Posts Tagged ‘Jaipur’

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Lindsay: Program and plans overview

December 16, 2011
I just thought I would give you all an general overview of the program I am in and what my plans are when I arrive in India:
The program I am in is called MSID or Minnesota Studies in International Development.  I will leave on January 15 and I’ll get back on May 20.  I am going with a group of about 15 other college students, most from the U of M but a couple who are not.
I will first be arriving in New Delhi, which is in the north west part of India.  From there we will drive north about an hour as a group up to Jaipur (located in the state of Rajasthan), where we will stay for the remainder of the program.
I will be taking classes (taught in English by Indian professors) for the first 6 weeks of the program.  At this time, I will also be staying with a host family from India.  Throughout this time, my group will travel to places on the weekends such as the Taj Mahal, the slums, and bazaars (or malls for shopping, but they are more like the style of flee or farmers markets).
For the last 6 weeks of the program, I will be interning in Jaipur.  At this point in time, I am not sure where or what my internship will be because it is developed alongside people from the city when I arrive.  However, I will have a different host family during this six weeks.
The program itself ends on the 22nd of April.  From then until about May 20th, a small group of girls from my program as well as myself will be traveling around India.  We hope to make it to the the Himalayas for some hiking, the island of Goa, and hopefully to Mumbai.  At this point, we do not have anything set in stone as far as destinations and approximate times for anything.  It is so cheap to get around in India, we are going to take our time and explore everything and anything we want to. 
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Emily: Farewell, Pinky

October 17, 2011

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep – while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

-E.A.P.

and as I am in India  I’ve got to include some Rabindranath Tagore…

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”

Ahem, & now for a mouthful of my own less beautiful words…

A few bold stars poke their faces through the haze to listen to the spastic base drum and crackle of fireworks, the splash and clank fuss of nighttime chores, and myriad of beepity-beeps and honk-honks answering the crickets’ chorus far below…low and sweet, a bluegrass tune weeps from Mary’s windowsill, softly whispering ”goodbye, old friend.”  Jaipur lends it no ear, not the slightest hesitation to acknowledge these rolling stones singing farewell, collecting their moss as they prepare to disperse…

Seventy seven days well spent, one more in my pocket, waiting to buy up what it can; the final hours of class time, a trip to the post office, one more family dinner, and perhaps a few hours of sleep.  Beyond that?  Nothing is certain.  “Arrangements have been made” – for me that will mean an internship with a relatively well known NGO (Jagran Jan Vikas Samiti) based in Udaipur, southern Rajasthan.  Where will I be staying?  In the city?  In the middle of nowhere? What will I be doing?  Your guess is as good as mine, so I venture forth expecting nothing and hoping for a little more than that – hoping I’ll be of good use to a small part of the world soon.

Mere Parivar (minus Ayush, Taron, Anol, Vlinda, etc.)

Jaipur, you’ve been a real treat.  I shall miss the familiarity of my neighborhood, the crowded streets of Raja Park that I’ve learned to navigate with ease on my quests for snacks and endless sights, and the sanctuary of my host family’s home…coming home to a sitting room filled with the enchanting sitar’s voice, home-cooked meals warm on the table or packed in my Tiffin, the chuckling Moti (our family servant) flip-flopping round the house on hyper-extended stick-like legs, the refuge of my bedroom and the privilege of a private bathroom – all mine for the puking in.  The repetitive, pointless lectures, the ass-grabbing and cat calls…the easily identifiable Piss Wall……these I might not miss so much.

Perhaps in a week or two I’ll venture back…celebrate the lights and spirit of Dewali with my humble hosts…join them for a family wedding in Agra…if time and new authority figures permit.  I wager time will be made and authority figures will be charmed, if necessary.  Two months snapped by, and in retrospective whiplash all I can muster is that “life is short, but long enough.” In six weeks and some odd change the first semester will be over, zip, ho gaya, finito. I’ll be halfway through my Indian pie….er, samosa.  In the words of Ramaji, “wha-teva, wha-teva.” Christmas in Kerala, New Years in Goa?…ancient ruins, crowded cities, white sandy beaches and maybe a couple surf boards?…aw yea, I smile and nod.  Two and half months have gone by and I’m still not entirely sure I’m awake.

If this blog has left you sourly unsatisfied, perhaps this will hit the spot? – a short celebration of the adventure I’m about to embark upon…

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Mary: a red fort, a white tomb, and a blonde girl

October 10, 2011

The second weekend following our return from Dharamsala, the group was itching for another adventure. We had all enjoyed a little respite in Jaipur with home cooked meals and chai three times a day, but a short break from school work and a change of scenery was definitely now in order. As we were all in the process of deciding which direction to head out in, I heard that my roommate from Richmond, Georgia, who also happens to be studying abroad in India this semester in a program in New Delhi, was planning to visit the Taj Mahal that weekend. Hoping against hope that I might get to meet up with her, I decided to accompany the group of 8 other students going to Agra. The rest of the students in the group were all newbie students – none of the other pre-session girls I was used to travelling with, so I was excited to get to know them all better!

