Changes, Chances, Choices…

Not even two seasons since the inauguration of Baba Cake Café had passed when we suddenly had a problem: The traveling musicians loved to gather at our place and enjoy themselves playing some good music, which of course was not an issue at all for us. But unfortunately our neighbors did not share our enthusiasm about the jam sessions.

As we did not want to get into any silly never-ending fights with anybody, we had to come up with a solution quickly. They asked us to keep the heavy roll-up door closed in the evenings, which was not really helping much; the sound was still audible and now it included the new and loud clattering noise of the rusty door being rolled up and down each time somebody wanted to come in or leave the place.

I am not even sure if the activities at Baba Cake were actually the true reason for all the complaints. In small towns all over the world  jealousy matters are happening and people love to talk. The years that I have been living here taught me quite a bit about the Indian sort of jealousy, which I personally perceive as extremely strong. It also seems to be extremely difficult for people here to be happy from the heart about somebody else’s luck, achievements, success or happiness and it doesn’t even matter much if it comes to a neighbor, friend or even a close family member; ugly and unbelievable things happen – at least this is what they are to me, as for some people all of this is nothing but “normal” behavior.

For me personally this fact is very hard to digest, because somebody else’s happiness makes me feel extremely happy, too.I rather prefer to feel good and happy inside, for or with someone else than grumpy and bad and will for sure keep on trying my best to choose a positive attitude instead of spreading miserable feelings.

There is a famous saying, which goes

“When one door closes, another opens”

– in our case this is what literally happened.

We had started to make friends with the grocery shopkeepers, whose place was just a stone’s throw from our café. The same family also runs the local mill, where women from the surroundings bring their crops to grind. As I already mentioned, it’s a small village, and of course, the shopkeeper already knew about our trouble and offered his storage place as a new location for our project. I had serious doubts, when we had a look at the place. There was nothing but a rough tin hut with a bunch of flour bags in it. But as always, Baba immediately saw the positive side of it:

“No problem, this good place! Much bigger!”

He was already figuring out in his mind which improvements were necessary to turn the tin hut into a cozy café. Sure, the rent was a bit higher and we would have to spend again some money to somehow build something like a kitchen, but in the end this was still better than having to face endless hassles with the locals. Besides, we did not have any means for something more sophisticated anyways. So we decided to take a chance.

It was January 2014 and with a bit of an effort we would manage to get the new space ready for the coming spring season, which begins every year in March. There was a lot of work to do: the tin set needed to be cleaned and painted, an additional door was necessary and we decided to build an open kitchen inside of the same space.

I was surprised when I realized how attached I got to the old place, which we had created only a short while ago.  It was not easy for me to let it go, but as the new location slowly took shape I started to look forward for the change. Aside from that the place was indeed bigger and we even managed to create a nice and inviting porch.

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And again an artistic soul appeared just on time to create the final touch in form of an amazing painting on our outer wall – well, in this case our outer steel sheet. To cover the metal indoors we used some sarees for the ceiling and pretty bed covers for the walls. Maybe the end result was a touch too colorful, but well, let’s not forget that we are in India, so being generous with colors is okay 😀

Something that keeps on fascinating me about India is that there is always the possibility to create something out of nothing really quickly. Likewise, thoughts and ideas manifest much faster than expected, so it is wise to think twice before making a wish and to watch the flow of your mind from time to time. As Gautama Buddha said:

“Our life is the creation of our mind”


If you like to see and know a bit more, you can also have a look at our Baba Cake Page on facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/babacake.kasar

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BABA CAKE

September 2012

Time had come to think about how to make a living in our Himalayan Village. Just renting out a room for 200 rupees (3 $) a day and organizing a few jam sessions during the tourist seasons, which all together last only six months, was definitively not enough to survive. The big question was:

WHAT TO DO ?

There was an infinite spectrum of possibilities and ideas, but almost none could realistically be materialized. Suddenly I had an idea:

I always loved to bake, so why not make cakes and sell them to the tourists?

