Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Anyway we got home, ate pizza we'd picked up at a little bakery, and then decided to take an auto rickshaw into the Old City. We got dropped off near the clock tower and walked around the markets.
Here are some of the encounters we had:
[continued Tues. 10/27]
In "MM Spices" (trying to ride on MV Spices' reputation--a legit place that's in the Lonely Planet)
I went in initially looking for jasmine oil for a dear friend [:)], and they began putting all these oils on my hands and arms. I thought the price was too high even for the pure jasmine oil the salesman claimed it was, but then when I picked up the box when he was distracted I saw that synthetic ingredients were listed. When I confronted him about that, he said "Well, they have to put that on the box." ?!?!?! He also tried charging 6x the going rate for saffron, and an obviously ridiculous price for plain black tea that Basanti was going to get for her mom. I told her we should wait, as there were shops everywhere and she'd want the tea to be fresh anyway, and that I was sure we could find it cheaper. We were about to hightail it out of there when I noticed there were a few scarves in the shop and inquired about them, at which point the shopkeeper handed us over to his "younger brother," a man who led us to...
"Student Scarf Shop":
The salesman there made a big deal of how he wasn't going to overcharge us like other tourist-oriented places, and how if we went out and found cheaper prices we were welcome to come slap him. He really belabored this point, going "Slap me! I'm serious, come slap me!" It was a little strange. Also annoying because right off the bat we knew we'd found cheaper scarves elsewhere. He had some designs I hadn't seen before, but they obviously didn't cost any more to make. "Same quality not possible," he insisted. He "swore in front of this Indian girl" (Basanti!!!) that he was giving us the best price. It was so uncomfortable. After inquiring about my ethnic background, he randomly said "the more I look at you, the more Indian you are looking." As if him lying to me would make me want to buy more. He also told me "If you were not with her [Basanti], no one can talk to her." And he offered us these stiff "silk" scarves that we could tell from our tutorial at Baba Black Sheep in Varanasi were polyester. He claimed they were from Varanasi, and that softer ones came from Kashmir and were more expensive. There was a "silk" dress I liked that I noticed had a blotch of misprinted ink on it, which they tried to say would wash out. They kept being all up in my business, trying to put scarves on me (which really crosses the line of social acceptability here, not to mention my own personal sense of a space-bubble) and show me more and more, while Basanti could hardly get their attention when she wanted it. It was interesting that even though Basanti had clearly established that she is American, and even though the shopkeepers had made a distinction between how they would treat her if she were alone and how they could now, they were still not really treating her equally. >:(
Things said to me as I passed by:
Elderly woman: [taking the end of my kurta in her hand/touching my leg] Acchi lagi! ("Nice/I like this")
Middle aged vegetable-selling man: "A-mer-i-ca? Cal-i-for-ni-a?"
We found this one juice shop recommended by Lonely Planet that was a-maaazingggg...I tried to order pomegranate juice, but they didn't have any. Instead I had a papaya shake for $0.40 that was cool lightly sweet heavenly deliciousness yum. lol. It was being run by a boy of no more than 14 (probably more like 12). But then when it came time to pay a man with the sort of beard I associate with Orthodox Jews (this first beard of this magnitude I have seen in this country) appeared to take the money. He smiled and said, "If you like juice, you are welcome to come again." Aww.
So we did, on Sunday, and I tried ordering anaar (pomegranate) juice, but ended up with this odd vague-tasting room temperature bright orange juice. I'll stick to papaya shakes from now on.
VARANASI TRIP: EPISODE I
It has taken me a while to get to this because it was kind of a traumatic experience. I'm glad we went and there were some great things about it, but there has been like an emotional/mental block in me writing it all down. So I am going to deal with it in little installments.
