This morning I woke up out of my bed and suddenly felt cheated and was at once upset and disappointed in my parents. See, the more I am in India and the more I think about it, I realize I was robbed, starved if you will, from a fantastic childhood and it is only now that I am beginning to see the errors of my parents’ ways, as though the power outage of my youth is over and I can see things now for the first time.
My dad never walked into the house, beaming after coming home from the office, telling the whole family to go outside with that “I’ve got a little secret” tone in his voice that would have us anxiously waiting until the commercial break of “I Dream of Jeannie” when we would run outside, temporarily jamming each other in the doorway to see what all the excitement was about. There was never a brand new, shiny late-model elephant parked in the driveway that would pick us up by her trunk and place us gently on her back, inciting giggles from my sisters and I that we would take to the drive-in restaurant where roller skating waitresses would bring us our curry burgers and masala shakes. There were no proud moments of pulling up to the school, climbing off our new ride amidst ooohs and aaahs of adoration and jealousy while at the same time stepping on all those that annoyed us. There would be no show-and tell fame, no midnight mud frolics with Mrs. Jumbo or even failed attempts at teaching her to fly by flapping her ears. I did, of course make up for that by teaching my youngest sister to walk around flapping her big ears, but that is another blog, which you can read here.
Like all the kids on our highly suburban and primary colored block, we got loads of pets which we proceeded to neglect, forget to walk or feed and at times, we even forgot their names. But who can blame us? Who wants a furry, cuddly kitten or a happy little puppy bouncing around, who is so happy to see you he pees on the floor? No wonder we lost interested. It wasn’t as if it was an Orangutan or anything remotely interesting like that. I would have settled for an Indian Rock Python, but my parents weren’t having it. Something about it eating my little sister. I still don’t see the logic (or the problem, actually) in that argument, but they continue to stick to their story in self defense.
So no matter how glossy my childhood may have appeared to the uneducated onlooker, it was an empty, dull place and I question if it was actually a place for a child at all.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
This morning I woke up out of my bed and suddenly felt cheated and was at once upset and disappointed in my parents. See, the more I am in India and the more I think about it, I realize I was robbed, starved if you will, from a fantastic childhood and it is only now that I am beginning to see the errors of my parents’ ways, as though the power outage of my youth is over and I can see things now for the first time.
Today at the office, I was on the phone, watching the monkeys playing in the tree just outside the windows. It had rained today, cooling the air and I guess that put all the little monkeys into a playful mood. They leapt here and there and only the lack of a loincloth kept me from playing Tarzan in the tree. I work on the top floor and just don’t expect to see another living creature suddenly appear before my window. But then again, I am in India and there is never a dull moment. Suddenly a monkey the size of a small elephant came leaping off the roof, his red bottom streaking the air until he grabbed the branch right in front of the window, sat down and turned and looked at me as if to say “your turn!” I was on a call and jumped back, dropped my phone and muttered something I will not repeat here.
I carry my 35mm with me almost everywhere these days and today was no exception I had it in my backpack. There was a monkey not 3 meters from me and I was going to pull a Herb Ritz and make him a star. I got my camera, opened the window, said a prayer to Ganesh that the monkey would not leap through the window, pointed my camera and brought him into focus. It was a beautiful shot with him looking right into the lens. A perfect portrait. Or it would have been. That monkey was studying me and as soon as he saw my hand start pressing the button, he leaped from branch to branch and then settled on one on the other side of the tree, hidden almost entirely by the branches. And then what does he do? He keeps poking his head around and looking at me, pulling it back as soon as I was ready to take a picture. Cheeky monkey.
When it rains in India, it doesn’t mess around. No wimpy little showers here. I have just come in from standing in the garden under the overhang, watching the sky and rain. I noticed that the thunder seemed to keep going without stopping and so I decided to start timing it… 5 minutes later it was still rolling without a pause and I got bored. The lightening also was so frequent that the sky was more light than dark, lamost like a reverse form of lightening. I have been in hurricanes, tornados, flash floods, monsoons and other storms and I have never seen anything like it in my life. I don’t know if this is normal, but it was definitely impressive. The storm came and went and now the last drops are coming down and everything smells fresh and the air is light. I am going to head out for a bit of a post rain walk and clear my head before heading off to bed.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
The riddle went something like this: Three friends are having dinner at a restaurant and the bill comes and it is 45 ruppees and then they go to the cashier to pay the bill and they are told it is only 40 rupees so they get 5 back and have to split it between 3 people. One guy takes 2 for himself and gives the others the 3 to share. 40 divided by 3 is 42 so where did the extra rupee go?
