Budapest is a very special city to me; my first “real” job; my first taste of independence; my first take on life. For those who are not familiar with this place; Budapest is the capital and largest city in Hungary. The place where I lived my life king size and for a change felt content! A job took me to Budapest and family got me back for this wonderland.
Like any expat in a foreign land, I too had some setting up issues in this city and I share the best musing memories here.
TOILET PAPERRRR- My port of departure was Abu Dhabi and had to get to Budapest via Istanbul. After a seemingly long flight (the flights I had taken until were never beyond four hours, and six hours of travel was too much). Getting hold of the transit papers, I decide to freshen up. As soon as I enter the ladies room, (like a typical Indian I peep in to check if the toilet is clean and as I am convinced) I proceed further to relieve myself. On finishing with the nature’s business I look around for the ass gun ( a long pipe found in all toilets in Asia which is used instead of toilet paper) and I am SHOCKED! I hate the beginning and tear some toilet paper. A small birdie within me reminds ” Be a Roman when you are in Rome!” Maybe it is going to be toilet paper from now on…
NO ENGLISH! ONLY HUNGARAIAN- “How can you travel alone to a foreign place. At least let dad come and see how the people are and get you settled”, that was what my mother kept chanting all the while when I was preparing for my trip. I had a tough time convincing her and told her it is not going to be difficult and they will take care of everything and is there a chance of me getting lost. I know English, I am educated. So what can go wrong!
I am waiting in the long queue in the Budapest airport and the sudden idea of exchanging Euros to Hungarian forints hits me. I look back and ask the lady if she knows where the nearest money exchange centre is? She looks at me as if I spoke something funny and replies something funny. The narrowed eyes were enough to convey the message to keep away! I somehow thank her and decide to find it myself.
I find my company driver waiting outside. I happily handshake and get into the waiting vehicle. The city is beautiful; it reminds me of the English country sides that I had seen in those soaps when I was young. But something was funny. The boards, the posters, the shop everything had English script but it was not English. I ask the driver and with the mere English he can he tells me “NO ENGLISH ONLY HUNGARIAN!”
WATER..VIZZ??? After the initial formalities in the office, they be very kind to me and tell me that I could start from the coming Monday which I had the weekend to get over the jet lag. I get back to the hotel, have a nice warm shower and just fall on the bed. I suddenly feel my throats parched and look around for water. On not finding some drinking water, I leave the comfort of the room and move to the hotel reception.
The gentleman at the reception seemed amused that his guest has come asking for drinking water and politely guides me to a mini bar which is available in my room . I go back to be greeted to colorful bottles and chose a blue water bottle. The first gulp didn’t taste water!
I somehow manage the night. I decide to get some water (real drinking water) when I head for breakfast. On requesting for some water, the lady very politely asks me what water I want. HUH??? Did water have types? I asked for some normal water? She is absolutely taken back by my response and adds, “No u drink water with vizz?” Now what on earth is vizz? I said drinking water. Since I refused her offer for the vizz water- she gets me glass of orange juice.It was later during the day I learnt that people there drank soda to quench their thirsts, with very few opting for “still” water.
NO CHICKEN!- First day of office and my first lunch break. I walk down lanes to find a restaurant which would fit in my budget. And walk into a nice looking place. I ask the gentleman there what does he have in chicken as everything looked raw, bland and inedible with no sight of vegetables. In the most hospitable manner he informs of running out of chicken dishes.
Sensing my confusion he asks “you India!”. I wanted to tell him I am not India but I am from India. On second thoughts I am India as a package standing there with long earrings, kohl eyes, a small bindi and a dupatta neatly draped to cover up the essentials. He asks back vegetable? That suggestion let a hundred thousand fireworks set in within me. I get pita bread stuffed with boiled vegetables with a spicy yoghurt mix, not an ideal lunch; but whoever said beggars can’t be choosers was right.
Hungarians love meat and turkey and chicken is not a popular choice. And I come from a place where you find Chicken Counties mushrooming everywhere.
NO CHILLI POWDER!! I am happily settled in a cozy studio apartment. To begin cooking; go on my first supermarket visit. Milk, fruits, coffee powder, yoghurt, bread, butter salt, sugar and chili powder- that was my shopping list. Everything one packet was being loaded except for chili powder. Asking for store help didn’t help and I discovered that the entire store didn’t have chili powder. I leave the supermarket disappointed.
Paprika powder is the equivalent of our chili powder but very mild in form. The local cuisine is bland and flavorless
SUMMER TIME IS NO CLOTH TIME- the weather isn’t like when I first landed Budapest, which was cool and breezy. It was getting warmer day by day and I began to notice that girls began to wear less as the temperatures increased.