The ride there took nearly twice as long as it should have (about 21 hours); the train made lots of unexplained stops, including one that was at least an hour long in the middle of the night right when I was trying to get to sleep. That wouldn't be so bad except that it was in-cred-ib-ly hot, and humid, so without the wind that pours in the windows from the train's movement we were just dripping sweat. [On our trip to Agra we were in 3AC class, so we had individual seats that could recline a little, and were in an air conditioned space that is locked and where seat numbers are really checked so no one bothers you. However, in sleeper class, where we were on the way to Varanasi, as it was a holiday weekend--Dashera--and we hadn't booked far in advance enough, there is little regulation. So 5 foreign-looking young women attracted a small crowd of men. There were ones hanging down from upper bunks staring at us, there were like six practically sitting on each others laps to fit on what should have been a 2 person seat to stare, discuss and laugh, people would walk by to look at us, or even just stand around, all up in our personal space. It was miserable.]
There were these round black bugs that infested the car for a while, getting blown into our hair and crawling all over the floor. As night fell and after we passed a few major stops most of the staring people left or retreated to their real seats to sleep, so we were able to relax somewhat. I stayed up talking with Hannah and Stephanie for as long as I could. I didn't want to sleep on a top bunk because of the heat and distance from the window, but eventually I went up there because I was too scared that a middle berth would be insecure and collapse onto me if I were on the bottom berth, or drop me if I were on the middle one. Eventually I was lulled to sleep by the soothing combination of Priscilla Ahn ("Rain" was particularly restorative to my sense of well-being) and Ne-yo songs on mypod. I awoke around 5am and climbed down to watch the sunrise, since I knew the heat wouldn't allow me to sleep any more. I talked to Syndey for a while and took some beautiful photos. Uttar Pradesh is really lush compared to Rajasthan, and the morning was all misty and pink.
When we finally reached Varanasi and got into autorickshaws, they ended up stopping in seemingly the middle of nowhere. The drivers announced, "No more than ten minutes' walk." We didn't even understand why there was a walk at all. But our drivers led us down all these twisty narrow roads--we all had big duffel bags, so this was very difficult, especially with the added obstacles of big splotches of cow dung or neon puddles of vomit--until we finally reached Shanti Guest House. Once there, we literally had to walk up 6 flights of stairs. Big, steep, spiraling stairs too. Then when we were up there they didn't have the rooms we had reserved. We were fed up; we were unsure if we'd ever be able to find the guest house again after leaving it, and we'd have to walk really far to get a rickshaw anywhere since they couldn't go in the narrow roads; also these roads were all flanked by really tall buildings, making them kind of claustrophobic alleyways, so we felt like we couldn't go out at night. I got on the phone to make reservations elsewhere, but none of the places that seemed good for us had two rooms available for that night. I made reservations at a nicer place for the next night.
There was a blood stain on one of the sheets in our rooms, bleghh. And a toilet didn't work in one of the rooms. But we passed out for a while in the air conditioning, glad to be in a cool, quiet place.
Random guy as we were walking the next day: "This is nice way to travel, respectful way to travel. Looking good in Punjabi dress.You are nice girls, from good families."
You can expect 2-4 more Varanasi installments.
Also, I still need to tell you about:
1) when Rachel and I went to see a movie at Raj Mandir, the "#1 Hindi Cinema"/"Showplace of the Nation"
2) when our host mom took us and our host siblings to Albert Hall, a museum
3) my experiences here as a person of East Asian descent [hint: it is mostly a stressor :(]
4) doctor visits/medicine in India
Yesterday night our friends working with Gravis visited. It was so jarring to get all the stares again now that we were in not only a big group, but one that was 80% White...I always intend to make a face or do something when people stare for extended periods of time but I usually am too slow to get worked up to actually do it, but yesterday I finally got so pissed off I did this random quick slapping my left hand really hard and then lifting my right hand in a "WUT!" kind of gesture to a guy on a motorbike that looked for a second (or ten) too long. Sadly I think he looked away just as I was doing it, so it wasn't very satisfying. Anyway we went to dinner for Stephanie's birthday; the food tasted decent but I think my stomach doesn't like Punjabi mutton masala very much, so I was miserable for most of the evening after that. We met Akshay, an Indian American guy who just graduated college and has been interning at Gravis for 6 weeks now. He was really nice and speaks Hindi pretty well, so hopefully we'll see more of him. Unlike our MSID friends he's interning at the main office in Jodhpur, so he'd definitely be easier to meet up with. The students working in the villages sound pretty disappointed with their internships as well; they have little to do and no one at their site really speaks English. Stephanie suspects one of the women is trying to find her a husband. (Most women our age in the village already have a couple children.) She dresses her up and has her serve meals. And points at men as they walk around saying "Husband? Husband?" ...