I am sure I lost something somewhere in the translation. I was asked this by my driver, who I have a hard time understanding even when we are passing by, say, the Lotus Temple and he points and says ‘There! Lotus Temple!” – I usually have to pause, take in my surroundings, translate and then ask “what?” and then he points and says “Lotus Temple, Lotus Temple” and then I get it and say ‘Oh, Lotus Temple… Very nice.” That about sums up the style and depth of our conversations.
He is a very nice guy, I just have a hard time understanding him. He has taken to communicating the interesting news of the world to me and yesterday the only word that caught my attention was “porn”. I was a bit shocked to hear that word from my driver in a country where porn is not really done but everyone appears to have a vast collection. It turns out that he was telling me that terrorist groups were passing messages to one another via porn sites. It made me wonder how such a thing was done and so as soon as I have the time and the proper bandwidth connection, I will go looking for hidden meanings.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Sunday morning I woke up like every other morning… Parakeets singing, the sun shining in through the window, all in all, it is a very Disneyesque Technicolor way of starting the day. Sprinkle the scene with seven little men and I could be the star of my own animated feature. Yes last Sunday was not to be like every other morning. Instead of playing the part of dashing, muscle bound prince with shining smile and soothing tenor voice ready to break into an aria of love and adoration before waking the sleeping princess with my fiery kiss, I was suddenly cast in the role of everyone’s favorite hobbit.
So cover your eyes and cut to me in the shower, minding my own business when suddenly I found myself in what I can only describe as Shelob’s Lair. Yes, the very same over grown, man-eating spider that attacked Frodo, wrapping him in her silky webs while licking her lips in anticipation of her hobbity meal, was in my shower. I did what I always do when I see a spider. Ok, maybe not what I always do as there was no table to jump on while screaming, but I did let out an Oscar-worthy gasp - Jennifer Hudson would have been proud. I saw myself reflected in the thousands of eyes staring back at me, watching me, waiting for me to slip up so she could pounce and devour me in one quick, yet I would imagine delicious gulp. Her fangs were bared, I faked left and then moved right, hoping to confuse her. And then it happened.
She jumped. I screamed. She jumped again. I grabbed the handheld showerhead and fired. She jumped, I missed. I screamed. She jumped again. I closed my eyes and in my best Gandalf voice shouted “You shall not pass here”. The rest is a blur. Like Velma Kelly in Chicago, I completely blacked out… It wasn’t until I saw the shriveled little body going down the drain that I even realized she was dead. There was only one thing to do. I took my deadly weapon, turned it into a microphone and broke into a never to be duplicated version of “All That Jazz”.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Of all the tasks that one must perform to get through the daily requirements of life, there is one that I absolutely and completely dread. Buying toilet paper.
I don’t know what it is about it, but I just hate doing it. When I was in a relationship, I would leave it up to the other person to buy it, preferably when I was nowhere around. I just don’t want people knowing what I do in the bathroom. I know everyone does it, but I am not everyone. Is there a point to all of this? Yes, I am getting there. A couple of weeks ago, I had to face my fears and go and purchase the unavoidable unmentionable. In stores in the US and Europe, it is located on a shelf within easy reach and one can quickly and discreetly put it in the shopping basket, run to the checkout counter and bag it before running to anyone we know, thereby avoiding that uncomfortable conversation when asked “so what did you get?”
So imagine how happy I was to walk into the store at Def Col Market and see the toilet paper sitting 4 meters up. Not only did I have to tell the shopkeeper that I wanted toilet paper, but then he yelled to someone in the back of the store that then had to yell for someone else to bring a ladder so that one of them could climb up and get the pack of toilet paper as I stood there pretending to be invisible, feeling the heat in my ears as they turned red. I don’t know why that bothers me so much. I have no problem going into a sex shop for condoms, but I have a hard time with the world knowing that I make the occasional poopie. People just do not expect that of me.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
With a war in Iraq, child killers in Africa, anarchy in the Niger Delta, 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty and other non-relevant and pointless stories in the news, I was relieved to finally be brought up to date with the most pressing issue of the day. I feel like I have been living in a sub-continental vacuum, completely unaware of what is going on in the rest of the world. I was so caught up other issues, I temporarily lost my focus on what is really important. So imagine my surprise when I saw that Britney had shaved her head. The shock! The horror! This is a pure outrage, which on a scale of crimes against humanity is completely off the charts (not unlike Britney's career these days). I can only hope that we, the young people of the world can unite our voices and take a stand. I truly believe that we can really make a difference if we set our minds and hearts to it. Perhaps a benefit concert is in order?
