Monday, December 28, 2009

The White Woman!

I’m adding some pictures from my South India trip. Browsing through them I’m realizing we packed in so much during our seven day tour. I’m pretty impressed with what *Stephanie and I got done. Considering neither of us spoke Tamil, Malayalam nor Kannada, we got by pretty smoothly.

It was tough getting around as a lot of the locals spoke heavy-accented (I’m not going to say Indian-accented because it was drastically different from the Indian accent most are familiar with) broken or zero English. Sometimes, as a last resort, I’d ask people if they spoke Hindi, which one of my South Indian friends had already warned me against, and they’d either get offended or laugh as if it was the most absurd question they’d ever heard in their life.

I felt bad for Stephanie; her tall height, white skin and auburn hair got her a lot of unwanted attention despite her dressing in Indian clothes to try and blend in. A lot of Indians asked to get pictures taken with her, a few times she kindly obliged. The men would just gawk and some had no shame in holding their cell phone to her face and take a good shot of the “white girl.”

Calpetta was the worst. We sat down at this restaurant and the men there kept gawking at us, so the waiter moved us over to the ‘family area.’ We sat down next to a family which included a little girl of about three years of age. The innocent girl instantly pointed at Stephanie and began crying! She was horrified by Steph, terror was written all over her face. Of course we didn’t blame the toddler, maybe it was the first time she’d seen someone who was of white skin colour. But her father felt bad and scolded his daughter. It took her a good ten minutes to quiet down.

Stephanie told me she was used to such things here. I don't think everyone can be so thick-skinned. She’s doing her NGO internship in Anand, Gujarat and people there give her extra attention all the time. Along with the photo-snapping, she’s had people point at the freckles on her face and arms, and ask her what type of skin disease she was suffering from!

I’m so thankful to be living in a multicultural country (or maybe I should say multicultural region since there's a lot of segregation in certain parts of Canada as well). Thanks to my exposure, I hadn’t even noticed Stephanie’s many freckles until she pointed them out to me.

I’m glad Steph took the opportunity to challenge herself in India. She doesn’t have any Indian friends back in Holland and can’t recall there even being any where she grew up. She too has her own stereotypes to break free from. When we were in Kochi, for instance, she loudly yelled out to someone, “Hey! That man’s stealing from your bag!” and accusingly pointed at the culprit. I was so embarrassed. All she could see was an Indian thief sneaking stuff out of a white woman’s backpack. But in reality, the “thief” was the European woman’s boyfriend, who happened to be an NRI. Maybe she wasn't used to seeing interracial couples. Steph apologized but the guy was still pretty insulted, I think he swore something under his breath.

So there's racism and cultural stereotypes everywhere. When I'm in Canada for instance no one asks me about my Canadian background. They usually ask me about India and Hinduism and holy cows; but I'm not a scholar in any of those subjects. How nice it would be if everyone were more exposed to varied cultures and took the time to see things from the point of view of others.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Finding Clarity

Mysore was a very unpleasant experience. It was way too touristy for us. Vendors aggressively tried selling us stuff whichever corner we turned. And as we arrived there on Christmas day, all the hotels were sold out. After a bit of a struggle, we checked in to the first vacant hotel room we could find. When we left we noticed an advertisement painted on a nearby wall with the hotel name and a lovely description stating, "For Prostitutes!"

From Mysore we went back to Bangalore and from there, back to my temporary homeland - Ahmedabad. I'm 75% sure now that I'll be going back to Canada soon. There's a Bangalore job opportunity I'm finding tempting, especially since I've made some nice friends there. But home is calling.

I'm going to decline the Delhi offer tomorrow. Not only was the pay lousy but the newsroom director explained that I'd have to do my own video shooting and editing on top of my regular reporting tasks. And I'd be expected to do 10-12 hour shifts without getting paid for any overtime.

I'm not feeling regretful. I came here with some set goals in mind and now the required doors are opening for me. But it's happening a few months too late as my priorities are changing. The ups and downs I went through have all been for the better as it's helped me put things in perspective. I'm getting to take a huge sigh of relief as clarity sets in.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Haathi Mera Saathi

Ernakalum, located in the state of Kerala, was overwhelming. My friend and I wanted to enjoy a quiet yet touristic experience and instead, we found ourselves smack in the middle of Kerala's commercial capital.

Although we were exhausted from our 11-hour bus ride we decided to escape by getting a ferry to Kochi/Cochin. Getting to the ferry port wasn't easy though as Kerala rikshaw-drivers were on strike in protest of a fare cut. So we drudgingly walked half-way to the port in the muggy 35C heat. On the way, a gracious rickshaw driver offered to get us to our destination for ten times the regular price, we were drenched and too desperate to argue. The ride was uncomfortable as we were asked to duck our heads whenever other rick-drivers were seen, our driver could've gotten into trouble for not abiding by the Autorickshaw Union's game plan.

Kochi was nice. It was filled with a lot of European tourists. That's all I can remember about it right now. The day after we headed off to Allepey and rented a houseboat to float over the serene backwaters. We had to bargain with the boat agents over the rent; I made it go down a few thousand dollars. I think I'm getting better at the art of negotiation! Most of the tourists whom we spoke to paid a lot more than us. Anyhow, I can't recall ever being in a more tranquil, bedazzling surrounding. I loved every bit of my Allepey day (although the night was wretchedly hot and neither my mosquito-repellant nor the provided mosquito net kept the pesky pests away.

The following day we managed to find a private driver (as the rickers were still on strike) to drop us off to the train station; we wanted to make a five-hour express ride to Calikut. A rick-ride wouldn't have cost us more than Rs 30 but this greedy driver was demanding Rs 700! I told him we wouldn't pay more than Rs 100 and he laughed in my face and wished me good luck. As we turned the corner though he soon pulled over and said he'd settle for Rs 200.

Calicut wasn't a fun experience. We waited at the main bus stand (to get to Calpetta) which was located in a conservative Muslim area and got stared down by every adult around. We were modestly dressed bit I think the fact that we didn't have our heads and necks covered bothered some people. The three-hour bus ride was extremely uncomfortable as every male glued their eyes on us either out of disgust, curiosity or perhaps both.

The drive to Calpetta was horrible. We had to drive through these steep, sharp curves into the Western Ghat mountain range. Our driver was wreckless and I kept wondering if he was drunk. There was two-way traffic on a narrow single lane throughout the range. I prayed the entire ride. I hadn't realised the drive would be so risky, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't.

Anyhow Calpetta was gross. We stayed at a dingy hotel filled with sleazy men. The entire area reeked of rotten fish and it was normal to spot some fresh or dried up ones all along the road. Major gag-fest!

Wow! I've got so much more to right but this computer lab has got to close shop. Right now I'm in Sultanbatheri. The hotel we're staying at is so-so, we mainly chose it to use its gorgeous outdoor pool. But we were out touring all day and now that the sun's set, it's too cold to take a dip. We got to check out the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and watched a herd of elephants roam free in their natural habitat - it was amazing! Tomorrow we're heading off to Mysore.

I can't believe it's Christmas Eve. I'm missing the sound of snow crunching beneath my boots, festive carol tunes and even the over-the-top Christmas decorations. Happy Holidays everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Love U Delhi!

