The Last Post
Host family love. :)
I am currently sitting in the Delhi airport waiting for my flight back to LAX. It still does not feel like I am going home. I am secretly hoping for my layover in Tokyo to be extended…
My last week in Pune was definitely bittersweet. Saying goodbye to Priya was very sad. I am so thankful to have her in my life. I spent all of my last days in Pune hanging out with Priya. My roommates and I made her a scrapbook. On Tuesday night, we had closing ceremonies. We performed all of our cultural expression activities, like Tabla, Kathak, Folk Dancing, Sitar, Violin.. It was a fun way to end our program. But, so sad to say goodbye since Steph and I left directly from the venue to start our travel week round II.
Folk dance at Closing Ceremonies.
Steph and I decided to travel for a week after the program ended which was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was stressful finishing up research projects, planning closing ceremonies, saying goodbye to Priya, doing finals for class, and planning a second travel week—but, it was so worth it!
Taj Mahal in Agra.
Right after the closing ceremonies, Steph and I took a car to the Mumbai airport and flew to Delhi. We rented a car from the Delhi airport to take us to the Taj Mahal in Agra and back since we had to get back to our bus in Delhi that evening. Our tour guide at the Taj Mahal was amazing. If you ever go, it’s worth it to spend the extra money for a tour guide. It’s only about 1000 Rs. and it makes the whole experience more worthwhile. He explained to us all the architectural things that went into building it and showed us cool parts about how the marble was engraved. I was surprised as to how much I loved the Taj Mahal. I knew it was just one of those things you have to see while in India but I figured it wouldn’t be as spectacular as everyone says because that’s usually how those things go. But, it really is an incredible building. It’s really neat to just finally stand in front of it.
Our drive back to Delhi was another one of those quintessential India moments. If I had to sum up India in one story—this would probably be it. Our driver was pretty quiet since he didn’t speak much English but we bonded when we asked him to play Hindi songs. He ended up showing us Punjabi music videos on his cell phone the rest of the way home. When we arrived in Delhi, he knew we still had 2 hrs until our bus. He didn’t want us staying at the bus station alone at night so he invited us over to tea. We initially refused because, well, stranger danger. But, then he pulled up to the front of his house and said, “no really come over, meet my children.” We just kind of figured well okay. He took us to his home which was a tall apartment with every flat on every floor full of one of his family members. We met his grandma and grandpa, his cousins, his nieces and nephews, his wife, his kids. They were all so excited to meet us. His wife gave us tea and we chatted. His family knew a bit more English than he did. They all found it amusing that we knew a couple Hindi phrases. After, his wife gave us dinner. A full dinner with rice, dal, and vegetable. She kept giving us serving after serving until we thought we would burst. Then, our driver took us back to the bus station. It was just such a perfect evening. You can’t sum up India. It’s the most diverse, crazy place. But, something I have noticed from everywhere I have traveled is hospitality. There is a common phrase in India that says, “treat your guest like God.” When someone offers you something in India, they actually want you to have it. I find that so many times in America we mumble, “do you want some coffee?” without really caring if they take you up on it or not. But, here, it is expected that you take it. This family wasn’t wealthy. Their father is a taxi driver and their whole family, mom, dad, 3 kids live in a tiny one room flat. Yet, they served us dinner and fed us as much food as we could possibly fit into our body. They were such a wonderful family. I have felt completely safe my entire time traveling here. Even with just traveling with one other woman, it’s almost like people get even more protective over you and go out of their way to help you.
Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab.
Our bus to Amritsar in Punjab was awesome. They played Punjabi music videos on full blast until 2am. We got off at the last stop and asked if we could get a rickshaw to our guest house. The bus driver told us to just wait at the bus stand and within 20 minutes, they had arranged a free car to take us and two other people all the way into the city. We were still outside of the city and they probably only had so many people who were going to Amritsar, but they still made sure we had a comfortable car and they could have easily just stranded us a couple kilometers outside of the city. We stopped for breakfast along the way and chatted with the three other guys in the car. When we got into the city, they made sure to help us find our guest house and walked us there. Everyone took care of us our entire trip.
India side of the India-Pakistan border.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar is absolutely beautiful. It’s a Sikh temple but people of all faiths come to visit. They serve a free meal to thousands of people every day. Steph and I had lunch there and the food was delicious. In the afternoon, we visited the India-Pakistan border to see the changing of the flags. It was a strange display of nationalism with both sides shouting slogans and singing songs. Apparently they do it every day and people love to come and cheer on India as they switch the flags on the border. It was pretty weird. Afterwards, we went back to the Golden Temple to see it at night. Somehow, it was even more stunningly beautiful. That night, we had one of the best dinners yet. Punjabi food is the typical type of Indian food we get in American restaurants. We had paneer tikka masala and mushroom dum kadai. It was heaven in the form of food.
Golden Temple at night.
The next morning we took a car to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. We had found a taxi driver on the street in Amritsar. The drive is beautiful and then somehow the town is even more beautiful. We spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Dharamsala, which I think might be my new favorite place. Dharamsala is mostly a Tibetan refugee town tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Dalai Lama lives there. We visited his temple and sat in on the monks chanting and meditating. There is a prayer walk through the hills which the monks do daily. Steph and I did it a couple times. It was beautiful. It’s covered in prayer flags and spinning mantra wheels. There are many places to just sit and stop and look out over the mountains and pray, meditate, anything. It incredible. We hiked to a waterfall one afternoon and enjoyed putting our feet in the icy cold water. The next day, we hiked 6 km up to a sacred lake. At night, we met these two Kashmiri shop keepers who took us out and told us all about living in Dharamsala. Even though we went out to a bar with them, we ended up talking about politics and religion all night. They were both Muslim and talked about what it’s like living in Dharamsala and their hopes for Kashmir and Pakistan. Both nights were really interesting. We ended up hanging out in their shops both afternoons just talking since that’s basically what they do all day. They gave us chai and told us all the best places to hike to. Dharamsala is just the most perfect place ever. Many Europeans travel there for mediation retreats or for trekking. All the food is Tibetan or Chinese. Steph and I sat on our rooftop terrace every morning drinking chai. It was literally perfect. I wish I could fully explain how perfect it was. It was the first place I visited in India where I felt that I absolutely have to come back.
View from our balcony in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.
Dharamsala prayer walk.
Tibetan temple in town.
Hike to dal sacred lake.
Near the Dalai Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala.
Sunday night, we took a bus back to Delhi. My friend from Smith who lives in Delhi took us around all day on Monday in her car to eat food, sight see, go to markets. In the afternoon, we went to her house and watched a Bollywood movie before heading to the airport.
Humayun’s tomb in Delhi.
I am so thankful I traveled again. I loved north India and will be back. It was another wonderful week of backpacking through India and I feel even more confident for coming back and doing it all over again. There are countless more places I want to go to in India. I feel as excited to go to these places as I did when first coming here. Every single place in India is just so different. Often Steph and I would do little things that we were told to do to be polite, etc and people would say, “wow that’s so Maharashtran.” Our driver’s 11 year old daughter told us that “eating with your hands looks cheap.” Every region has completely different cultures from language to religion, everything. That’s what makes India such a cool place. We always talk about how diverse America is, but, it is nothing compared to India. You can be Indian and travel to another state and feel like a foreigner. It’s pretty incredible.