But all the otrage aside, I have to say that Britney is looking very "L-Word" these days, albeit in a more butch, "Britney the Builder" sort of way as opposed to the glamorous gals we normally see, but I for one think lesbian diversity is a good thing. Too many lipsitck lesbians might just throw off the balance in their fragile, tennis and golf playing community. And besides, somebody needs to drive those big rigs.
So here I am, entering week number 5 here in fabulous Delhi. Friday was Maha Shivaratri and that meant a 3 day weekend for yours truly. Friday I decided to go for a haircut which in the blink of an eye also became a shave, facial and manicure. Anyone who knows me know that I hate to shave. It is a vulgar curse that we men are forced to endure. I wonder if this did not come about when as punishment when little Eve batted her L’Oreal lashes and got Adam to sink his pearly whites into that apple. Eve got painful childbirth but we men got something far worse. I have heard that childbirth is painful, but it only goes on for a few hours and then you women are done. You get time off work, gifts, you get to buy new clothes, you become the center of attention and then after a few hours of pushing and justified swearing and name calling, it’s done until the next time. And, I might point out that you CHOOSE to have a baby.
Men, on the other hand have to shave several times a week for our whole lives. It never goes away. Hours after we are done, here it comes again, that 5-O'clock shadow being pushed out by the gallons of testosterone coursing through our veins. We shave and we shave and what do we get for it? Nothing. No gifts, No clothes. No time off work to recover and bond with our smooth cheeks. Anyway, I have decided that while I am quite loving my Gillette Fusion Power - I know, it is such a blatent for of product placement, but being in advertising, I just couldn't resist - I have decided that I am going to turn the other cheek and let someone else do the shaving. Normally I get a shave whenever I am in Milan, at the salon in the Dolce and Gabbana Men's Store. That shave is good, this was so much better. I am totally hooked and now 3 days a week I will go and get the whiskers trimmed. My only other option was to not ever shave or get a haircut and become a Sikh, but try as I might, I just can't carry off a turban.
Today I start my Hindi lessons and hopefully will come away with a higher level of Hindi than I speak now. I can count to 10, say thanks and tell people to fuck off, but that is about as far as it goes. Today I am hoping to learn enough to at least ask for a beer or other assorted beverages in various temperatures. I think after my lesson, I will go to Dilli Haat to look at some artsy craftsy things. I need to make my little place here more of my little place instead of just a place where I am using a bed and a shower. I share the living, dining and kitchen areas with my room-mate/boss and have my own rather large-ish room and bathroom that I need to put my own signature on. In fact, I think I am going to contact an agent this week or next and start looking at some other flats. I love the area here, but would like to live a bit on my own. The flat on the top floor here will be available in 2 months, so perhaps I will move there. It has a huge terrace which would be perfect for cocktail parties on those rapidly approaching balmy Delhi nights.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Temple behind some crumbling buildings on the road between Delhi and Gurgoan.
Photo of me taken during one of the many power outages
The above are all images from a part of Delhi I was in for 3 days for a photoshoot - about 20 minutes or so from where I live. It is one of the more underdeveloped parts of the city.
My little garden in Defence Colony
The end of week 4 in India is rapidly approaching… For the most part, most of my time is spent working and since the wedding in Gwalior, I haven’t really seen or done much… But all of that is changing this weekend as I have 3 days off and am planning on seeing some local sights and relaxing with a few people who I am hoping become friends…
The homesick blues hit a few days ago and I have been feeling a bit lost and misplaced. What I miss more than anything are my friends, that small collection of people that know me, know by the sound of my voice or the look in my eye when something is wrong, know when I need to talk, need to cry or just need some good bubbles and truffle-laced nibbly things. Making friends here is not as easy as it first appeared it would be, but that is mostly to do with my hectic work schedule. I can never make plans because I never know when I will leave the office or have to go in to work. Usually by the time I leave in the evenings I am too tired to go anywhere, and the weekends I just don’t really have the energy to be entertaining and bubbly, so I put my nose in a book or try to spend some time on my own and just recharge. I am hoping someone comes to visit me soon – Yes guys that is a request! Book those tickets now, and make sure your seatbelts are fastened and tray tables are in their full upright and locked position or in the armrest beside you.
