March 2nd, 2013
Bikes Fixed: 50
Bikes/Day Avg: 2.00
So it was recently suggested to me to have an “every day blog,” and I thought I might give it a try. Not to blog every day (as I do sometimes anyways), but to, every day, write down the interesting things that happen to me. Then if I compile enough on a particular subject or if I have an interesting day I have a post all ready. Also, it sounds a bit like a journal, and I think at the end of all this it will be nice to have something I can read over to remember all the things that happened. Who knows, maybe I’ll even make a book out of it someday! (…)
Perhaps ironically, this suggestion came on a day when lots of interesting things were happening. So let’s start there! I haven’t yet chronicled an “average day” yet, either, so I’ll put in some details I won’t always include in the future.
– – –
Yesterday was Friday, March 1st, of the 90 Bikes, 90 Days project. I had been in India for 24 days and stayed with my host, Prabhat, the whole time. I was originally planning on moving into an apartment, but I really enjoy staying with Prabhat and his family (they are, frankly, wonderful), and they seem to enjoy my company, so I haven’t left (but, you know, still two months left).
This day was to be a “regular” day as far as days in India go. That essentially means I plan on going to work and not much else. I’ll talk more about work in a minute.
I set the alarm for 7:55 and try and hit snooze no more than twice. Usually I’m woken up beforehand by the sound of barking dogs, monkeys, or housekeeping at work in the kitchen (the birds here don’t wake me up; they are nice to wake up to). Of course, by the time my alarm goes off, I’m done being “woken up” and ready to sleep some more. Woe.
My room is about 15×15 with a queen bed and not much else. There’s a desk with a TV on it that I never watch, and an armoire, a chaise, a bedside table, and a bedside dresser that I put my things on (consisting of clothes and a jacket; a knapsack, backpack, and suitcase; my computer, camera, and cell phone; and some books and my journal. Who knew we could live with so little!)
When I’m ready to conquer the whole “standing” business the first thing I do is open one of the curtains. It’s one of those curtains you roll up into a container above the window by pulling a cord. Light floods the room and I’m almost immediately more awake.
I head to the bathroom and take a doxycycline (anti-malarial). I use a water bottle next to the sink to remind me not to drink the faucet water, as it’s dangerous. Then I head through the living room to the kitchen, say “Namaste” to the housekeeping, and make some pinching movements near my mouth to indicate I’m ready for breakfast. It’s usually not ready yet, so I head through the kitchen to the porch, and sit and soak up the sun for a few minutes.
If I don’t fall asleep again I’m soon called to breakfast, which is always something called “porridge –” essentially homemade Malt-o-Meal, if you ever had that as a kid – to which I add warm milk; fresh cut papaya; and a few slices of toast, to which I add some butter and homemade marmalade. Personally, I always take my time eating, unless I’m in a hurry.
Portion distortion’s worst enemy: India.
When I’m finished I thank the housekeeping, say hello to the dog (a large, handsome black lab named “Charger,” but he’s getting old and spends most of his time lying on his bed), and finish my morning routine. No, I don’t have to bus my dishes… but don’t worry mom, it’s not a habit I think I’ll sink in to.
If I have time or if I know there’s something pressing I’ll check my e-mail before heading out. It’s now about 8:45 – I load up my knapsack with cell phone, camera, water bottle, and lunch, and head out the door. The bike I’m borrowing is usually waiting just outside the garage, so I hop on and roll out the gate. The gatekeeper closes it behind me, and I’m on my way to work.
For the first five minutes or so of the ride I’m still in the housing development where I stay. It’s called “DLF Phase 1” and has a lot of very how-to-do type folk, but there’s always the bicycle vendor selling fruit (grapes and bananas always, sometimes other things – Rs. 15 or so per kg, about $0.15/lb). For the ride home there will be ice cream vendors on bicycles. Anyways, I pass a few cars, a few bicycles, and a few people walking. As I bike by the school there’s a hoard of children in maroon uniform walking in, and the occasional dad with two kids loaded up on his scooter (or bicycle) – one in his lap, one on the back. There’s always a few stray dogs and sometimes there are monkeys.