We set out at 5 am on Saturday, taking a train to arrive in the city by around 11 that morning. It was the first time any of the new students had ridden on the train so I felt a bit like a mother duckling shepherding her chicks around as I took them to the right platform and helped us all find our seats. We arrived in Agra without any hassle and lassoed up a few auto rickshaws to take us to our hotel. Driving through the streets of Agra, I was pretty unimpressed. It was just as noisy and at least twice as dirty as Jaipur and seemed to be catering primarily to tourists, not surprisingly. But our hotel was very lovely, with a rooftop restaurant which offered my very first view of the most famous monument to love ever created – the Taj Mahal. One of India’s ancient Mogul rulers built the Taj as a memorial and tomb for his favorite wife and was later buried there himself. I must say that despite my poor first impression, the Taj made the trip to Agra completely worth it though at present I’ll save my description for a few lines down the page.

After lunch and a short rest, we headed off for an afternoon of site-seeing. Our first stop was the Red Fort, Agra’s second most popular attraction. Though not as impressive as the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur in my opinion, the Red Fort is certainly a beautiful palace, with many stories of great historical interest milling about its corridors. The inner courtyard garden was my favorite part, both because it was utterly gorgeous and also because the little chipmunk-squirrels found all over India were so used to people there that they would come and eat right out of your hand! They were positively adorable creatures and left me quite smiley and giddy and seriously wishing I could bring one home. The Red Fort also offers a stunning view of the Taj from a distance, made doubly attractive by the wide river flowing alongside the two monuments.

We then left the fort and made our way towards the gleaming white beauty in the distance. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes and paying a rather exorbitant foreigners fee of 750 rupees compared to the Indian nationals fee of 20 rupees, we had finally reached the outer gate to the Taj. Despite having seen countless pictures and even catching distance glimpses from the top of my hotel and the Red Fort, nothing could have prepared me for the splendor of the striking white marble rising up before my eyes as I walked through that gate. You could palpably feel the collective admiration emanating from hundreds of people, both Indians and foreigners alike, gazing up in wonder. I felt very small and very young sitting in the shadow of its great and layered past. We spent about two hours wandering through the surrounding gardens and making a few trips inside to see the two tombs resting in the dark interior. We watched the sun set tranquilly from the top steps and only made our way out when it started to get dark. All in all, it was a truly brilliant experience and I am so glad I’ve been lucky enough to see one of the many great wonders of this world! We spent a relaxing evening at the hotel, sitting on the roof eating delicious Indian food, having a few beers and getting to know each other a little better.

The next morning we set out to explore some of the more well known bazaars around Agra, though the shopping was sub-par compared to Jaipur. We finally decided to get some lunch and I very enthusiastically suggested we head to the McDonalds in the center of town (anyone who knows me in the slightest may find this very strange and out of character but you will soon why). Walking into that small, unassuming McDonalds in Agra I made perhaps the biggest spectacle of myself I have yet to make in India. Imagine, please, two very enthusiastic, very noticeably American (one of whom is very blonde), very squealy girls rushing towards each other at full steam ahead, colliding in the middle of a very crowded restaurant and proceeding to jump up and down vigorously while hugging. Now add in happiness vibes multiplied by a million and you have the reunion of George and Marv (aka Georgia Sills and Mary Brickle). It was wonderful beyond words to see my lovely Richmond roommate Georgia! We sat and exchanged stories for about half an hour as her group finished eating and it made me so exquisitely happy to see a familiar face that I was walking on sunshine for the rest of the day. The train ride home that evening offered another chance to talk to people I was missing in my life as my family called and chatted for a good hour. Apparently at some point during the ride home that evening there was an earthquake which had an epicenter near Sikkim, which is considerably far north but apparently you could feel it all the way in Agra so I’m guessing the motion of the train kept me from noticing anything. When we finally made it back to Jaipur we were all exhausted and had to be up early the next morning to head out for a three day field trip with school so after Rama-Ji stuffed me full of food and sent me upstairs I very graciously climbed into my bed, noting with a smile how nice it felt to be able to call someplace in India home.

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Mary: Tales from Dharamsala

September 9, 2011

I’ve been trying to write about our epic Dharamsala escapade for the last few weeks but I just kept getting (surprise) side-tracked. For the most part though, things have been pretty quiet in Jaipur since we got back. I’ve mainly just been focusing on school, which we have from 9:30 to 4:30 every day, and reading in my free time. They’ve really amped up the Hindi lessons! We’ve finally transitioned away from the English transcription system we were using to read and learn new vocab words and now we just write everything in the script! I’m incredibly excited because it finally feels like I’m making significant progress with Hindi but it’s also a lot harder than I expected! It feels so strange to struggle through each individual word, slowly pronouncing the sound each letter makes. It really is like being in kindergarten and learning to read all over again. But still, it’s so thrilling to finally be able to read and write in such a strange and beautiful new language!

Anyways, I’m mainly writing this post to share the story of my journey in Dharamsala! I shall start off my swash-buckling account of the small hill station in the northernmost reaches of this vast and wondrous country with the simple and beautiful truth – we didn’t really do much of anything that week. Though I am sure a collective note of confusion may now be heard rising up from the befuddled peanut gallery, allow me to explain. Fact: the city of Jaipur is exhilarating and fills me each and every day with a sense of awe and admiration for the multitude of ways that humans have come to call this planet we live on home. Unfortunately, I believe that in that week leading up to our departure for the north, I had come to experience firsthand a little phenomenon, all too familiar amongst foreign travelers to India, known as “sensory overload”. I was getting a bit, shall we say, frazzled. I was more than ready for a little vacation to somewhere that wasn’t exceedingly hot and wasn’t plagued with the constant blare of traffic horns. Regrettably, the roughly 30 hour rickshaw-train-rickshaw-train-bus-ricksaw ride it took to get from Jaipur to Delhi to Pathankot to Dharamsala was, quite frankly, miserable. I don’t think I’ve ever had feelings of being dirty, sleepy, hungry, and grouchy combine in as great a magnitude as they did that first evening in Dharamsala. To top it all off, as we wandered the streets looking for a hotel, it was dark and pouring down rain. However, good news is that when things start off going that poorly, they can really only improve. We finally found a hotel, negotiated a reasonable rate for the six of us, had a hot meal (complete with carrot cake and chai) in the upstairs café, took pleasantly warm showers and crawled into very comfortable beds and immediately fell asleep.

