Moving to India and trying to find your place in the everyday life here is indeed a plunge in the deep end – one that can keep you diving for a while. And, as I noted in my recent post about the downsides, there is a need to come up for air every now and then.
This realization came when Hugo and I visited Mumbai recently and stayed at one of the fancier hotels. It had been so long since I felt genuinely clean surfaces. Or tasted non-Indian food. Or just hanged out and watched TV. It was a welcome reminder of home.
So, like a submerged seal looking for breathing holes, I set out to map some places in Pune where I can take a break from the purely local stuff. Places with a more western menu and ambience. And, to my delight, I found several, not too far away from the office or the apartment.
Regalia, for one, is a multi-cuisine restaurant that has such relative rarities as pasta and, best of all, red wine! After eight weeks of paneer and rice, to have a spaghetti bolognese with a glass of the house red wine was a more than welcome change.
Also, a bit further away, there is Zodiak, an American style burger joint. They have actual beef meat, cheddar cheese and the works – not bad at all!
Update: Since this post was written, I’ve found additional places; Habitats, an Italian styled café near the new office, the terrace of Salt (featuring an actual bar) and Coffee Day if you want speciality coffees.
This is a difficult topic, but one I feel I need to discuss. India is a crazy place, filled with lots of wonderful things. But, in contrast, there are also things that are less pleasant – things I’ve begun to notice more and more as the days go by. It’s a dynamic experience; the gap between the highs and the lows is much wider than I’ve seen anywhere else.
So, for the sake of keeping it real and to give a balanced image of what life is like here, I’d like to tell you about the less nice things.
It’s been two months since I got my hair trimmed, so I figured today was the day to see how the locals do it. I went to one of the barber shops close by, hopped in and asked if they had any free times. This friendly looking guy waves me to his chair, great! His active English vocabulary was quite limited but with a few gestures and a photo of my last visit to the barber we reached a consensus of what the desired outcome was.
The place had a nice decor. My seat was was one of six, four of which were occupied. The shop was cozy and had a friendly, neighbourhood barber kind of feel to it. The walls were mostly white and orange, with the occasional splash of pinkish purple. In one corner, above the mirrors, an old TV was playing some Indian movie with frequent bizarre plot twists and overdramatic conversations.
The barber started doing his stuff. He had no electric trimmers so the entire cut was done with scissors alone, and man his fingers were fast doing it. Very precise too, with those scissors one false move could result in a Vulcan ear.
Not too long after that it was done. Of course the end result wasn’t as sharp as what I’d get at Nik’s Barber Shop, but I was nevertheless quite pleased with it.
Head massage? he asked. Wha- um yeah sure! I replied. He took out a can of Figaro olive oil, showed it and asked if I was ok with it. Sure, I haven’t had olive oil in my hair in a while, go ahead, I said. So he poured about twice the amount I usually put in my frying pan on the top of my head and started massaging. It was a bit more violent than what I had expected but relaxing nevertheless. He would switch to massaging my shoulders and even my back.
Does anyone remember the Nintendo Power Glove from the 90’s? It was this awesome looking glove that had a controller and some other gizmo stuck to the back of the glove hand. This guy picked out something that resembles that, a kind of hand strap with something that used to be a kitchen mixer stuck to the backhand side, and plugged it into the outlet. It was a vibrator. So now he was massaging my scalp with his hand, which was vibrating with such force that I had to keep my mouth closed to keep my teeth from hitting each other.
He then proceeded to massage my ears as well, inching towards the ear canal and – hiyoo! – his finger was in my ear. And not just the tip either, he was really getting in there and digging for the gold, hand still vibrating thanks to the power glove. A real wet willie. It was surprising so say the least, I couldn’t do anything else but laugh. In western culture this would have been a slight breach of bodily integrity, but I didn’t think too much about it. Funny and awkward is all it was.
The fact that this haircut, which had turned to a head massage, then progressed to a full arm and lower back massage felt much less weird after that. It was effectively an upper body massage. Some squeezing, clapping and thudding later we were done. I felt bewildered but relaxed and my hair was alright – not a bad outcome from a visit to the barber!
I hung around a bit before continuing with the evening, and the barber mentioned that he does full body massages as well. In the barber shop. I’m not even that surprised anymore.
The evenings have become slightly cooler here in Pune – at nights the temperature can even drop below 20 degrees centigrade! The irony is that, apparently even here in India there is no escaping the autumn flu, which has become a forced tradition for many in Finland. I don’t know if it’s from the cooler weathers, boosted AC’s or even a case of mild mosquito-transferred dengue, but the last two days I’ve been sneezing and snuffling like nobody’s business.
So I figured it was time for some medication. Enter Old Monk, a nationally well known dark rum. As a big fan of rum this was one cough medicine I was looking forward to downing.
The taste is quite pleasant, round but with a tiny sharp point at the end, followed by a twist of raisins. Good straight and as a mixer. In the Alko shop I’d place this on the shelf at chest height: it’s no Ron Matusalem but no Captain Morgan either.
Dawn comes and I can breathe again. Gone is the green goo, my voice only a bit hoarse now – might be remnants of the cold or from, you know, drinking lots of rum. But it worked like a charm, a quite effective treatment by the good Old Monk!