I leave DLF through a side gate straight into Sikanderpur. Sikanderpur is the opposite of how-to-do. The street is less than 10 feet wide and in poor shape. Except for the occasional parking lot or schoolyard, buildings crowd it all the way to the edge. I pass at least a hundred people on foot, get honked at by a car or two and a few motorcycles, and am accompanied by tens of other cyclists. I pass a shop a second; most are no more than a 10×10 garage with wares nailed to the walls. I haven’t done an official tally yet but there’s at least three each of: Cobblers, tailors, bicycle shops, general stores, pharmacies, restaurants, and some other things that, well, I don’t know what they are. I also pass a butcher and peer in at the live chickens waiting to be chosen by a customer (now that’s fresh). Above all the shops are signs written mostly in Devanagari script and some English; above those, apartments probably no bigger than the stores. Oh, and the street is in poor shape; I’m glad to be riding a bicycle with suspension.
Wake up, Sikanderpur!
After five minutes I turn down an alley and park my bike in a courtyard for Aravi Scholars, the safe place/student help workshop Prabhat runs. I walk through more of the same, cross under the metro, and arrive at Fauji Cycles at about 9:00.
The manager, mechanic, and at least two of the kids (there are three total) have arrived by now and are putting bikes on display, dusting, sweeping, and mopping (sweeping and mopping, by the way, are done by hand on the knees). They all want to shake my hand. The kids exalt, “Good morning, sir!;” the manager, “Hi, Kyle;” the mechanic grunts.
For the first half hour I help with set up. After that there’s not much to do; we get a few customers on their way to work but most just need air and do it themselves. If there are bikes to be built or projects to be done we try and get those out of the way before the lunch rush.
But not today.
Around 10 or 11 we start getting customers in as fast as we can handle them, and we’re all torn between overhauling or adjusting anything that rotates (headsets, hubs, bottom brackets), and doing tube changes.
– – –
There’s usually a few customers who speak English and are keen to talk to me. Yesterday a few interesting things happened. First, Viju, my contact at Firefox Bikes, said he had a friend who needed to stop by. I received a text from this feller about 10 or 11 telling me it couldn’t want and he needed to come today. Well, okay.
Luis and his driver showed up shortly thereafter and unloaded his bike. The first thing you notice about Luis is that he’s a Disney prince. Here, let me find which one.
This one. This is Luis. If this drawing were a photograph, it would be a photo of Luis. Unbuttoned shirt and all.
Luis is from Portugal. I haven’t met many people from Portugal, so I think his accent is Russian as first (it’s a strong accent). He’s got a race coming up this weekend and needs me to replace a broken spoke. About halfway through I ask him what he does and he says he’s the general manager for Ferrari India.
“I think what you’re telling me,” I reply, “is ‘don’t screw up my bicycle.’ “
“Yes,” he replied, and we both laughed.
I won’t tell you what kind of bike it was – suffice it to say it was the Ferrari of bicycles, the kind I didn’t even get to work on at my shop in the states. The whole time I was working, the Fauji guys were ooh-ing and ahh-ing.
After Luis left I texted Viju: “You didn’t tell me your *friend* was the general manager for Ferrari India!”
He replied, “U no I have good contacts :)”
I do now.
– – –
Around 1 or 2 things usually quiet down and we clean up and then take lunch. There’s a bamboo hut off to the side of the building where we go if it’s hot or if we’re in the mood for TV (one day Finding Nemo was on; I usually just want to sit with the kids). Otherwise, there’s a small patio area off to the side where we sit in plastic chairs and joke around and eat. I have paratha, which are roti stuffed with vegetables, usually radish. The kids usually have dal and vegetables, which they eat by the scoop using some roti.
After lunch things are slow, but customers trickle in and we usually get a few people looking to buy a bicycle. It’s usually parents looking to buy bikes for their kids, or teens/young adults looking to buy bikes for themselves, having outgrown the one their parents gave them. I don’t speak Hindi so I can’t do sales; for me, the rest of the day is torn between repairs, “full fitting” sale bikes (when we build we leave a few things undone for various reasons), and joking around with the kids.