The next morning, all troubles of the day before were negated and negligible upon our first look out the window. It was indescribably magical. I actually had the feeling of being in some other world where prayer flags wave invitingly from the forests, tiny little women beckon me forward to feel the yak wool shawls they have just finished knitting, monks with shaved heads draped in curtains of brightest saffron orange meander through the streets and the clouds normally drift down to say nameste and hang lazily about all morning. It was also on this first morning that I had one of my most memorable experiences in India to date.

Hannah and I had gotten separated from the rest of the group, lingering a bit longer at some little shop. We were walking down the street, looking for breakfast when a small boy with thin, ungainly limbs and a wide but crooked smile stepped out of the shadows of the early morning mist, eager to chat. “Hallo!” he called, “How do you like Dharamsala? You are travelers? Where are you from?” He reeled of a series of questions, determined to demonstrate his mastery of the English language, hoping to keep us engaged. We were used to this type of behavior from the local street children, the pestering attention this boy was giving us, and I had a very strong feeling he was about to seek our charity. But I could feel something different about this boy, something more genuine. Perhaps it was his persistent yet determinedly casual knack for keeping up a conversation, or the fact that he did not immediately hold out his hand and ask for money, like so many others, which caused me to pay him a bit more attention. As we meandered down the small street, poking our heads into shops selling everything from yak cheesecake to singing bowls, we continued in the boy’s company. A solid ten minutes went by without him asking for anything. It was only when Hannah and I eventually found and were about to enter a restaurant for breakfast that the boy spoke up, “Please madams I was curious, I will not ask for money, but if you would buy me some rice before going in?” Since my arrival in India it has been my personal decision to refuse to give money to beggars but occasionally if I have a piece of fruit or pack of crackers with me I will pass it on. As the boy stared up at me with silent pleading eyes, I found myself answering his question with one of my own, “Would you like to come to breakfast with us?” He looked hesitant; I could see him weighing in his mind the price of missing out on potential tourists against the luxury of a warm meal. Keen to hear more of this boy’s story, I offered the added promise of buying him a bag of rice afterwards if he came with us, which did the trick. We sat down at a table outside with an excellent view of the surrounding mountains and launched into conversation. I learned that his name was Suratch and that he had lived in Dharamsala all his life. He lived with his older brother and his wife, a younger sister, and his mother. He was 11 years old and had never been to school. He told me he learned English from talking to tourists, and he promptly rattled off phrases in French and “Israeli” (which I took to be Hebrew), saying those were the most common languages he heard besides English. When I asked why he wasn’t in school he looked a bit confused and said simply “I am needed at home”. When it came time to order our food, he explained that while he would rather have the chocolate pancakes, they would be gone like that (with a snap of the fingers) and so he would like to have the porridge with bananas because it would be a better meal. We continued to chat through the rest of breakfast about nothing in particular; it felt a bit like meeting a new kid I was babysitting for the first time. As we left the restaurant and I took Suratch to a nearby food stall to buy his promised bag of rice, we were laughing together at the monkeys and he promised that he was going to marry me next time I returned to Dharamsala. When at last we shook hands goodbye, he looked me in the eyes with an enormous smile and said earnestly “I thank you Mary, I thank you, you are so nice, I won’t forget!” Watching him walk away, I was filled with genuine sadness that I wouldn’t see him again. I honestly cannot tell you why that particular morning I decided to spend around 500 rupees to buy breakfast and a bag of rice for a street kid, when every other morning on my way to school I walk unblinkingly past dozens of women and children holding upturned palms in my direction. I can, however, guarantee that the memory of sharing a meal with the little boy who gave me a glimpse of unadulterated human goodness was well worth it. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Mary: Peaceful but passionate protests

August 25, 2011

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the anti-corruption movement currently on the rise here in India for a little over a week now.  A man named Anna Hazare, one of India’s most well known and respected social activists, began a hunger strike 10 days ago with demands that the government introduce an anti-corruption bill to the congress, currently convened for the “monsoon session”. Corruption is one of the biggest social and political problems facing India today, with bribes and favoritism found at every level of government, from getting a drivers license to the appointment of top government offices. Rama-Ji told Emily and I the story of how our servant Moti’s brother went to college and actually got his teaching degree and wanted to go teach in a rural village. He applied and was awarded appointment to the staff, an arduous process with multiple tests and complicated application procedures, but in the end the government told him had to pay the equivalent of nearly 10 years salary just to be able to take the position! It was completely outrageous. So in the end, Moti’s brother had to take a position as a servant in a house as well and is slowly trying to earn enough money to pay for more schooling so that he can become a teacher in a private institution instead of a government one. So in response to thousands upon thousands, a truly countless number, of examples such as this, Anna Hazare is trying to pass a bill which will facilitate the creation of an anti-corruption task force that is independent of the government and would be capable of punishing instances of corruption even at the highest levels. The entire nation is behind Hazare, with peaceful demonstrations and mass gatherings being held in every major city and roughly 25,000 people gathering at the park in New Delhi where Hazare is currently conducting his fast. The tension is growing more and more each day as Hazare’s health deteriorates and the government does not seem any closer to taking action.

