat from work. Club IX has equally atrocious music, but at least no-one is singing along and the place feels a bit like a Jugendzentrum – i.e. one of those youth clubs they have in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere, where 15 year olds (like me) grew up on beer, ping-pong and foosball (which we called kicker). It had plush brown couches and incredibly tacky paintings, but the Kingfisher was cold, and so what else can one ask for. And despite being called Club IX, there was no dancing.

So this morning I set out to drive out of town. It takes a good hour to actually get out of town, but then heaven starts. Well, at least there’s a real highway with three lanes in each direction, actual lane markings, and a surprising lack of potholes. This is the Mumbai-Pune express highway, and my little silver machine did a solid 120km per hour, no problem. I was tempted to go a little faster, but who knows what happens if you push your luck with a new Ambassador. I wanted to go to the first destination listed in the 52 Mumbai Weekend Getaways book, but of course the important directions are in Hindi, or maybe I am blind, but in any event I missed the exit to the road towards Goa.

So I drove to Lonavala instead. Lonavala is pretty high up in the mountains, and as I drove up, the rain and the fog thickened with every kilometer. When I was still in the plains, the views and the green were really quite fantastic, but here I was, crawling up the mountains to Lonavala. I guess if it weren’t for the fog and rain, the views from up there must be quite spectacular, but as it was, the view was gray. Nevertheless, the place was packed with weekenders. There’s lots of waterfalls there, and everybody just goes take a shower in full clothes. Truckloads of young men (hardly any women), singing and dancing next to their parked cars, drenched from the rain and from their adventures in the waterfalls and rivers.

The air was very nice and fresh, but the weather was too crap for any pictures. I had some chicken masala, which I think ended up being mutton, but what the hell. I was hoping to be able to sit down and continue reading Maximum City, but unfortunately it was a bit too wet and crowded. Maximum City currently is quite the bestseller – it’s written by a guy who left Bombay when he was 14, lived in London, Paris, and New York, and then returned 21 years later. So far, it’s great, because it really helps me be able to actually read the newspaper, as it gives a lot of context to the daily reports on the incredible extent of corruption, the Shiv Sena party (which is basically made up of thugs and religious extremists, and which rules parts of Mumbai), the slum lords (which apparently control the majority of the Mumbai population). Not to mention the currently almost daily riots by commuters who are fed up with the non-functioning railway service, so they frequently start attacking railway workers, block trains for hours and wreck all kinds of additional havoc on a weekly basis.

Family Electrician

Well, against all odds, I actually got my car. The dealer called me Friday to tell me that I can pick it up at 5:30pm on Saturday. And, surprisingly enough, it actually was there, in all its beauty, ready to get picked up, and so I did. Of course, it quickly turned out that I had bought a piece of crap junk car, just like many Indians had told me. The door handles are pretty flimsy, the doors are close to impossible to lock from the inside, and the gear box is one clunky piece of mechanical engineering gone pretty wrong. And the engine sounds a bit like some badly underpowered 70s Oldsmobile, but I love this car with all its faults.

Sadly, I had to say Good Bye to my wonderful driver. We had developed a very nice relationship, and he turned out to be fantastic. He was pretty sad, but I told him that we will call him, when Ksenia comes back from NYC, because then we’ll need him again. The last couple of weeks, he had sometimes tried to teach me a bit of Hindi, so now I know that sticking your pinky finger into the air means going for a pee. And the main phrase he had learned from us was “a little bit”, because up until recently, he would always say “something something” instead. Whenever I thanked him at the end of the day, he would say “It is my duty, Sir” and laugh – at one point, when he had found me a place to buy TimeOut Mumbai, he actually said “It is my duty, Sir” and laughed like Ernie from Sesame Street, as if he was laughing about that phrase himself, which he probably didn’t. Or maybe he was, I don’t know.

Our maid also seems to be doing ok. Well, she came pretty late twice, and she left some laundry in the dryer instead of taking it out, but I don’t really care. She’s not bad, and I quite like her. Of course, the other day I made a bit of blunder when my landlord came over with his family electrician yet again, and I actually tried to introduce him to my maid. So when I asked him, have you met my maid, he looked at me as if I was out of my mind, and just said “I don’t know, if I did, I don’t remember her face.” Ooops. I guess I had forgotten that in some Indian households the maid never leaves the kitchen and actually sleeps on the kitchen floor.

