Published: December 15th 2011November 7th 2011
“Would you come in and have a cup of coffee with my husband and me?” This question was spoken with a warm smile, a red tika marking her forehead, and the gentle left-to-right shaking of the head characteristic of people from the Indian subcontinent. As with many of our most vivid travel memories, this one came about as we positioned ourselves to observe a small event in the everyday life of local people. This particular morning, we had risen early to go watch milk being delivered to the residents of a neighborhood in Bangalore, India. By ‘delivered’, I actually mean that the owner of some milk cows (cows that roamed throughout the neighborhood during the rest of the day) separated one cow from a small herd, tied her to a sign on a sidewalk, extracted the milk into a bucket, crossed the street to the waiting group of patrons, and dispensed the milk from his bucket into their liter-sized pitchers and urns. As we played the nosy tourists – snapping photo after photo – the cow’s owner looked a bit miffed, but several of the ladies joked good-naturedly at our performance.
At the end of his delivery, the milkman untied
his cow, moved down the street to his next group of waiting customers, separated a different cow from the herd, tied her to a handy pole and once again began the process of dispensing the milk. As he walked slowly away, the invitation for coffee indicated that our intrusion into the daily chores of the neighborhood had not been taken as an insult. Instead, as we usually find, our interest was understood to stem from a desire to experience a bit of the new and fascinating culture that swirled around us. We mentioned our concern that we would be bothering their morning routine, but our new friend assured us that she and her husband would consider it a privilege to share with us a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. As we slipped off our shoes and stepped across the doorstep of their home, the wife called out to her husband, “Come meet some Americans.” As the husband stumbled out from what turned out to be their bedroom, his hair still sleep-ruffled, we were greeted with a warm – if somewhat bleary – “come in, come in!” For the countless time, Frances and I wondered at the opportunities
we are given to enjoy people of very different backgrounds who are willing to show such wonderful hospitality to strangers. We left this couples’ home having shared our life stories, including what brought us to their country, city and neighborhood. Though the four of us might never meet again, we parted having been brought to a surer understanding that we shared very similar hopes and dreams.
As we slipped back into our shoes, waved goodbye to our new friends and started back down the street to our flat, we came across one of the ladies preparing a rangoli in front of her door. We indicated, by holding up our camera and smiling, that we would like to take her photo while she fashioned the design by sprinkling rice flour from her hand. She smiled sweetly and nodded, and we once again began snapping photos as quickly as the camera would focus. We have been told that the rangoli, placed in the doorways of homes and businesses each morning, are intended to both ward off evil as well as welcome the cows that strolled up and down the streets. I don’t know about the warding off of evil presences, but
the cows that refused to move out of any pedestrian’s path always seemed to feel welcomed.
We had not walked more than 20 steps away from the lady fashioning the rangoli when we came across the neighborhood laundry service. This service consisted of a couple who, early each morning, arrived in a van pulling a small waist-high, flat-bed trailer. The husband unloaded what looked like a small barbecue grill which he then filled with charcoal, that he set on fire. While the charcoal heated to a red glow, the couple opened every door of their van, unloaded piles of freshly-washed clothes onto the trailer and pulled out two extremely heavy irons. Once heated, the charcoal was distributed into the cavities of the irons which were then transferred onto wooden panels on opposite sides of the trailer. The husband and wife then proceeded to carefully and thoroughly iron each piece of clothing. So thorough was their method that one of Frances’ pleated shirts is to this day sans pleats. In fact, we still feel guilty about the effort they must have expended to iron out each and every pleat from this article of clothing. Once again, as we raised our
camera with a questioning gaze they patiently – if somewhat bemusedly – posed for us to take photos of something they almost certainly experience as tedious and exhausting.
We finally made it back to our flat where we reflected on the fact that an activity we thought would be over in a few minutes, involving nothing more than a few surreptitious clicks of our camera, ended up filling an entire morning; a morning spent being embraced by members of a different culture as we were made privy to a small piece of their daily lives.
There are more photos below