Famous applecrumble

We had  the tool, a tiny electric oven that we once bought in Delhi, that would have to do it to begin. Going from guesthouse to guesthouse loaded with cakes while carrying a little baby at the same time was not the best idea, as this would mean A LOT of walking, as the guesthouses are spread all over the village to each side of the ridge. So I asked a local who was running a bigger guesthouse with a little grocery shop attached to it, if he could sell the cakes for us. He agreed and soon our fist cakes were displayed at Ram Singh’s Guesthouse. We sold some, but it was not really a roaring success. Sometimes when people walked by the shop,  no one was there to attend them, because the owner had gone to town and his wife was working somewhere on the fields and people probably didn’t want to wait for an hour or so only to get a piece of cake.

There was this young local fellow, who came to visit us almost daily, because he was neither studying, nor working and did not know what else to do with his time. His father had a well paid government job in Delhi and the family was pretty wealthy, so there was not really a great need for him to do any of this. One day I mentioned that it would be good to have a small place of our own where we could sell the cakes and maybe even some good chai and coffee and the guy said

 “Oh, we have a shop which sits empty, nobody uses it since years and there it even has a counter”

Baba Cake counter

The same day we went to check on the place and for us it was just perfect! Well, it was not really a shop by Western standards, it was more like a garage. But there was a small terrace, some shelves and a second small room which could be used as a kitchen. There was no running water either, but the water supply was nearby and we could do the dishes in a tub and bring all the necessary water in buckets; all good enough for a start. We talked to his big brother who was in charge of business matters and agreed a good price for the rent.

As always, our budget was very limited and therefore we tried to keep things as cheap and simple as possible. We bought some plywood which was turned into low tables, mattresses to sit on the floor, tableware and a couple of buckets with paint. Baba Cake Café was ready just on time for the fall season. My job was to bake the cakes and muffins and Baba was in charge of tea and coffee. As our baby was not even one year old and slept a lot and needed very much of her mommy’s attention I would prepare the cakes at home early in the morning and we would then carry them up thee hill to the shop.

Baba Cake wall painting

The travelers loved our place! I was very much happy and excited, but at the same time pretty much surprised as the place was really small and humble. Probably this was exactly the reason why people liked it. It soon turned into a meeting point and favorite hangout for many travelers, where people enjoyed a good cup of masala chai and a tasty piece of cake. Our Apple-Crumble became really famous and sometimes I could not bake enough of it to make everybody happy. Our tiny electric oven did magic, although the daily and frequent power cuts made me go wild regularly.

There are always many amazing and creative souls among the traveler community and so in exchange for cake and chai, we even got a really cool design painted on our entrance wall. There was always somebody with an instrument playing music in the shop, the atmosphere was wonderful and somehow most of the guests ended up becoming our very good friends. A big Baba Cake Family came into life, where people are open, kind, colorful, creative and of course all a bit crazy; each of us in our own particular way 😉

Sadhu Baba Cake

Our First Season – Lama Kaha, Why Like This !?!

March 2010

The first tourist season here went pretty well for us; our guest room was rented out most of the time. We really had a lot of fun and sheltered all kind of people from all over the world, but most of them were Israeli Nationals. I have to say that I never ever met an Israeli before I came to India; maybe the reason for this is that they are all here.

There is this strange phenomenon: After they finish their obligatory military service, 2 years if you are a female and 3 years if you are a male, they all decide to travel, preferably to India or South America.

By now, my understanding of the Israeli Culture has improved a bit, although there are still a million of things I do not catch.

Observing and living with them I realized so far that there are two kind of Israeli backpackers:

The ones who have a huge urge to travel in groups, whatever it takes, and constantly seek the company of their fellow-countryman and the ones that try to keep a distance as much as they can from the first kind. The first group often gives me the impression that they are scared for some reason; maybe they fear to get lost or maybe the chaotic ways of the country makes them feel unsecure . Most of the time they do not show too much interest in the Indian way of life and keep themselves busy with shopping and meeting in the most fashionable tourist restaurants. The female members of the first group frequently shock the conservative Indians they cross on their way with their fashion style, revealing too much skin for the taste and nerve of the Indian eye. Once I asked an Israeli friend:

“Why like this?”