The main sticking point of the bill is that no level of government is exempt from the scrutiny of the anti-corruption authority, including even the prime minister and highest judicial courts. In fact, there is already a bill introduced in congress that proposes the creation of an independent anti-corruption authority but leaves out these top positions from falling under its jurisdiction. The government is worried that including these positions will undermine the authority of the Indian government and put the country at risk. “Team Anna” (as most of the TV stations here are calling the Hazare supporters), feels that not to include these highest offices would be to ignore the corruption which takes place at the highest levels and essentially give them a free pass to continue. So they have taken to burning copies of the “weak” form of the bill in the streets and sticking strongly to their demands of the full fledged bill coming into play. So today, towards the end of day 10 of the scheduled 15 day fast, the country is at a crossroads. The headlines of every major news paper and news network here have been focusing on little else besides the protests in support of Hazare. It truly has become a nationwide fight against corruption that is affecting the lives of every single Indian citizen in a personal way. It’s the topic of conversation every night at our dinner table and there have even been people walking down my street shouting out slogans in support of Hazare, one of which Rama-Ji translated as “Victory to Mother India”. I’m not sure what level of media attention this movement is receiving in the states, but I wanted to let everyone know how important it has become here and I encourage everyone to follow the progress of the movement over the next few days. This could turn out to be a very decisive time in Indian history and quite honestly it’s really exciting to be here in the midst of it!

In other not so important news tomorrow is the last day of Hindi class! I’m can’t believe how quickly the end of my pre-session has snuck up on me. Not that I haven’t been learning copious amounts of foreign language but, to be blunt, I’m more than ready for regular classes to start and to not have to be doing 4 straight hours of Hindi a day. Classes are going to resume Sept. 1, but from tomorrow afternoon until then, we have a nice long break! So the 5 other girls who are staying for the semester and I are all going on a weeklong trip to the far reaches of northern India to a magical place nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas known as Dharamsala! It is the home of the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetan government and also a fantastic place to go trekking. I’m really looking forward to some cooler weather (it looks like it’s going to be in the 70s while we’re there) and a good long hike up into the mountains.

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Emily: Anna Hazaare, face of the Indian revolution?

August 25, 2011

I wanted to note: Invigorating times in the political history of India! I’m quite excited to be here as the struggle for anti-corruption unfolds before my eyes every evening on the television and every morning in the newspapers.  Anna Hazare, a political activist for transparency and consequences for government actions, was arrested this morning in Delhi as he continued his fast for a strong Lokpal Bill (which would put government officials in check). The arrest itself was unconstitutional, putting the democratic right to protest in question, and has stirred massive protests. Moved by the people, thousands of which were arrested across India, the government plans to release Anna this evening, but he will continue his fast until suitable negotiations are made. Just so you can get an idea of how government corruption affects the lives of everyday people…my family’s servant, Moti, has an elder brother who came to help fumigate the kitchen this weekend. Strange, it would seem, that someone who has a undergraduate degree would be working as a servant, yes? Well, upon receiving his baccalaureate he applied for a government position, and his application was well received. Upon interviewing personally for the position, he was viewed as an optimum candidate – upon one condition: to receive the job he would have to pay the government Rs 20,000! That’s roughly $450 USD, but to a poor man who makes Rs 7,500 a month and has mouths to feed, you can see how this meager government position fee (illegally imposed) is preposterous. And that’s just at the ground level, the higher you move up into governmental positions, the thicker the heap of corruption can grow, I’m afraid. Let’s all have India’s people in our hearts and minds as they move through these difficult times; may the voice of the people be heard and may their hopes become the future.  And save a little bit of hope for me, please, (just a tiny drop) as somewhere between the visa agency and the India consulate, my visa came back to her 4 months shorter than it should have been! In all likelihood I should be able to get a three month extension on it, but no more than that…perhaps I will wander off to Nepal if India would only allow me to return for my flight home…

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Emily: A fresh perspective

August 18, 2011

The blue city of Jodhpur; purpose in the painting?…cools homes & acts as an effective insect repellant…who knew?

Growing antsy from two weeks of being punctual and polite in the confines of the Kanota Bagh neighborhood of Jaipur, Emily and her six comrades set off for the train station on a drizzly Friday morning.  They hauled their packs with excitement, traipsing down Devi Path to the main road.  There they haggle with hurried rickshaw drivers who honked loudly as they pulled up to the trashed covered curb. Finally settling on an agreeable price, the girls piled into two yellow and green rickshaws with tiny posters of pretty girls plastered to their worn out interiors.  A surprising amount of Jaipur was hustling and bustling for Rakhi, the celebration of brothers and sisters, despite the misty rain which usually kept them inside near a warm cup of chai.  The train station they reached was packed with honking motorists and pushy pedestrians passing through security gates.  Images of terrorists, bombs, and overturned railway carts flashed through Emily’s mind momentarily as the slightly confused but jovial team found their way to the second platform.  Arriving a half hour early for the train, they sat in a circle and feasted their eyes on the colorful sights around them.  Women in shimmering saris mingled with flea-bitten mutts and hormone ridden teenagers who felt no guilt in staring at the mix of North American women.  An hour after their train was scheduled to arrive, the group had grown silent, taking up their Sodoku puzzles and flipping through old magazines from home.  Emily watched with a smile on her face as a tiny toddler toddled around the skirts of his mother in shoes that squeaked with every step.  When his round hazel eyes found hers, he squeaked over to have a babbly conversation and smile at her peek-a-boo faces.  His mother followed his squeaky steps to retrieve him, but when she saw how much they were enjoying each other, she decided it would be best if they parted with a proper goodbye and instructed the wee one to give Emiy a kiss.  The softest, wettest  baby kiss was planted squarely on her cheek and then he squeak, squeak, squeaked out of her life, down the platform to his father and luggage, never to know what a treat she thought her first Indian kiss was.