Actually come to think of it, Stephanie's host mom & sister were always worrying about her not having a boyfriend, as the other student staying with that family, Meaghan, has one. And they asked Basanti if she was planning on marrying an American or an Indian boy. She said she didn't know. They told her "Because if you want to marry an Indian boy, you let us know, and we will start looking for a suitable one."
Rachel and I were always wondering about whether our host parents had an arranged or a love match. Finally Rachel asked Meenakshiji how she met her husband, and (it's like she read our mind) she told us it was not a love marriage, and that her father arranged it. Apparently he approached Vinodji's mother, but since he did not have Meenakshiji's astrological information, she rejected the proposal. So he went away. But a year later, he came back, and Vinodji's mother accepted. Meenakshiji and Vinodji seem to be quite compatible though, in terms of their parenting styles and how they share responsibilities. During Diwali celebrations we played this one party game in Vinitaji's apartment, and it was really cute to see them interact on that level.
I'm sorry my blog has deteriorated into these random ramblings. I started out so organized... =/ It's just hard enough to summon the energy to put these things down, much less put very much planning into it.
Friday, October 23, 2009
It is 2:12am in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. I have just awoken from a series of odd dreams that I only vaguely remember.
Here is how things have gone in this city so far.
First we spotted a really fancy looking stone building--the Taj Hari Mahal hotel--which heralded our arrival in the Sun City. Basanti and I looked out the window excitedly, trying to spot potential hangout spots for our stay here. We thought we'd be the first to be dropped off at our site, since ours was supposed to be the only one in the city proper; four other students who would work for Gravis were supposed to be in a village 60 km or so outside the city, and two girls were going to work for an org based in a village whose name I don't remember and Jaisalmer. We dropped off the Gravis people first, in a neighborhood that the guy dropping us off said was a "milkman's colony." They went into the building and we moved our things to the other car so they could take one to go to a village.
Basanti and I were dropped off about 15 minutes later at Rupayan Sansthan, except there were no signs for it anywhere, and it was all pretty confusing. Kuldeepji and Anitaji, the couple in charge of the org (Kuldeepji's father Komal Kothari founded it) told us that we would have chai before discussing anything. So we sat down. They barely spoke to us, instead conversing in Hindi with an elderly man sitting there and then talking to the MSID guy dropping us off. They were clearly talking about us at one point and how things were different because we are two girls, which was uncomfortable. Anyway then the 2 girls going to Jaisalmer joined us for tea, and it was such an attitude shift. Kuldeepji turned his chair to physically face Hannnah and Whitney, asked them what they were studying, where they were from, etc, and telling them all about the programs Rupayan is working on. He gave them pamphlets about the org too. Until about noon today, Hannah and Whitney knew more about Rupayan than Basanti and I, and Kuldeepji knew more about Hannah and Whitney than either of us. He even told them they could come stay here at any time, there would be room. The only questions Basanti and I were asked were "How long did it take you to get here?" and "You are from China, I think?" (When I gave my answer in the negative in a very flat voice, he tried to say that someone had told him this, but his wife jumped in and said "No, this one [Basanti] was adopted from Bihar.") It was so odd! After we got to our rooms Basanti said she'd like to think there was so much more attention given to Hannah and Whitney because they weren't going to stay here, and he wanted to give them a good impression of Rupayan in the time that he had with them, but it was pretty clear to both of us that there was simply more interest in the two because they were White. It was a pretty hurtful (non-)welcome. We are interested enough in the group's mission to come and try to contribute to it, and they barely had a word to say to us. Then before saying goodnight we were introduced to two of the men who work here, and Kuldeepji introduced Basanti as "Varsha." We were informed that the men would "come in the night, around 9:30." It was not very clear what this meant, but the wording was kind of unintentionally sinister! lol.