I fell in love with the little I saw of Delhi. The traffic was heavy but it it's my type of city, vast and very cosmopolitan. While Ahmedabad is known for it's scooties, Delhites like to ride on their motorbikes; thankfully, they're all accustomed to wearing helmets as well. The weather was quite cold during the week I was there, but otherwise, my stay was quite pleasant.

I'm in Bangalore now. The noise pollution here is immense. The traffic is crazy, as it is in all Indian cities, but it's the honking that makes it much worse - the beeping volume here is twice as loud as what's heard in the other cities.

I'll be exploring some of the South with two of the girls I met during my Gir trip. One girl's from Holland while the other is South Indian. The latter will be staying in Bangalore (as she's being set up with a marriageable bachelor during her work holiday period) while my Dutch friend and I are heading off to Kerela tonight by bus; it'll an 11-hr ride.

After this trip I'm considering heading back to Canada. I'm getting tired of Gujarat for more reasons than one. I'm still a bit hesitant about leaving India though. I've been offered a broadcast reporting opportunity in Delhi but the salary is next to nothing (it's even lower than the low expectations I had prepared for). And I am so incredibly homesick. I hope to figure out what I'm doing by the end of this week as the indecisiveness is getting to me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gujarati Wedding Drama!

My family and I attended the wedding of one of our neighbour’s daughters today. They had set-up an outdoor tent at a venue an hour away from the city; it was a pretty extravagant occasion. There was a lot of gossip going around about who was wearing what, the bride’s make-up choice, the approximate cost of the wedding, etc. The food was pretty good; along with the traditional Gujarati dishes were Vegetable Manchurian balls, Hakka noodles, Cheese-Corn-Tomato soup, and Pineapple Macaroni & Cheese – all are quite popular non-Indian items in Ahmedabad.

In the evening the bride’s mother caused havoc in our apartment building, she learned that her 22-kt gold necklace, worth nearly 2 lacs, had been stolen. All the residents are talking about it, spreading the word from one flat to the next, about the missing goods. As soon as PG got word of the news, Durga-mata paid her a visit and she went into one of her trances. She claims to have received a vision of exactly what colour suitcase the necklace is hidden in, and who’s responsible of the theft. The necklace will be discovered at 11pm, she said. It’s now 10:55pm, some residents have gathered together at our flat, anxiously waiting to see if our neighbour’s premonition will come true. Stay tuned...

On another note, all week long there’s been news coverage about Andra Pradesh and the possibility of it being divided into two separate states (the new state being Telangana). Politician and Telangana-separatist K. Chandrasekara Rao went on a hunger strike since November 29 to push his fight for a separate state forward. This caused a lot of friction in the community and officials worried that Naxals would take advantage of fragile situation. So now it looks like the 50 year old struggle for a new state will soon be a reality, but it will come with its own problems. There’s another heated debate already rising over which of the two states will get to keep Hyderabad!

It’s 11:30pm. I’m off to bed, still no word on the missing necklace.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Do I Really Need to Become Lighter?

I've made several attempts to update my blog but haven't had much luck. My computer keeps shutting down without anything getting saved. So I'm writing everything in point form today, just in case this too will be deleted.
  • I got woken up at 8am today, there was a jaan passing by that early in the morning, blasting Gharba music for 2 hours as they tried to get through the busy street leading to the bride’s house
  • A neighbour dropped by yesterday and told me that I need to start using skin-lightening cream. Before I could even explain to her that I’m happy with my skin tone, she said she was going to buy me a bottle herself
  • I went shopping at this amazing bazaar called Taun Darvaza (or "Three Doors") last Friday for sarees. I think it was built with the “shop till you drop” motto in mind. You can buy anything and everything there at reasonable prices. The only thing is that the streets are quite narrow and the people and vehicle traffic is heavy there. My feet got stomped on several times. Anyway, it’s located in a conservative Muslim area. The men couldn’t stop staring at me in a very dirty way. One passer-by murmured something in Hindi which translates into “You should be ashamed of yourself for prancing around nude.” I was wearing a long skirt with a loose sleeveless top. I don’t get it. Why’s it okay to bear your midriff in a saree but a girl shows her arms and the whole world turns upside down? I'm going back there today for more shopping, but am going to cover up from head to toe.
  • I’m off to Delhi on Monday for a couple of days. I won’t share why as I don’t want to jinx myself, but I hope it all goes well.
  • My week-end in West Gujarat was amazing. I was with 15 other foreigners who’ve come to intern or work at NGOs in Gujarat. The group consisted of people from Switzerland, Germany, the US and Holland. I got to speak in English for the entire week-end which was so refreshing.
  • PG was in a trance again last night. She claims Devi-mata’s been visiting her more since she’s met me. She's a very nice lady, but I still get incredibly spooked out when she shows this other side.
  • I met a friend of PG’s yesterday, he seemed a little off and looked at me strangely. My cousin warned me that he too does blackmagic – great, just what I need.
  • I'll add more photos and entries later, good-bye.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Stray Dogs on the Rise!

The number of stray dogs around our building has gone down as the mornings and nights are getting colder - by colder I mean 10C. Some dogs still choose to hide beneath parked cars for shelter but most have gone elsewhere.

During the last couple of months we were feeding milk and roti to one of the dogs and her new litter. The mother liked us but she was extremely territorial. She constantly had to fight off other adult dogs from getting away with her family's food. Watching the adults go at each other could be pretty scary.
The mother always made sure her eight puppies had their fill of the food first; only when they were done would she indulge in the leftovers. Anyhow, one of the pups got run over by a car in the parking lot a couple of weeks back. The mom was extremely depressed, she was sulking for days and made weeping sounds whenever she'd see us.

I haven't seen the remaining pups in a while. I wonder what state their in, they could've starved to death by now or fallen victim to other speeding cars. Who knows.

There were some interesting facts published in the Ahmedabad Mirror today about dogs:
  • There are 300,000 stray dogs in the city
  • Only 61,000 dogs were sterilised in the last four years
  • Over 200 dog bites are reported every single day in Ahmedabad
  • In the last six years, 30 people have died of dog bites

And yet, the Ahmedebad Municipal Corporation has yet to come up with a feasible plan of action to combat the issue.

The stray dog problem is prevalent all over India. There is no law requiring these numbers to be reported to government authorities so it's difficult to get a proper estimate. But it's believed that at least 50% of the world's rabies cases occur in India.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More Trance Drama

It's only 2pm and it's already been quite the eventful day. Mata-ji has been bothering PG since early morning today. She can't stop screaming and violently throwing herself across her room, so much so that she's given herself a few bruises; and she's even having trouble keeping her food in. Neighbours got extremely concerned and called in a doctor, but by the time he appeared a few hours later, she was out of her 'trance.'
PG believes that her trance today was a result of some light blackmagic she performed last night for someone. A client wants to get a divorce with his wife but the wife is demanding 1 lac rupees in return for the divorce agreement. So he asked PG to perform some magic on her to change her mind about the monetary demand. PG went ahead and did her thing but because she gave in to the request, Mata-ji is not happy. The entire scenario is ludicrous.