And he told me that many of the young Israelis don’t actually want to travel, but they do so anyways because everybody does. Some would say that this is then a waste of time, but I guess that Mother India will bless them with new insights and offer them plenty of lessons of life, like she does with everybody who comes to visit her.

Then there are also the very religious Israelis and the not so religious ones, who celebrate the Shabbat anyways. Once we had a very religious guest staying at our house, very orthodox, but at the same time very open. I liked him a lot and really enjoyed to have him around. We had long talks about the Jewish and the Hindu religions and I had the opportunity to ask many questions about his believe, rituals and practice. Anyhow many times the answer I received to my endless why-questions was:

“Because the bible says so”

This was a bit strange and disappointing for me. If I would decide to strictly follow any kind of religion, I would want to know all the whys and reasons for each and every rite and rule I were to practice. Hindu religion is really interesting in that sense, every single act and ritual has a deep meaning, mostly energetic (and so does the Jewish religion, too, I guess), but of course as in most religions, people grow up with it and act according to it never really asking themselves why, which is really a pity, because most of the “magic” remains concealed. I pretty much gave up asking the locals here for deeper explanations, as most of the time the answer is unsatisfactory and I have to google it anyways; which is pretty boring. I prefer to learn while talking to people instead of sitting in front of a screen.

Here a funny anecdote comes to my mind:

tefillinOnce Baba and I were visiting a friend at a nearby guesthouse. A Jewish boy was standing on the balcony absorbed in his prayers, wearing all the items needed for it, which involved also the Tefillin (small leather boxes containing verses from the Torah of which one is worn strapped around the arm with a leather string). Baba saw the leather string tightly wrapped around his arm; and as Baba is always worried about the well-being of everyone near him, he rushed towards the boy asking him anxiously

“Man, you okay? Your arm have some problem, you need help? What happened?”

The boy still praying and confused looked a bit annoyed at Baba from the corner of his eyes, while I, embarrassed, did my best to drag Baba away from him trying to explain that everything was all right and that the boy was simply performing a Jewish “puja” (ritual).

WE ALL HAVE OUR DIFFERENT WAYS, BUT STILL:

WE ARE ONE !

Villagers and Backpackers

March 2010

The humble, little home we built consists of three rooms: Our private room, a guest room we rent out to backpackers and a common living-room, which we rarely use as we spend most of the time outdoors.

Loft BedTo have as much space as possible I decided to build a loft bed, to gain some extra space beneath it. Our mysteries (carpenters) were pretty surprised and looked at me doubtfully while I somehow tried to explain them the idea. I had to show them some photos on the internet and eventually and despite their obvious doubts about the “weird” project we managed to get the beds done. The voice spread and soon the entire village came by to have a look at the construction.

 

The village people accepted us well, but of course we were a bit of a strange couple to them; a Sadhu MARRIED to a western woman and we did not have kids, but plenty of dogs hanging out at our place. But there is something that I really love about this village: The locals live their lives and the travelers live theirs’. No staring, no hassling, but a general mutual acceptance. Of course there is some of an understandable amazement among the inhabitants when a western tourist girl walks through the tiny Himalayan village in a Mini-skirt. That kind of situations still make me feel embarrassed in some way and I cannot understand what is so difficult about dressing in a decent way to show some respect towards the local culture.

Since I live here I met a lot of people from all over the world; they come and go.

…and then at some point most of them return!

This makes it much easier to say goodbye, as somehow I know or I feel that we well meet again someday, somehow. The village is very popular among long-stayers, many stay for months and come back here year after year. The travelers who decide to rent out our guest room are usually really nice. It’s not to everybody’s taste to share a space with strangers; some people rather prefer to have their own private space. The people who come to us are usually very social and used to live in some kind of community. Baba is absolutely a people-person; he loves to meet new people, to share his stories and to make others happy with very simple things, like the delicious Indian dishes he cooks. More often than not our visitors end up being really good friends, sometimes they even become part of the family.

