Thursday, December 9, 2010


Friends, family and associates,

I have just 2 days left in India. I would try to expound my overall expereince here, but it is too much for words. Or, I should say, more accurately that time is too pressing for words. I have just arrived back at my apartment in Delhi from Kolkata and there are a million things to do (turn in an essay I literally JUST finished that was due two weeks ago, finish some last minute shopping, exchange this fake "Adidas" duffle bag that ripped at the seams when I was gently cramming full of shh to send home, prepping for a friend's birthday, cleaning the apartment, freezing to death here, etc).

So I just got back from 3 fabulous days in Kokata-the city that celebrates my girl Kali). I went with the last survivors of our apartment, Nina and Camden. We took an overnight seater-express train on the way there and it was really fun sleeping sitting up/sitting for 18 hours. Not really, but I've had less comfortable rides. And I actually did have a really good conversation about sex and cultural differences between America and India with this really non-creepy Indian dude around my age! Awesome!

We deboarded the train to some rain and grey skies--only fitting considering the moist nature of our stay in India. We hopped in a trade union cab (like Kerala, Kolkata rocks the Commi vote) and got into some nasty traffic pulsing through crammed streets lined with trash, beggars, dilapidated old colonial structures and the most beautiful faces I've seen in India (except maybe for those in Yamunotri). Kolkata: full of beggars and refuse and Koti rolls and wide boulevards. Like a combination of Delhi and Bombay. The New York of India. I especially dug the metro system here. Its literally like a trolley car that goes underground. None of that air-conditioned, air-pressurized doors nonsense you find on the Delhi Metro or BART. Felt very 1940s. All grey. The people's haircuts and their outfits all emanated an air of nostalgia. Right now winter season is upon us and EVERYONE here is busting out the craziest, ugliest sweaters ever (if you're into ugly sweaters, you should check out my homegirl's blog: It's a thrifters wet dream for sure. The best of the glittery, awkward fitting sweater vests that come in an array of colors and that every other Indian dude has been sporting for the past month. AMAZING.

But back to Kolkata. On day one we ate some Koti rolls (like parantha with an egg cooked on it + potatoes or chicken or mutton + lime +peppers + delcious spices and wrapped like a lil burrito. SO DELICIOUS), check out the shopping scene got our bearings and ate at this awesome place called Peter Cat where I had the best naan OF MY LIFE (Kubuli naan--throw some dried fruit on it, yeow!). The second day we embarked on a journey to Dakshineswar, where this epic Kali temple is, north of the city proper. After a metro ride sweetened by a monk in a glorious peach-hued get up and crazy public bus ride, we arrived at the massive temple. In short, I gave my girl some puja and saw the highest concentration of the best saris ever. Then we got back to the city and saw our first and only Hindi movie in theatres, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey starring my boy Abhishek Bachchan (okay, I don't even want to talk about how criminally neglect I have been to Bollywood while I've been here, so let's not get into it). It was about the Chittagong uprising during the struggle for Indian Independence in the 1930s, GET ON THAT HISTORY. Loved it. Especially hilarious that the staff turned on the house lights IMMEDIATELY once the credits started rolling.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Alright dear readers, it's time to get real. As I have about a week left in India I figure I now may divulge the intimate details of my sexual life in Delhi. Sorry to save all the juice until now, but I really didn't want to freak my parents out (sorry, I love you!).

Sexual harrassment in Delhi is terrrible. But you probably already kne that. One reason I avoided writing this for so long is because the emotions that harrassment evokes is hard to put into words. To spit a little James Joyce free flow off the top of my dome: walking down the street surrounded by honking and dirt and dust and every inhale is of air you know is the most polluted in the world. So polluted. For 6 months you try not to take a deep breath. Top of the toes always aware of the never ending glare suspended in that thick air all eyes on me (something like the Tupac track never stops playing in my head). Sometimes guys will take pictures. Sometimes they ask permission and sometimes they sneak photos of me and my female friends over their shoulders with camera phones. Circus freaks to fuck. Only in their dreams. And the sexuality repressed is manifest in our western bodies. Of course we must be white and willing. And if the eyes aren't penetrating enough. The graze of a hand or a squeeze or a pinch. Always unwanted and I hope I don't flinch from an honest caress when I go home.