The landlord by the way is a bit of a character himself. He had lived for a while in NYC, so he’s quite understanding about a number of things. But since our phoneline is still not working, he keeps bringing his electrician in, always repeating the same old and apparently cricially important story that this electrician works exclusively for his family, because it is very hard to find one in India, so he works exclusively for his family. Why the electrician keeps coming back for “full investigation of the problem” (quote my landlord), and nothing actually gets fixed, I don’t know, but that’s a different story. Bottom line is that the walls must be soaked with dampness and mold (the mold is actually showing everywhere on the walls), so the main fuse keeps blowing then and again, and one of the many switch panels is unusable, because turning any of its switches will make the lights go out in the whole apartment. The funny part is always that clearly the landlord is telling the electrician what he needs to do, because apparently the family electrician is not really an electrician. But the two of them keep showing up in my apartment unannounced, seemingly discussing the progress of their full investigation.

The landlord also told me that I can park the car on the little parking lot that’s part of the apartment building. There’s really not enough space for the six or seven cars standing around, so I asked him, how does it work, and whether it’s on a first come first serve basis, or what? He assured me, no problem, I can park, there are no designated parking spots. So when I tried, the watchman makes a few wild gestures, so I understand I should park on the other side of the building. Now, there is a very small elderly’s home in the ground floor of the building, so as soon as I park there, some young modern chap comes up to me telling me in a very important sounding tone that that parking space is reserved for the doctor. Of course, the doctor doesn’t live there, he just works there, if that. He probably just shows up then and again, because the home is pretty small, the size of my apartment. Anyways, but the parking space is for the doctor, very important. I am not in the mood to get into an argument with either the landlord or the neighbors, so I guess I will be parking on the street, which should be fine.

In other news, I finally found a very cool little club that’s the way little clubs should be like. It’s in a stinky little hotel that looks like it had seen better times. The club was nice and very laid back, people obviously just wanted to dance, so there were no posers, macho guys, or bimbos, like there are in so many clubs in any city you go. The music was pretty good as well, so I guess I will be going back there some time.

Oh, and very funny, I find, is this

Weekend In Pune

Last weekend, before the flood disaster, we drove to Pune with my co-worker. Pune is about 100 miles from Mumbai and there’s a three-lane express highway. Still, it took three hours to get there and four hours to get back, due to heavy rain and insane traffic on the way out of and back into Mumbai. But it was worth the trip.

When we drove there, it was dark, and we didn’t see much of the landscape. What we did see where heavy trucks crawling up the Ghats mountain range at the speed of snails – except we didn’t actually see them, because hardly any of them had any rear lights, and a lot didn’t have any front lights either. Of course, that didn’t stop them from using the middle lane or pulling over to pass an even slower truck without much notice. Add to that a good amount of wind an rain and an “express highway” that, while in surprisingly good shape can have curves like Marilyn Monroe only more dangerous, and one can say it was an exciting trip.

Apart from the truly insane truck drivers, there was also a number of people parking their cars right in the middle of a blind spot after a curve, where there is no emergency lane or anything, so basically on the middle of the highway. Why? Well, because they were in the mood to get out of the car for a piss or maybe to take some pictures.

Anyways, we got to Pune at 11pm or so and checked into a little hotel with the obligatory Barista on the grounds, right next to the Osho Ashram. One of the first things I noticed in Pune was the number of hipsters walking around, sitting at Barista, and standing around in front of some modern movie theater/mall. The term hipster of course simply denotes college kids in jeans and t-shirt, as Pune is actually also known as the Oxford of India, due to the number of IT colleges and universities here, so don’t think East Village, as the dress code is rather unimaginative, and labels win over originality any time.

Now, we are anything but hippies, but the Osho Ashram promises to be a very quiet green space where one can relax and meditate. Osho, of course, is the guru that at some point got deported from the US for tax evasion, and whom Western tabloids used to refer to as the sex guru, because he had pretty liberal views on sex. But really, it is just big business, and a pretty weird place. I had somehow expected that we would only find Westerners there, but there were about 30% Indians as well.

