Straws, Bucks and Lawns

3:03 AM Monday, November 1, 1999

It's November and I'm writing of India. Still. Sick of it yet? Not me. I've picked 3 things from my day today. Actually, I was picking things and I ended up with 4, but that last one will have to wait.

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Brian and I were sitting in McDonalds today, eating our Maharaja Mac's and sucking down Cokes and super sized fries and I hadn't even thought of the straws. I can recall on more than one occasion complaining to anyone who would listen about the quality of the straws in India. See, you have to rely on straws a lot more here. They're a hygienic crutch more than a drinking convenience and you get one in your bottle whenever you order a Coke or a Pepsi or a ThumbsUp or a Limca.

Ok, so straws already mess up the carbonation ratio of any heavily carbonated drink. Coke, for example, is designed to be poured over ice and thus the final "target product" has much less carbonation effect as a result of the Coke traveling over the surface of all those frosty cubes. So imagine the fuzzy explosion of sugars in your mouth when you pull a sip of Coke through a skinny, thin-gauged plastic straw with multiple cracks ('cause they recycle them in the back where no one can see) with a crushed end between your lips! There's no crisp bite of caramel color. There's no rush of refreshment. There's only the feeling of being robbed and the unsettling grinding of teeth, cleansed by millions of tiny scrubbing bubbles of citric acid.

I walked out of McDonalds and thought back to all the young Indians in there and what it must have been like for them. I mean, the first time they wrapped their lips around the firm girth of a true McDonalds straw. And the surprise when their over-developed sucking muscles pulled in a gulp of soft drink, so clean, so smooth, and so large that they must've thought there was a pneumatic device inside the cup. Even to Americans, the experience of really opening the throttle on a McDonalds straw surely has no equal. I'm convinced this has more to do with their domination of Burger King than sugar in the fries or better playgrounds.

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Next topic. Can I just say "thank you" to whoever perpetuated the use of the term "bucks" in India. It's one of my favorite English slang words and combined with the fact that Indians regularly use English pronunciations of numerals, discussions of money take on a native feeling for me. Try "How much? Fifty bucks?" and "Hey, gimme a couple a bucks." on for size, dear American, and you'll see that they fit nicely. The word would make the short list of terms I would bring with me, were I to mount a lexical invasion.

Ok, Lawns. This one is the toughest one to describe. The Willingdon Club. After another hot and dusty Sunday in Chor Bazaar (this is the place we went last Sunday that I think I described as "junk alley" but I want to be more specific for you guide bookers: Chor Bazaar translates to "thieves market" and is on Mutton Street between Grant Road and Sarda V. Patel Road in the middle of Bombay) Ami, Brian, and Swati took me for my first real taste of leisure. Leisure as only an extremely hot and dusty old imperialist culture can devise.

The Willingdon Club, one of many such clubs throughout Bombay, was our destination and my salvation. It's a social club, a health club, a sporting club, you know, nothing like 24-Hour Nautilus. It's open only to Indians but we're guests of Ami. Her dad's a member and while Brian and I were washing up in the grand men's dressing room we met a sweet old man who may, on occasion, sit across from him at the bridge table. There are lots of sweet old people at the club. People who I want to sit and talk with. People who I want to sit and talk with in wicker chairs out ON THE LAWN. That's right. Lawn. You walk through the club and out onto the back patio, supported by white columns and lit with warm lights and out onto the spacious Lawn. It's 9 at night. Suddenly you can't smell exhaust. You realize that the climate truly is perfect for recuperation. If you're not careful, a beam of energy will coalesce from sparks in all your chakras and it will shoot out of the top of your head. I wasn't careful.

You might think the crowd too stuffy. You might, in a fit of Marxist backlash, wonder if it is right for you to be enjoying such privilege. Surely these genteel old folks aren't the pride and joy of robber-barons and exploitive industrialists! Besides, the lawns are really just crab grass and hospitality comes in all forms. They have 2 good kinds: swimming pools and pool tables. The Breach Candy club is something like 75 bucks to get in on weekdays. Guess where I'm gonna be typing e-mail from.