Last month, Ashok Kandabolu—or as you know him, Dapwell, member of the hip-hop group Das Racist—ventured to India for a few weeks. He found a bunch of weird shit there, and so he decided to write about it. And because we really like it when Dapwell writes about weird shit for us, we're publishing his thoughts. Follow him throughout the journey in the first installment of THE INDIA DIARIES.
I am typing this from the Falcon’s Nest hotel in the “posh” Jubilee Hills section of Hyderabad. It’s a nice enough place, except the staff disappears in the morning and there doesn’t seem to regularly be hot water for showers. I’ve taken to boiling a few kettles-full of hot water, mixing in the cold water from the tap, and showering with a bucketful of lukewarm water. I'm putting down my second liter of Kinley, that's the Coca Cola-owned brand of purified water I have to drink to avoid possibly trip-ruining diarrhea. It's main competitor is Bisleri, which has a way better name.
I’m in India to hang out with my grandmother who lives in the town of Tenali, which is also in the state of Andhra Pradesh. It’s been 4 years since my last time here and the city and surrounding areas are developing so rapidly. I even saw a white man at the airport! Before I head out for the town I’m spending a few days in the city to catch up with family friends, have some gear made (which I’ll be writing about later), and see what else is going on in the city since I’ve last been here.
One of the first stops I had to make was to a supermarket in the neighborhood to pick up a few double-edged razor blades as mine were (rightfully) confiscated in New Delhi during my layover (they, of course, passed through the TSA inspection at JFK.) Supermarkets are great spots to waste a few hours, especially in foreign countries, and a good way to see which American products are seemingly chosen at random to be sold as representative of our fine culture and cuisine. Sometimes it’s our incredible “cheese" or hamburgers. In this instance, popcorn and peanut butter. An “American Foods” section in an Indian Supermarket: who woulda thunk it?
Surf excel Powdered Detergent
At last we know what the old Cingular logo did after retirement: grew a neck, got a new job, and moved to India. My grandmother used to clean clothes by hand with this bright blue bar of soap I used to see most everybody using. It’s nice to see people cleaning their clothes with something that sounds like a Max B tape. Extra points for the classic developing-world outlandish claim tagline: the power of vibrating molecules. Indeed.
MENZ Whitening Cream
Like every other part of this world, India is obsessed with having lighter, whiter skin. I don’t believe we have reached Vykbz Kartel-level out and out skin bleaching yet but surely that can’t be far off. There is a great expanse of skin lightening options available for women and an expanding market for men as well, as evidenced by this apparently precious jewel-laden formula. In the past, light skin was a sign of wealth, indicating that the owner didn’t have to work or be out in the sun to survive. That, combined with hundreds of years of colonialism-assisted propagation of white images and ideals of beauty, has coalesced into this neat little product. Also, wouldn’t it be insane if these were face-sized crest white strips that melted off your skin?
MamyPoko Pant Style Diapers
There’s nothing quite like a night on the town with a pocket full of money shoved into the waistband of your bulky, padded tighty whitey-style "pants." This sounds like a fun, colorful Japanese candy I would hold in my hand for two minutes at Pearl River Mart before ultimately deciding that I shouldn't eat candy because I rarely brush my teeth the recommended second time before sleeping and it would eat away at my gums and I don’t have health insurance and haven’t been to a dentist in more than 15 years. All I’m saying is this: they look like regular diapers to me, but shit, I ain’t got a baby.
Gold Flake Cigarettes
Gold Flake is the number one brand of cigarette out here. They come in these cute ten-packs. I put down more than a few of these bad boys of the last time I was here in 2009 and still smoking, but I felt it made me feel more out of place than I already was. I’m apparently light-skinned (“fair-skinned”) out here, plus I had long hair at the time, so smoking bogies did nothing to reduce my ISF (Indian Stare Factor). I mostly smoked in my grandmother’s bathroom that is a separate small-stone building in her yard not big enough for a man to lie down in (not sure why you would do that anyway). It was like smoking in the winter in that I spent the whole time thinking about quitting instead of blowing smoke out of my nose and feeling cool.
Heart Healthy Vegetable Oil
What could be heart healthier than a two-pack multi-gallon tub of vegetable oil?
Bru Instant Coffee
Indians love drinking instant coffee. I don’t know why. In my experience, they will drink it over a quality, properly brewed coffee seven times out of ten. My mom recalls people in her town drinking real coffee pre-ground and mixed with chicory NOLA-style until they started stocking instant coffee when she was 10 or 11. My brother bought my mom one of those Keurig pod coffee makers, which she claimed to be enjoying. Last time I went to Queens I found it still in the box. I think I’m gonna put it on craiglist.