Of course like everywhere else in the world there are also exceptions, but I firmly believe that all encounters in life, no matter how insignificant they may seem, are meant to happen and that we don’t cross people due to mere coincidence.

There is a lot to learn from others in so many ways. Each person gives us a chance to learn a bit more about ourselves, and maybe sometimes they are also meant to learn something from us.

An adventure called life

September 2008

The three of us really wanted to stay at a peaceful place for a longer period after the intense time in Baba’s native Bihari village and Baba´s Food poisoning drama in Bodghaya. We  definitively needed a large amount of relaxation!

What a better place for that than the beautiful countryside of Almora in the Himalayas, which we had only recently discovered?

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We checked into an even nicer guesthouse with a large garden and found out that most of the accommodations in Kasar Devi include a kitchen. When you have traveled for a long time, you eventually get tired of eating out at restaurants, which are all offering mostly the same kind of menu. Having a kitchen made us more than happy, and it was also a way to save some money.

Someone had offered me a thick Indian cookbook for my birthday. First I thought that this person didn’t like me very much, because I had to carry the heavy volume with me through the whole country. But Pagli and I, both of us love to cook and we eventually went through the illustrated pages with the same excitement as a couple of teenager boys would do while reading their first playboy-magazine.

I love good food and admit that eating is something that makes me very happy!

Besides of spending much time in the kitchen, we wandered a lot through the beautiful lush green nature of the monsoon scenery, admiring the diversity of colourful flowers and collecting chanterelle in the forest. When it rained, the temperature cooled notably down and then Baba, Pagli and I would sit on the bed wrapped in blankets, drinking hot chocolate prepared of fresh milk coming directly from the buffalo, while telling each other stories or singing bhajans to the sound of Pagli’s Banjo.

The time had come to think about how life would go on from now on. Here I was, sitting in the middle of a small piece of paradise with my sadhu…

…BUT THEN WHAT?

Baba was not keen on living in Europe and not by a long shot I would dare to take him there to do any silly job and press him into the speedy western society. He was a free spirit and taking him to the other world would more than sure make him fade like a cut flower. Neither did I want to go back to the ignorance of an office job.

Kasar view

Life is too short to live only for making money that one will probably spend anyways in things that don’t really bring along any happiness and eventually will decay.

I could not come up with any alternative lifestyle, that appealed to me and that I actually would be able to put into practice in the west.

I loved Baba just as I loved India, even if at times the country made me really crazy. So, why not try to build up a life somewhere here? Of course, it is a place very far away from “home” and it was a big decision.

But my life-philosophy is:

If you don’t try, you will never know!

What was the worst that could really happen? Europe would not run away and I could go back there if I needed to do so anytime.

Now, the question was where in India?!?

I remember how Baba’s family in Bihar suggested us to build a house there in the village, as they owned a lot of land.

HA! NO WAY!

I would not survive there for even a month without going completely nuts!

On the other hand there was my beloved Rishikesh. But buying something there was too costly and everyone in town knew my Baba as he was part of Rishikesh’s sadhu society. A picture of dozens of sadhus coming to sit day and night at our place to enjoy chai, chillum and chapatis came to my mind. Nothing bad about that, but on a long-term that was not really an option!

Flowers in KasarWe decided to give Kasar Devi a try, we really loved that place. People are respectful, there is the tourist season when to meet nice people from all over the world, but also the off-season to enjoy the peace of the simple village life. The climate is pleasant, too, as it never got unbearably hot, though  the short winters can be pretty chilly.

Only a couple of weeks later Baba found a small piece of land that we could afford. This went so fast, that I interpreted it as a sign that things were flowing towards the direction they were supposed to.

