He's Baaaaack!

It's 5:15 am and the muezzin just bellowed out the first of five daily calls to prayer. It sounds like a baritone goat in its death throes, but sho 'nuf, the city is slowly coming alive: chickens are starting to crow, dogs are barking and the putt-putt of the ubiquitous two-wheelers can be heard as they start to crawl like ants around town.

I've spent the first night in my rented flat away from the bosom of Paliakkara, my friend's house, and so will have to begin to fend for myself. First on the list is food, and as Martha would say, that call to prayer is a good thing because I'm up in time to get down to the butcher's before 7 AM. Lest you imagine a neat and tidy shop with a smiling butcher in his white apron, lots of string and wrapping paper, let me set you straight. The butcher wears nothing but a lungi (basically a sheet wrapped around his waist) and his shop consists of little more than a chopping block, a knife or two and one dead cow. And some plastic bags -- so far, they haven't yet been banned here. I want to get there early so I can get the tongue and watch the whole process. Unlike in America, all parts are sold at 120 Rs per pound, which means that if I get there early and wend my way into his good graces, I suppose at some point I'll walk away with a whole tenderloin a $3/lb and have filet mignon for breakfast. I have hankering for tongue today, though as I'd like to make curry out of it for dinner -- and lunch, and dinner again. Besides, what better way to introduce myself as a crazy white man than showing up at 6AM asking for a cow's tongue?

Second on the list today is getting Internet, and that's going to try my patience. What I want is a 3g wireless card from BSNL, the state run phone company. Remember Ernestine the operator from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In? Imagine her in a sari, weighing 200 pounds and barely speaking English, but with just the same attitude and no sense of fun.

I did have some small successes yesterday, though. Flight came in on time, haggling with the taxi driver to get from the airport to Palikkara was minimal and he actually knew where the place was. After a fitful six hours of sleep I got up and felt right at home sipping my coffee (Folger's crystals -- add finding coffee to the list of things to do) and reading he English version of the Indian Express. I met with Anto the landlord at the appointed hour and he was helpful and there were no gotcha's. And lastly, I had some shirts ironed at the princely sum of 5 Rs each. Talk about inflation! It was 3 Rs last time I was here... Still, it's one of the true luxuries of India.

Mission accomplished! Must have been a damn scrawny cow, however, because the tongue can't weigh more than a pound and half. Wish I'd had my camera -- maybe I'll venture forth some morning to take pictures. The cow's head was completely degloved and the eyeballs were staring a bright, lurid red. He grabbed it by the horn and rudely flipped it over and with a practiced motion slit its throat with a quick vertical slash: first on one side down the inner mandible towards the jaw, and then the other. The tongue hung loosely to the remains of the skull by shards of throat muscle and was cleanly removed by yet another deft slice, leaving it in solitary splendor on the bloody chopping block except for a hanging tendril of moo tissue which I motioned for the man to remove. Having done so, we proceeded to discuss the price. As I didn't want to be so bold on my first visit, esp. when I'd achieved my goal so easily, I paid him what he wanted: 110 Rs. Only time will tell whether this was a strategic move on my part, or not...

I misread a headline in today's newspaper: Experts bat for revival of anti-defection law. A couple sentences in and I realized it wasn't about what I thought it was about...


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