When I came to India in 1994 I bought a polo-style shirt that had over a dozen different clothing brand logos on it, all over the front and back. People had a lot of Nike and Reebok stickers on their cars. The last two times I’ve been here I’ve noticed a lot less of that kind of thing. I’m not sure why, though maybe it has to do with a proliferation of “images from the West” though that seems like the obvious guess. Maybe it has more to do with brands establishing stores in the cities here reducing the need for entrepreneurial bootleggers. They’re the worst stores though: LEE, Pepe Jeans, even a U.S. POLO ASSOCIATION. Come on, India, we can do this. [[LOL]]
Copyright laws are flouted left and right here, though I'm not sure if this bastardized version of the Energizer Bunny would even count.
Engage Body Spray
The culture here is generally conservative and sexually suggestive stuff crops up in all the expected places. Movies, advertisements in magazines, billboards, and of course, body spray packaging. I feel like there's a small fold-up poster of a titty under the cap that keeps people coming back for more. Just one—you got to collect the other.
Kurkure Naughty Tomato
Here's maybe another example of that. Or maybe this is just silly, I'll let you decide.
This is a sapota. It has a funny name. I've never seen it for sale in the United States (outside of a can), although it is apparently grown in South Florida. I'm not into most tropical fruit really. Sapotas are no exception, they’re like small, sweet, fragrant kiwis, which I realize sounds good but still, not into it. I don't like guavas, pineapples, papayas. Mangos are good if somebody else cuts them into chunks for you, otherwise, way too messy and sensual. Most fruit sucks, now that I think of it.
Filmfare and Stardust are two very popular Tigerbeat-style magazines about the Bollywood film industry filled with all sorts of gossip, softball interviews, and puff pieces. I forgot to bring any books and I murdered my New Yorkers the first three days I was here so I’ve read approximately thirteen articles about Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone since I’ve been here. There even a “style” supplement about the Salman Khan, the king of bootcut jeans and turquoise bracelets for men.
This, of course, is the cream of wheat-like baby formula known as Cerelac. No idea how to say that and I'm betting the people who buy it don't either. Not because they’re Indian, because it’s a weird, made-up word. I didn't find any "baby food" in the aisles because I'm sure Indians know that they can mash their own bananas or carrots at home, or feed their children dal and rice in little mouthfuls. I once saw a bunch of Vienna sausages in clear liquid being sold as "baby hot dogs" in a bodega, and I really wanted to buy them to eat on the train. I was 15 years old and high on weed.
Maggi 2-Minute Noodles
These are the best instant noodles in the world. The key, as always, is the small powdered flavor mix known as the Masala Tastemaker. These are one of the few products that still had trans fat in it as recently as three years ago. It said so on a sticker right on the front, they were proud of it. These are available at your local Subzi Mandi or Patel Brothers in New York, so feel free to pick up a few packs next time you're buying some canned sapota.
Honey Roasted Macadamias
Just wanted to point out that I've never seen this particular variety of nut "honey roasted" before.
Comprint Animal Rhymes DVD
STRICTLY ANIMAL RHYMES, NAHMEAN.
Sacks Of Cow Ghee
The developing world loves packing liquid into sacks and I like it. A Muslim man delivers sacks of goat milk to my grandmother every morning and has for more than two decades. This here is a sack of clarified butter, no refrigeration required. Don’t you wish more of your liquids came in sacks?
Jungle Boy DVD
Once again with the lax enforcement of copyright laws. I don't remember much about the Jungle Book but I'm going to assume it was racist and that this is a righteous, anti-colonial reimagining of the work and not a terrible story filled with grammar and spelling mistakes.
MediMix Ayurvedic Soap
This is an ayurvedic, homeopathic soap that is sold throughout India. I hear from some people that it's somewhat drying but who gives a shit about that! It's green! I wanted to import this soap and sell it to "organic" stores throughout Brooklyn at a huge markup a few years back but realized I had no idea how to go about doing that. My plan was to pack them into those shipping rates from the second season of the wire, pick them up in a rented U-Haul truck, store them in the cellar of my apartment at the time and bring out a briefcase’s worth to various stores trying to sell them. If anybody reading this is an importer/exporter, please help me out or just steal my idea outright.
This is one of the strangest, inexplicable product packagings for a mundane product that I've ever come across. How beautiful is this thing? Iit looks like a weird, limited-release poster for a French remake of Donnie Darko. I'm thinking of getting either the bunny or the child tattooed on my arm. What do you guys think? Also, this the second instance of creepy pink bunnies popping up in unexpected places, super into it.
Laxmanrekhaa For Cockroaches
This isn’t from the supermarket, I just think the penis-shaped cockroaches are funny.
I'm getting into a car and spending six hours moseying out of the big city (at nearly seven million, it's the fourth largest city in India) on to a town called Tenali where my mother and grandmother are from (population: 100,000) for the beginning of an important festival known as Sankranti. I'll get back to you soon with another blazing hot update from the motherland.