And now, a few case studies, dear readers. Of my experiences and fellow student travellers:

EPISODE 1: Poon-jab-i

The latest episode happened just 2 nights ago, dear friends. Thus we shall make it first because it is the freshest in my mind. I had been studying at a friend's apartment a mere metro stop away for the Hindi final that we had yesterday (यह बहुत मुश्किल था, लेकिन मुझे लगता है कि यह ठीक था). I was walking back to our apartment on good ol' Mukhergee Nagar in the Kingsway Camp neighborhood of North Delhi around 930 pm. Usually the walk is fine, there are lots of people on the street and I don't feel too threatened (though of course dudes will drive by in their little Geo Metro-esque cars and basicaly invite you home with them, assuming you're a prostitute if you're a woman walking alone anywhere, pretty much).

Anyways. I am walking home, a little stressed out with all the work I have to do for finals and listening to my ipod. I notice a guy walking way ahead of me. He looks like a student. Probably goes to Delhi University. There is a park on my left hand side and I am walking on the actual street with the cars/bikes/tractors/rickshaws/elephants/motorcycles--partly because there is no sidewalk and partly because what you could call a sidewalk is not well lit. I just about reach the end of the park where a large Uhaul-ish truck is parked. The guy that was walking ahead of me stopped and was about 10 feet away from me just staring. I didn't think anything of it--getting stares is routine. I just kept walking. I looked up and made eye contact with him for the split of a second, which I guess was a blatant sexual gesture because he rushed at me. He made a quick jab at my vag (and kind of missed-- I was wearing baggy Indian leggings called Chowkidars under a baggy dress that fell about 2 inches above my knees, a sweater and a scarf).

Now readers, as you will continue to read you shall see that I am no new victim of sexual harrassment. I have been gazed at, grazed and grabbed. Sexually advanced upon by men in clothing shops telling me I could "really fill out a sari" to packs of 5 year olds with hungry hands assailing me and Nina on the street. But this, dear readers, was shocking. Usually I would yell: "Ma-bahen nahee hai kyaa?? Bahoot bigara!! Payshrum!" But I just turned and watched him SPRINT down the street. This dude seriously hauled a$$. The kind of run where your legs are pumpig so furiously that your heels hit your butt with every stride. And I just turned and watched him run for a couple seconds. It never once occured to me to chase him. Too shocked to yell. And there is never any point in reporting this kind of thing. Because the description of the assailant? Oh he was about 5'8'', black hair, brown eyes, jeans, black wind breaker, knock-off Converse sneakers. In the college area where I live, that describes about 20% of the men here. And I'd have to communicate with the police. Notoriously no better.

After the few seconds of shock, I kind of just laughed it off and kept walking home. I mean, it was pretty comical seeing that guy run so fast after a failed attempt at a crotch-grab. And funny too that this is not necessarily a routine part of the day. And that it happens everywhere and all the time, as you shall read further, readers. And I must keep my head because for every 1 poon-jab, there are a thousand other males who don't make me flinch.


This day was quite ridiculous.

Picture me cruising down mad packed streets of Chandni Chowk, the bomb spot for shopping spices, wholesale fabric and quite near to Jama Masjid (the biggest Mosque in India). Chandni Chowk is deep in the heart of Old Delhi, and quite near where I live (like 4 metro stops away). I am walking down the street in teal leggings, a black mini skirt and a huge, baggy grey tshirt (that covers my bum)--essentially, I am meeting the typical requirements of propriety for India, but, admittedly, I should probably have been wearing baggy pants or traditional Indian clothing in this part of the city, but I really didnt expect more harassment than usual in my day's get-up.

So I'm walking down the street and this guy behind me basically pulls what I call the credit card swipe--when a dude is walking with his hands straight at his sides and basically slides one in between your ass cheeks, pretending its just part of his walking stride. Worse thing about sexual harassment here is that they always try and act like its an innocent mistake. Maybe its like that in the states sometimes too, though I can only recall really obvious full-apple harassment grabs back home. So I whip around and say something like "Get the fuck off me! Payshrum! (shameless)," and dude just scurries down a random side alley. And to put this in context, I had just ended a week of frustration so deep I was not leaving my apartment much except for class because the thought of traveling on the metro was so odious that I could not bring myself to do it (most harassment happened on the packed cars of the metro, but now there is a womens only car--MIRACLE--so no more harassment! Or not as much).