– – –
Also yesterday there was a crazy. I hadn’t had one yet, so I guess I was about due.
A lot of people see me and immediately want to practice their English. So when this feller came up to me and started speaking gibberish I assumed he just didn’t know where to start. He kept shaking my hand and would not stop repeating the phrase “I hope and believe.” Everything he said was super earnest and he leaned in to me as he talked and would not stop shaking my hand. At first I just thought he was weird.
“You are India working?”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“You are… India working!?”
“I’m working in India, yes.”
“No, no – you are India working!?”
“Sir, I don’t understand what you’re asking me.”
He kept repeating himself until I said something that made sense to him. Then he shook my hand, and moved on to the next question.
“I hope and believe that treating you like son.”
“Okay, that’s great.”
“I hope and believe treating you my son.”
And so on. The shop owner’s son, Lucky (who speaks English) was nearby and at first couldn’t stop cracking up. Then he started pointing to his head, which I thought meant, “He makes me want to kill myself!” At some point the crazy guy looked away for a minute and I asked Lucky what that meant – he said, “He’s crazy.”
After a few minutes I started staying, “Roco” (I need a break), then “Ruko!” (stop!). Then I decided the best thing to do was to leave.
“I’m not finished!” he shouted behind me. Lucky caught me on the way out and said to come back in half an hour.
So, India’s not perfect, but at least it’s interesting.
– – –
Things cool down again around 5. If they are completely dead I’ll head out; sometimes I stay until 6 (there was one particularly busy day when I stayed until 8).
– – –
One of the last customers we had yesterday was a carter. In India carts are almost as common as bicycles. They are simply wooden platforms on top of four bicycle wheels that the user pushes around. This feller in particular was selling ber, a common fruit here. It’s sort of like a cross between a fig and an apple, but with more of a bitter honey taste.
Anyways, it was agreed instead of paying us we could have some ber (Rs. 14/kg, we got 200g, so about Rs. 3 or $0.06). I thought this was photo-worthy so I went to grab my camera and snapped a photos of us loading up from the ber cart. I was showing them to the shop guys and at some point Anand (manager) did a double take and reached into one of the kid’s pockets. There were funny faces all around until Anand started pulling out handfuls of ber and we all started cracking up. Completely by accident, I had photographed someone stealing ber!
Anand is good with the kids so since there was no punishment and only laughter, I assume this was somehow okay. My impression is that we took the 200g after helping ourselves anyways so… he’d just helped his pockets as well, right?
– – –
My return commute is much the same, except this time some of the streets are lined with fruit and vegetable vendors. At Aravi Scholars the kids all smile and wave. Sometimes they say “Hello,” and yesterday one said, “What’s up!?” I shrugged and asked him how he was and what he was studying.
On the ride home sometimes people shout “Hello sir! How are you!” to which I reply in kind. I pass a pickup game of cricket.
If the kids are out when I get home I dump my stuff (glasses included, so I don’t lose them) and go out and play for as long as I can (“Baya, please!”). Usually I have at least one kid on my shoulders and we play otter tag (regular tag except it only counts if you touch the feet; I learned this in college), freeze tag, hide-and-seek, etc. Yesterday instead of games I was invited upstairs, where one of the housekeepers invited me in for tea. His daughter translated for us, which I thought was interesting. After tea I helped her with her English and math and showed them a trick I learned from one of the kids at the shop (hard to explain in words).
If the kids aren’t out I will usually update my blog or read. Dinner is at 8:30, sometimes 9, and there’s always curd, roti, at least one kind of dal, at least one kind of vegetable, and white rice, brown rice, or both. If there’s dessert it’s probably shaped like a ball or full of sesame seeds. Sometimes there’s chocolate, but it’s not very Indian.
After dinner we talk for a bit, then retire; if I wasn’t amidst a game of chess with Nishith, I head to my room, catch up on e-mail, read, and crash.
And it all starts again the next day.