Visiting the Welcoming Locals in Mysore, India

I experienced a very friendly, local Mysore. The people here were warm and inviting, into their homes, into their community, into their workplaces. I highly recommend a visit to Mysore. Feel free to contact me for my homestay recommendation, I stayed with a great family and I enjoyed the neighborhood.

Local Mysore – Thursday, February 21, 2013.

Having accepted that I may have just met an honest driver in India, I set out to see Mysore like a local, with a local.

We start our day with a wander through a produce market. It is relaxed and quiet here in the afternoon. The vendors comprehend that a foreigner is not here with hopes of buying kilograms of produce and happy to pay many times the going rates. They don’t try to sell me anything. Samir chats with a few of them as we look around. I ask what a pile of tall-sided terra cotta bowls with circular holes in their sides could be for. They’re bird houses. Can I take a picture? Sure.

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We cross a threshold into a meat market. This is a completely separate market because many Hindus are vegetarian. I could not describe this as a clean place where one might be tempted to purchase food. Really, this is like a very dirty barn. Sheep hang on hooks, skinned. One in particular reminds me of the “bodies” exhibit. Live sheep wander about, a mother has just given birth to two babies. This morning. A little boy proudly lifts-up one of the new babies to show me; the mother bleats in protest.

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It seems strange to see animals living in a slaughter house who are not immediately destined for slaughter. Lamb is not eaten here, the young ones have many months of growth ahead of them. An older woman with over-sized glasses stands over a table of sheep hooves. Some are hairy, others have been roasted over fire. On the ground a man is removing the footpads from charred hooves then throwing the hooves into a bucket of murky water.

Charred sheep heads look a bit shocking to me. Apparently delicious, I am not tempted to sink my teeth into one of these ready-to-eat faces. I do, however, put my own face close enough to two heads to join for a photo.

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Samir tries to hand me a leg. I would handle a leg of lamb as presented in a Western market, but to hold a hairy leg from a sheep carkus seems so very different. I do not put out my hands to accept holding this, it makes me step back. We remove ourselves from the realness of eating animals in the West, to most of us meat is just meat.

Before we head-out onto the street, Samir shows me a little alter to Christian, Hindu, and Muslim Gods. “Everyone welcome,” he tells me proudly. This uneducated, illiterate Muslim rickshaw driver is more broad-minded than many highly-educated, middle-class Westerners.

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Our next stop is to visit a labour-intensive wood-carving workshop. There is nothing for sale here, these are long-term furniture building projects. When finished they will go to showrooms. Various types of woods including mango, sandalwood, and others are intricately carved into very delicate floral and pictorial cut-outs. These are then laid onto the larger wood surfaces of tables, chairs, dressers, etc. and traced. Now the larger pieces are painstakingly carved out so that the various coloured woods can be inlaid.

This kind of laborious work, a skillful art form that takes artists many years to be able to achieve this degree of intricacy, is not really appreciated as art in India. Well, the work itself may be, but the artists creating it definitely are not. The craftsmen (they were all men, many occupations seem to still be tied to specific genders) are classed as labourers rather than artists. They definitely make a low salary.

The kind of communal type of living that the labour class affords causes the craftsmen to barely notice strangers wandering through the workshops and watching over their shoulders. They are very used to having people all around and in near proximity, so much so that to be alone is probably a rare condition.

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We continue to wander through the colourful side streets. I capture the attention of a small group of kids around six years old. They are happy to practice their greetings and after chatting a bit they ask me to take their photo. They want me to remember them, which is sweet. I often stop myself from taking intrusive photos of people so I am more than pleased to take this picture of three nestled in a bicycle and two standing behind. Four boys and a girl.

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Up the road we encounter a cow house. It looks like a regular little house, except inside there are five cows. They are tied side-by-side and are as long as the home is deep. It is not crowded, they could probably fit seven cows, but then they couldn’t turn around. Taking them through a normal door must be awkward.

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Next on our little tour of interiors we visit a bidi workshop. Bidis are a cheap Idian version of cigarettes. They are hand-rolled tobacco inside leaves. Ten or so men sit on the floor in a small open space organizing today’s work. All morning they rolled them and now they are binding them into little bundles. These bundles will be wrapped in paper with some labeling and then ready for sale. “These are all-natural, healthy smoking, not like cigarette. No chemicals.” The fact that tobacco, when burned, forms countless noxious and poisonous chemicals is lost on my rickshaw wallah. “No, no, chemicals are something people add. These ones, no chemicals adding.”

“Only men make bidis?” I ask as we sample one of the healthy delights. “Yes, women make incense. I show you later.”

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Around the corner a man and his young helper (perhaps about twelve years old) paint signs onto styrofoam sheets. The styrofoam is primed bright red, orange, and yellow before writing and designs are painted on it. I am told this is also the base-work over-which flowers and yarns will be glued, to make wedding arches. According to the posted price-list, a basic arch is 300Rs ($6).

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This story is to be continued. . . . I will update it when next I have time.

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