It has been raining here quite a lot the last week and that makes Delhi a very different place. The brown and grey hues on everything are temporarily gone, the plants seem green and happy and live and the air smells fresh and feels light when you breathe in. It also cools the air, which seems to have made our office monkeys happy. And by office monkeys, I mean real monkeys that live here somewhere near the building and are quite often on the roof terrace. In fact, just yesterday I was having a coffee on the roof and was temporarily joined by a monkey. It was not as if we were shaking hands or anything like that, but I find those kinds of experiences quite magical. They still surprise me, but then it has only been just under 4 weeks, although in some ways it seems like months.
Well, that’s it for now…
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
I seem to be making considerable strides here in my Indian adventure. I feel not unlike a male Kathering Hepburn in “The African Queen”, only without the boat, the grouchy old man, the big floppy hat or the gravelly deep voice. Not to mention I am on a different continent, and a sub-continent at that. But those little meaningless tidbits aside, I am totally taking her place in the adventure genre.
Yesterday I made my Bollywood debut. Well, not Bollywood actually, but I did have a part in a small video for one of our clients to use internally. Unfortunately, due to contractual restrictions, I can’t post it here, but take my word for it when I say I was spectacular. Even without lines, I managed to steal the show. Like Norma Desmond, I can say anything I want with my eyes, and they were belting it out to the balcony yesterday afternoon. I even gave a visual shout-out to my peeps. If only it could be made public, I am certain that both Bollywood, Cannes and some of the lesser festivals would be beating my door down begging for an encore. I got to play a villain, carry a gun, flex my biceps and shake a stick, while outfitted in jeans, a sleeveless black t-shirt and tikka (I am sure I just slaughtered the spelling, but it was basically a smudge of black ink on my forehead, so who cares about spelling… I was a star!)
It was all very Tomb Raider and I hope I get to play myself in the video game franchise. We filmed all 46 seconds of the video on the roof of the building and before long had attracted a small audience of what I assume are my sub-continental fans and groupies who watched from the streets below. I can just imagine the chatter… Look at skinny white boy with tikka and gun. Oh well, even Tom Cruise has his off day… Sofa surfing with Oprah, anyone?
So here I am, midway through my 3rd week in Delhi and have decided it is time for some drastic action. When in Rome, do as the Romans… Beware the Ides of March and never befriend anyone named Brutus. Just look at what happened to poor little Julius when he came back from lunch. But at least he got his 15 minutes of fame. More than he might of gotten had his friend not done what so many friends do and stabbed him in the back. So, as I was saying before I got lost on a Shakespeare tangent, I have decided to brush the duty off my glamorous side and do what anyone in my situation would do, look for ways to make glamour happen, preferable without wearing pointy juttis and PJs.
There I was this morning, reading Vanity Fair, all about Tory Burch and how she once worked for Ralph Lauren and suddenly the dots were connected. Ralph Lauren has a clothing line branded Polo. Polo was actually invented in India. Delhi happens to have a polo club and it just so happens there is still over a month left in the polo season. Can anyone guess where I am going here? That’s right, the Delhi Polo Club. Or rather the Army Polo and Riding Club. And not only that, but I saw that for a reasonable sum (and a few horseback riding lessons) I can actually take polo lessons. I am assuming that one would not need to bring one’s own horses, which works well for me as I seem to have misplaced my string of ponies. So yes, I am going to attend a few matches of polo, have some bubbles and just ooze fabulousness all over the grounds.
Speaking of Vanity Fair, I was reading the article about Chris Black and the little missus when I came across a quote so astounding, I was actually upset I had not made it up myself. It was all about why one needs two jets, and I quote “No matter how well one plans ahead, one always finds that one is on the wrong continent”. Now I know what has been missing from my life these days, while I feel so under accessorized. Private planes are obviously the new Louis Vuitton climate controlled steamer trunk and here I have been so unabashedly traveling commercial… And with Samsonite. Thanks Miss Black for pointing out the error of my ways. I feel so enlightened now, if not slightly embarrassed.