Not long after, the big blue Marudhar Express screeched to a halt in front of the gathering crowd of passengers, so Emily and friends pushed their way to dirty benches which doubled as sleeping bunks.  “How refreshing to be going!” Emily thought as the breeze came in through the barred windows and she climbed to the top bunk with her ipod and Hindi homework in hand.  From her high position she watched like a house cat as her new found friends jumped to capture the pastoral scenery whizzing by with their cameras, as the whizzers whizzed wherever they pleased in the trash cluttered towns, and as young men crowded the windows of their cart at every stop to see the circus of white women inside.  The pale-skinned lot snacked on chapatis and cookies packed by their humble hosts in Jaipur and gave some of their loot away to the beggars that made sure to spend ample time in their section of the car.


a gaggle of train station boyz “welcomed” them at every stop

where Jodhpur’s water supply had once been, trash and one giant catfish now reside

They arrived in the blue city of Jodhpur without any hiccups, only to be swarmed by more rickshawalas and hungry children. Fearful to fish out any cash here, the girls huddled in the midst of the ever encroaching crowd as Sam tried desperately to contact their hotel driver and Emily gave out the last of her Luna bars to a little girl in dirty clothes.  Food was far better to give out than money anyhow, as the children often worked for some kind of “pimp”, but Emily felt guilty as she stood there with her cell phone, I-pod, and “essentials” of life on her back. What did she do to be so lucky that she didn’t have to spend her childhood begging on a dirty platform of dying dogs and maddened men? Her childhood was filled with inflatable swimming pools, conversations with her favorite trees in her front yard, Cheerio snacks, and bread crumbs fed to ducks on a river. And now, here she was, on vacation from her perpetual vacation. A tourist in a town where the young and old went to bed with their bellies aching. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Mary: “curiouser and curiouser”

August 13, 2011

Of late I have found myself pondering what a very strange and curious concept time can become here in India. The watch on my wrist ardently claims to be on intimate terms with the precise time and date and yet I constantly question its faithfulness. How can it be that even when it tells me that class should have started five minutes ago, teachers and students alike are still casually sitting around the library, sipping chai? Or what of the fact that while my first day here seemed to stretch out long and lanky, invading at least three or four neighboring days time, this past week has seemed to gather its things all in a rush and exit promptly through Friday afternoon’s back door? Perhaps during the strange dimly lit hours of Tuesday and Wednesday, when the electricity was caught in a continuous cycle of fading and surging, time managed to steal away and get some work done ahead of schedule before slipping unnoticed back into its place just as the power returned. I must admit the time disease seems to be an eternal epidemic though, extending far beyond the house on Devi Path where I have recently taken up residence. How else could you possibly explain the rickshaw-wallah who weaves his cycle between horse-carts and cows while talking on his cell phone, or the procession of hundreds of elaborately decorated and barefoot people who, on a pilgrimage to the sacred places of India, stop traffic for hours on one of the largest highways in the city as they pass by the Ganesh temple in Jaipur? Indeed the phenomenon seems to stretch back as far as the beginning of recorded history when we consider how in the Hindi language a single word, kul, means both tomorrow and yesterday and parso can stand for either the day before yesterday or the day after tomorrow. The conference of ancient civilization with modern metropolis is a phenomenon rarely experience or truly understood in America and the thing I am finding most marvelously baffling about India.

Aside from the time travel sickness though, I’ve had quite a wonderful week! Allow me the pleasure of backtracking from Friday’s back door to the rainy early morning of Monday. I finally figured out (after a ludicrous but largely accurate reenactment for Rama-Ji at the breakfast table) that the unearthly EEEEAHHHH bird call which wakes me so early every morning is in fact a peacock. This actually makes me quite happy and I have nearly managed complete forgiveness for the creature. On Tuesday, most of the other students and I went to a little coffee shop called Mr. Beans, perhaps the most “westernized” place I’ve seen yet in Jaipur, to study Hindi. We had all been seriously craving coffee (especially Lauren, who’s from Seattle) and were thrilled to have a few hours to stumble over the pronunciation of our vocab words away from the scrutinizing looks of our professors. The return trip also allowed for my very first experience in the back of an auto-rickshaw! It was very much like being in a tiny roller coaster that smelled simultaneously of curry and cow patties, and yet it was not entirely unpleasant.