Our rooms were an interesting experience. Basanti and I share a bedroom; we did some furniture rearranging to make it more spacious. The shelves for our things were coated with a thick layer of dust; it took 2 wet wipes per shelf to get some semblance of cleanliness. There were all these random things in the room; 3 somewhat full water bottles, 1 bottle of soda filled with water, 1 box of prescription eye drops, 1 used bar of soap, 1 random corded metal device...We kept finding more things behind curtains or under furniture and having to figure out what to do with them. There were lots of big ants, mostly in the sitting/dining room area, so I've put out an ant house and a couple cockroach houses that my parents sent me (thank youu!) 2 men came by to deliver our tiffins of dinner; apparently we will always eat dinner here alone. One of them we had been introduced to before, and he was very nice, but the other (wearing an undershirt that emphasized his copious amounts of chest hair) we didn't know, and he just stared at us as we ate. It was so uncomfortable. I didn't look at him, but Basanti said he had an almost angry expression on his face. Eee. We talked to Anitaji about that today so hopefully it won't happen again. He came in the morning with our breakfast too, more staring. Anyway the food itself was delicious, and came in this neat tower of tiffins. Basanti and I watched a film I've bought, "Kismet Konnnection," and then talked for an hour or so till we fell asleep. Basanti's last host family treated her and her last roommate (a pale girl from Northern Minnesota) really differently, and she is glad to be away from that.
Anyway at 8:23 am I was awoken abruptly by intense pounding on my window. It was so scary! It was the guy bringing tea bags, milk and sugar, butter and toast, and his staring friend. It was so strange; we could obviously make toast ourselves, and they didn't brew the tea or anything. We told Anitaji we'd prefer to make our own breakfast in the mornings so that we don't have to deal with the stress of waking up earlier to get dressed properly just to unlock the door and wait until the toast is made and the guys leave us alone again. It's pretty unclear how this guest house works, really--there's this sitting room area that the main door opens into, with a couch, some arm chairs, and a table with four chairs, which connects to the kitchen, but we lock the doors to that every night. Apparently a woman will come sweep each morning.
Anyway we got to Rupayan a little after 10am since we got a little lost (the "2 minute walk" was more like an 8-10 minute one). Anitaji said Kuldeepji would be the one to talk to us about what we would do, but that he had to leave to do some work, so we should just wait in the library. Well, 50 minutes went by and he still hadn't shown. A random researcher had wandered down and told us about the instruments down there; apparently there are 4 kinds--membranophones (drums) idiophones (things like bells, cymbals, etc) stringed instruments and wind instruments--and Rajasthan has 130 different instruments. Then about another hour went by. By this point I gave up caring about appearances and was napping on the tiled floor of the computer room. (There were no chairs in this library.) No one had told us we could even read the books in the library, and there were computers but they weren't on. We were pretty frustrated. Obviously they must have known Kuldeepji was leaving for work before we got there; couldn't they have called and told us to come in later, or at least bring some work to do? I have lots of backentries to make for this blog, and I have emails to write, and books to read...It was really a colossal waste of our time. The researcher said he was going to the museum Rupayan has; we wished we could tag along. After it had been a total of about 2 hours, another guy wandered down and offered to show us footage of folk dance. That was really nice. We also saw some footage of acrobats--there was this one act with a woman on essentially 2 sticks tied so that she could wrap her legs around them and spin around really fast, at an elevation of about 20 feet. Meanwhile her husband played the drums on the ground. He said the woman was his third wife--his first two had died performing this act. !!! It looked pretty miserable too...she just looked like a frog spinning. During this 3 cups of chai appeared, so I guess we hadn't been totally forgotten? Anyway, then the guy told us we could read the library books, and said that he would help us figure out what was going on with Kuldeepji. It turned out he was at the museum. !?! He just randomly went to the museum instead of coming and talking to us at the time we had agreed upon. The weird thing is too that the night before he'd said we would see the museum today, but then changed his mind and was like "well actually we have 6 weeks for you to see the museum, no hurry". But if he was going there anyway, what would have been the harm in bringing us along?