I also saw a disturbing article in the Delhi Times today and I am hoping I can sleep. I didn’t have the energy or courage to read it, but will try to do so tomorrow. It was a rather lengthy article complete with shocking images and a the disturbing title: “Thin ain't in anymore” I immediately held out my hand for a Razzito and then realized I am in the wrong city. Where’s Nik when you need a good shake
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Just over a week ago, I wrote about an experience I had with a beggar woman in Connaught Place and how that had really shocked and impacted me. It is something I think about several times a day. Since then, I have received a few messages from people and also had a couple of conversations about this and have learned a few things I didn’t know before. I could be wrong in some of this information and I have done some research online and anyone is more than welcome to correct and educate me as this is something I find myself getting more and more into.
I was first informed that a lot of the women that are carrying babies while begging are actually sharing the babies. While the women themselves may “work” for several hours, the babies “work” much longer days. They are often not fed, are kept out in the sun for long hours which causes hyper-pigmentation and also makes them irritable so they whine and cry. The malnutrition makes them vulnerable, if not victims to a number of diseases and developmental disorders. Once one woman is finished, she will hand the baby off to another woman who will take the baby and start anew.
I then read that a lot of these children are actually kidnapped by the “beggar mafia” that then starves or maims them or incorporates various other tactics to make them more profitable. Sometimes limbs are bound or stitched to stop the circulation to an extremity, causing the limb to die, grow gangrenous or otherwise permanently disable them. The beggars themselves don’t get any of the spoils of their begging. All the profits go to the mafia.
This is an excerpt from the Times of India:
“For the hundreds of children who beg at busy traffic junctions, it is serious business,” explains Anuradha Sahasrabuddhe of the NGO, Dnyanadevi, which runs Childline. “They know exactly which brands of cars to chase, how to ‘dress up’ to evoke maximum sympathy and how to fix false plasters on the legs to give the impression of being crippled. Even adults, who sometimes accompany them, are ‘suitably armed’ with crutches or small babies,” she stated. They also know the exact spots where certain organisations distribute free meals, and make it a point to be present there.
A Childline survey revealed that beggar children earn an average of Rs 20 (less than 30 Euro cents) per day, half of which is given to their parents. “The parents are therefore not very keen on sending them to school. They find begging more paying and less dangerous than rag-picking,” Sahasrabuddhe said. “We wanted to rescue the children from such a degrading environment. We got the anti-begging squads to pick them up, but their parents promptly paid up the fine and rescued them,” she added.
The worst part is that the phenomenon is not a direct fallout of growing unemployment and poverty. “They are growing up looking at begging as easy and valid means of making money,” the activist said.
I also discovered that poor beggars are often rounded up and put in jail for up to a year, while handicapped beggars are left alone and the mafia goes untouched. When I use the word handicapped, I am not referring to someone in a wheelchair or missing a leg, I am talking about someone crawling through the streets, pulling their bodies with their arms because their legs don’t work, or walking on all fours because their body is so distorted. The only beggars that seem to be completely left alone are the leprosy patients (I changed this from leper due to a bit of education I received and which you can read in the comments), which nobody wants to touch. Leprosy was a complete surprise to me on my first trip to India. It had always been something out of the Bible, something from long ago. I still find it hard to believe it is here, today, in 2007. It is something that once you have seen it, you never forget. I did hear that a cure and vaccination has been discovered and is currently under testing, so hopefully the days of the leper will soon be a thing of the past.
The more I write here, the more I realize I can go on and on as there is an endless supply of information and statistics… While I know there is almost nothing I can do, “almost nothing” leaves a tiny space for a little something, and that little something I have to do, even if it is just writing about it and creating awareness, getting someone to talk about it, someone to realize these are not just pictures in a news article or a magazine these are people, these are children, these are babies.
I will close by borrowing information from the site “Stop Child Poverty”.