Okay after I heave a sigh of frustration/ "WHO DO THESE PEOPLE THINK THEY ARE" it starts monsoon pouring, of course (did I mention that India just had the gnarliest monsoon since 1947? Literally rained 27 out of 30 days in September. Hard). So I am soaked. Get some spices, get a few dudes who brush across your chest with the sides of their body when there is plenty of room on the sidewalk that makes physical contact totally unnecessary (how a tit on your shoulder is pleasurable to some of these dudes is not beyond me, but then again, a lot of things are beyond the realm of "logic").

We wind our way to the metro, accidentally taking a wrong side street for a couple minutes that leads to a dead end. Not big deal usually, but in a downpour while you're late for Hindi class? Sucks! So we finally get to the metro and the platform that leads down to the metro is PACKED. Like sardines. Definitely weird, but here's my explanation: so most metro stops have a set of about 6 stairs that lead to the stairs that lead down to the trains so that when it rains the metro doesn't flood. Chandni Chowk is no exception. Additionally, there is a covered pathway leading towards the main shopping streets at this particular stop. So all the people that had gotten off the metro just didnt want to get their feet wet (they were safe on the steps) and were crowding this little awning; there was mad backup from people down below trying to get up, too. And the escalator was out of service as well (a contraption that young men will shove grandmothers out of their way to get on. Seriously. At first I thought it was because people in Delhi are lazy--a problematic assumption, I know, but a friend of a friend explained that its because escalators are so new in India lots of people are super stoked on them--why NOT take the escalator?!).

So the stairs are totally packed full. A wall of people about 20 breasts wide heaving upwards, letting a mere trickle 2 sad souls broad down into the belly of the metro. Needless to say there was a lot of grabbing and swiping going on down there, even in my defense stance (hand across the chest and another behind the back, guarding the rump). Old and young alike! Anyways, we finally get into the metro to take the 3 stops to Hindi. And of course the train is packed shoulder to shoulder as we are about to stop at a huge transfer point. At this stage in the journey I am already ranting about assgrabs and ignorance. And as we pull up to the Kashmere Gate transfer stop, I get the deepest swipe with a twist and I spin around and shove the suspected young rapscallion and start telling him off in Hindi and English: "WHO THE FUCK JUST TOUCHED ME!? PAYSHRUM! BAHENCHODE!" And then I turn to the rest of the car "Anyone else want a feel? I'm western so I'll probably like it! UGHHH" And a woman waiting for another train on the platform makes eye contact with me and her jaw drops. And the rest of the train is just snickering and wide-eyed--what did that white woman just say?? And keep in mind that throughout this entire ordeal I am COMPLETELY soaked from the rain. Dripping shower sweat monsoon wet!

And my dearest friend Nina, who was with me through it all, just starts laughing and I start to laugh and cry at the ridiculousnes of the entire situation.

EPISODE 3: Indian boys very dirty

This episode happened back in the day. Something like that weekend in July when the gang went to Rishikesh (the yoga capital of da world). The Beatles went there to do some yoga in '68 and backpackers have been learning the art of sun salutations ever since. Also, Rishikesh is right on the Ganges and is thus quite a holy pilgrim town so there were many Indian tourists there in addition to the copious backpackers and yoga-teacher-hopefuls. Being a white in a pilgrim tourist town in the middle of summer when backpackers are few and far between because the heat is something like 100 degrees Farenheit was really like being another one of the attractions. So there were pictures being taken of us like mad. Some ask, "Ma'am one photo please? Ma'am? Ma'am?!" and some just try to sneak pics with camera phones of their shoulders or right in front of your face. These pictures can get you into trouble. At first we were always "nice" about it. What's the harm? Well I'll tell you.

Example 1: Dude at a Hindu shrine on the Ganges asks to take a picture with me. I allow it because he is dressed like a hilarious pseudo-American d-bag and why not? Then asks for my number and asks me to marry him.