India, you have my heart.
Mangos, Mangos, Mangos
Homemade Mango Mastanis.
This past week has been very busy with finishing up my research project on interfaith marriages. I presented my research on Wednesday and am very happy with how it turned out.
My time is coming to a close, only 10 more days until i’m home.
Sadashiv Peth at night.
I know that when I go home everyone will ask, how was India? This question is hard to answer since there is the quick, easy answer—that it was incredible and I absolutely loved my time here. Which is true. But, then there is the long, more complicated answer. This trip has definitely had its ups and downs, but its through the challenging parts that we learn the most about ourselves and what we value. Studying here and being outside of my American comfort zone hasn’t been the easiest. It has been challenging being in a whole new place, not being with my best friends for a semester, living in a conservative place, having a curfew, not being able to call home as often as I would like, having to adjust to a whole new lifestyle—but it’s all worth it. It’s cool being in a place where everything is so different—the religion, the food, the politics, the clothes, but still finding that we all value the same things, that we are all striving for similar goals just in different ways. I have learned a lot about myself and have a better idea of what I want to do in my life and what/who is important to me. I have made some great relationships (especially with my host mom), learned so much about a country I really didn’t know much about before, learned a new instrument, new crafts, new ways of cooking. I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity. But, i’m also getting pretty excited to get home and see all my family and friends.
Sand art in front of our house.
Last weekend was so packed!
Friday=Mango day. Friday, was the first day Maharashtran mangos could be sold and everyone gave a mango offering to celebrate. We visited a temple at night covered top to bottom in mangos. Priya made hand crushed mango puree and gave us about 3 bowls of it. The next morning, Uncle made us mango milkshakes. Priya made mango mastanis. A man did a beautiful sand art outside our window. We wandered around Pune at night visiting temples with all our host sisters.
On Saturday, we went to Uttara’s mother’s 1000 moons ceremony. When someone turns 80, they have been alive for 1000 moons. There is a ritual where they put the woman on a big scale and weigh her against stuff to show that the sum of her life can’t be measured. They sang songs and gave gifts and we all ate a delicious dinner.
1000 moons ceremony.
On Sunday, I went to my tabla teacher son’s thread ceremony. A thread ceremony is for a brahmin boy when he turns 8-12 years old. Originally, it was the ritual which marked when he was ready to move to his guru’s house full time until he turns 18 to study the vedas, etc. But, now, they just do the ritual and the boy stays with his parents. The ritual kind of looks like a wedding ceremony with the father and son sitting between a curtain, the father in the bride’s place and the son in the husband’s place. The son wears a flower headdress and has his head shaved in a circle. There is a long part of the ritual in front of a smoking fire as the priest reads off samskars. The ceremony started at 6 am and went until noon with breakfast, lunch, and a tabla performance with my tabla teacher and his son. Later that night, we went down to the temple to do arti because one of my host sisters got a promotion. So we did the puja and ate sweets. Also, Priya gave me a haircut because she was making fun of how my short hair has gotten crazy. She had been putting it off for days because Thursday was a bad moon to cut your hair and all Saturdays are bad to cut your hair so she waited until Sunday.
Ritual by the smoking fire. Father and son tabla time.
Carolyn and I with our lovely tabla teacher.
On Wednesday, Priya threw a going away party for us. We invited everyone from the alliance. We went down to the temple to do an arti. The guruji was so excited! He made us wear these Maharashtran hats which were big and orange. We should have been embarrassed, but we were kind of like well of course Priya was make us wear big, funny hats to a party. She wouldn’t let us take them off all night. People took photos and Priya said they are going to put it in the newspaper. We ate dinner on the rooftop and stayed up late hanging out with our host sisters.
Host sisters. Priya made us wear the traditional Maharashtran hats for our party. She forced us to wear them all night~another form of agrah.
On Thursday, Maya and I visited a fort in the middle of Pune. It had burnt down in the late 19th century so only the foundations are left. Now, it’s more of just a community park with interesting ruins. But, from the top of the wall you can see parts of old Pune really well.
All week has been bittersweet knowing that we have to say goodbye to Priya soon. I’m going to miss her so much and the home that we have here.
just some thoughts
I have been debating doing this post for awhile because I wasn’t really sure what I even wanted to say or if it was worth saying. I often get the question from family and friends as to what it’s like traveling as a lesbian in India. Living in a country which criminalizes homosexuality for 4 months has not been the easiest. When section 377 was repealed in December, re-criminalizing homosexuality in India, I panicked. I wasn’t sure what to expect and didn’t know who to contact about my feelings. It was scary to willingly go to a country which seemed so against my entire identity. I remember having a long talk with my mom and my friends about my feelings but, obviously, no one could fully prepare me for what to expect. I read that demonstrations against sec 377 in support of the gay rights movement were happening all over the country. I read that sec 377 is often not officially upheld and is mostly used as a way to intimidate people to stay in the closet. I knew that I would be physically/legally safe, especially as a foreigner. But, I still didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what it would feel like to go back in the closet, back into hiding my identity. I have chosen to keep my sexuality private while abroad. Only my American friends in the program know. My host mom does not know. My boss does not know. My professors do not know. They don’t need to know. My experience abroad would have been different if I had been completely out. I don’t think it would have caused any actual problems, but, it probably would have caused additional stress or awkwardness which I don’t need. Already adjusting to a new country is difficult. Personally, I just didn’t feel like I wanted to have to talk about or be judged for my sexuality and things like that. It’s late enough in the semester now where I don’t mind if people know.
It has been uncomfortable to hide my identity. I never realized how important my sexuality is to me until I felt like I should hide it. It has often felt like high school all over again, feeling like I should wear gendered clothes, to make excuses for my short hair, to listen to advice on marrying a man and being a good wife. Luckily, sexuality in general, even if it’s straight, is just not talked about in India. No one has ever asked me and Priya has never asked about boyfriends or anything like that. But, it has been strange to go from being in a solely gay friend group where we openly talk about being gay constantly, to nothing. I got lucky with supportive roommates and friends on the program; but, it’s different. It’s a hard thing to relate to with other people since I sometimes feel alone in what I am experiencing.
