At the end of my walk home from college, I usually stop in at Namdhari's Fresh, a small supermarket chain that carries both hyperlocal and international products. This is where I bought a jar of Nutella for 180 rupees (about $4), and also where I stumbled upon a curious-looking jar whose label read, "Handmade Peanut Butter; No preservative or hydrogenated oil added." On the back of the attractive green and white label it says that it was packed on "06 SEP 2010." Can you imagine that? Indian peanut butter packed less than two weeks ago? Even better is this: the peanut butter was produced by local village workers at the Navadarshanam Trust Self Help Group, a mere 50km away from the city.
The internet helped me conveniently log onto Navadarshanam's meticulous website last week; I contacted one of the founders by phone, and after a couple of emails, he offered for me to come down for a visit from Saturday to Sunday. Talk about speedy!
The group of Americans I am with tends to plan weekends with little time to spare. Originally, two other women, Dejah and Liz, said they'd like to come, but then ended up committing to a Saturday hike with the Bangalore Mountaineering Club, along with two of the guys. So, I figured I'd be going on this adventure alone, but the third guy in the group decided to substitute for one of the other two guys who had signed up for the trek, Eric, an intelligent, sincere, and honest 20-year-old who attends Cal Poly. My luck! I had a companion, and a funny and curious one, besides.
Friday night was a strange evening in the guys' apartment, filled with banana-strawberry-nutella multiwheat crepes (the wheat happened to be from Navadarshanam), pillsbury chocolate pancakes (I know, so much for soaking in the Indian cuisine that night), and djembe and guitar-driven beats, and I didn't sleep until about 2am. At 6:30am I was at Eric's door, and soon we were in the auto-rickshaw headed to the train station. When we got there, we could not find the electronic ticketing machine we innocently anticipated, so Eric waited in the long queue, while I went to ascertain the next best step. There were no other tourists visible, so I took my best pick at an Indian whose English I might easily understand. I found a young gentleman near the front of the queue, dressed in jeans with a tucked in sweater vest and longsleeve shirt; he told me not to worry, that the line would move quickly, and that he would instruct me further if I were confused. I was lucky that the line moved quickly, and that my train would not depart for another 20 minutes, but some other folks in line were not so fortunate; one guy's train sped away, just as the teller handed him his ticket, and he didn't even try running alongside it and jumping on, as other laggers did.
Eric and I were exhausted from our lack of sleep, but perhaps that made the morning more fun; we were bantering about the timeline of human and ape evolution, making half-educated speculations, when Eric exclaimed that he had the primate timeline in his possession (hilariously coincidental, since he brought but a light backpack with him)! For awhile later I joked about what other random information he had tucked somewhere on his personage.
After 45 minutes on the train, we ended up at the Anekal Road station (a man on the train in headphones pointed it out for us), and all of a sudden, David, the man in the argyle sweater vest, popped up! He is a social worker, and was going to visit an organic farm nearby. We walked to the main road, and then he seamlessly arranged for a driver passing by to give us a ride into town! I could swear he said but seven words in Kannada, the local Indian language, to the driver, before he opened the sedan's back door for us. We could understand David explaining our situation to the driver, as it's not too hard to recognize the words "Christ College, Bengaluru, and Navadarshanam." In town, David helped us find the right bus to take us to Gumalapuram, and gave us his phone number; later he called us to quickly make sure we had made it. What a selfless guy.
On arriving in Gumalapuram, a group of rambunctious young men handed Eric and I each a small, white plastic bowl filled with a sweet, light orange-colored porridge. I think it was a Hindu custom, part of their Puja, or religious offering, since we have received little bowls of food at Hindu temples and shrines before. It's a bit rude to refuse these customs, even for the right reasons (not wanting to waste the food), so Eric and I thanked them, but guiltily dumped the strange edible in the bushes when we got out of view, and began the 2km walk to New Vision [aka Navadarshanam]. Along the way, a young woman with short hair rode past us on her motorbike, ascertained whether we were the visitors from Bangalore, and took my backpack with her to lighten my load.
En route, a volleyball net appeared. The only players available on the bench were these hearty bovines. An avid volleyball player, E asked me to take a photo of him with his new teammates.
To be continued tomorrow! Thanks for reading this far.