On Thursday, we took a small school field trip into the old city area of Jaipur. We had to stop at the Foreign Registration Office (F.R.O.) to pick up our passports and acquire the official temporary residence cards which are required for anyone staying in India longer than 6 months (technically this doesn’t include us but just to be on the safe side, MSID always has their students apply). When we got there we were all quite surprised to find that the building seemed to be on fire. Despite the nonchalant attitudes of the faculty standing in a circle outside, we were obviously very concerned. Luckily, before any of us tried to call the fire department (not that we would have any idea how to anyways) Rishi-Ji explained they were actually in the middle of a pooja, a religious ceremony in which a large cleansing fire is built, and it was taking place in the courtyard next to the building. The area of the old city where the F.R.O. had been built actually used to be a temple and so once a year, a priest was brought into the building to perform the pooja, to continue to honor the sacred land. We ended up having to wait for about half an hour, watching as the priest went around to each member of the faculty gathered outside and prayed over them, placing the bindi on their forehead. The fact that all of this was happening, unannounced, at an official government building seemed quite strange to me but Rishi-Ji just called it a “true taste of India” experience which made me smile.

After the F.R.O. office we went deeper into the old city, where the main market place, called Johari Bazaar, is found. We wound our into the side alleys and back through what seemed like several centuries, what with the tiny little cubbyhole shops and fruit stands which looked like they had been around since before the East India Company first made anchor off the western coast, again leaving my sense of time wildly out of whack, finally coming to the specific part of the market where bangles, known in Hindi as churis, are made. We were actually lucky enough to stumble across one shop where the artisan was deeply engrossed in his work. Indian bangles, usually made of wood, silver, gold, or other metals, have a specific wax, called lakh, placed around the inside rim of the bangle. This wax is especially revered in the Hindu faith and it is considered improper for a woman to allow a “naked” bangle to touch her skin, without the special inner layer of lakh added. It was really a beautiful process. The man sat cross-legged next to a tiny little portable stove with hot coals on top and a small flame in the middle. He slowly heated a stick of wax over the coals, pausing a couple of times a minute to flatten and elongate the stick with a heavy square of metal with a handle on top. When it reached roughly the desired length, he took a golden bangle and wrapped the lakh under the inner lip, cutting the wax at the appropriate length. Finally, he twisted the bangle on a large wooden rolling pin to press the wax in tight as it dried. It was mesmerizing to watch, the man knew his work so well he could probably have done it with his eyes closed. The adeptness with which he moved his nimble fingers left me staring incredulously.

Back at school that day, our professor told us how all bangle makers actually belong to a specific caste, known as the munivar and that each successive generation amongst a family of that caste will continue to be bangle makers. There are actually hundreds of occupational castes like this one, from utensil makers to house sweepers even to gymnast circus performers, which really surprised me and led me to realize I really have no idea how comprehensive the caste system is. Later that night, when Emily and I were recounting our field trip for Rama-Ji she told us that most people don’t refer to the bangle makers as the munivar though, simply as belonging to the working caste. I’m sure I’m hardly even beginning to comprehend the complexity of this strange social stratification system though, it just seems like the more I learn the less I know.  I’m also feeling the same way about Hindi. It’s honestly mind boggling how very little Hindi I know. It’s very unnerving to start a language completely from scratch, especially one as foreign to me as Hindi. Having taken French for nearly five years now and being used to language classes where I can at least vaguely understand what’s going on around me, it’s been quite difficult to go back to absolute square one. On the other hand, I am really surprised how much I have learned in just twelve days! I can sort of carry on a basic introductory conversation with someone and I now know how to bargain the price of something in Hindi. Also, I must say that I am absolutely in love with the Devanagari script. It looks so beautiful and ancient, like a cryptic message from some lost civilization.

This weekend is one of the largest festivals of the year, known as Rakhi. It is the festival of the relationship between brothers and sisters, a most wonderful reason to celebrate if I’ve ever heard one! Sisters buy these special red string bracelets with little beads on them to tie around the wrist of their brothers on Rakhi day and give them lots of sweet treats and sometimes small gifts. In return, the brothers give their sisters money. There are parades in the streets and feasts throughout the day. Rama-Ji has been shopping all day today and yesterday in preparation for her visit to her brother’s house tomorrow. She said the all the students at the university today were in joyful, festive moods and could hardly focus on their studies. Unfortunately, Emily and I will miss the parades and such because seven of us students are going on a weekend trip to the city of Jodhpur, roughly 500 kilometers to the southwestish. It’s more of a desert city than Jaipur and the second largest city in the state of Rajasthan, so it promises to certainly be an adventure. Plus, we are taking the train! A “true taste of India” experience I have been looking forward to for quite some time now!

Oh, and just in case anyone didn’t catch the reference in the title, it’s taken from the following line in Alice in Wonderland (which I reread this week just for the fun of it): “Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). I felt it captured quite neatly the feel of this post. 