Example 2: It is crazy hot. Ever looking like we just got out of a shower, either due to the surprise monsoon downpours or those 100 degrees of Farenheit pressing on our skin. Me and 3 other girls decide to hike to a waterfall that is supposed to be just outside of the town before we have to travel back to Mussoorie. We wind our way around sweaty roads and find the opening of the path by a large fresh water pool and a small roadside shack. We are victorious in the 15 minute mini-hike to the waterfall after trailing behind two local boys. The waterfall is small and there are a couple of local guys enjoying the cool rush, but the crush of fresh water is too satiating to resist. We all leap under the gush, fully clothed of course, and it is one of the most refreshing moments ever. After a 10 minute romp and a few pictures upon request, we begin our sweaty walk back to town. One of the guys that we had followed up the trail and that had taken our picture caught up to our group and starts asking about what school we go to, where we're from, the usual interrogation. I am down to practice my Hindi so I entertain his seemingly innocuous inquiries and then all the sudden he starts saying "indian boys very dirty" and I was like "peer boliye??" ('please speak again' in Hindi) and he kept saying "indian boys very dirty." At which point I mobbed up to the rest of the group. "Is anyone else hearing this!?! Am I alone here?!?!"

EPISODE 4: Chai on the side

This episode happened to a good friend on the same study abroad program as I. Near her apartment there are lots of delicious street foods that she and her housemates often frequented. Over time they all had become chummy with the vendors who sold delights ranging from samosas to chai. One evening their chai-wallah (wallah=person of, so a person who sells chai is called a chai-wallah, or a person from Delhi is called a Delhi-wallah) offered to bring them chai/snacks to their apartment (which is not uncommon. You can order anything under the sun and have it delivered to your door here). Basically, chai-wallah comes in and when my friend went to pay he just straight up groped her. In her house. And then just stood there until the shocked gropee told her roommate what happened and said roommate promptly removed the assailant.

Episode 5: Metrosexual Harassment
This is probably the worst story. No. It is the worst.

So theres this girl on the trip is really sweet and quiet. One afternoon she is on the metro going to class and of course it is body to body packed. She feels this guy touching her hand and keeps moving her hand away, trying to ignore him and make a little space for herself. But this dude is relentless and won't stop touching her. She finally looks down and sees that its not his hand thats touching hers, but his penis. And he is jerking off in the crowded metro, touching her hand. AWESOME.

Alright friends and family. Hope you aren't too alarmed. I'll be back in America in t-minus one month, I just have to go to Thailand and Australia really quick.

x's and o's

Saturday, November 6, 2010

5.11.10 Diwalpacolypse.

First things first. I’d like to condemn Judge Perry’s pathetic sentencing of Johannes Mehserle in the Oscar Grant case. Unfathomable that Grant’s murder took place and pitifully unsurprising that Mehserle’s punishment was so slight. Could I just point out that the former Army officer stalking Ryan Seacrest also received a 2-year prison sentence? For stalking Ryan Seacrest. Vs. shooting and killing a totally unarmed man while he was facedown on the ground. HELLO.

On a brighter note…

It’s Diwali! The Hindu festival of lights, and what I can only sum up as a combination of Christmas, Fourth of July and Spring Cleaning all in one week! Storefronts have been piling with goods: freshly painted deities, pyramids of chocolates and sweets and a new cart sprouting up on every neighborhood corner, offering the likes of tea cups to tablas. And ohhhhhhhhhhhhh the fireworks! Despite the painfully slow and inefficient carbon-copy-paper-work (!) government of this country, I must commend the Indian Democracy for offering equal firework access to all of their citizens (and non-citizens).

To set the Diwali stage: All of these three storied structures (with a different family living on each floor, or sometimes one family residing in the entire building) have hung strings of Diwali (aka Christmas) Lights from their respective balconies. Not as ridiculously lit up as a Chrstimaphiliac’s home, but gorgeous! The subtly is fabulous and the colors more varied, less blinking! Many houses will go for one color: so like one level is drenched in peach colored light and the bottom floor gold. Or an entire building sheathed in Indigo, Cerulean and Teal strands. Or a descending cascade of gold-white. Glorious!