Anyhow, I was supposed to start at the local paper yesterday but now HR's told me they'll call me back this week to confirm dates. I'm not sure what to think. Roshan has invited me on a trip to Gir National Park this week-end. We're going to be a group of ten people crashing at a farmhouse by night, and off on a safari adventure by day. I'm not too keen on lion-spotting, but the rest of the trip sounds fun.

I'm adding a picture of three men who were waiting on the roadside in Pokran, Rajasthan (just between Jaisalmer and Jhodpur) early morning. While the mornings and nights are quite cold, the day is incredibly hot at 30C, and that's only in the Winter months! There is little access to water and shade for locals living in the dryland. These men decided to rest from their walk before they continued on their journey by foot.
Their seating manner was one of the first things I noticed about Rajasthanis - the men, women, and children all sat this way. These old men must have really strong knees.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fireworks Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

You know what? I think the use of fireworks in India is an all-year round type of thing. After Diwali begins the wedding season and it becomes normal to see music bands marching down the street, with adults and children dancing to their Bollywood tunes, as the groom, with his face covered in garlands and usually travelling on a horse, is led to the bride’s doorstep.

If you live near a wedding hall or temple, which is our case, than the evening ends with loud tunes of Gujarati gharba, occasional interruptions from the musician going, “hello, hello, 1-2-3 check, hello, hello,” and for the grand finale, noisy fireworks light up the sky.

Right now, every day is a spectacle and a feast for the eyes. The wedding party and guests dress up in the most brilliant and glittery Indian clothes imaginable. I’ve considered crashing one of the weddings to try out the food but I’d have to completely glam up.

My host family is getting wedding invitations every other day. They’ve had to decline a few invitations as they wind up double- or triple-booked. PG just came back from a wedding. And our downstairs neighbour is currently busy preparing a dance routine for her cousin’s wedding. All there is to discuss these days is just that - weddings.

Even while we were in Rajasthan murmurs could be heard about weddings. This is a picture of a wedding procession we saw taking place in Jodhpur. My cousin and I were quite tired but we still got caught up in all the excitement.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm back in Ahmedabad, home sweet home! Jaiselmar, Jhodpur and Udaipur were wonderful! But Jaipur... over-crowded, dirty, mediocre. I'll add more details but am out of time for tonight.

PG dropped by to invite me to her flat... so I checked it out. She's got lots of pictures of Durga-mata in there, the walls are all painted red and she had Hindu hymns playing in the background. She explained a bit of what she does and assured me that she refuses to do black-magic although she gets lots of requests for it. Anyhow, I like her, she's extremely nice. As long as I only see her friendly side, I'm all good.

Have to catch up with the family, but more details to come.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Udaipur was beautiful! I can't wait to post some pictures once I get the time. The history is so incredibly rich there and the culture so vibrant. We stayed at Udhaipur Bhag for two nights, it's a rather new palace-type resort. The service, food and accomodations were a bit disappointing; the resort's only five months old though so perhaps the staff is still learning to get their act together. But the ambience was great!
I got some great bargain shopping done at Babu Bazaar. My niece and I bought loads of jewellery and artifacts at what we thought were reasonable prices. But some have told us we still got ripped off, guess I still need to brush up on my bargaining skills.
I think I got a mild case of food poisoning from something I ate last night. Much of today was spoiled for me because of it; I was a wreck during our entire road trip.
Our driver is quite mysterious, he doesn't talk much. And when he does speak, I don't understand him, he speaks a Northern dialect of Gujarati that I can't seem to break down. In return, he can't understand my Surati Gujarati either. So my Soodh Gujarati-speaking cousin has graciously stepped forward as the interpratator - again.
Tomorrow's a new day. We're leaving for Jaiselmer at 8am, I'm really hoping my stomach has settled by then.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I'm off on an 10-day tour of Rajasthan starting bright and early tomorrow morning, I can't wait! My cousin and I will be touring through Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Jaipur. We booked a private tour through a travel agency, it's pretty costly but hopefully well worth it.
We had to get bumped from one of the hotel's that was originally a part of our tour pack. Shilpa Shetty's getting married on the 22nd in Rajasthan, so her guests have been given priority.
Well, I better get started on my packing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Not-So-Innocent 'Paying Guest'

I'm a little bit spooked out. There's this "paying guest" (or PG) resident that lives in the flat across from us, who I never got to meet earlier as she was travelling Delhi. I was looking forward to meeting her as she's apparently a lot of fun. Well I finally met her today and used some of my broken Hindi with her; she's very nice, young, hip and vibrant. I noticed that she's pretty popular in our building, whether it be the vegetable vendor or Sattlelite residents, she's liked by all, and is already getting plenty of house visits.

My cousin casually tells me afterwards not to be surprised if PG's eyes suddenly turn red and her body begins to shake uncontrollably. She goes into trances - Hanuman-Dada and Shakti-Mata (Hindu gods) come to visit her sporadically in the evenings around puja time. She's sort of a "chosen" one amongst the two gods. If Shakti-Mata is mad than PG is also mad for that day and it's best to stay away from her. Or if Shakti-Mata decides to sit on PG's head, sometimes for the entire day, than PG suffers from terrible headaches. PG doesn't remember anything once she's out of the trance, but while she's possessed, witnesses can ask Mata-ji whatever they like and they will receive their answer.

I've been told not to be afraid as it is a blessing that gods come to visit her. PG gets a lot of of visits from people who've heard about her. She offers blessings and advice to those who seek it.
I'm taking this in as another new experience. But I really hope I won't be witnessing any trance-like events.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I was about to accept this English teaching opportunity at an NGO school today. But then I learned that I've been accepted for a temporary gig at a local paper, woohoo! I'll be starting in December. I am incredibly relieved, I'll be gaining some more print journalism experience before going back home. Finally!
Ahmedabad is no Mumbai, but it's got its' own little perks. Time is gonna fly by like that!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Never an Indian, Always an NRI

I may head back to Canada sooner than expected. Not working is driving me nuts already. My interviews aren't going as well as expected. As soon as employers hear about me coming here on a tourist visa, they suddenly seem disinterested.

So I watched a bit of All the Best with some relatives over the week-end. It was an okay film. In it there's this insult that a villian throw's at Sanjay Dutt's character - he calls him an NRI, which he said not only stood for 'Non-Resident Indian' but also a 'Non-Reacting Indian.' One of my uncles' was very impressed by that line, he found it to be quite true and profound. Being an NRI myself here, I found it rather insulting. What's so non-reacting about us?

Being an NRI in India can be a very strange experience. We're seen as immigrants by most people outside of India, and then we're seen as the "other" yet again in our parents' native country.

I say "yeah, yeah" a lot, I never noticed this back home. But here, everyone seems to notice my "yeah, yeah's" (just as often as my American friends notice my "eh's"). They say it's very NRI-ish of me; so is my extensive use of chapstick and tissue paper. On the days that I'm not feeling too hungry, I'm told it's very NRI-ish of me to be dieting. I wonder what other observations Indians have compiled about my kind.
From what I'm experiencing, NRIs are perceived to have very little Indian culture. Some are surprised to learn that I actually have Hindi songs saved on my iTunes. When Akshay Kumar seranaded Kylie Minogue in the last flick I saw, an Uncle talked me through it step-by-step, explaining that the music being played was called "bhan-gr-a" and that it was a "Pun-ja-bi" form of music. If only he knew that Canadians are exposed to a large Punjabi population as well, and at the very least, have heard bhangra blasting out of passing cars from time to time.