Before coming to India, I have never been very politically involved or invested in the gay rights movement. I have gone to a couple pride parades, vote only for pro-gay candidates, and choose to surround myself with almost all gay friends. But, that is about it. I have never felt compelled to discuss gay rights much and rather just enjoy the privileges of being out on a liberal campus and in a fairly liberal home. However, since coming to India, I have written two papers on gay rights in India, done a presentation on the issue, and find myself constantly thinking about gender and sexuality. We have had multiple classroom discussions on the issue, all have left me very frustrated and sad about the state of gay rights in India. Although, there are LGBT*Q communities in India and active ones too. The Delhi Pride parade is huge. Just last month, India’s Cosmopolitian had a full center spread about lesbians. Just last week, India legalized the third gender, finally officially accepting its huge hijra population. Socially, things are happening. It’s kind of like America, some communities are more accepting than others and some families are more accepting than others. However, support often remains limited to the middle-upper class who live in urban areas and who have access to the internet, education, etc. India is a don’t ask, don’t tell world. Many couples choose to keep their relationships private. Gay communities tend to only really be in small, urban communities. Often couples face violence or abandonment if living in a village. Living here and truly beginning to understand what a joint family means and what it might feel like to grow up feeling trapped in these societal pressures of marriage have given me a whole new outlook on what gay rights means. Most of my frustrations abroad have been entirely out of empathy. I know that I will return back to my Smith bubble, to all my queer friends and my family who supports me. But, it hurts to know that so many people are growing up, never fully able to express their sexuality and fully understand their identity. If I had grown up here, would I be aware of the fact that i’m gay? Would I be stuck in a marriage not really understanding why I don’t feel the same way my friends might feel? But, my sexuality feels so undeniably biological. Would I know but be forced to keep it to myself? Would I be one of the few who chooses to live my life in private? I can’t even imagine how it would feel.
Similarly, being here, I also find myself even more aware of the gay rights situation in America. America feels like a liberal paradise for gay rights. But, this is still a global issue. In America, there are still little to no trans* rights, work discrimination, countless teen suicides, even murders and violence. There was just a lesbian couple in Texas in the past year who were found murdered in a dumpster. Why is this still happening? I have never felt so invested in this issue. Sometimes it can feel almost unreal to be skyping my friends who are telling me funny stories about their dating problems or typical lesbian drama, which I do miss hearing so much. Funny stories of Smith life always make me happy. But, it is also so strange to be somewhere where people don’t even get the option to have lesbian dating drama, let alone complain about it. I hope I can hold on to these feelings when I return to the states. I hope I can keep being more politically aware of these issues and try not to fall back into the comforts of my queer bubble when I return back home. I will never be the rainbow flag wearing, pride attending lesbian. But, I want to remain politically active in my community and remember my privilege and try to use it in a positive way. If I only hold on to one life lesson from India, I want this to be it.
Delhi Pride 2013. Photo cred: Google images.
Quiet week in Pune
Street in Pune.
Vegetable market in Pune. Photo cred: google images.
Back in Pune for the final stretch… I can’t believe it is our last month here.
We have been trying to spend as much time with Priya as possible. We spend each afternoon hanging out with her, drinking tea, and paper quilling. She is constantly telling us stories and trying to pack as much life advice as possible in the time that she has left with us.
It has been unreasonably hot here. All my roommates and I have been trying to keep up with drinking electrolytes because our American bodies can’t handle it. But, it has been fine. We mostly just keep under a fan and try to limit our time walking outside. The other day Priya’s husband, “uncle” we call him, came home with ice cream bars for us. It was perfect.
My tabla practices have been going well. It has been fun learning something so new. We are finally preparing the song we are going to perform at our closing ceremonies. We’ll see how that goes. The other day I played something so horribly that my tabla teacher laughed so hard he cried… I’m obviously a tabla master.
Tabla on google. :)
I have mostly just been hanging out in the office every day working on my research project. It’s nice having a routine but I also just want to keep traveling. Every once in a while, it still hits me that I am in India. It will just happen in weird moments like when walking to work or riding a rickshaw. I have just started getting so used to things and then I will think about how weird it is that i’m starting to think certain things are normal now. I have gotten used to wearing salwars and dupattas every day. I have gotten used to the traffic, pollution, smells. I barely even flinch as the rickshaw driver nearly misses a truck by an inch. I have begun to find it easier to understand what people are yelling about or arguing about in the street even when it’s in Marathi. I have gotten used to just not hearing English unless i’m directly being spoken to. Even all the stares and just constantly seeing people every where doesn’t bother me any more. I have begun to have favorite top 40 Bollywood songs. I now can’t imagine a day without my little cup of chai at 4:00. I love seeing temples everywhere and seeing people taking such good care of them. I love seeing strands of fresh flowers and sand art everywhere. I love seeing all the different colors and patterns of sarees and kurtis. I love smelling all the spices and fresh fruit juice being made on the street. I love being constantly fed delicious food which I don’t have to make myself. I love coming home to Priya and seeing her working on all of her different art projects. I love eating dinner with all my host sisters and roommates every night. There are just so many little things which add up and make this whole experience so special. It is easy to feel very comfortable here even though things are so different from home. I sometimes miss American comforts, like a real shower and a comfy bed. I miss my friends and family all of the time. I miss black coffee and fresh, uncooked vegetables. But, all of these things seem worth it. Knowing that I will return to normalcy soon helps too. I’m just trying to enjoy all of the great things which make India so special in my last couple of weeks here.
Missing my derpy dogs, my lovely family, and my beautiful friends.
Goa Round II
Goa was just as wonderful as last time. I went with a different group of people this trip. There were only 8 of us. We left late Friday night on a sleeper bus and spent all day Saturday and Sunday lying on the beach. We stayed in Anjuna at a little guest house, walking distance from the beach. We found a spot on the sand under umbrellas and didn’t move all day. The water is so warm in Goa. It’s incredible. Even though it was ridiculously hot (SO HUMID), we could just jump in the water whenever we needed to cool down. Women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads come around to sell mangoes and watermelon. We even found an avocado and ate it right out of the skin it was so good. The drinks are also really cheap in Goa since there is no tax. It’s basically just the perfect place. Sunday night we took another sleeper bus back to Pune and back to our internships. We are all slightly tanner and definitely happier and ready to complete our final couple of weeks in India…
These past two weeks since travel week have been pretty busy. We have started our research projects/internships. I have been working on a research project at The Sanskrit and Cultural Division of Jnana Prabodhini with a Hindu priestess who conducts interfaith marriage ceremonies. It has been interesting, to say the least. For the first two days of work, she was out of town and so she left me in a room with a stack of books. I read Hindu mythology, transcripts from wedding ceremonies, and Hindu right wedding books. Later in the week, I created a questionnaire and developed a research proposal. Now I am beginning to do interviews with interfaith couples, their families, and priests. It has been an interesting project so far. I like my office. Although, the main priest who works in our office is slightly intimidating. Before I started working, my boss took me to his office to introduce me. She told him a whole bunch of things in Marathi. He asked me my religious views and why I study religion, only nodding his head every once in a while. Then he said something to my boss in Marathi and we left. Still don’t quite know what happened in that meeting.
I am feeling very settled into living in Pune. I walk to and from work every day. Shopkeepers smile and wave at me every day and people in our neighborhood have started to get to know us. The gurujhi who works at the Ganpati temple under our house gives us sweets every morning on the way to school. The other day, him and a group of people around the temple insisted that me and my three roommates join in their worship. They had us circle the incense around Ganpati, as everyone clapped and sang the morning song. We cycled through circling the incense, clapping, and singing. At the end, they put bindis on us and gave us sweets and sent us off to school. Everyone looked so happy that we had joined and you could tell they had all been planning for us to do it with them for awhile. Apparently, Priya was watching from the window and laughing at us as we kept messing up.
