doff's india psuedo-blog
really, a commentary on life in india

<< all India 2006 photos


5-July-2006: A Waitlist For Salmon
The last time I had sushi was probably in February. India, even in the 'metros', is not really known for its prevalence of international cuisine. But last night, a friend brought me to one of Chennai's two Japanese restaurants, Akasaka. At first glance, it seemed just like any Japanese restaurant -- Japanese decor, music, fish tank in the entrance, laminated card menus with pictures of all the dishes, and a mostly Japanese clientele.

But when I tried to order off the sushi menu, I learned, that even though they showed pictures of some 20 different kinds of fish, they had only 5: fatty tuna, bream, cuttlefish, whitefish, and something else. And that's it. I asked Elvis, our Indian waiter (yes, Elvis) what the cause of the shortage was, and he told me it was only those choices every night!

I tried to order tuna sushi and a cucumber roll, and Elvis informed me that they were out of rice and it would delay my order by 30 minutes if I wanted anything other than sashimi. Out of rice?

I decided it was time to dig into the details about Elvis' name. He told me that his dad was an Elvis fan. Yet, the waiter couldn't name an Elvis song, and claimed never to have heard one before.

The sushi we ordered, while limited, was all delicious, and 12 hours later, I'm still standing, so all is good.

As we were leaving, I asked the Manager if they ever had salmon sushi. He whispered in a low voice that "it's there but the Master doesn't often serve it". He showed me his waiting list of customers who'd asked to be called whenever the Master was serving sushi.

I added my name to the list.


26-June-2006: The Spastic Society
Another language story today...
It was a few years ago, and I was here on a work trip. We were driving in Chennai and passed by a large building with a big sign out front.
Like a small child, I could hardly suppress a chuckle and said to my colleagues, "'The Spastic Society'? Haha - what's that?"
A colleague, in a very straightforward tone said, "Well, it's a place for spastics."
I must have had too much South Indian coffee that day, and was still trying to hold back the child-like giggles. So, she elaborated, "It's a residence center for people with difficulty controlling their limbs and muscles." She really should have added "dumbass" to the end of her explanation.


25-June-2006: The Peon
Another quick bit about English language usage in India...
I took a TEFL course in Kolkata in March and was surprised to see in the school documents a reference to: "Please see the peon if you need any copies made or packages sent via mail." I soon realized that Raju, the guy in the office who cleaned our apartment, cleaned the office, made tea/coffee, ran copies, and ran general errands, was commonly referred to as the peon.
At one point, I mentioned to a position of authority in the school that for Americans, this was a fairly derogatory term. She asked what it meant, and I said that it was an insulting term for someone who was the lowest person in the office, or for someone who did 'grunt' work or non-valued work. She gave me a quizzical look and said, "but that's exactly what he is!"
She also told me that it was a proper job title - that even classified ads were posted for the job of peon.


24-June-2006: Whole families on a bike?
It's pretty easy in India to spot entire families of 3-5 people traveling together by bike (motorcycle), moped or cycle (bicycle). The tough part is capturing them with a camera. Here's a few shots:
click each photo to enlarge


23-June-2006: Housewarming Function
In May, I traveled to Madurai for a "housewarming function" for a friend who's been building a house for his parents. This was no simple housewarming party - it was an actual Hindu ceremony:

  • the housewarming is typically held prior to moving into the house
  • in this case, the ceremony was held on a Monday in May, even though the construction won't be finished until September
  • the date chosen was an auspicious day for such an event
  • there were a series of ceremonies inside the house, starting at 3:00am!
  • several Hindu priests were inside, doing pujas (prayers) and burning offerings in a metal container for about 8 hours, from 3am to 11am
  • around 7am, a guy came with the cow and her calf. there were flowers, ointments, and blessings said for the cow, and then she and the calf entered the house for a quick walk around
  • i've heard that in some families it's common to wait for the cow to, um, relieve herself inside, and that this is good luck
  • as is tradition, my hosts gave me new clothing to wear during one of the ceremonies. new clothes were also given to the construction workers.
  • when it was all done the priests were paid then they changed into street clothes and hopped on their mopeds
click each photo to enlarge

22-June-2006: The National Anthem & DaVinci Code is Banned
Last week, I went to see "The DaVinci Code" in Mumbai. I actually wasn't even really that interested in seeing the movie in the first place, but I went to see it in Mumbai only because it's been banned in Chennai and about half the states in India. The censorship is due a couple of things, including Christian pressure, fear of offending Christians and fear of violence.

At the movies in Mumbai, before a movie starts, the audience is asked to stand while the National Anthem is played. I haven't seen this happen before in Tamil Nadu (the state where Chennai is located).


21-June-2006: Tamil Movie!
Check out this link to an article about "Auto".
"Auto" is a Tamil movie about auto rickshaw drivers coming out in September. A friend of mine is playing the lead villain, and I have a small, but potentially controversial, role as an extra. I've gone a couple of times to watch them shooting the film.
click each photo to enlarge


20-June-2006: Inmates in the orphanage?
I'm frequently surprised by the general and literal usage of English words in India, especially with words that have taken on a more narrow meaning in US English.

These quotes are from an article in "The Hindu" newspaper last week about an orphanage for boys in Pondicherry:

  • Recently Vimalan, a student in 5th Standard and a new inmate of the home, celebrated his birthday.
  • Last year, Arjun, an inmate here, won a gold medal for coming in first in the 10th Standard examination.

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