Anywayyyy, eventually Kuldeepji did come back, we had a decent talk, and he finally asked us what our interests were and gave us some more background information on the org. We had lunch together and then someone came to see him; he told us he'd talk to us before he left. So we waited around, reading outside, until we saw him leave. Without having talked to us. So Basanti and I came home to our guesthouse. We took the hot water boiler from the kitchen; I had tea and she had instant coffee, and then she went to lie down and I did some reading. Then I went to lie down as well, setting my alarm for an hour later, because we had intended to go explore our close surroundings. However, I guess I just failed to wake up with the alarm. The last thing I remember is Basanti telling me that dinner was in our sitting room, and me just lying back down. Then I awoke at 2am, vaguely hungry and very awake.
Positives to take away:
Jodhpur seems to have better weather than Jaipur, actually! It's much cooler in the shade.
The food I get for free here pleases my palate much more than what I got before! Yayyy. I won't have to do as much supplemental food shopping.
Basanti and I get along well. Also we attract less staring on the street than most people on the program do; it's refreshing to be able to walk down the street without seeing every other person on a motorbike crane their necks to look back at us.
Things I Need to Remember to Deal With:
Tell someone about how the toilet leaks (this really is an issue bc the bathroom is so small it basically gets the whole bathroom floor wet)
Find a post office
Find an internet cafe (obvi by the time you're reading this I'll have found one, but at the time that I am writing this I have no idea where to go) (edit: find a DIFFERENT internet cafe...this one is dreadful)
I Am Addicted to Buying Printed Materials:
-Ma Durga children's storybook in Hindi; I bought this around Durga Puja time
-4 mythological comic books in English
-"Wedding Belles", a book that "guarantees happily ever after", ie helps upper class Indians plan their weddings; complete with planning timelines, price points, tips, anecdotes from real couples, cultural information on the traditions of various religions and sects, lots of great photos. Random fact: here, bachelorette parties are called "hen parties."
-the first Harry Potter book in Hindi
-a miniature book explaining several Hindu festivals, and containing lots of mantras
-Indian Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Filmfare, GQ, Femina (I bought this in Hindi to practice reading Hindi, and it was great until my absentee Hindi teacher took it and never came back :( )
-"Almost Single", a novel written by a woman who works in the hospitality industry in Delhi; wittily written and full of fun Indian English phrases and descriptions of contemporary cultural phenomena
Films I Have Purchased:
Bunty aur Babli
Chup Chup Ke
Veer-Zaara (of course)
and the fifth Harry Potter movie in Hindi (why the fifth? ..it was the only one on sale for some reason)
I hope to pick up Jodhaa Akbar and Dil Bole Hadippa before I leave here. The former is a period film, filmed on location in some of the palaces/forts in and around Jaipur, so I think that'll be neat to watch with people back home. It costs 5x as much as any other movie though, I don't know why...=/ Surprisingly most films here cost about $2 new and unpirated. I expected them to be so much more, espeically when that's pretty much how much pirated ones cost back home.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I promise I will write about my trips eventually.
We have broken into our tracks at school, and I have a professor talking to me and another girl about Indian literature for the next three days. She's great.
I have found an internship site I think; an NGO in Jodhpur that tries to record/preserve culture.
"Writing is a very important vehicle in changing the minds of the people. Not by accusing, but by undermining the power [of those in power] through your own power." -Rajul-ji, lit prof.
"[Indian women's writing is] that one eighth of the iceberg that is visible. There are a lot of undercurrents beneath it." -ibid
"I'm not convinced, but I have been doing this tradition for the past forty years. I'm not convinced, and I keep telling my husband he should do something for me." -ibid on the effectiveness of Karwa Chauth, observed today, where women fast and pray for their husband's good health and longevity until the moon rises
Friday, October 2, 2009
Taking a study break to type up some quotes, since it'll be a couple days yet before I'll be able to write up my thoughts on Shekhawati and Varanasi--
"Language is the vehicle of culture, and culture encompasses everything." -Rishi-ji (I had Hindi with him the first day of classes, before being moved to private lessons)
"Identify them, kill them and replace them" -ibid on the process of 'purifying' Hindi of Urdu words post-Independence
Prose entered Indian literature in the late 19th century.