There are times when I wish I knew other NRIs here. It'd help being scrutinised as an NRI become less intolerable and more laughable.

Anyhow, I don't have too many new photos to share, so I'm signing off with a few more from my Diwali holiday spent in some Gujarati villages.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I've made so many lifestyle adjustments while in India but despite it all, I am in love with this country. My tourist visa expires mid-February, but the past few months have gone by so quickly that the thought of my soonish departure is already saddening me.

I've been in contact with some Indian journalists, a few have been very helpful, but all painted a sad picture of India's current media situation. I've basically come here a few years too late they say. I was, however, able to land an interview which I'm trying to stay positive about.

I’m fascinated by Indian news, there’s simply too much going on. I doubt there’s ever a slow news day here. The country’s on pretty high alert. I can’t even go into a mall without walking through a metal detector and getting my purse thoroughly checked; it’s the same case when entering other popular places like movie theatres and even hotels.

I need to be careful of where I take my pictures since this too can pose a ‘security threat.’ I understand the concerns though. On the internal side of things, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had declared that Maoists pose the biggest threat to India. Their fight to protect the poor and lower-castes, or so they claim, is a popular one and they’re rapidly gaining strength in numbers. Just a few weeks back, Naxals had taken a Delhi-bound train hostage for five hours; yesterday, they abducted a politician, who was released today after police intervention.

Meanwhile, the India-Pakistan fight over Jammu and Kashmir territory continues. And now there’s new information coming out about China and Pakistan plotting together to weaken India since the 1980s. Mumbai is still trying to recover from last year’s 27/11 attacks as the nation continues to receive several other terrorist threats. I’ve barely covered the surface of India’s issues. Despite everything though, the nation is not only surviving, it’s thriving.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I made it to the 6:30am yoga class today - yes! Just getting up that early feels like a big accomplishment for me right now.

It's only 8am now and I'm already thinking about what I'll be eating today. I've become even more of a food junkie in Ahmedabad; there is so much great, inexpensive selection to choose from around every corner. The names of the joints are sort of tacky but the food taste and quality is consistently superb. Havmore serves up great icecream and other cold treats, Honest is known for it's delicious, hearty Indian and Chinese meals, and Freezieland's got the best sandwiches in the State - they make the meanest, greasiest and most creative grilled cheese sandwiches imaginable. Sadly, I've become even less health-conscientious while here.

I'm loving my regular motorbike rides, epecially on the expressway. I am growing concerned when I hop on though. One of our neighbour's boyfriend's got into a bike accident a few days ago. And then yesterday, one of her cousins got into a bike accident as well. Fortunately they're not seriously injured, but it's disconcerting nonetheless. Apparently more accidents occur during the Winter months, but it's not clear why. One girl joked that it's the government's fault for improving the city's road conditions, the lanes are so smooth now that it's making drivers giddy with the need for speed.

Drivers and male pillion passengers can get ticketed for riding without a helmet; female pillion passengers are exempted from this rule - go figure. Most drivers don't wear helmets regardless. Occasionally I'll see a cop giving out a ticket to one motorist, and in the meantime dozens of other helmet-less drivers zoom right by without even a warning. Kushboo got stopped a few weeks ago for driving without a helmet, but the cop let her go. Wanna know what her excuse was? No one wears helmets around Diwali time!

I went to Sabharmati Ashram yesterday, which is where Gandhi-ji lived from 1915-33. In 1930 he began his Dandi march from this location, to protest the British Salt Law. A very powerful energy was felt walking through his meeting room and living quarters. Some school children chanted hymns in unison in the outdoor prayer space, Upasana Mandhir, which faces the Sabharmati River. It was an incredibly peaceful, beautiful scene.

A museum-like perimeter encircles the ashram. The walls were covered with portraits of Gandhi-ji and historical facts about India's struggle for independence. The museum lacked upkeeping and organisation which I found disappointing. For example, there were several historical artifacts (and a lot of replicates) on display without any explanation as to what its significance was. So if you don't have a tour-guide next to you, a bit of guessing work is required. It's a must-see regardless though, I'm definately thankful I got the chance to visit.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gujarati Dialects

I woke up feeling extremely exhausted today and slept through most of the afternoon. I think I caught something, have zero energy in me.

I met up with with my niece's friend's friend's father yesterday, he's a Gujarati journalist. He gave me the contacts of some of his colleagues working in electronic media, they may be able to help get my foot into the Indian media industry he said. Let's see. He was a bit envious of my English media background, he too wants to start working in English news, as Gujarati paper readership is going down. But he's been told by some that he's too old to make the transition now, he's forty-five. So not having started off in English journalism is one of his biggest regrets, but he's going to keep at it.

A lot of elders here feel threatened by the English language, youngsters are picking it up so quickly through school and media. English is being incorporated in Hindi movies so freely now, and yet there aren't English to Hindi subtitles available on screen for those who don't understand the language. One of my Uncle's said he has no respect for a language that degenerated the word "Father" to "Dad." I love the English language but didn't argue with him about it, he was way too passionate about his cause.

Each one of India's 20-plus states is struggling to preserve its native language. With all the commotion that's just being stirred in Canada over the French and English debate, I can't even begin to fathom how much underlying friction there is here. It's amazing how people get along for the most part despite these issues.

Because I've been spending so much time in Ahmedabad, I'm learning a lot about my mother tongue; it's actually a Surati dialect of Gujarati, my cousin jokingly claims it's the dirtiest version of Gujarati imaginable. Most people in this city speak soodh (or "proper") Gujarati; the dialect my parents taught me is more of a slang version. For some reason, I can understand soodh Gujarati quite well, but most of its speakers can't understand my Surati whatsoever. We have a rougher way of speaking and incorporate a lot of slang terminology, whereas the proper version's more eloquent. *Kushboo's kindly been my stand-by interpretor whenever she's free (yes, otherwise, the lack of comprehension is simply that low); and when she's unavailable, I normally resort to speaking in English or even Hindi with my fellow Gujarati neighbours!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I’ve been getting along quite well with an artist uncle who lives a few floors down, along with his boisterous 20-something year old daughter, and his wife, who provides a delicious tiffin meal service to clients. The uncle just started giving free yoga classes this week, but I’ve been too lazy to get up at 5:30am and participate. Hopefully that changes over the next few days.
I got a glimpse of some of the murals he’s working on at home; his art work is incredible.

Presently, Uncle is working on some “Warli (a tribe found on the outskirts of Mumbai) art” for his daughter’s room; he’s smeared on some wet cow dung and mud paste on the walls for a brown finish. Surprisingly, it doesn't stink once its dried off. And it actually has a cooling effect on the room. The next step will be to paint on some simple expressions, simple in design and colour, of Warli culture. I’m really intrigued by the entire process. He’s invited me down to work on some sketches with him later on, which I am really looking forward to.