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Emily: You make your own rose garden

August 13, 2011

If my life were a garden, it would be full of brilliantly colored flowers, the sweet aromas of my memories, and all my favorite songs and sounds would float through the air.  I gasp sometimes at how awesome life can be – sure I have my low points: times when the garden feels like a maze of dark thoughts which petrify me, but without this the flower petals might become dull in my mind.  Speaking of my mind – it needs to slow down!  I’m like a PC on the fritz…somebody needs to press ctrl-alt-delete and end some of the processes so I can function enough to deliver my messages.

you never know when a peacock may land at your gate…

a manihar man making lakh chuli (special bangles)

one of many bangle shops in a long alley near City Palace

Today I awoke from the loveliest dream, emerging from the depths of a cool turquoise lake into the sparkling sunlight of reality.  I took another bucket shower, (yes, I’ve been sweating up a storm; yes I’ve been disgustingly dirty; no, I don’t mind…I’m on a mission to use as little water as possible) using hot water to warm myself in the early morning.  After breakfast, Mary and I wandered to school. The weather was perfect: cloudy and cool—hardly broke a sweat.  Our lead Hindi teacher (Sheila-ji of France) was absent today, but our native Hindi teacher (Harusch-ji) was a real treat acting as the head instructor, so I was quite pleased.  We cut our Hindi lesson short for a field trip near City Palace, where the old Rajasthani rajas (kings) once lived.  In fact, their descendants still occupy the palace, but their “royalty” is more for decoration than anything else – their main duty being to orchestrate festivals, parades, and the like.  The purpose of our trip was to pick up our passports and registration papers from the Foreigners Registration Office as well as take a visit to see how churi (lakh bangles) are made.  The FRO is located in the former temple of Shiva, the god of destruction – I found it a little ironic/comical that a government office decided to occupy that area.  As a respect to Shiva, the FRO was recognizing this day as a tribute to him, so the office was temporarily shut down and we had to wait outside the gate until the ceremony ended.  Standing around in a circle, we all got to talking and our intermediate level Hindi teacher, Rasheet-ji, brought up a very poignant message…

I’m sure you’ve heard by now of the riots taking place in London. From what I’ve heard (and please correct me if I’m wrong, I’d love for this to be a forum for discussion rather than a monologue) police brutality which resulted in the death of a young man has ignited the fire for revolt in the hearts and minds of the young, the oppressed, the disadvantaged.  All it took was one little spark in this Western world where people felt they lacked opportunity to progress, and the streets were ablaze with violence.  Not necessarily the best way to voice your opinion of injustice, but that’s the way history changes, sometimes it’s the only means for getting a response it seems.

In other places of the world, like in India as Rasheet-ji said, people have lived oppressed lives for centuries, waiting for change, dutiful in their birth-given positions, and hopeful that life would improve with patience and tolerance.  In the last ten years, with the globalization of goods and information increasing at light speed, more social change has occurred here than in the last century altogether.  Meaning those who are able to lift themselves up have been able to seek out better lives.  And they’ve done it with mucho gusto – Indian intellectuals outshine their Western counterparts in mathematics, sciences, and even in the English language (read it for yourself!). My ninth grade host brother, Ayush, looks like a genius compared to me.

Of course, there are still rows of sleeping people lining the streets, poor health conditions and limited opportunities for the poor to become anything else. I’ve been researching NREGA, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act as part of my quest to find out why things are the way they are; the middle class here in Rajasthan seem to think that the poor beggars who line our streets aren’t truly poor – and perhaps they are correct. I’m sure there are people in much worse conditions as you travel further from the cities. You can read the act here or visit the website. But from what I’ve been reading about the it, there are a lot of loopholes that would keep rural workers from being able to get this menial wage for (only allowed 100 days of the minimum wage set in 1948 per family, regardless of family size) and even if they do, it doesn’t seem like enough for them to gain any kind of social leverage without adequate knowledge on HOW to do so. And many people might not even KNOW about the act if they are not literate, and then of course the act doesn’t even apply to inner city residents…only so many people can afford to send their children to school, and the competition for higher education is very high.  You can certainly feel the tension if you look around, and there are definitely acts of “terrorism” committed by people who feel they are oppressed if you do your research.  The world is a shrinking place, and every person wants a chunk of it to themselves (not everyone of course, there are those who don’t think that way)…but is there enough to go around?  I think there is.  Maybe not in the material sense – not everyone can have a hot shower every day of the week, not everyone can live like a movie star, and it’s simply not sustainable.  But everyone can have enough to survive; food to eat, freedom to be spiritual, to be a healthy human.  Easier said than done of course – I’m speaking ideally (yes…I’m a romantic idealist, I realize this) BUT if everyone practiced tolerance, patience, and planted seeds of kindness, then great trees of good would grow from it and the human race would be fruitful.  I realize I’ve gone off on yet another rant…the point that Rasheet-ji brought up outside the FRO was that for the world to live in harmony, human beings need to find a balance.  Everyone is racing towards the finish line like little kids in the egg-and-spoon race; you may get to the finish line first, but if you drop the egg you’ve lost.  Everyone is trying to get to the top, but without finding harmony with others…

To me, finding that harmony with others starts with finding peace and balance in your own life.  Sure, work, school, family, and friends may stress you out – you may fail sometimes, life may bring you down, and you may feel like no one cares about you, but YOU.  What did you expect though?  No one is going to pick you flowers every day. You have to make your own rose garden.  Cherish all the things you do have (which if you’re reading this is probably a lot) and whenever you can, pick a flower from your garden and give it to someone else.  Imagine what a sight to the see the world would be.

Other than that, I also had a friend from Minnesota visit me today, which was quite nice – Rama-ji insisted he stay for lunch and stuffed him full of curry, chapati, dal, rice, and ice cream before he left to catch his train ride to more adventures. After lunch my classmates and I booked our own train tickets to Jodhpur for this weekend.  YAY!  Our first little adventure outside Jaipur!  We’ve have been excitedly looking for adventurous things to do – camel rides?! Champagne dinners in the desert!?  Sleeping in tents on the rooftop of a hotel?!  Whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll be another fulfilling experience. . . I feel bad sometimes, talking about all the fun things I’m getting to do…but you can do it too!  All you have to do is have a dream and fight for it – that’s how India started for me!