Time had come to start a new adventure: The beginning of a new life in a new place

The revenge of the chicken

August 2008

Baba did not get too many chances to spend some quality time with his sister Kamla during our short stay in his native Bihari village. There were always too many people around and he was most of the time involved in some “men activities”. I knew he would have loved to meet her more in private. We came up to the idea to invite his sister to meet us in Bodhgaya. Her husband’s village where she lived was not very far from there. We told her that we would come up for her room in the same buddhist monastery where we were staying.

Om Mane Padme Hum

Om Mane Padme Hum

Actually I was a little nervous, because I barely spoke a handful of words of Hindi and I was very insecure about the social expectation as an “Indian” wife. There are plenty of social “rules” about how to act and what to say (or better not) in all kind of worldly situations and I really did’t think that I would do very good at it. I just wanted them to like me and make a good impression. I was so thankful to have Pagli, our American friend around to give me some moral support!

WOULD I BE ABLE TO DO AS WELL AS AN INDIAN HOST?

…BECAUSE THEY ARE REALLY DAMN GOOD AT IT !

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Something strange must have been in the air, because I don’t know why Baba suddenly decided that he wanted to eat that chicken curry! At the end of the meal we even started arguing, which is something we do extremely rarely:

“You really have to order this chicken?”

“Me long time no eating chicken! I want chicken!”

“It’s expensive!”

“no problem!”

Few minutes later…

“Why you don’t eat the chicken?”

“This chicken strange taste!”

“Well, you wanted it! And I told you! Common, now you eat!”

“NO! Me not eating this possible! Chalo!”

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The three of us left that strange restaurant in a grumbly mood. His sister would arrive tomorrow morning with her husband, her mother in law and her youngest son; this didn’t help much to improve my state of mind.

In the evening Baba started to spend several long periods inside of the bath-room and ended up spending most of the night there, too. In the morning there was nothing more left for him to get rid off and he was crouching in anguish next to the toilet. His head was really hot and he was bathed in cold sweat. It was the first time that I witnessed an Indian’s skin turning into a greenish complexion.

We girls put him to bed and tried to make him drink water, but that effort only ended up in further stomach cramps. Baba stopped talking. He did not react to us at all anymore. Suddenly he started to repeat in a weak voice:

“Doctor, Hospital…!”

This really made us panic! Baba never went to see a doctor in all his life, neither did he believe very much in them. This situation was truly not looking good at all!

Monsoon in Bodhgaya

Monsoon in Bodhgaya

Kamla arrived with her family and it was all a big mess! Baba couldn’t talk, Pagli and I didn’t speak any Hindi and non of them spoke any English. She immediately started to take care of her brother, sitting on the edge of the bed holding his hand. We told her that we would go out to find a doctor. It took us some time to find the doctor the resident buddhist monk had recommended us. The doc and his assistant followed us immediately to the monastery. He performed a quick check on Baba and shortly after I saw how the assistant started sticking all kind of needles into my poor husband’s body. I tried to find out what they were giving him and why, but without success. The doctor talked vividly to Kamla and her husband, but the only thing that I understood was that they had to put a drip and eventually the word

FOOD POISONING!

I felt helpless and numb, but at least Baba’s fever went down fast and he had fallen into a peaceful sleep. I wanted to be a good wife and a good host. We didn’t have any kitchen to offer snacks or chai and the street sellers were not out on the street due to the heavy rainfall of the monsoon. We managed to get some chai from the monastery and explained Kamla that we would go out to bring some food and asked her to stay with Baba. The only thing we could find was some momos and samosas. When we came back the doctor explained us somehow that Baba was okay now, but that his assistant would stay that night with him to change the glucose drips.

The rooms were reorganizes in Indian style: Kamla’s husband would sleep in Baba’s room on the other bed. I would sleep with Pagli and Kamla with her mother in law and her son. This was all very strange.

Was I supposed to oppose?

I just agreed and decided to check from time to time on Baba during the night. On my first inspection the assistant was snoring loudly in an armchair. On my second visit he was for some reason sleeping next to Baba; in the same bed and almost hugging him. Was that normal?

I guess that sometimes it is better not to think too much and to let things simply happen the way they are supposed to in the Indian way without asking oneself too many questions.