We also found out this week that Priya knows everything!! Apparently, she knows every single time we get ice cream or chips from any of the shopkeepers because they report back to her. And even people we don’t know will tell her that they saw her girls walking somewhere or doing something. She told us that when we were gone for travel week, everyone kept asking her if we had gone home and everyone was worried. It’s funny that she knows everything. We don’t really do anything that we wouldn’t want her to know about. We were just shocked and said, “that’s soo embarrassing!” Mostly because we buy ice cream or chips almost every day… But, I could definitely see how a teenager living here could feel a little suffocated. You really can’t get away with anything living here since everyone talks..
Yesterday, was election day. All offices and schools were closed so people could go vote. We took a field trip to go see voting booths. India is the largest democracy in the world and they have almost an 80% voter turnout. It’s pretty remarkable. Everyone went to go vote. When you go to vote, your area will have a booklet with a picture of you and your information and then they mark one of your fingers with permanent ink that can’t be removed for ten days so people can’t vote twice. It’s been neat to be here during the elections. Everyone has been talking about them. There is a new party called the AAP which is an anti-corruption party which has been on the rise. But, the BJP, the right wing Hindu party, has also been a big contender. When we were in Rajasthan, everyone seemed like they were for the BJP. I’m very curious to see who wins. Priya has been excited for the elections and has discussed all of her feelings on politics. She was disappointed yesterday when she found out that the woman who makes our food wasn’t able to vote because they “lost” her voting registration. She said, “so many rupees change hands the night before elections..” She told us about how politicians go into more lower class areas buying people’s votes by giving them cash or buying them new pressure cookers, etc. She is optimistic about her vote, but she is also frustrated by the amount of corruption in politics. Priya is very Maharashtra focused. She is really driven by preserving the Marathi language and culture. It is interesting to hear her discuss politics.
Priya often describes people who “don’t have a proper house” in a very nonjudgmental way. She simply says, “that’s the community/family they were born into.” She doesn’t reduce someone’s worth as a person even if they may not have a “proper house.” Instead she admires them for knowing a trade very well which she will never know. She says that everyone learns from their family and learns their own trades even if they might not have a basic education. She believes that commitment to one’s family is most important in life. I have noticed that many people who I have interacted with here do not see poverty as that individual’s fault. Instead, poverty is recognized as structural. I think it is good to recognize that poverty isn’t an individual fault but it can also be dangerous to just dismiss poverty as just the way it is. But even though Priya sometimes reflects this mindset, she does so much for people and shows how great a strong community approach can be. She is always helping others, giving money, food, services, employment. Priya says that it is through interacting with different types of people, she learns so much more about herself and what traits are important in life. She says that through helping people she is better able to see the energy that runs through us all and it proves to her that there is a creator or an energy that runs through the world.
It has been so wonderful living with Priya. We often just sit with her, drinking tea, and she tells us all of her feelings about the world. I have been so lucky to end up in her house. She has also been teaching me how to paper quill! I have made a couple projects so far and it’s really fun. We just sit there for hours playing with paper. On a completely unrelated note, I also saw Captain America the other day which was very fun to see in India. I went with my friends Abhishek, Juan, and Maya. When there was a Mumbai and Pakistan reference in the film everyone went “ooooohhh.” It was very funny. They also had english subtitles to make it easier to understand and an intermission. Seeing a movie here is pretty cheap by American standards. It’s only 100 Rs. which is about $2. I need to start going to more movies to take advantage of this. :) I definitely want to try going to a Bollywood movie!
Hanging out with a friend from Smith at Hoppipola.
Travel Week in Rajasthan!
Rianna, Leslie, Karen, and I in Jaipur.
For spring break we got a week off to travel and we could choose anywhere. Rianna, Leslie, Karen, and I traveled to Rajasthan. We saw four different cities in nine days. I feel so grateful to have had this opportunity to travel for a week. We went completely on our own, booking all of our own transportation and hotels and activities. We also didn’t spend that much money since we stayed in more hostel type places and took overnight trains. It was such a fun week and is definitely the highlight of my trip to India so far!
Rajasthan is incredible. It is mostly a desert state with cities scattered throughout. The architecture is a neat mix of Muslim and Hindu since the Mughals came in around the 16th century and ruled until the 19th century, leaving behind very interesting architecture and art. The fort in Jaisalmer is still a completely functioning fort. People live and work inside the fort and it still gives the feeling of an active, medieval fort. The other forts in the other cities are mostly set up for tourism and are conserved by the royal families of each city. Since India’s constitution, the royal families in Rajasthan obviously don’t rule anymore, but, they still contribute to their cities and do a lot of philanthropy and restoration of the palaces and forts.
Jaisalmer Camel Trek.
We arrived in Udaipur early Saturday morning after a long night of traveling to the Mumbai airport. We were pretty tired. We visited the City Palace. The palace is beautiful and has a museum all throughout. We saw the summer palace where Octopussy (the James Bond movie) was filmed. We spent most of our day wandering the city, there is a lot of neat street art and cool markets. While at the City Palace, we were ushered to the side of the street and told to “make way for the king” who was driving up to the palace in a golf cart. So, that was exciting. Saturday night, we took an overnight bus to Jaisalmer.
Udaipur City Palace.
Temple in Udaipur.
Summer palace where Octopussy was filmed.
Street art in Udaipur.
I loved Jaisalmer! We had breakfast on a rooftop overlooking the fort. We took an overnight camel trek and slept in the desert right on a sand dune. Since it’s the off season for traveling, we were the only ones in our group with our three guides. One other Indian couple came with us for a couple hours, but didn’t stay overnight. It was so neat to camp on a sand dune. We hung out around the campfire with our guides for a while just chatting and enjoying the stars. We woke up to goats invading our camp site at sunrise and our guides making us hot chai. It was wonderful. Riding camels is very fun. The guides let us handle the camels ourselves, they are fairly predictable animals… Pull right to go right, pull left to go left. At one point, our camels got into a race as they started galloping. Who knew camels could gallop? Mine won, obviously.
After the camel trek, we walked around the fort. There are many Jain temples scattered throughout and it’s fun to get lost through the streets. Our rickshaw driver to the train station let Rianna drive the rickshaw since she was sitting up front with him. We took a train to Jodhpur, arriving late Monday evening.
Jodhpur is lovely. The city is very crowded and full of markets and cows and motorcycles. The first day, we visited their City Palace, getting stranded in the desert after refusing to pay 200 rupees for a rickshaw. We stopped in neat markets and took a cooking class in the evening. The cooking class was in a family’s house. We were taught how to make a full course meal. It took almost three hours. We finished with a candlelit dinner on the roof overlooking the fort. The food was delicious and probably tasted better because we knew how much work went into it.
