Taking Lufthansa's Ark across the universe in search of my own Kobayashi Maru: The Sandalwood Bunny, aka Much ado about scooter

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/02/07 04:16 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/02/07/7504392.aspx

Another of the stories about that India trip....

The last night I was there, Kumaran wanted to take me out to dinner. What with the publishing deadline that just struggled to hit, he and I did not have much time to chat and all.

But then his boss Anandan wanted to take everyone out, and the wishes of the boss often trump in such cases. We went to dinner and then a bunch of otehrs joined us and ended up seeing Across the Universe, that "Beatles" musical.

I had seen the movie in the US with some friends but I have to admit I enjoyed it more in India with that large group sitting in the back row of the theater. It was ust a better experience all around, even with the oddly placed intermission!

Kumaran and I got to talk the next day before I left, it was more workish talk anyway so I think everything worked out well.

So on my last day, I went shopping.

I had a cab driver at my disposal for the day and traveled to many different stores and shops all around Bangalore.

On my list there were many things -- books I wanted, authors I wanted to look into, movies I had the titles of and some directors to check out, CD listening material.

I also had requests for two other translations of Harry Potter books (Bengali and Malayalam) from people who had read How would Harry Potter have pronounced शहिवाख़्‍ का दर्पण, anyway? and It is not always a conjunct; there are some letters, too!, hoping perhaps that I would perhaps embarrass myself in their languages as well. :-)

(I did find hints about translations but not in Bangalore -- they may end up coming to me at some point.)

And of course sandalwood. Can you go to Bangalore and not get sandalwood?

Many of the other items I was looking for had reasons behind them, but I did not have particular goals in mind for the Sandalwood I was looking for, other than one idea for a quest. Basically I have a friend whose IM avatar is a picture like the one I talk about here of Oolong and who also likes sandalwood. My path seemed clear.

I needed a sandalwood bunny.

Every person I mentioned my quest to was really amused. Elephants? Easy. Tigers? Also easy. But a rabbit? They were all amused, but recommended I not judge the day's or the whole trip's success on the success of the quest....

So I traveled to many different places, and in between each store I went I went to a place that sold sandalwood. This was a serious quest.

Almost invariably, every shop that sold sandalwood also sold silk and cashmere and rugs. They each had a shopkeeper who had a brother who came out to offer me tea. Even if I did not recognize the string sales pitch at the first store, I certainly would have by the third!

And I had a unique way to keep them at bay -- I simply tell them I am prepared to be incredibly generous to the store that is able to find me the unique item I needed to achieve my quest.

{pause for the shopkeeper to smile at me like an adopted son returning home with an unexpected fortune}

I have been searching far and wide in many stores looking a sandalwood --

{the look on the shopkeeper's face is clearly elation at this point}


{Have you ever seen a smile that remained on a face while all of the joy behind it recedes? I have -- in every sandalwood shop I visited that day!}

They would scour the store and try and interest me in the myriad of other animals they had to offer -- turtles, ducks, snakes, donkeys, kangaroos, owls, and do on. The tea flowed heavily and I could have covered an acre of land had I bought every carpet offered to me that I refused....

But there was no sandalwood bunny.

Luckily there was good alternation between the sandalwood and the other stores, so that I could be buoyed by success as I was wrecked upon the rocks on my quest.

As the shopping trip had almost wound down and we were on our way to the last store selling sandalwood, the taxi driver asked me if I considered commissioning a sandalwood bunny, since he doubted I would ever find one.

I look at him like he was Captain Kirk finding a way around the personal Kobayashi Maru I had set myself up with. I wonder if he would have understood the reference? :-)

Of course there was not enough time to get that done this trip, but maybe next time I might look into it.

And there probably will be a next time....

Back at MSRI I met with Kumaran finally, and said goodbye to all the people I had met (thanking all of those who had given me advice on where to go looking for things during the day!), followed by a trip to the airport and a nineteen hour flight that involved a scooter that was reported broken in Frankfurt and reported lost in Portland, only to be delivered to me over the weekend working just fine. Too bad there is no room for a Shakespearian reference in the title. Oh wait, there is room. Never mind!

And tucked away with the small mound of things I bought was a small collection of sandalwood animals of various types and next to them a few alabaster bunnies (conclusive proof that this blog post is about a true account of the quest (and it has only now occurred to me that I forgot to take a picture of all of the animals while I had them, dammit!), it felt a little like I was flying home on Lufthansa's Ark....

All things considered, an unforgettable trip that is definitely not going to mark my last visit to India.


This post brought to you by(U+a616, aka VAI SYMBOL NII)

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