The next morning the assistant looked rested and Baba looked much better, too. He could speak normally again and around noon he even started to feel hungry. The following day we all went out to do some sight-seeing and to eat out in a restaurant. Kamla ordered Chinese Noodles. I think she never had tried such a dish before.

It was touching to see her trying to manage to handle the long noodles with a fork and I remembered how some women in the village whispered with each other and laughed at me when they saw me eating, saying:

“Look! She doesn’t know how to eat properly only with the hand”

…and I could not avoid a smile…  

Baba &  Mathilda

Baba & Mathilda

Floating cups and water snakes

August 2008

As soon we sat in the bus heading from Baba’s tiny Bihari Village near Patna to Bodhgaya, a sensation of freedom came over me. Free from masses of staring eyes, expectations from the Indian family side and I would have not to worry about if my behaviour as a western wife could accidentally offend anyone.

In Bodhgaya we checked into a buddhist monastery. It was a big compound, but it was off-season and the three of us were the only guests in the entire building.

Of course! To whom else but us crazy monkeys it would occur to travel through Bihar during the peak of the raining season?

It felt just like haven to have such simple things like an own room with a door, a toilet and a shower again. Baba, Pagli and I were in a very happy mood. We celebrated our freedom with a small dance party in the room and playing card games.

Monastery "Garden"

Monastery “Garden”

The next day it started raining; a warm constant monsoon drizzle – which didn’t stop. To leave the monastery we had to cross the garden to reach the main gate. In the evening the garden had started to turn into a pool and the water accumulated came up to our ankles.

On the second day the water had reached knee level and some kids were bathing and playing in the growing pool. It was still okay to cross it after taking out the sandals and rolling up the pants.

After the third day of rain, the water came up to our waists and as I looked down from the balcony to the waterscape I discovered several water snakes and a couple of rats swimming happily through the green element.

No way that I would cross that pool any longer!

To get out of the monastery to have some food we took the safer way: Balancing on the narrow edge of a long wall along the pool. And naturally at the first crossing mission I fell straight into the pool accompanying my clumsiness with an hysteric shriek. All the diseases one might contract during the monsoons described in the Lonely Planet rushed through my mind. The thought of touching the ground with my bare feet made me panic and I paddled at high speed back towards and up the wall.

On the fourth day it stopped raining and Pagli and I decided to visit an Indian family with who she had made friendship during a previous trip to Bodhgaya. The pool was still full of all kind of creatures, but at least I was able to figure out a suitable balance technique to walk on the wall. Outside of the monastery, all streets were filled with stale water or there were still streams of brown soup rushing down the sides of the roads.

Eventually we reached the family’s house; well, actually it was not a real house, but a bamboo structure covered with plastics and tin sheets. The residents were busy piling up all kind of objects in front of it. A fatty mataji in a thin cotton saree spotted us and started to beam as soon as she recognized Pagli.

“Come in, come in! Welcome, welcome!”

she said joyfully and hastily pulled a few leeches off her leg. Blood ran down her skin. We took out our sandals (well, I did, as Pagli most of the time prefered not to wear any) and stepped through the small entrance, where we found ourselves up to the ankles in a nasty broth of monsoon water.

Chai time

Chai time

She led us to a charpoy in a corner of the room, as if there was absolutely nothing strange at all happening. There we sat down to enjoy an interesting view on floating cups, plates, flip-flops and even a paddling mouse. Mataji lived in that hut together with her husband and one of her sons, who’s beautiful wife was pretty advanced in pregnancy.

She went out for a moment and shortly after came back with two cups of chai. I wondered with which water this chai had been prepared, but I drank it.

INDIA TURNS YOU BRAVE!

I like to remember that story, for instance when I drown in self-pity or catch myself complaining about my situation too intensely. It reminds me that no matter how big my problems seem to me, I can be sure that there are people who have many more reasons to complain and worry about.

But they just keep on going;

…and they do so with a smile…

Inside the hut

Inside the hut