I’m adding a photo of one of his unfinished paintings. I’m inspired to paint up my own room once I know where I'll be settled. For now, I'm still living out of a suitcase.

Monday, November 2, 2009

There’s been a lot of fear brewing within the Sattlelight district apartment building we live in, that's fear of the monkeys. The tribe started hanging around the building premises a couple weeks back, for the most part, they were well-behaved. They sat in the back parking lot and watched children play, or sometimes stood guard at the front gates with the on-duty watchmen. For the most part, the monkeys were quiet observers, but when they felt like it, they mischieviously tested their weight out on parked vehicles. The adults are pretty big, at least three feet in height.

I have a fear of monkeys. I was chased down by two of them as a kid once; my family and I were visiting the Taj Mahal when the pair came running after me, snatching the guava I was holding from my hands. I had hoped to never have to deal with monkeys again, but no such luck this year. The quiet monkeys from a few weeks back have officially made their presence known inside the building. They show up at the front door, or wait on the balcony or barge into the kitchen. Tenants have learned to cope with the matter quite generously. One aunty told me that if you give them some water, four rotis and two potatoes, they’ll leave you alone for the rest of the day. But what happens should one run out of potatoes and roti? I'd rather not know.

Fireworks were going off again last night as it was Dev Diwali (in very simple terms, 'Diwali for the deities'). It falls on a full moon night each year, and this year wasn't any different. Lamps were lit up at households yet again and more threshold rangolis were prepared.

This is totally off-topic but I wanted to add a photo of how the girls drive around on their bikes here. When I first came to the city I thought women were covered up this way due to the growing fear of swine flu. But after speaking to some of the girls, I learned that it's actually to prevent their skin from tanning. Some even buy long cotton gloves to cover their hands and arms. I've been riding on the scooter with my cousin almost daily to hit the gym or run some errands. My aunt suggested I start covering up to avoid tanning as well, but I can't get myself to look like that nor can I be bothered to add extra layers in the heat.

The men tend to cover their faces with handkerchiefs instead of dupattas, of course. The problem with everyone covering up their faces this way though, is that it's easier for thieves to snatch purses and chains off other motorists without ever being recognised. Luckily I don't wear gold chains but I do carry a purse which I've been holding extra tightly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Travel India Solo

So I didn't get to see Goa yet. We were meant to leave on Monday, then Tuesday, then Wednesday and by Thursday I decided to simply go back home (to Ahmedabad) as I realised Goa wasn't happening. I did not get the chance to see much of Surat whilst there but from what I did notice, I'm not a fan of the city a) because the guys there can't stop gawking at women; b) the drivers are extremely aggressive, even worse than what I saw in Mumbai (my family will be concerned to learn that I've almost been hit by a car/rikshaw three times since I first landed in India); and c) women are restricted from enjoying themselves (well at least in the neighbourhood I was living in, some wives aren't even allowed to leave their homes).

A lot of the Indian-Canadian friends that I get to meet up with here get restless in India, so they're surprised when they find out that I'm enjoying my trip for the most part. I realise now what the problem is. You cannot visit this country with your family by your side. If you do, you're stuck with them making all the travel itinerary decisions for you. And from what I've seen, heard and experienced in the past, that itineray consists of meeting with dozens if not hundreds of relatives and family friends (out of which you normally only know a few handful), this process could last for weeks if time permits; preparing for a family wedding (just the shopping segment of this part takes up most of your time); and visiting mandhirs (or temples, it's nice to visit a few but some parents make it the highlight or sole purpose of the trip); perhaps get set up for an arranged marriage; the trip then ends with you hosting a bunch of visitors (making small talk, serving up chai-nashta) who come to say their good-byes while you pack your bags to go back home. This is the typical Indian experience for most NRI (non-resident Indian) kids so if you get the chance, avoid this situation, by all means try to travel on your own.

I've got that liberty of being on my own right now. Sure, some 'families' are getting insulted if I don't pay them a visit, but they're more understanding knowing that I'm here solo (they think I'm young and don't know any better). I can go from one city or state to the next as I please, most of my friends aren't getting that luxury.

There's so much I'd like to add (about veg. and non-veg. societies, motorcycle gear, obsession with tv serials, the explosion of desi reality shows, Gujarat's alcohol ban, Indian news, etc.), but it's been tough without regular internet access. I'll be able to post more regular updates now though since I'm in Ahmedabad.

Everyone's asking me about my job search. I've been quite passive about it since I arrived in the country, but am slowly making some contacts. I've talked to a few journalists in the past weeks but they don't help much, well they say they will but won't in the end, perhaps they feel threatened. I don't feel ready for job interviews anyway, at least not yet. I'm years behind with the Indian news and I'm having difficulty catching up. Indian news is incredibly fast-paced, it cannot even be compared to Canadian news. Here, there's "breaking news" every single day. If you don't keep up, it's easy to get lost, which is unfortunately my case at the moment. It's hard to convince people to flip from their highly revered soap channel to the news channel, and I don't have consistent internet access to read the latest online, and it's hard to come across English newspapers in Gujarat. I know, excuses, excuses.

I went to see London Dreams yesterday, I don't reccommend it. I also went out to get my pani-puri fix prior to dinner, I'm getting addicted to a lot of the Gujarati delights. Some friends warned me I'd get hooked on the savoury food here, I was skeptical, but now realise that they weren't exaggerating.

What else...tonight my cousin and I may see Bappi Lahiri perform at a local music festival. It's either that or we'll be doing some sightseeing with the family, which will include... visiting some mandhirs.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chicken Anyone?

So I finally made it to Surat, feel like I'm finally back to being a part of civilisation again. The village life was relaxing but at the end of the day, it's simply not for me. I now know my limit as to how many bug bites and salty well-water I can handle in one lifetime- seven days max.

The highlights of my week were:
- Befriending some of the village youngsters (they all reminded me of a little Jamal, Latika or Salim from Slumdog Millionaire).
- Looking up at the stars at night (I saw two shooting stars!)
- There are more... but I'm at a computer lab again and feel rushed with my thoughts.

The not so fun part though, was listening to the chicken (warning: discontinue reading this entry if you've got a weak stomache) I was going to have for supper shriek in desperation just before the butcher lady snapped off its head, drained out its' blood, dumped it in boiling water, tugged off the feet, plucked out the feathers, and sliced up the meat right before my eyes. I'm no longer able to take in non-veg food unless I want to gag). The guts were left behind for the crows to fight over - yuck, yuck, yuck. I'm sorry if this is too detailed, but that's all I can think about these days.

Every adult I met, no matter what village I was in, asked me the same question. Why am I not married, when will I get married and would I like for them to find me a husband. No thank-you kind and courteous Sir. It was pretty darn annoying at first, but it later became laughable.

The one thing I know for sure after this week is that I'll always be a city girl at heart. I need to have access to running water, I need my cellphone to be working, I need the world at my fingertips through the internet. I guess in some ways I am spoiled.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hello Valsar

I'm staying at a village in Valsar. I haven't had internet access for days but it actually feels like weeks or months, rather. I'm not getting proper phone reception here and it's been driving me nuts. The ground-toilet situation was tough for me to deal with on the first day, but I adjusted after my first night of being stubborn; I had refused to use the bathroom and had to learn my lesson the following day.