This matter was actually investigated by CNN-IBN,a leading news channel in India.People all over the country were shocked and enraged!This matter was to be discussed in the Parliament but no action has been taken,nor this issue discussed in the Parliament till date!Its been a month and a half since this issue came into light. Let me tell you why the Begging Industry is booming :
- Rates are fixed for where one wants to beg and a fixed percentage is set for authorities so that everyone can get a share of the beggars loot.*
- Some people (even the skilled ones) are beggars by choice and they say that there is big money in the begging industry.*
- A beggar in Hanuman Mandir,in New Delhi, says, "Many people who have made houses here just by begging."*
- Outside Bhairon Mandir in Delhi beggars are even served Scotch whisky by devotees!*
- On a good day,(like festivals or sacred days) at a location like mandirs (temples), beggars could earn up to Rs 250**
- Surprisingly the Government is aware of the increasing number of beggars in big cities, and the money involved but does nothing.*
- Rs 180 crore is what the beggars of Bombay earn in a year - a figure given by the state government itself.*
- This is the reason why criminal gangs have stepped in especially as the Government has turned a blind eye to this section of society.*
- Handicapped beggars are left alone by the Anti-Begging Squad in action,while other beggars are being rounded up.*
- This is because the handicapped beggars are better earners and the beggar mafia ensures that they stay on the street. Local enforcement officials are encouraged to look away.*
- While beggars are treated as criminals and sentenced for a year to detention centers, the beggar mafia go scot-free.*
- One beggar says,"Beggars are given one year sentence but those associated with the mafia are not arrested.They pay off government officials and get free."*
- While the Beggary Prevention Act makes it illegal for people to beg, these are the reasons due to which begging is slowly transforming into a full-fledged industry.
*Source - IBNLive : Law fails to prevent begging industry
**1 USD = Rs.46.61 (Rs. denotes Indian Rupee)
Monday, February 05, 2007
Every day in India comes with a surprise and today the surprise was being stuck in traffic with an elephant. I was on my way back from Gurgoan (pronounced Gurgow) and no sooner had we passed a monkey walking along the top of a wall than there was an elephant in street. To date, the animals I have seen in traffic: Horses, camels, boars, pigs, donkeys, cows, water buffalo, dogs, monkeys and the elephant. It was only last week when we were caught behing a traffic jam of camels near Faridabad.
Yesterday I went with Sharad to Vasant Vihar Market, where supposedly fashionable Delhi hangs out. There are a few places that are "it" places and Vasant Vihar is one of them... One of the other ones is Defence Colony, where I will be moving in 2 days. Anyway, Sharad and I were at Vasant Vihar and stopped into a bar at about 16:30 for a beer. The place was absolutely jumping. It was packed to the rafters with some wicked and wild Indian beats keeping everyone moving and grooving. Being the only non-Indian in the place, I was quickly the center of attention and a couple of the girls very obviously made their intentions know. I was standing in front of a chair and she climbed over me, into the chair and then leaned back with her head against my leg. I thought she was a bit drunk, but Sharad told me that she was sending me some very clear and obvious signals. Her friend came over, started dancing next to me, and then the two of them started dancing with each other, arms here and there which I then realized was a sign to both of us. Just when it looked like things might get a bit out of control, the place went pitch black, the music stopped and it ws over. 18:00 and it was done, to be emptied, cleaned and re-opened at 19:00 for the night shift.
One thing that has happened quite quick since I have been here is my giving up my personal space. In the European or Western world, personal space is always respected, you don't come to close, be too touchy feely or help yourself to food on someone's desk or plate. Here, those rules don't really apply. If I have food, it is just a given that it will be shared. If someone else has something, I am free to help myself. Of course, this is once you know someone, and as far as I can tell, it is a sign of being friends or that people like you. A friend of mine Doug and I used to go round and round about the issue of my sharing food. I personally think it is rude for someone to ask if they can taste what I have on my plate. Not that I am against sharing, but my issue is the fact that the question obligates me to say "yes". I, of course have decided to say "no", and it really upsets people, underlining my point. Here it is a different situation and I don't find it rude at all, it is just another one of those things that is the way it is.
I have also adapted to eating with my hands. Normally, I am not one to forego the knife and fork, but when in Rome... I eat with my hands and actually don't do such a bad job of it. And if you make a mess, nobody cares! I was out at Ffad with Agam in GK2 and had Tangri Kebab and Kaphi Chicken. I tried my best to eat the Kaphi Chicken with a knife and fork, and after about 2 minutes just dug in with my hands... Red sauce all over my fingers, hands and face, like a 2 year old with chocolate syrup. And here I was at a restaurant, dressed somewhat fashionable and just eating like a Flintstone, food all over the place, but not on my clothes. And the amazing thing is that nobody gave me a second glance. No geers, no sneers, just life as usual.
