The Snake

posted by on 2007.09.01, under India, Travel

There’s much to be said about the first impression a city like Hyderabad leaves on a curious mind. I am approaching my third night here, and my senses are going wild with the abrupt change in environment, local customs, and internal adjustments I am trying to make to survive.

First of all, I feel like Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation.” I fear that my English will begin to deteriorate as this trip goes on, as I have found that most people here can’t understand my accent no matter how slow i try to speak. I am quickly learning which words are not understood by the locals, and how combining groups of words usually spoken in the US will just leave a person completely perplexed over here when spoken to. *Note – people don’t respond well to “take it easy.” I learned that immediately.

Yesterday I picked up a book called “Learn Telugu in 30 days.” I doubt that I will learn anything more than a few phrases, but it might help my correspondence on the street much easier instead of trying to teach the 7 million people in this city how to speak “American.”

I am staying in a guest room in a huge mansion located outside of a jungle. The owner of the house, the grandfather of a close friend, is extremely intelligent, well spoken and enlightened in politics, business, and world affairs. After just a few days he opened up to me on a very personal level, building a lasting friendship and mentor-like relationship. Even though our dialogue is challenged by differences in language and pronunciations we are able to communicate at a deep level. I admire this uncle, and hope to be able to repay him for the hospitality he has shown me, providing me a home for 4 months.

The hour and a half journey to my office in Banjara Hills is traveled in my luxurious Tata Indica, its nearly the size of a Mini Cooper but lacks all the sportiness. My driver, Satyam, is a family man, claiming that he is trying to provide a better life for his 8 year old son. He is working to save up for his own chauffeuring business. I suppose that I gained his loyalty as a friend, guide, and servant immediately by shaking his hand and talking to him about his family and hobbies. This was an approach none of his former boss’s used and he was shocked, telling me that if i ever needed anything, to call him, anytime.

He told me how his father died at an early age, and that he started working at 14, and had to pass on an education that limited his job scope. He is always talking about how he wants me to get into real estate here, in his broken English, and has been an incredible tour guide, showing me the old buildings, land marks, and telling stories of the freedom fighters, the British empire, and the Nawab, the king that my grandfather worked as consigliare for. His stories take time, but are fascinating, pure, and honest. On the drive home today, he stopped at a book store to show me a book on how to learn Telugu, the local language. I purchased the book, and also bought a book that teaches English to those who speak Telugu to return the favor. If anything, the 3 hours we spend in the car together might turn into free lessons on the language, as I read and study this book. The image of me being chauffeured around in this specific car is comedy, I promise.

Other notable observations are the extremely cheap services available, such a a $2 haircut at a top salon, and a $.50 professional shave at a proper barber shop. Of course, it seems impossible to have any services like that done by a female if you are a male. Some of the work out facilities have separate times for women and men to work out in as well. In fact, I think I have seen 5 men for every woman i have seen in the city so far, total. There is a cow at every street corner, traffic is ridiculous, as the city operates in the most bizarre form of organized chaos. Crossing the street takes a pair, as you just blindly walk in front of cars going 40 mph, trusting that they will swerve to the right to avoid you. I haven’t learned the uses of the several forms of honking either, but there is a never ending soundtrack to the city of these honks. There is thousands of shops on the city streets, that operate incredibly fast…people in this city are generally quicker than most.

Finally, I must comment on a personal struggle I am facing. I really hope to get through this trip without any confrontation with my nemesis. Since the age of 9, I have had a phobia for snakes. (all kinds of snakes, poisonous or not) Before traveling here, my roommate thought it would be funny to make me watch “the 10 deadliest animals of India.” I break out into cold sweat, and lose a majority of my motor skills when close to the creature, sometimes even when just looking at the horrid things on TV.

Well, living outside the jungle, I am neighbors with the snake, and it crossed over the wall into my living quarters this evening, as reported by the little boy yelling up the staircase to warn me. With courage and luck, I hope to avoid any Jungle Book-like situations with the legless devil creatures.

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