Monday, August 18, 2008

On Individuality and Community (and a Top 10 List)

This blog is a manifestation of my having finally found a community that feels like home. New York City felt so, long before I moved here, but Williamsburg/Greenpoint is teaching me the sanctity of place in the local sense. The Manhattan skyline still has the power to stop the breath and quicken the heart, but Lorimer Street, the McCarren Track, the breathing is mine here.

If I began to find community in March 2007 (and perhaps the sense was launched during the two previous Januaries, when I watched cats in the apartment that is now my own), and found enough solidity in my feeling to embark on expressing it in February 2008, then it is fitting to find myself in India today, surrounded by the kind of community I knew once, in Ecuador, but which is all the more powerful now for the interceding years. Community and spirit, almost without me realizing it, like drops of color added slowly to a beaker of water, suffuse here. There's a sense that, if I fall, there are hands to catch me, which, especially for a self-reliant introvert, is a revelation (and at times, admittedly, a nuisance). This sense in no way means that everything is love and peace and bliss here - far, far from it (and my personal goal would be yoking the individual to the communal, in my own life) - but there's something tethering people, even in the Bangalore metropolis, that is largely absent in our modern lives, and that I guess I had been craving - and so have been finding - Under the BQE.

But enough meditative essaying! Here are some concrete differences between Brooklyn and Bangalore:
1. One does not take off one's shoes at every home in Brooklyn. Brooklyn feet are likely less fit to be seen (and apartment floors less fit to be stepped on!).
2. When leaving a host's home in Brooklyn, one does not receive a coconut, some jasmine blossoms, a piece or two of fruit, and a kum kum (dot on the forehead). At best one comes away with some leftovers.
3. From Williamsburg to Rockaway, and Willets Point to Coney Island, one will not find cows on the streets of Brooklyn. The sacred cow in Brooklyn is likely to be a Kobe fillet.
4. Brooklynites shower, they do not bathe from buckets. In Bangalore, even very nice homes lack the plumbing required for the average Brooklynite's copious water waste.
5. One finds paper products in Brooklyn bathrooms. My traveling companion, Gowri, and I now declare "five star" bathrooms in India to offer such luxury. People use a water hose in Bangalore, and wash their hands before and after every meal (dining rooms are equipped with sinks).
6. Such consistently delicious food is not consumed in Brooklyn, but there is also not such a conspicuous absence in Brooklyn of leafy salads.
7. In Brooklyn, one eats with silverware. In Bangalore, one eats with the right hand - and I mean everything: roasted cauliflower, thin bean stews, pickles, rice, yogurt, chutneys, bread, sweet porridges called paysa, a broth called rassam, fried bits called vada...everything.
8. If one is lucky, cooks, drivers, and housecleaners in Brooklyn are one's roommates, friends, or neighbors. In Bangalore, many families employ these serving staff, who are part of the family but, to a visitor, ghost-like presences to be gotten used to. I hate to say it three days after Indian Independence, but there's something persistently British about this habit (ditto with afternoon tea and cucumber sandwiches, though they be served with chutney).
9. Brooklynites do not so unanimously light their homes with fluorescent bars, to my delight (pun intended).
10. Brooklynites are not so unanimously tapped into spiritual energies, and the Brooklyn air is pervaded far more by a spirit of individualism than one of common cause (which brings us neatly to where we began...and my heading off to a wedding in petticoat, sari, bangles, bindi, and gold sandals).


amarilla said...

Thanks, I enjoyed the little visit to Bangalore, the idea of eating with the right hand (my kids do that, they hate flatware) and your use of the word "tether," a favorite of mine.

gowri said...

Just to add a little note--a bathroom with toilet paper can also be a four star bathroom, according to mine and Rachel's rating system. The factor that distinguishes a five from a four star bathroom is that a five star bathroom has a magazine situated near the toilet (the trashier the read, the better). So far, we've only encountered one such bathroom in Bangalore. It's my favorite.