As everything else in India gets turned upside down and sideways, why not weddings as well? In the west, we all wait for the bride to arrive and when she does, everything begins. Here, is it quite the opposite. It is the bride and the bride’s guests and family that wait for the groom and his family and guests to arrive… And what an arrival it is, but I am getting slightly ahead of myself.
The barat moves a few meters, with everyone dancing and then stops. The music picks up pace and volume and the pace of the dancing increases until limbs are being thrown in every direction possible and people are bumping into people and the whole outside world becomes a blur. This keeps increasing for several minutes until it dies down, the barat moves a few meters further and the whole thing begins again. Supposedly in a local wedding, the presence of foreigners raises the status of the wedding in the community. That meant that everyone wanted to dance with me and I was soon out of breath, had muscle pain in my stomach, couldn’t feel my feet anymore and just had to keep going. My feet were getting stomped on, I was hot, sweaty and loving every minute of it. It was amazing fun…
We soon arrived at the location where the bride and her family and friends were waiting… Most of the barat party went inside, and several of them were kept outside… Including the token foreigners that then danced in a circle around the horse. The groom was taken off the horse and we were then all given garlands of orange flowers, which were then ripped off their strings and tossed over the groom for good wishes and blessings. We went inside where the bride and groom exchange flower garlands and then greet their guests and spend a few hours taking pictures. The Hindu bride is supposed to be shy and humble, and while she may smile (shyly, of course) she is not to laugh or to show too much pleasure at her own wedding. I at first thought she was not enjoying he whole thing at all, but it was explained that this was about honor and tradition. A Hindu wedding is not about two people getting married and spending their lives together, it is about 2 families merging and becoming one family, most of the burden of adapting being placed on the bride.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday about arranged versus love marriages and I will write about that another time after I have looked into it a bit more. The final step a couple has to do before being married is the “sapta padi” or seven steps which they take together while the 7 vows are led by a Brahmin or priest. They take their vows before God, symbolized by light and fire, walking around the fire seven times. Unfortunately, due to having to catch our car back to Delhi, we missed that part. The festivities go often until 7, 8 or later in the morning and so that will have to be saved for my next Hindu wedding, which will be in a few months when another colleague gets married…
Friday, February 02, 2007
I am freshly back from my first Indian adventure of this trip. A colleague of mine got married last weekend and I along with a few other colleagues got invited to the wedding. So on Sunday, we all pile into an SUV type vehicle and begin the 350 kilometer journey south to a town named Gwalior which sits just a little further south than Agra, the location of the Taj Mahal. 350 miles in Europe would take about 3-4 hours… This trip took us 8. It was a combination of highway, dirt roads, no roads, detours, traffic jams, crowded villages and all of the other things that make travel in India so exciting, frustrating and wonderful. The SUV had a DVD player and screen and it was on the road to Gwalior that I saw my first ever Bollywood movie titled “Krish”. It had everything… Aliens, a superhero with super human powers, a computer that could see the future, the femme fatale, musical numbers and an old lady living in Tibet. What more could one want? I was fully and completely entertained for the 3 hours of the film, and while it was mostly in Hindi with sprinkling of English and maybe even a line or two of Chinese (The story takes place for a while in Singapore) I was able to follow the plot thanks to the real-time translation of my fellow travelers.
After 8 hours of switching seats and being jostled around to the point where I was absolutely certain my internal organs had all be rearranged and my life had flashed before my eyes enough times that I started getting bored with the reruns, we arrived in Gwalior and soon found our hotel. No sooner do we pile out of the car than I and two colleagues of mine are informed that not only will we be sharing one tiny little room, but we would also be sharing the small bed. None of us were amused and quickly 2 other rooms quickly became available and disaster was once again narrowly avoided.
