Friday, February 01, 2008

India – 31 January 3008 - In the Market

About noon Jyotsna (name changed for security), a friend and colleague of Frank’s arrived and the day became busy.

Jyotsna has been working for some years on a radio program that he produces and his family “stars” in. The daily five-minute programs are in one of India’s largest languages. They use drama to illustrate a Christian perspective on everyday problems of Indian families. They point to Christ as the answer to life’s many issues. The response has been good, with some writing to say they have become Christians and others writing to request literature. Frank and Jyotsna are discussing how to increase the exposure of the program. It is now broadcast on shortwave to India from another country.

At lunchtime, we walked to a market area where we could change money and find something to eat and obtain SIM cards for our mobile phones. My Alaska pre-paid card does not work here.

We walked from the YWCA first to the bank. Walking along the street in a new country puts all the senses on alert, with impressions flooding in: flowers….people walking, sitting, camping, talking….dogs….cars speeding, stopped, honking, darting, asserting right of way….. insistent motorized rickshaws seeing foreigners….careful street crossing with vehicles coming on the “wrong side” of the road with few controlled intersections….apes…birds…street vendors…beggars.

At the bank we are told that the conversion rate for US dollars is 38.65 rupees per dollar, and we have to fill out a form and provide a copy of our passport. There is no copy machine nearby. We start to fill out the forms, and the teller informs us that he is going on lunch break. There is no other teller in this section.

Off we go again with Jyotsna in the lead. We plunge into a market area and go up some stairs where Money Change is noted on a sign. Half way up the stairs, we turn and go up some very narrow stairs to a little garret where the money changer works.

He quotes 38.4 rupees to the dollar. Frank tells him that the bank is quoting 38.65.

“Not possible” the money changer and says that he can do this for 38.5. Frank haggles with him and brings him reluctantly to 38.65. I changed 300 dollars and received an impressive stack of 500 rupee notes, all with the Mahatma’s image. Later, Frank tells me that “anything is possible in India.”

Next is lunch. But the restaurant we want where they serve South Indian Masala dosai has a line forming outside. It’s lunchtime (2 PM) and the office crowd is hungry. But Jyotsna does some fast talking, and the guard lets us in. An empty table is presented immediately.

These Masala dosai are good! It is a large, very thin, somewhat crispy pancake rolled over some vegetables, served on a banana leaf, with little indentations in the plastic tray that hold sauces of varying spice temperature. The bill for 4 of us is 518 rs – about 12 dollars.

Finding SIM cards for our phones is next and so out we went again. Jyotsna stops at a place in the market, but the vendor is not very helpful and the prices are high. As we go through the market, people notice our foreign faces and a few bolder ones tap us gently on the shoulders offering all kinds of merchandise. Others, less bold, look at us wondering if there is a way that they can please us with something they are selling and receive some rupees in return.

The market is a rich medley of people, colors, smells and sounds. It is like the rainbow of spices found in Indian food. I found it fascinating and energizing. I like this.

Jyotsna stops again at the shop of someone he knows. It is a narrow place open to the street, but down a few steps. It is filled with calendars, pens, “daytimers” and other items. He is a spare fellow about my age with a pleasant face. A young man works with him. Both a nicely dressed and well groomed. It turns out that we cannot get a SIM card without passport style photos. Where does one get these?

Just a few meters down the row of shops there is another shop where passport photos can be made. For 50 rupees, we soon have passport photos.

We present the photos, passports (which are copied) and our mobile phones and the involved process of setting up telephones begins. All of this takes about an hour, but not until the end does money change hands. Everyone is now smiling and happy. And I now have an Indian telephone number. I do not pay for incoming calls.

On the way back to the YWCA, we stop at the YMCA for Internet access. It takes a bit of work to set up the computers to work, but we are soon online sending and receiving email. I am writing these blog notes in my hotel room. When I have Internet access, I copy and paste. Here in the YMCA business center, access costs 10 rs for 15 minutes, 30 rs for an hour. We paid 10.

On the way out, we look into rooms here. It would be nice to have better access. The arrangement is made and on our return from our trip, we’ll come back here.

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