Newspaper words are "completely divorced from the real people's language"--written language in India is distanced from what real people speak as it took 500 years to develop script
"The idea of nation--it's not an Indian idea."
"Before that [British rule] it was a very different place...multinational in character." -Rishi-ji
"You are real American." -taxi driver/tour guide in Agra, to my friend Stephanie (making a distinction between me and her) (More on this in a later entry.)
"What she do?
Full power, twenty-four hour
-taxi driver/tour guide, randomly (no one knew how to react, so it went ignored. I wonder what he was thinking?!)
"Still in India there are many people who are totally honest." -guest lecturer Prof. Ramesh Arora
"Corruption is a British legacy." ibid.
Having asked our class how many of us were interested in civil service, Ramesh-ji said that 50% of Indian students would say they'd like to work in civil service; 20 years ago it would have been 100%.
"A civil servant should be really civil. He may not behave like a servant, but he should not behave like a master." -Ramesh-ji
Ramesh-ji's 10 Rules on Praise and Criticism
1. When in doubt, praise; when in doubt don't criticize.
2. Praise right away, but wait for the right time to criticize
3. Whether praising or criticizing, give a reason for what you are doing.
4. Praise as often as you can; criticize as infrequently as you can.
5. Praise from the heart; criticize diplomatically.
6. Praise with facts, criticize with tact.
7. Praise loudly, criticize softly.
8. Praise in the presence of others; criticize when someone is alone.
9. Praise purely; criticize in sandwich form. (E.g. "Your work was well researched. It could have been better organized, though. I know you will do better next time.")
10. Don't exaggerate. Don't praise for more than one minute, and criticize for less than half a minute.
11. Use the right word; the right word for the right person.
12. Finally, don't discriminate. Praise and criticize people for the same behavior.
Follow these and you will be "a great president, a great man, a great mom, a great dad, a great anything!"
(Yes, that was more than 10 rules...Ramesh-ji was just so exuberant and full o' wisdom to share =)
According to Ramesh-ji 20% of people are honest, 60% are sitting on the fence, and 20% are dishonest. As long as the 20% of honest people exist, the 60% on the fence will follow them.
"When you go to that area you will see that there is a lot of Muslim influence, and everyone is very happy, even today." -Ranbir Sinh, Rajasthani aristocrat and actor who traces his lineage back to Rama (!!!!!!!!). His name was originally spelled "Singh" but he changed it on an astrologer's advice to be more auspicious.
"One should be like a lotus. The lotus grows in mud. The mud is like this worldly world. We have to grow on a thin stem away from this to be a pure person." -Rekha-ji, giving background on the importance of lotuses upon pointing out lotus-inspired architectural features of the Shekhawati haveli we were looking at
"Don't get near the hind or biting ends of things." -Rima-ji, when we reached the livestock area of an organic farm in Shekhawati (there were cows, a really sweet calf, a camel, and some incredibly frightening German shepherds)
"Definatly Male" - decal on a motor scooter
"Here is twenty-four-hours dead-body-fire." -Ram-ji, our boatsman on the Ganga as we floated near Manikarnika Ghat
Food Expectations vs Reality:
Why can't I find "Rajasthani style chilli" flavored Kurkure here??? =( that was my favorite one...now that I'm in Rajasthan I can't find it?! I haven't seen it in Uttar Pradesh either. Boooo. Just keep finding "Tamatar" and "Masala."
The chicken biryani I had in Agra was sadly very much inferior to any I've had in America. Hardly any flavor! But maybe that's what we get for going to a guidebook-recommended place..maybe it was selected for its blandness/suitability to the Australians who wrote the book's palates. I also had a lassi there, which was quite thin and disappointing...I suspect that of being what got me sick, it was kind of warm and had an odd consistency.
Speaking of lassi, some places have "special" lassi on the menu. One girl in our group had the banana flavored one at our hotel in Agra, and reviewed it positively. It was only 10 cents more than the regular banana lassi!
So far I think I've only had one cup of chai that had any spices in it. Mostly what we get is just very milky and very sweet.