To sum it up, my week has been extremely isolating, emotional and rewarding. The locals from my Dad's village were all teary-eyed when they met me. It felt strange visiting the family home that we've set up there, when there was actually no family to visit inside. I also visited the village my Mom's from. I connected with some relatives immediately, while others just gawked at me as though I were from another planet. Tomorrow I'll be visiting my 90-year old paternal grandmother who's been extremely ill. I'll also be attending an annual village function to hand out an award of some sort to a few promising students. I'm not looking forward to it, am feeling very uncomfortable being the centre of attention, but I understand that it should be an honour.

I've visited at least eight different villages in the past days. I can't recalls the names of most but I'll update this post once I do remember. I've seen some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. I can't wait to upload some pictures once I get the chance (right now I'm at a cyber-cafe, which is technically just a computer lab. The labs have started asking for passport photocopies which are then used for identity fraud soonafter. Luckily I had a contact who had another contact who let me skip the ID step).

Diwali fireworks were still going off yesterday and it may be the same case today as well. I've been spending a lot of time with this charming little 11-year old boy named *Jai. When he met me he literally took my cousin aside and asked her to "bond our friendship." How cute is that? Our friendship has been bonded ever since. He has a few small burn marks on his left cheek that are evidence of the unsupervised crackers he lit up prior to our arrival. There's also a boy at the neighbour's house who literally has a hole in his hand, that too, from the firworks he fooled around with unsupervised.

I'm not a big fan of the fireworks. They leave so much pollution behind. And they are incredibly loud, I'm definately getting my hearing checked when I get back home.

Another observation I've made is that there is absolutely no garbage disposal system in the villages. Litter either gets burned or is thrown into the fields, I've been left with no other choice but to guiltily follow this trend.

I've meet so many families this week and noticed a common experience they all shared. They all have at least one member in the family who's been bitten by a stray dog, and who has been in a motorcycle, or scooter, accident. One of my distant aunt's is still healing from a dog attack she experienced six months ago. The dog apparently snapped out of nowhere and wouldn't let go of her leg. It had to be put to sleep and she was rushed to the hospital to get vaccinated. She's been walking with difficulty ever since.

Now she has to be careful about what she eats in public. Most people in her village know of the attack. Because she was bitten, she's no longer to eat certain types of foods, such as anything with spice. They say the dog will come back to demonise her otherwise. So since the bit she's been living with a new-found stigma.

I'd like to highlight some of the splendour from this week but have run out of time, my half-hour is nearly up. I'm off to Goa on Monday! More later.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Diwali Time!

I was awoken by the burst of crackers going off at 6 o'clock in the morning. Yes - 6am. Then it was at 6:15am, 7am, 7:30am... Diwali fever has officially hit Ahmedabad. Actually, firecrackers were randomly going off since I got here two weeks ago, but that was only in the evenings around 8pm, which is a bit more reasonable than early mornings. Ever since Dhanteras yesterday though (the first of the five-day Diwali festival), there's no stopping the kids from lighting their crackers anymore.

The "108 Emergency Service" included a memo in the Ahmedabad Mirror today reminding everyone that:

- Children require adult supervision when playing with fireworks
- Crackers should only be burst in open spaces
- Used firecrackers should be discarded in water

None of these precautions are being followed. First off, it's mostly large groups of children playing with fireworks, and it's only on the rare occasion that one will find adults supervising their activities. Secondly, the crackers are mainly being burst in small and large parking lots, but not empty parking lots mind you, parking lots filled with parked vehicles and motorbikes. And lastly, the crackers aren't necessarily being discarded in water.

It's a hazard zone out here. I walked to a nearby bazaar with my niece *Kushboo last night, and decided to take a quieter 'internal' road to avoid the heavy traffic (which is dangerous for pedestrians as there are no sidewalks to walk on). We were chatting, minding our own business on the deserted street, when a firecracker went off quite literally, just a few feet in front of us. I screamed but Kushboo just flinched before laughing at me, she says she's used to random crackers going off out of nowhere during this time of year. Yup, so much for that memo about the proper discarding of fireworks.

Don't get me wrong; apart from getting ear-aches from the noise of bursting crackers and fearing that I may get burned by one or some of them, I love the festive, luminous environment. I've never seen anything like this before. The noise level from the crackers is encouraged, it's meant to scare the dark spirits away. I can't speak for the spirits but can confidently say that it's definately scaring the stray cats, dogs and pigeons away. As soon as the crackers are burst you can see fleets of birds flying to safety as the animals look for a quiet place to hide.

The streets are so bright at night; every household is being lit up with diyas,' another symbol of forcing the dark away and welcoming the light. The mood is so festive here that you can't help but get caught up in it all. I created my first ever Diwali rangoli (sand art created on the floor in front of the entranceway to welcome the goddess of wealth, Laxmi devi, into one's home) with Kushboo last night; it took us about two hours to create; Kushboo says we could've been done sooner but we kept getting interrupted. Some of the neighbours from the apartment building came to entertain us through the process, they occassionally critiqued our colour scheme and techniques, but it was all in good fun.

The remainder of my Diwali week will be quite full. I have to make the rounds through several villages and visit distant relatives. It's something I've been avoiding but the word is spreading that I've arrived and people (whose names I do not even know) are slowly getting insulted that I haven't yet visited them. I'll also be doing some touring along the way with my host family, we'll mainly be visiting temples.

And after the Diwali holidays, I'm off to Surat to stay with my cousins who've come from Canada - yay! I'll continue my touring with them, so far, Goa, Jaipur and Delhi are some of the regions we have in mind.

Apart from the sporadic homesickness, I love it here. The only thing that's been irking me is the marriage talk. Every aunty I meet has a suitable boy in mind for me. Even the American aunty who's flat I was renting in Mumbai, called me from the States to suggest a few bachelors for me. I understand that this is a normal process that every unmarried foreigner has to embrace whilst in India, but seriously, why are they so passionate, almost obsessive, about the match-making?
Am off, but before I forget, Happy Diwali!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Homesickness Prevails...

I am so incredibly homesick, I don't feel like doing anything other than sulking in bed. I know, I realise this entry is already quite different from the last one. I shouldn't be complaining because things are going quite well for me here. It's just that I've got the most amazing friend circle back home and none of these individuals are here to even go for a simple coffee with. Some friends, who are in town visiting, are too busy right now fulfilling their family obligations. I'm re-thinking my whole 'time away' plan and may head back to Canada sooner than expected (yes, even despite receiving word about how cold it's getting there).

I've met some genuinely nice people here but there's still a cultural barrier. In this past week alone I've been randomly asked if I've ever had a boyfriend, if I've ever been to a 'dance club,' and if I've ever tried an alcoholic beverage. These things are considered tabboo to most, and I find myself hesitating in my replies to these questions. To some, having a 'boy/girlfriend' literally means just being platonically friends with someone of the opposite sex, which is still considered a pretty big deal. I'm not judging this value system, I'm just not used to it.

On a more positive note, I've been reuniting with family members I didn't even realise I had. I learned that I have a lot in common with my 76-year old uncle, who unfortunately is now hard-of-hearing and extremely frail. Ironically, as I was making this observation about him, he commented aloud on how frail I look!