The next morning, we went to Gwalior Mela, a massive market to do some shopping and find some wedding juttis for a few of us who had decided to attend the wedding in traditional Indian attire (More on that in another story). The market was absolutely massive and towering over all of it were a number of amusement rides. Ferris wheels, spinning cups, swinging boats and all the other makings of a fun time. I had no intention of going on anything as the entire area looked as thought it were being held together with a paperclip that could give out at any moment, bringing the whole thing down around us. No sooner had I decided I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it, Sharad shows up with tickets for us all to go on one of the Ferris wheels. Not wanting to appear the wimp, I agree to join everyone and soon found myself waiting in line, wondering if those were the very last images I would ever see. The cars we sat in were these little tin can contraptions that held 2, maybe three and you sat across from each other. I shared mine with Pete. The floors were quite rusty and there were no restraints or doors. I have gone bungee jumping, rock climbing and am a huge thrill ride and roller coaster addict, but this time I was truly scared. When the ride comes to an end, the cars slow down enough to step out and there is a guy that basically shoves everyone out the other side and grabs the people standing in the line and stuffs them in via the front to facilitate the whole process.
After wandering through the market and picking out my juttis for the wedding, it was time for a mad dash to the Gwalior Fort. The city of Gwalior is dominated by a massive mass of that just seems to have been dropped there from the heavens. There are no other mountains to be seen, everything around is flat. I wont go into the details of the fort itself as you can read about it clicking the link above. We didn’t have too much time to spend there, but we did meet the most amazing little boy. He is eight years old (I forget his name) and speaks Hindi, English, Italian, Spanish, German and French. He gave us a quick tour of a couple of temples and sent us on our way as we had to get changed for the wedding and all the festivities of the night. On the way down from the fort there was a massive traffic jam due to a train that needed to come through town and a couple of mischievous boys that thought it would be great fun to mess with the train barriers.
We got back to the hotel and it was time to shower and change into our kurta pyjamas and wedding juttis. Stay tuned for details on the wedding… It was amazing…
Thursday, February 01, 2007
My second week in India is rapidly drawing to a close and I have to say that I am feeling more and more at home and at ease here. Not to say I don’t have my difficult moments or moments where I am confronted with horrific situations and circumstances. There was one event that happened last Saturday and before I explain what happened, I just want to make clear that I know this kind of thing happens in very city and every town across the globe and is, unfortunately not something limited by the borders of one country or culture, so this is in no way a judgment on a country or a population, but merely an event as I witnessed and internalized it…
I was in Connaught Place to meet a friend for a coffee and I got there rather early which gave me some time to kill. It was Republic Day, so the shops were closed for the most part and the place was about as deserted as any place in central Delhi would ever be. A woman came up to me begging for money. On her hip was a child of I would estimate about 1 year or so old. A tiny little child that was whining a bit and the mother kept pointing to her child, to her stomach and asking for money. I only had big bills on me (what would be less than 2 euro back home) and I didn’t want to take out my wallet and flash a lot of money, and I am also torn at times between helping someone and perpetuating a problem. She kept begging for about 5 minutes, and I was just dying inside. I felt so guilty and yet I stuck to my decision not to give any money.
A few minutes later the woman sat down on a bench not to far from me and put her child on the ground. Her baby started to lie down and the woman sat the child up and smacked the baby across the face so hard that the impact just cut through me. I was stunned, speechless, horrified and completely unable to do anything. I felt it was my fault the baby was getting punished. I felt as if she was punishing the child for not making me feel guilty enough, or for not crying enough that I would give her money. I could not and can not get that image out of my head. I was so caught in a place of not knowing what to do and knowing I could do nothing and yet desperate for a solution. I didn’t want to make the situation worse for the child but I felt so terrible and so responsible for what happened.
I was discussing this with a friend of mine later that evening and he explained that it is actually illegal to give money to the beggars. It is not enforced, but officially, one can be fined for giving money. Also, I learned that condoms are free in India, or at least in certain cities if not the country, which then raises the question of why someone would have a child knowing what life they would be bringing that child into. Knowing that not only can they not provide for themselves, but that child is going to take even more food away. I still think about that baby every day. I have his or her face etched in my mind and I don’t think I will ever forget it. What I find so frustrating, more than anything else, is that there really is nothing I can do. Kindness or money are not going to solve any issues. There are millions more just like her, millions more babies just like that one, some in even worse situations. Of all the things to adjust to in India, the children is really the part that just tears me into pieces. I want to make it all better, but there is nothing I can do.