The next day, we visited the fort. We got our palms read by the royal astrologer. He was surprisingly accurate when pinpointing our personalities and gave extremely detailed predictions. I guess, time will tell if they will come true. :)
Afterwards, we zip-lined through the ravines outside of the fort. It was absolutely beautiful, especially since we went right before sunset. We met another traveler named Olaf from Holland who came with us afterwards to visit another temple right outside the fort and to drive back into the city. Our rickshaw driver blasted Bollywood music as we drove down the hill.
Jodhpur city palace.
Widow wall. Women would touch this wall with their hands dipped in reddish-orange paint as they left the fort for the last time to join their deceased husbands on the funeral pyre.
Market in Jodhpur.
We took a train to Jaipur early Thursday morning. We visited the Hawa mahal, a pretty palace in the Pink City, and the Janter Mantar, an astrological sculpture garden outside of the City Palace. The sculptures are for pinpointing the location of stars and planets to read astrological signs. It was really cool, although, it all went way over our heads.. We also saw the Water Palace, a palace just in the water. Elephants were walking up and down the street in front of it. Apparently, there was a religious holiday happening there so it was pretty busy.
On Friday, we visited the Amber Fort which was beautiful! We were able to just walk around and get lost through the corridors and rooms. Afterwards, we took a rickshaw that looked and felt like it was about to fall apart at any moment up a curving mountain path to the Nahargalh palace. Our rickshaw driver stopped for us to take pictures on the roadside and showed us where one of the scenes in Rang de Basanti was filmed. The palace was crazy. It was apparently where all the king’s wives lived. It has about ten rooms separated by a long hallway so none of the wives knew who he visited each night. Afterwards, we visited the market in the pink city. We have all gotten pretty good at haggling and bought lots of ~gifts~! (get excited, family). On Saturday, we took a 22 hour train ride back to Pune and pretty much slept the entire time.
Water palace.Janter Mantar, astronomy sculptures.
More adventures with Priya
Travel week is finally here!
I am very excited. I will be traveling with three other girls. We have planned a trip to Rajasthan which will include an overnight camel trek, visits to forts, temples, museums, lakes, palaces, sand dunes… Everything. We will be in Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, and Jaipur. We are taking overnight buses to see as many places as possible and will be gone from Friday until next Sunday. It should be a great week, so more pictures so come!
This past week we have had finals. I have been very busy with papers, presentations, and tests. However, last weekend, Priya had another family event for her organization, Periwar, with tabla artists (including my tabla instructor!), dancers, singers, and artists. Priya also made us wear sarees so that was fun. We got to choose from her collection of almost 200 hundred!
Priya, my roommates, and one of our host sisters, Komal.
Ellen and I.
Priya picked out my saree and wrapped it for me. She also made sure we wore bindis because she said, “a saree isn’t complete without a bindi.”
Selfie in the rickshaw with Priya and Ellen.
Holi and Aga Khan Palace
Saturday: We visited Aga Khan Palace. The palace Gandhi was imprisoned in for some time and where his wife died. It is very beautiful and has very pretty gardens.
Aga Khan Palace in Pune.
Sunday: My friends and I went to Koregaon Park and ended up at a cook out. There were tons of people, an alternative rock band, and everyone was drinking green beer. It was a fun day. I didn’t know that people celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in India. We had all completely forgotten about it. We had fun though and met some people from Pune. It’s easy to only hang out with other students on our program. I have found it difficult to make friends outside of the program, besides my host sisters. But, when we go out to events, we always make friends and get to chat with a whole bunch of people from Pune.
Cook out in Koregaon Park at High Spirits.
Monday: Holi! My first time celebrating Holi and it was in India! So fun. Everywhere you go, groups of people just shower you with color and say “Happy Holi!” It’s kind of a day where all rules are gone and you can interact with all sorts of people you would never interact with. At the end of the day, everyone is just covered with color. As some kid was dousing me with wet, colored powder, he shouted, “welcome to India!” That basically sums up the whole day. Never have I been more aware of the fact that I was in India. Where else would you have a day to just have water fights and color fights with everyone on the street?
Holi with Ellen. Photo cred: Anna.
Wednesday: Our Social Justice professor invited her other students from Fergusson College to have student dialogues with us. We were all told to just ask questions of each other on any topic that we wanted. We ended up having one giant group discussion on caste, globalization, politics, capitalism, etc. They were all political science or sociology majors so they were all interested in all the same things we are. Discussions like these are so important because we learned so much from each other. At times we were saying things like “we,” speaking for our age group and students in general. We all had similar liberal common grounds, wanting the same things like equality. At other times we were using “we” to describe our separate countries, understanding that our nations are at separate places with different agendas which we may or may not agree with. Everyone had very different views on every issue and it was neat to have a discussion on these issues from all of our separate view points.
Za Palooza in Koregaon Park. Photo cred: Ellen.
The rest of the week was a normal week. We have finals next week and so we had to give a couple presentations and prepare for the last week of classes. I guess we have to make time for the “study” part of study abroad… I did get my placement for my Directed Research project which I will be starting when we get back from travel week. I was able to visit the organization I will be working with and do some preliminary readings.
For the last four weeks of my program, I will be working on a research project on interfaith marriages. I am working for a Hindu priestess who adapts the traditional Hindu wedding ceremony and works with each couple to design a ceremony that works. She is excited about the project too because she has not been able to check up on the couples since the ceremony. Since most people live in joint families (wife moves in to husband’s extended family), interfaith marriages are more complicated since family opinion is a really big factor as to whether it will work out alright. Also, in India, public rituals/festivals are very important. Things like praying to a god or celebrating a religious holiday are all done out in the open. My boss and I already have had interesting discussions on this topic since she didn’t realize that America is very different in this sense, we can go weeks without ever being confronted with our religion in a public sense. We will be looking at how the couple adapts to these new rituals. We are interviewing ten couples, 5 will be with a partner that has converted and the other 5 will be with couples that have remained in their separate traditions. It should be an interesting project. I will have a lot more information about my project later. It will be my sole priority for the last four weeks. Right now, she is just making me read books on Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Buddhism so I can try to understand how these traditions are practiced in India.
I definitely enjoyed my trip to Mumbai. It is an exciting rising city. It reminded me a lot of L.A. since it has large boulevards lined with palm trees and is very spread out. And, the obvious comparison: they are both centers of their nation’s film industry attracting many ambitious young people. Mumbai is huge. You can drive for three hours and still be within Mumbai’s city limits. Although, it is very humid and very polluted. The air feels very heavy everywhere and the smells from the open drains/rivers hangs in the air.
St. Xavier’s College
Wednesday: Mumbai is only about 3 hours away by train. We first visited St. Xavier’s College and learned about their center for the visually impaired. We were taken out to a fancy lunch and heard a presentation on Mumbai’s famous Dabbawalah system. It is a tiffin delivery system only in Mumbai. I had no idea it even existed. Men on bikes come and pick up businessmen’s tiffins (lunch boxes) from their homes and bring them to their office and then return the tiffin to the home. They have a very elaborate system involving bikes and carts which requires no cars/pollution except for the initial train ride. It’s a neat system which employs thousands of people.