He's the only relative I've met up to date who's passionate about the two things I'm extremely fond of - art and photography. We went through hundreds of photos he compiled over the years; he couldn't hear mosts of my remarks and questions along the way, but I believe he understood some of the comments through my facial expressions. He's a sentimental fellow and has memorabilia of nearly everything. I took some photos of his British Raj coin collection and rummaged through some of the actual historical remnants. I regret not having met this uncle years earlier, he may hold the key to learning about my family ancestry and much more.

I left Sabharmati (still very much a village but now considered a part of Ahmedabad city), the area where my uncle is from, on a very full stomach. I discovered where the country's best batata varnas' are made - in my babi's kitchen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I am feeling very content. The family I'm staying with in Amhedabad is extremely warm and fun-loving. Five weeks after leaving Canada I finally feel like I'm somewhat at home. And I feel so liberated walking the streets here, it's refreshingly different from Mumbai. I actually dared to wear a tank top out and no one looked at me twice because of it nor did anyone make any snarly remarks about it.

During my first night in Gujarat guess where my cousins suggested we go out for dinner? McDonald's! It truly is a high-status symbol in India, such a contrast from the Western reality of it. In the end, we managed to go to this delicious South Indian restaurant called Sankalp. Among other things, they offered various original twists to the traditional masala dosa. I was tempted to try everything on the menu. We ordered a bit of everything and just writing about it now is making me hungry.

I was surprised to find pharmacies and grocery stores that're similar to the ones we have in North America. Had I known this before leaving for India, I would've refrained from purchasing all that I did at Wal-Mart. You can find the same products over here and at a better price.

Inside most stores are massive advertisements for Garnier's new skin lightening cream for men. I'm very curious to learn how well this product is doing in the male market. Going by all the tv commercials and billboards, which are saturated by the faces of gorgeous Bollywood celebrities, there is tremendous pressure to look good here. The hair commercials are getting to me, I suddenly wish I had long, thick, black hair too.

I need to cut this short, but wanted to add that I've almost landed an interview with a prominent city newspaper. The mere thought is making me feel hopeful!

Monday, October 5, 2009


Early this morning I took the Shatabdi Express train from Mumbai Central Station to Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The luggage-handlers in their red shirts all reminded me of the 1980s hit film, Coolie. I want to watch the movie all over again.

I heard passengers speak in several different dialects of Gujarati; some were more difficult to understand than others. I was looking out the window through most of the six-hour ride. A lot of the lesser-priviliged adults and children were doing their 'early morning business' at the railway tracks. Nearby, there were rows of little shacks made out of cardboard and plastic bags. The families' inside looked comfortable in their routine, getting ready to start their day. They seemed so much more at peace than the crowds I was exposed to in Mumbai.
We passed by vast, green pastures, lily flower ponds, and long-winded blue creeks. I knew we were nearing Gujarat as I caught glimpse of cow and buffalo herds, one dark-brown camel and some goats.

I've been to various Gujarati villages in the past, but never to the cities. There is a drastic difference. It may sound far-fetched but Ahmedabad is reminding me a lot of Las Vegas. I'll try to explain at a later time, should get some sleep.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Eunuchs Brightened my Train Ride!

It's 10am and I just missed a SKYPE rendez-vous with a friend (I was supposed to be on by 8am, which would be her 10:30pm). I woke up to the sound of a hammer pounding into the wall - yes, the renovations have started at the flat, golden! As I keep saying, I cannot wait to head out to Gujarat.

I had trouble sleeping last night. The malnourished dogs who hang out in front of our building kept wailing. There are stray cats and dogs all over the streets, which reminds me, I still have to get my rabies vaccine. I wonder how they survive in this excessive heat. Do they even get any water?

Water's such a commodity in this country as a whole, but especially in this city; ironic considering three-quarters of Mumbai is surrounded by water. There's simply too much demand as the population here keeps rising. One of the solutions has been to regulate the water supply. At the building I stay at, for instance, the water supply's cut off between 1pm and 6pm. In some areas, the cut off is even longer. There are six lakes supplying water to the city and they're constantly being monitored, as they sometimes reach below the drawable limit. I've read some of the statistics, it's a pretty frightening picture.

Everyone is rushing to Mumbai, it's become a key political issue in this country. One politician has suggested that Maharashtran work visas be mandatory for everyone working in the city, a strategy he thinks will decrease the influx of people flooding into the city from other Indian states. For Canada, it'd kind of be like only allowing Ontarions to apply for jobs in Toronto. It's a controversial idea and the Bollywood industry has taken a stance against it (as most of the celebrities are not from Maharashtra themselves).

Back to my restless night, I preoccupied my time wondering why women get harassed so much here. In particularly on the packed trains where it's like a free-for-all (I'd compare it to Cancun foam parties, where the male tourists,' note - I'm not saying all male tourists' but many of them, animal instincts come out once they realise any type of groping is permissable, since no one can see what goes on beneath the suds). On second thought, alcohol plays a huge role in the behaviour of men at foam parties. But the Indian men on these trains aren't even intoxicated, so what could it be...
Here are some of my theories:
  • Indian women are just too darn irresistable
  • Bollywood: Bollywood is huge here and most of the time, the women are portrayed as sex objects or at the very least, eye candy
  • Indian serials (soaps): most of the female characters play out the roles of docile, victimised, helpless women; perhaps it makes the guys think victimising women is the norm
  • Heat exhaustion: it makes people do crazy things
  • Beads of sweat: even with the fans on, it gets extremely hot on the trains so everyone is drenched in sweat, I think this gets their mojo going
  • Sexual deprivation
Anyhow, whatever the reasons may be, it's not right. There are two women-only compartments on each regular train, but it's not enough, which is why the "Ladies-Specials" trains are finally being introduced (trains reserved just for women). It's nice to see the government seriously doing something about the harrassment issue, but the fact that it has to get to this point where men and women can't even commute together, paints an ugly picture for gender equality in this country.

The highlight of my last train ride was watching three extremely tall eunuchs (or hijras' as their known here), dressed in bright, colourful saris and the reddest of lipsticks, hop on to the train. They spoke loudly in their deep voices, cracked jokes amongst themselves, and simply oozed of power. The entire vibe in my train section fell flat, it's like you could feel the testosterone level go down; it was the men's turn to feel intimidated. The eunuchs bothered one male passenger to the next, asking them for money, looking them up and down, telling them whether they were hot or not. They acknowledged me by saying, "Hello English-madam," (strange as I hadn't uttered a word and do look completely Indian) but otherwise left me alone. They teased the guy sitting next to me for looking like Shah Rukh Khan, and another for looking like Ranbir Kapoor. They got off at the next stop, but not before shouting out that the guys should all watch the film 'Dostana' (meaning 'Friendship,' a hit film starring Abishek Bachan, John Abraham and Priyanka Chopra that is saturated with gay sexual innuendos) and get busy! For the next couple of minutes, most of the guys were still looking down at the floor out of sheer embarrassment. It's as if the eunuchs had walked away with their manhood. It's funny how quickly the tables can turn.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sorry Madam, All Offices Are Closed Today

A friend's email inspired me to get back on the job-search track this morning. I was all revved up, with the list of media companies in my hand and an introductory greeting mentally prepared. My first call was to Times Now, where the operator replied, "Sorry madam, all offices are closed today." Yes, I'm a tad bit frustrated. It's the second national holiday this week. Monday was closed for Navaratri and today is Gandhi Jayanti, Gandhi-ji's 140th birthday anniversary, an international day of non-violence. I heard murmurs about the holiday all week yet it still managed to slip my mind today. I keep choosing the wrong days to feel inspired, or rather, inspiration is finding me at the wrong time.