The first thing that happens when one gets there is you need to pay Rs1200, fill out a bunch of forms, show your visa, have a picture taken, and get an HIV test done. No, you don’t see anybody having sex or anything, but basically, it’s part of the belief that sex is natural and shouldn’t be discouraged, and besides Osho apparently was pretty paranoid about hygiene, so there’s also big signs everywhere about how not to handle the food, where not to go if you have a cold, and where to wear socks instead of bare feet.

Then, during the day, everyone has to wear a maroon robe, no exceptions. In the evening, they have a huge two and a half hour evening meeting, where white robes are mandatory. At the swimming pool, maroon swim suits only. It’s all quite cultish and rather unenlightened, and of course they want you to buy these things on the premises for inflated prices. On the other hand, the pool is very nice, and they have a sauna and a tennis court (for extra cash). Oh, and taking pictures on the premises wasn’t allowed either.

We also went to a couple of meditation sessions, which are basically a mix of dance therapy and Osho philosophy brainwash. An interesting experience maybe, but why anyone would want to devote his or her life to this sort of thing is a bit beyond me. Add to that the obvious big business mentality – Osho’s Rolls Royce is exhibited right next to his ashes in the “Silent Meditation Area” – and one could easily get pissed off by all of it. Or one could travel thousands of miles from Europe or elsewhere, just to spend a few weeks here, as many people do.

The big evening meeting was in a gorgeous auditorium – a huge square space with a black marble floor and a huge triangular ceiling. Absolutely no coughing allowed for two and a half hours. There were 200 or 300 people there, and the thing starts with some music and “meditative” dancing, which in our case ended with some freak woman hysterically crying out for Krishna, untill she got escorted out. Maybe she was a real freak, or maybe the whole thing was staged, either by her or by the Osho Ashram head of marketing, who knows.

Then there is an hour long or so video of Osho giving a speech. I kind of fell asleep at some point, but basically he was saying that Western religions have been created by the poor and for the poor, with Jesus having been a carpenter and Islam promising 72 virgins after death, Christianity promising heavenly paradise, etc. while Indian religions were created by kings, who had everything materially, and desired nothing but solitude and nothingness. No wonder than that Indian religions have found such a large following among the spoiled and sated Western population, while Hinduism has nothing to offer for the poor in India, he said.

Well, I don’t know, it sounded like an odd mix of half-truths and bullshit, but it certainly seemed to show that Osho knew his target group and built a pretty successful marketing and product line around it, because Westerners are coming in droves. Besides, he probably had trouble getting laid, so what better idea to help him out on that account than coming up with a sexually liberal cult targeted at rich Westerners? I had thought this was a cliche, and maybe it is, but we definitely saw a number of single older Western ladies hanging around with young Indian boys.

In the immediate vicinity of the Osho Ashram is a “German Bakery”, which was crowded with Indians, hippies, and regular travellers, and, as Ksenia observed, the atmosphere was a pretty much like they took everything stereotypical Indian, digested it in California, and spat it back out here in Pune. Somewhat interesting, and somewhat revolting, just like the Osho Ashram itself, which would make a fine relaxed place to go to, as it is clean and green and has nice facilities, if it weren’t for the cultish freaks and the many strings firmly attached to visitors’ wallets.

Anyways, bottom line: I am still not enlightened, despite having walked around in a maroon robe all weekend, looking like I don’t know what.

Not Quite DSL Ready

Well, it looks like our apartment is not quite DSL ready. Why? Because our phone lines don’t work when it rains, or when it has rained, or maybe when it is about to rain. So, basically: never, with being monsoon season and all that, except, of course, when the landlord is over to convince himself that the phone is not working, so that he can call MTNL, who would then have to certify the line as being faulty, so that the landlord can ask an electrician to fix it. Needless to say, nothing has been fixed yet.

Too bad, because there’s lot’s of things to talk about, but for now, just this: We spent the weekend at the Osho Ashram in Pune, we fired our maid, and, oh, yes, our phone still isn’t working. More on that when we are back online; it could take a while, or it could be tomorrow, noone can say for sure.