Here is a link to a video on the Dabbawalahs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTkGDXRnR9I
Afterwards, we had free time and a group of us walked around our hostel. We saw the Gate of India and went inside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the wealthiest hotel in India. It was so ornate and fancy. We kept making jokes about it the whole time saying that it seems like a place a revolution would attack first or that they had sprayed gold flakes into the air. When we left, it hit us that the next morning that we would be visiting Dharavi, the largest slum in Mumbai. Within 12 hours we saw the most extreme distribution of wealth imaginable.
Gateway of India.
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
Selfie in front of the Gateway of India.
Mumbai’s version of a carriage ride.
Thursday: We visited Dharavi, the largest slum in Mumbai. I felt uncomfortable visiting there because there are so many tour companies which will take foreigners to go visit slums which seems very exploitative since people treat neighborhoods like tourist attractions. Sociologists call it “Poorism,” if you are interested in reading more about this issue. Our program took us to very specific places where they know the people/organization. We were taken to a tall building where we could see how large the neighborhood is from the top which was pretty crazy to see. Afterwards, we went to a house where a man makes pottery to show us how many businesses are affected with the destruction of slums. When the government wants to demolish a slum they will compensate the residents by giving them an apartment in a high rise which is an issue if the family runs a business on that property. It also demolishes the community already existing on that property when they are moved to a whole new location.
We heard a presentation from LEARN, a women’s empowerment movement in Dharavi. It was incredible to hear from all of the women. They all have incredible stories about joining the organization and various steps they are taking to build their labor union and to help women advocate for themselves. One of the speakers said something which stuck with me, he said: “There is always a first world in the third world and a third world in the first.” He believes that we must all try to see the other side since whichever one we are in will influence our ideology. He is the only man in the organization, comes from a wealthier family, and has multiple degrees from across the globe. But, he came back to advocate for women and be a part of the movement.
The biggest thing that stuck with me from my trip was the amount of poverty within the city, beyond the slum. The poverty is very visible, large families live directly on the street bathing, cooking, sleeping, etc. There are long rows of makeshift houses filled with people in the center of wealthier/more developed areas. It can be overwhelming. Poverty is everywhere, in every society. In Mumbai, it is just more visible and on a larger scale. If Mumbai wants to build it’s image as a world power, it will need to relieve visual poverty. Although, demolishing slums, moving families to high rises, or policing homelessness doesn’t solve the problem and hurts livelihoods and communities. The people in poverty in Mumbai have established vibrant social communities and made their home in the public setting. It was cool to be able to talk to people and organizations during my trip to Mumbai which are working with this issue.
Learning how to make a bowl in Dharavi.
Friday: We visited the museum on Gandhi. It had these cool dioramas depicting Gandhi’s life. It also had a bunch of original documents including letters and pictures. We were supposed to meet Gandhi’s grandson but he cancelled at the last minute because he was sick. Instead, we visited the Prince of Whales museum. It was filled with art from across India, Nepal, and Tibet. They had a really cool armory section. We were then taken to another fancy pants restaurant and heard a talk on the history of Mumbai. Our field trip technically ended on Friday but we stayed the weekend on our own. My friends and I spent the evening by the water enjoying the skyline and people watching.
Prince of Whale’s Museum.
Statue of Gandhi.
An example of the dioramas depicting Gandhi’s life in the Gandhi museum.
Saturday: We visited a bazaar on the other side of Mumbai which was neat. We were in a non-touristy area so we got to see where people from Mumbai go for the weekend. We watched a football (soccer) game in a sports bar and met a really awesome french man who had crazy stories of traveling and life. We probably talked to him for a good 2 hours, he told us all of his feelings on Christianity and Buddhism and told us all about every book he’s ever read. He cheered whenever any team scored and said “I am for the ball!” He said, “it doesn’t matter between red and blue, the green is eternal.” The whole night was filled with philosophical tangents like these.
Goat working on a bag of chips.
Sunday: We woke up early and went to the Museum of Modern Art which was wonderful. Modern art in India is really cool because it’s similar to the abstract and cubism and everything we are familiar with but with Indian motifs and symbols, obviously. I loved it. We walked around the city a lot then decided to go to a market someone had heard of. We ended up in a market known as the “thieves market” since everything looks like it has been stolen. We ate at a sketchy restaurant but it was delicious and very cheap. We walked through a vegetable market and went antiquing. It turned out to be really fun day.
Vegetable Market in Mumbai, near the “Thieves Market.”
In the market.
Vintage Bollywood posters.
Alright, an important post. Food.
The food my host mom makes is quite different than any Indian food I have had at home. Not everything is spicy. There are definitely spicy dishes but there are also sweet and savory dishes with minimal spice. Basically, everything is all very fresh and homemade. My host mom is strictly vegetarian (veg here means no eggs). Even my friends with host families who do eat meat do so very little (like 1 time a week, if that). Priya goes to the market every single afternoon to get whatever is most fresh that day. There is a woman who comes everyday to make the meals. It is fairly common for many people, even if they would be considered middle class in America, to have help with cooking, laundry, cleaning, driving, etc.
Photo cred: Google Images.
Dinner: We eat with our hands in a circle on the floor at 9:00 every night with our 5 other host sisters. It is always very fun. Even though some of our host sisters don’t know that much English, we always find a way to communicate. My host mom is very strict about us eating with our right hand to keep our left hand clean to pass dishes or pick up our water glass. Also, it is very important to only take what we can eat and to finish our whole plate. It’s pretty bad to waste food here. If you really can’t finish something, you have to apologize and make an excuse. Also, she encourages us to stay sitting cross-legged for the whole meal since no one wants to see feet while eating.
Usually, our dinner consists of a vegetable dish, salad or chutney, dal, rice, and chapatti/roti. For the first month, Priya decided that she was going to make a new vegetable every single day so we can decide what we like. We have had things like red pumpkin, okra, cauliflower, and beets. Sometimes she doesn’t know the English word for the vegetable so we still don’t know what we ate. The vegetable dish is sometimes like a soup, other times it looks like a curry. Most of the vegetable dishes have yogurt or milk, mustard seeds, chiles, coriander/cilantro, peanuts, and/or coconut. The salad usually consists of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and yogurt. Sometimes, she will make the salad with carrots, beets, etc. Dal just means lentils, sometimes they will be spicy and flavorful, other times just soupy lentils. Chapatti is a very thin bread, like a tortilla, made out of wheat flour. No one eats naan in Maharashtra. Since I am allergic to wheat, my host mom makes me chapatti out of rice or sorghum.
I’m getting a lot better at eating with my hands. Basically, you just take a piece of the chapati and scoop vegetable or salad with it. To eat the rice and dal, you just mix the two with your fingers really well until the dal is soaked into the rice and mush it into a ball with your fingers. Priya told us a joke that in more rural areas they leave a little piece of food next to their plate on the floor for the ants to have a meal so they don’t take yours. She told us that must be why we are spilling so much food on the floor… Baby steps.