I'll be leaving for Gujarat, the state where Gandhi-ji grew up, this Monday. It would've been a 1-hour plane ride but I've opted to take the train instead, which will take five extra hours. A friend from Gujarat is coming to Mumbai that same week-end, so we'll be heading back by train together. We've never met in person but he's been trying to help me find work in Mumbai. I know him through his father who I met in Canada, he too was working as a journalist at the time.

His son's name is *Roshan. He's much younger than I am, extremely carefree, witty and intelligent; most importantly, he's the closest tie I've made here so far. He was actually a contestant on the Tata Crucible business quiz; the national final's being hosted in Mumbai this week-end, where we'll get to be members of the audience. It's supposed to be intense, 18 teams (one from each state) will be competing to win $10,000 in reward-money. I'm looking forward to the new experience, plus the venue location seems nice, it's at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel!

Before I sign off, thank you for showing interest in my blog. I'm liking the comments and the feedback always helps. It's like I've got my very own support group going! Thanks!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Scandalous Top

I'm getting restless in Mumbai. I still like the chaotic city with its aggressive cabbies, endless bargain shopping, and crowded streets up until the wee hours of the morning, but I'm feeling a bit homesick.

I'm counting down the days until I head out to Gujarat and meet with some of my distant family there. Maybe it'll feel a bit more like home.

I wore a backlass T-shirt yesterday. It was not deliberate, I hadn't realised it was backless when I purchased it in London. So I wore it with a tank top underneath even though double-layers aren't the best idea in this weather. Despite the tank, my shoulders were still bare. I got disappointed frowns from a lot of older men and women throughout the day. One of the aunties sarcastically even asked me where the rest of my top had disapppeared to! That burned, it took all my might not to snap back.

Shalini took me out shopping again, this time in Dadar. When we got there the bazaar was closed as the cops were patrolling the streets. She said the bazaar would re-open once the cops left, which they did 15 minutes later. The entire place came back to life. It reminded me of New York's Canal Street. Except, instead of vendors closing up their suitcase shops, Dadar vendors had to close up their entire stand. It was amazing to see how quickly they got back to work.

I took the girls out for icecream later in the evening, someone had mentioned that this parlour in Breach Candy served up the best icecream in Mumbai. I can't remember the name of the place, but I'm sure it will come to me eventually. I was not disappointed, they offer every Indian fruit flavour imaginable. I tried their Pistachio and Mango flavours and got addicted. One of the maids said she'd never tried icecream before, she was very timid in accepting it, but I think she liked it in the end.

I'm listening to some Kanye West music online and it's easing my home-sickness. Will try to make the best of today!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Starting to Feel Homesick...

Much to my parents' disappointment, I didn't go to gharba again tonight. I hate to say it but the heat's been getting to me. Right now I'd much rather stay indoors, with the a/c on, even if it gives me a sore throat.

I want my own friends here. The new friends I've made still act like my servants once we reach home; the awkward barriers come right back up. I'm not to do the dishes, make my own bed, do the laundry... As soon as I wake up in the mornings (who am I kidding, the afternoon's more like it) they come in my room to ask me what I'll be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can't get used to this.

*Shalini said she's willing to take me to one of the devi matha's temples tomorrow. She explained that she used to have an acne problem just like me, but after praying to the goddess of beauty, her skin had cleared up and so will mine. I didn't realise I had an acne problem, so I double-checked in the mirror anyway, but saw nothing new. She must have been referring to the few freckles that I have.

Shalini mentioned that she was saving money to get the tattooed bindi on her forehead removed. Her parents had her tattooed when she was only five; she still remembers the pain involved. It's a process most Maharashtran girls have to go through, but she explained that a lot of her friends were getting them removed now, as it clashes with the Western clothing they like to wear. She's going for a consultation next week, the doctor's promised to remove the mark for 5000 rupees. That's $125 Canadian, I wonder how safe this surgery will be.

The girls all sleep on the living room floor even though there are three empty bedrooms in the flat. I've offered to share my room since I have the air-conditioner but they laughed it off. I'm feeling incredibly spoiled, I can't wait to be back in my proper element.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shopping in Bandra

My day was a lot more interesting today. The girls at the flat have warmed up to me finally, especially one girl named *Shalini. She's 21 years old and beautiful. It turns out she and her four other siblings are all orphans. She's got a boyfriend, but she doesn't know if he's the one for her, you see, he's already married. His parents had him married when he was just a toddler. I wanted to inquire about his wife and whether he had any children, but thought it best not to pry. I'm guessing the wife's either oblivious or consensual to his affair since he calls up Shalini all the time. I don't really blame the guy for getting tired of a wife he's had since childhood, but I hope he's not taking Shalini for a ride either.

Anyhow, Shalini took me shopping in Bandra. I was desperate for new clothes. My Canadian pieces which I specifically brought for Indian weather were leaving me drenched. I found some cotton shirts and half-pants for about 5$ each (200 rupees). I'm sure we could've bargained the prices down some more but I felt bad for the vendors.

We reached the bazaar by cab, and as usual the driver over-charged us. Drivers aren't supposed to charge more than what's written on the metre, but this is the second time I get over-charged with her. This hasn't happened once yet when I have a guy with me. Shalini's extremely soft-spoken and I think the drivers pick up on that. Plus, I have a difficult time being firm about the price in my broken Hindi, together, we make a great team don't we.

I've decided to tour out west in about a week's time, towards Gujarat and hopefully Rajasthan. I'd like to postpone my job search. Even if I were to find something immediately, I'm not ready to get into a work routine. There's way too much to see and explore here. I've got some friends coming down to visit their extended families. One of them will be meeting with prospective husbands, she said I can help her choose. I don't think that's the best idea as I can be very critical.

We took a bus back home from Bandra for 10 rupees each, it was about an hour-long ride. Mid-way the driver turned off the engine and abandoned all his passengers on the bus, leaving us all wondering what was going on. He came back about 20 minutes later, announcing that there was an engine failure and we had to switch over to another bus. It made me miss my Canadian city, bus drivers can be rude there as well, but at least they keep their passengers informed.

Anyhow, once we got off at our stop, some passerby's nose slime flung on to my arm. I squirmed for a very long 3 seconds as my mind processed what that yellowish-green guck was. Then I calmly pulled out a tissue from my purse and wiped the stuff off. I'm proud of myself, I'm taking everything in stride. In fact, Shalini was more grossed out than I was. I'm not even mad at the gentleman responsible for that slime, I'm sure he was aiming for the ground and my arm just got in the way.

Tomorrow's the last day of Navaratri, I haven't been in the mood for gharba much lately but will try to make it out for the last night.