A colleague at work asks me, ” Aint you feeling hot? As she inspects me top to bottom making me conscious of my half sleeved long kurta and jeans. I smile and reply no and take a good look as she walks by. She has her bare essentials partly covered in white and have a netted yellow covering. I am not sure if that was all that was meant to be!
I begin to notice the other girls in the office. It was all the same. Beating heat was meant exposing their bare skin.
But I never understood as why is that the women were more affected by the heat and the men were not. Maybe I will never understand.
SHE IS MY FATHER’S WIFE- A chat with the team mates before any show is common. A telephone operator joins back after his holidays and narrates about his break in Panama and a family reunion with his father and his wife.
Father with his wife? I interrupt and clarify the term father’s wife? Or did he mean his mother. He casually replies that he is talking about the 38 year old lady his 60 year old has married. I didn’t wish to ask further. The first feeling I had was of the age- gap and then the hue and cry of an older President marrying a younger model.
He might not wish to call her mom but he has the respects and love her like another person in his family. Relations might be different, handled differently but at the end of the day no man wishes to be alone. The mention of family does bring back some memories and yearning!
I LOVE INDIAN MEN- It was one of those the several parties held in the office where we could cook our traditional cuisine. I chose to cook some butter chicken sensing that the curry itself will be rich but mildly spicy that the local people can take it.
After the cooking and feeding, a person comes up and initiates a chat about India. I was impressed by his knowledge on gayatri mantra, rajma, Irfan Pathan and Abdul Kalam. I think he did manage to touch the weak points of any Indian- religion, food, cricket and famous personalities!
As we continue our chat I casually pop in the question regarding his knowledge on India. And then flows the sad story of him and his Indian ex breaking up and of fond memories. Adding to the spices (like in my butter chicken); he continues telling me sob stories of him and Aravind (his ex!)
I have never had problems with people’s choice on their sexuality but this was my first encounter without someone openly admitting his sexuality. I come from a country where homosexual men marry women to camouflage their sexuality in society. He adds, “I love Indian men”… I do love them.
SIR, SEX? – I used to work on a told of night shows, and it was usual to see pretty girls lined up the streets. As days past I got used to their stares and nudging when I walk past to get to my cab.
One day my cab was unusually late, and I find one of those pretty girls walk past a man standing. She in the coyest way possible looks at him and asks, “Sir, sex?” I felt a hot flush followed by a cold shiver. Sex workers get their transactions done so openly. This was followed by the man disagreeing to her price and walking away. I turned back to look at her. She winked at me and went behind the next man, ” Sir, sex?”
She sold her body like vendors in India sold bindis and bangles.
YOU MISSED SOME GREAT WEED AND MARIJUANA- It was an anchor’s birthday party in my office and due to some reasons I could not make it to the surprise birthday party planned. After a show I catch up with a colleague to find out what I missed. I ask him what was the food (the very typical Indian in me who judges how good a party was with the food served!) and was a relived to find out that I didn’t miss on anything because there was no food but had loads of alcoholic drinks.
“You should have come. You missed some great marijuana and weed! It was killer stuff, never had anything like that. You missed it”, he adds.
A PHOTO PLEASE- Some days I used to have a yearning of looking different and used to dress Indian. I loved hearing compliments from my colleagues but the best used to be when curios European tourists used to stop me by and ask me to pose for a picture with them.
EYEBROW WAXING-A monthly parlor visit for me has always been an eyebrow clean up. It was that time of the month again and I walked into a kozmetica (a beauty saloon as known in Budapest) to get my eyebrows cleaned.
A professional looking female walk in and gets me sitted in a special room (five minutes after i struggle and tell her what I need) and takes a professional look. She gives her verdict- “You need eyebrow wax” What?WHAT ON EARTH DID SHE MEAN WHEN SHE SAID EYEBROW WAX? I WILL BE LEFT WITH NO EYEBROWS?
I explain that all I need is stray hairs removed and with a quizzing look she assures me in Hungarian that she will do that (I suppose that’s what she meant). I with all my heart pray to God that let this experiment not go a waste.
She applies a round of hot wax and gently places a strip on. I hold on to the reclining chair tight. Now I know why she has kept it here. Without any caution she pulls its hard and I feel something peeled away from me. She did that thrice, followed by some soothing cream massage and showed me the mirror. I was amazed with the results. No wonder she is still having her shop open here. I loved the way my eyebrows looked.