This kind of looks like a typical plate at Priya’s. Photo cred: Google images
Photo cred: Google Images. In South India, there are many places where they only eat on banana leaves. One night, Priya had us eat on banana leaves from her father’s house.
Breakfast: We eat breakfast at the program center every morning. A married couple makes our food everyday. We have the same things to choose from every day: bananas, pomegranates, apples, or figs, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, oatmeal, an Indian breakfast dish, and chai.
Breakfast isn’t super common in India. Sometimes, for the extra Indian breakfast dish, they will make Maggi noodles or pasta. But, they also make Uppama (like cream of wheat) and Pohe (flattened rice with spices).
Pohe. Photo cred: Google images.
Lunch: We can choose from packed lunches from the same couple who makes our breakfast or eat out. I can’t get the packed lunches since they aren’t always gluten free. But, I don’t mind eating out. There are many places to choose from. Also, my lunches average 40-90 rupees per meal (about $1-2). Usually, I get South Indian food for lunch. I usually have dosa, iddli, vada, or uttapam. Other times, I just get a cup of cold coffee and it’s great. When you order cold coffee here, it’s usually like a Frappe type thing. All coffee and tea is ridiculously sweet here. It’s going to be an adjustment going back… I saw how many scoops of sugar Priya puts in our chai and panicked a little.
Dosa. Google Images.
Vada and Iddli with sambar and chutney. Google images.
I have definitely been enjoying the food here. I haven’t had any problems. Being gluten free in India is so easy. It is definitely easier than being gluten free in America. Even though there are a lot of things made out of wheat, there is always something just as delicious made out of rice or lentils. Pune, as a big city and in the middle of India, has access to a lot of food from all over the country. South Indian food is mostly all rice and lentils which is very easy for me. Wheat is a major crop in North India so I may encounter more problems traveling there. But, I have figured out which popular dishes are gluten free and I keep a list of their names in Hindi in my bag which helps a lot.
Jalebi. My favorite Indian sweet. Basically, just sugar on top of more sugar. Some people love it, some hate it. Google images.
Gulab Jamun. Another delicious Indian sweet. Google Images.
Anjuna Beach in Goa.
Maya at the hostel.
Ellen at the hostel.
Vegetable tray. Beets on beets.
This past weekend we took a trip to Goa, a small state south of Maharashtra. We had to take a 12 hour over night bus. We arrived early Saturday morning and left Sunday night just in time to make it to classes on Monday. We were all exhausted, but it was worth it.
On the beach.
We spent all day Saturday and Sunday lounging on the beach and went out to a club on Saturday night. It was a wonderful weekend. It was very nice to get out of the city into fresh, ocean air. We stayed at the Red Door Hostel in Anjuna, a very touristy area. But, it was nice to be in a touristy area since it was easy to travel around. A lot of Europeans go to Goa to vacation, mainly from Russia but there were people from all over.
Katie, Ellen, and I on the beach. Photo cred: Katie.
Sam, Lily, and I on the beach. Photo cred: Lily
Cows on the beach. Photo cred: Isabelle.
I definitely want to go back at some point before the semester is over. It was a great break from the semester.
Baramati Field Trip
KVK in Baramati.
Tent rooms at the KVK.
Monday and Tuesday, we went on an overnight trip to a nearby village. Our program split up into two groups: Public Health and Development Economics. I chose to go on the economics field trip. We stayed at a KVK, an agriculture science center, in Baramati. The center offers classes to famers from all over Maharashtra to come and learn new, more efficient farming techniques which they bring back to their villages. The center sends out mass weather text message alerts and also has a website where farmers can post specific problems and get answers. They also go out to villages to troubleshoot and do on site soil testing for farmers who can’t come to the KVK. The KVK rents out equipment to farmers who can’t afford or don’t need their own equipment. We also visited an agriculture school attached to the KVK which trains students from villages who will go back to their family farms and teach their families the new techniques. We also visited a women’s “self help group” which is a micro finance group where women pool together their money into one bank account and give out loans to each other for business opportunities. The group we visited made masalas and sold it in nearby markets. The groups help build financial independence while remaining a community activity. The women were excited to share their stories and opinions with us. We also visited the KVK’s winery for wine tasting, went on a tractor ride, and got to stay in tents so it was a fun trip.
Thursday, we went on a field trip to Phule’s house, a Dalit reformer from the independence movement. We also went to a concert Priya was running in honor of her mother who passed away last year. Apparently, she was very well known since there were a lot of people there. Priya had been busy the past couple weeks making elaborate quilling (paper art) projects to present to the performers, along with flower bouquets made out of metal and fabric. The program was in Marathi so I honestly don’t know much about what happened. But, at one point, there was a concert with a famous violinist and tabla player. It was a great concert and it was fun to go out with our host sisters and see Priya on stage.
Stage for Priya’s concert.
This weekend we are going to Goa. So excited!
This weekend was definitely the most fun weekend yet.
View from our road trip to Mahabaleshwar.
Breakfast on our road trip.
Rianna and Juan riding a camel.
Friday: I had my second Tabla (drums) class which was fun. Our teacher is a cool guy. He understands that we aren’t going to be Tabla masters in 4 months and knows that we want to just have fun, but, he also wants us to learn and not sound horrible. So, it’s good. Afterwards we went out to Famblo’s, a microbrewery in Pune. We had drinks and got dinner. It was nice to bond with everyone after the school week which was fairly uneventful. Sometimes it can feel frustrating since we are in India but are stuck going to classes and just heading home. Although, our classes have been pretty good. I had my first Hindi test this week. Even though it was just on the alphabet and basic things like, “this is a mango,” it was fairly hard. A group of boys laughed at me in a coffee shop when they saw a 21 year old working on an elementary school workbook tracing the alphabet. Baby steps.
Steffany and Anna enjoying the beautiful views.
View from the top.
Saturday: Easily the best day in India yet. Everyone on my program decided to go to Mahabaleshwar. We were promised monkeys and strawberries, so obviously we went. We asked our coordinator to help us book transportation and she called someone and told us that we will be picked up at 7am. We had no idea where we were going or what we were doing but a man came and picked us up at our house. Our driver spoke no English but we got him to play the Bollywood radio station. We met up with 2 other cars of Alliance students on the highway and went on a road trip up a mountain. We stopped at a breakfast place along the road to get chai. We stopped on the side of the road multiple times to look at the view. We stopped at a couple very touristy places where you could ride camels and play games. We stopped at this one place where there were monkeys everywhere. Just in case you were wondering, monkeys are actually slightly terrifying. They will lunge at you and steal your stuff if you make eye contact. We then stopped in a market where I bought a bag with an elephant on it and we had lunch and got Biryani. Then we stopped at an ice cream place and got strawberries and cream. Then we stopped at a lake to go boating. Finally, we stopped at a strawberry stand to get fresh strawberries for our host families. It was a wonderful day. We made it home just in time for dinner at 9pm.
Strawberries and Cream.