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Emily: You may say I’m a dreamer…

August 11, 2011

Last night I dreamt that my good friend Ashley and I were waltzing around a grocery store – and what started as innocent sampling of grapes and cherries evolved into a full-blown rampage of thievery.  We stuffed cookies, cake mix, pickle jars – anything we could find into our mouths and clothing.  From what I’ve read on dream interpretations, dreaming of stealing forewarns fiscal difficulties in the future.  However, getting CAUGHT stealing implies good fortune, which in fact was how our blitz ended; the security guard near the checkout had been watching our antics on camera all along.  I’m not one to buy into superstition and such, but I still hoped the latter was true and good luck is coming.  Strangely, I did decide to pay for a single pomegranate in my dream…haven’t found any meaning in that as of yet.  In other interpretations I’ve read that being a thief in dreams is a sign that the dreamer feels they are lacking something, perhaps freedom of choice or lack of morals, or that you feel you are being closely watched and are fearful of intruding on the personal space of others – which defines how I’ve been feeling quite accurately.  Indian culture is fairly conservative – showing of affection in public is frowned upon (even between mother and child), bare shoulders or knees are frowned upon (mainly by women), the parents watch closely over the actions of their children, premarital relations of any kind are socially uncouth…and if you know me at all, you might say I’m a very liberal person and have been known to say “I do what I want” from time to time.  So, afraid of offending anyone, I’ve been paying close attention  to everything I say and do, noticing all the glancing eyes and all the time feeling somewhat trapped.  Luckily, the longer I’ve been here the more I’ve come to realize that the family I live in is very open, very honest, and has had a lot of experience with foreigners; welcoming students into their home for the last 10 or 12 years.  It has definitely taken some adjusting, but perhaps a bit of taming would be good for me.  I’m starting to settle into a bit of a routine – waking up very early, breakfast at 8:30, school at 9:00, lunch by 2:30, tea time at 6:00, and dinner at 8:30.  I’m more accustomed to living quite impulsively…but the structure has made me value my free time more and become very productive in studying and practicing with my lover, the ukulele.

And today I’ve once again experienced that a total 360 is possible in only hours– this morning I awoke feeling cornered, but as the sun sets I realize there are still outlets for expression, if only I utilize them.  My ladies (fellow classmates) and I took to the streets after lunch to study at a local restaurant/coffee shop, Mr. Beans.  It was nice to get out of the house, get some espresso, and converse about our school, our teachers, and what we’ve been learning – as of yet we’ve been spending a lot of time cooped up at our homestays, studying, reading, and whatnot.  I was a little put off though, I must admit.  Every where we go, there are children on the streets begging for whatever they can get (hopefully money), but as soon as we got to the coffee shop it was like the consumers in us turned on full blast, the comfortable atmosphere and aroma of coffee and cakes were admired and noted, and the children outside didn’t exist.  Imagine living a life where you are completely controlled by circumstance – born into a lower “caste” of people, made to wander the streets, begging tourists and your wealthier countrymen for aid, and more often than not, they leave you empty-handed.  I saw as a man nearly struck a small girl when she didn’t jump to approach us immediately upon seeing us.  What kind of world do these children think they live in?  I can’t wait to start working in my internship with a local NGO that aims to support and guide people who could truly use a helping hand in life.  It’s a lot more developed here than in Tanzania, but there are still many improvements to be made in the quality of life for the majority of people.  Women are sold into marriages (the man who makes the arrangements reaps all the benefits), children are married off, female infanticide due to dowry price is still a very real problem, women are tortured for being “witches”, the government lacks transparency, grain rots due to poor storage practices while thousands go hungry, and racism or residual “caste-ism” prevents people from empowering themselves and improving their own lives. 

I’ve been learning about the Hindu religion and reflecting upon the symbolism of the many gods, goddesses, and epic tales.  Vishnu, one of the supreme Hindu gods considered to be the sustainer of human life and the universe was incarnated (for the seventh time) appearing as Rama.  Rama led a humble life, even though he was a prince, and treated every man with respect.  Quite like Jesus in Christianity, he embodied what the ideal human should be.  Sometimes I think that people have gotten too wrapped up in the material things, the comforts of life, and appearing to be “godlike” when appearance is only an illusion.  The soul is what matters, the souls of others should matter, curing humanity of the darkness that curses our world should matter.  But this is, according to the Hindu time scale, the Kali Yuga, or final period in the cycle of living beings in which humanity has descended from righteousness and awareness of our inner selves.  Money, lust, jealousy, ignorance, opression…it’s all a little too much for a wee little Emily to think about sometimes.  But that’s why I’m here – I’m hoping to find a path in this life where I can bring out the best in others, the best in humanity, because I know it exists.  I know there are so many good souls out there who care, I’ve been so lucky to meet some in my life.

Anywho…enough of my preaching, I digress….Upon returning home for tea time, there was also a lot of time for chatting with Mary, Ramaji (my host mother), and Velinda (my host sister who stops to visit from time to time).  I’m feeling more and more comfortable around them every day as we exchange stories about our cultures, our families, and our experiences.  I’m so pleased with how this day has panned out, how my trip is turning out so far, and beginning to think that my dream may have represented good fortune after all.  Truly, I am so blessed to be here, to have this opportunity, and to have met such wonderful people.  I look forward to every day to come.

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