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.