Sunday: Katie and I decided to check out St. Mary’s, the oldest church in Pune. It’s a Catholic church, but, the service was surprisingly not very Catholic. It was very contemporary. They had a band where the drummer was wearing a batman t-shirt. The pastor was just wearing jeans and a button up. The service consisted of songs and a homily. The building was beautiful. A lot of the inscriptions on the walls had commemorations from the nineteenth century, mostly of British commanders during colonialism. We met a group of people traveling from France on a 2 week missionary trip. We also met a couple of other foreigners from Toronto, Berlin, Ohio, and Australia. All were here for different reasons and various lengths of time. It was cool meeting other people who are visiting Pune. Afterwards, a big group of us hiked up Parvati hill to visit a temple. We also visited a couple more temples in the surrounding area. The temples were very beautiful, all carved and painted intricately. Also, all of them were very busy. Many people have work off on Sunday and go visit the temples.
Inside of St. Mary’s church.
Outside of St. Mary’s school.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Temple on Parvati Hill.
Park near Parvati Hill.
Third Week Thoughts
My roommates and I out front of the Darshan Museum in Pune. Photo cred: Stephanie.
Dosas with Katie.
Friends and family keep asking me about my trip, asking what India is like and how my trip is going. I really don’t know how to answer this question. I want to be able to just tie up my experience in a neat little bow and be able to say well India is really beautiful and incredible, etc, etc. However, India is so complicated. I am only in one city, in one state, for four months. It’s like asking someone who is moving to New York for a couple months, “well, how is America?” You can make some over generalizations about New Yorkers over a couple months which may or may not be fairly accurate and possibly represent American culture (whatever that means). But, certainly, you can not make too many generalizations about the whole country. India is huge. It’s geography ranges from the Himalayas to the desert in the south to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Every region has a different language, different dress, different food, different religions. Pune itself attracts people from all over Maharashtra to study and to work bringing in so many different types of people from other cities and villages. Each person on my program is having a very different experience depending on their family or what part of the city they live in. I just wanted to write this because I get worried that my friends and family might be reading my blog and assume certain things about India just because of my individual experience. For example, I said that we eat on the floor and that my host mom is pretty strict about the right hand/left hand thing; whereas, some of my other friends eat on the couch in front of the t.v. or at a table or from leftovers in the microwave. Although, some of the things we do are more traditional, most of them are just practical. Since there are 10 people eating dinner every night, the only space for us to eat is the floor. We eat with our right hand so that we can keep the left one clean to pass bowls and take seconds. I am enjoying the fact that everyone on our program is having different experiences. Our program picked host parents who are all very different and all have very different living situations. When we come together as a group, we have fun sharing all our separate experiences. We have also all enjoyed going over to each other’s houses to see different places to live and meet different people.
Although I am feeling more settled in where I live and I am establishing a routine, I find that I learn new things every day and see new things which make me re-think everything. Pune is a very complicated city. It has grown so fast in such a short amount of time that no one really has a good handle on what is going on. The streets are so confusing as there are few planned neighborhoods and planned development. Priya says, “wherever there is land, there is Pune.” It just sort of sprang up, slowly spreading out into separate villages and communities. It still never gets old seeing men and women in their Indian clothes, saris and all, talking on their iPhones on their scooters while passing goats and ripped up side walks. There are so many people in one area, everyone moves so fast. However, Pune moves quite similarly to cities I have been in. There are many schools in this area with students going to class, grabbing lunch, hanging out with friends. There are many business scattered throughout the city so there are a lot of commuters moving quickly hour by hour. There are many markets which are constantly packed simply trying to clothe and feed the massive population. Everyone just goes through their day, getting to work, going home. Pune is really not that different than any other city i’ve visited. But, it’s the little things that make me remember that I am in India. The look of the city is quite different, there is a lot of construction, it is really very dirty (there is a pretty big trash collection problem, trash will just pile up around trash cans for weeks), there are many dogs and goats which roam around, the traffic is crazy as I said earlier, many vendors work off of the streets so there really isn’t an end to the shopping, there are temples in almost every market place or main neighborhood which many people visit any time they pass by. Many people take the time to look nice before heading out, many women wear saris or nicer kurtis to go out (Priya always changes out of her house dress before going into the market) and everyone dresses fairly conservative but with lots of color and fun patterns. Although the city can look very dirty and haphazardly put together, there is often a really pretty attention to detail. People will take time to string flowers to hang up as decoration or put on a temple. There are many beautiful spots of sand art lining steps or pathways. Signs, buses, cars, anything really, will be painted with vibrant colors and designs. The markets themselves can be very pretty with huge canopies and paper lanterns and incense everywhere. It’s times like these which I really enjoy being here. It can be very overwhelming to be in such a big city all the time, but, then I will see something really quite beautiful or witness a funny interaction on the street and remember why I am here.
Katie and I at Mocha.
Mocha, a restaurant near our school.
This past week was a fun week. I just had a lot of school, went to the mall with some friends, and hung out at home. There are many malls here. The only one that I have gone to was interesting. The mall just looked like one giant department store, like a Macy’s. There were no separate shops, just four floors of different departments with things. At the top was a grocery store like thing. On the outside was a KFC and McDonalds. They had a pretty intense security check before going in. We had to declare that we had laptops in our bags and they had to check through everything. It was fun to go there, to just go somewhere new. On Thursday, we went to our Social Justice professor’s non-profit organization. She runs a women’s research center in the middle of Pune. They have a lot of resources on women’s movements in India and work with NGOs working for women’s rights and education. It was cool to see what our professor does and to experience a non-profit in Pune. On Friday night, we went out to “Mocha.” It’s just a bar which serves some American food. It was fun to go out after a busy week.
Dada Vaswani. The current leader of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission.
On Saturday, my roommates, Sam, Jackson, Katie, and I went to the Darshan museum. It was a museum about a man called Sadhu Vaswani who started the Sadhu Vaswani Mission in 1929. We all thought it was just going to be a little tour about this man’s life in a pretty building. But, it turned out to be a 90 minute tour with animatronics and animation about this man’s life. It was a little odd, but, interesting. The man is pretty incredible. He was a professor for awhile and eventually quit his job to travel and preach. His life was similar to many mendicants, he often championed asceticism. He was born in the 1890s and was working during India’s independence and through the Gandhi era. He started an inter-faith Hindu movement. He often quoted Jesus, saints, and other main religious leaders in his teachings, advocating for harmony and peace. Today, his sect runs many non-profit hospitals and charities across India. It was very interesting and I am glad that we went to see it. Even though, it was a little weird. When we first walked in for our tour we were taken to a bright, clean room with 2 women in uniform suit coats, a flat screen, and a giant picture of the current leader with a happy face and open arms. They made us check our cameras and phones and then took us through a maze of shows. It felt like it was out of a movie, like we weren’t going to ever come out again. But, overall, it was a fun experience. The building is beautiful and it got us out of our neighborhood to go see something new. Afterwards, we got Mastanis at our favorite place on Laxmi road so it was instantly a good day.
Darshan Museum in Pune.
Mastanis on Laxmi Road. Photo cred: Katie.