And in this surreality of bright lights, echoing memories of home, it sounds like a warzone. Loud cracks we hear before bursts of confetti are violently sneezed up in the sky. On the real though, it literally sounded like bombs dropping and gunshots everytime one of these fireworks went off. We’ve been hearing these explosions all week, but they still make us jump a little. That natural instinct! If we heard this sound in America, classrooms would be in lockdown. Like bags of nuclear popcorn being popped in the microwave of the sky, on rooftops and parks and middle-of-the-streets. And the rockets that sing sing sing, screaming towards the stratosphere, the halcyon in cacophony. A sky grown hazy from the newly arrived layer of fog sneakily massaging its way into Delhi—the already putridly heavy, polluted air made more milky with the smoke of rockets, the clouds of crackers (that’s what they call them here!), the feces of fireworks, the remnants of the vivid bright vanished into ghost.

Let me go into a little of who is responsible off these behemoths of sonic and visual mas(s)turbation that have been erupting throughout Delhi all week (the culmination being last night). Mostly kids! Duh! But the really young ones lighting up these bad boys are the most terrifying. It is such a sight to see 6 year olds helping set off explosives with sparklers that are nearly as big as them. To be fair, I never played with fireworks when I was little, but I know many an American parent has been so adventurous as to let their offspring play with fireworks so I can’t discriminate on Indian parents who do the same on the holy Hindu day of Diwali! But it is crazy to see this kind of dangerous activity on such a large scale. Dangerous….ly awesome! Seriously, I was standing on my roof and fireworks were going off RIGHT over my head. It was like—have you ever been on Fiesta Island in San Diego when the 10 o’clock fireworks are going off from Sea World? It was like that, but panoramic surround sound and it lasted for like 5 hours. 5 hours at least!

Am I doing this justice? In so few words: Like if Fourth of July fireworks lasted from as soon as darkness fell to the wee hours of the morning. And you don’t have to drive anywhere for the show. And you are part of the show! Instead of neighbors battling for who has the best Christmas light set up, neighbors are battling to see who has the best firework finale. And you live right in between them!

After some gazing at the roof, watching the airborne rockets explode into too many cascading particles of bright bright bright and smoke, and watching funnybeautifullittle volcano fireworks that spurt so many infinite particles of light 6 feet in the air like a glitter filled Mt. St. Helena sprouting from pavement, our journey to the other side of the neighborhood to meet up with some friends and set off our own fireworks began.

A surreal sojourn (surreal!). Every few houses, a family would be outside lighting fireworks and holding sparklers. So weird to walk through the usually docile neighborhood (excepting the growling, mangy dogs loyal only to the inhabitants of their respective territory), now filling with smoke and flame and sound! I can’t get over the sound! The overplayed simile of war! What sounded like bombs going off—some so loud as to trigger car alarms, that cacophony of sound! And the popcorn explosions coupled with their copious kernels of napalm light blocking thoroughfares, but only briefly. And so many mushroom clouds joining the dense atmosphere and decreasing our visibility gradually. There were troupes of bandana-ed boys plotting where to launch their next rockets. Streets uncharacteristically devoid of the traffic that defines them. We hop in an autorickshaw, literally 1 of maybe 3 outside, though the street is usually teeming with them! Bizarre driving down the trafficless street, the incessant honking of horns replaced with gunshots, backfiring incandescence, baby bombs that turn Delhi “air” from a gas to a solid. As we walk through the maze of residential streets from the metro where the rickshaw driver drops us off, we dodge more volcanoes and see mini-rockets launched from glass Coke and Limca bottles, see red sparks illuminate the neighborhood park, and literally duck when we hear a singing rocket come dangerously close to our heads. Actually quite terrifying. So joyful, yet terrifying. Like a jolly apocalypse. Jollpacolypse. Diwalpacolypse.

We arrive at our friend’s house. Stacks of fireworks litter the dining room table, crowding off glasses full of whiskey and Thums Up soda (Yes, there is a soda here called ‘Thums Up” no b! But the label on the bottle does indeed proudly display that well-known digit protruding upwards out of a fist. False advertising?!). The firework packaging: hilarious. Hate to be immature (no I don’t), but it was all COCK brand. Fitting for this male-dominated sport of recklessness. Each box covered with grinning, gleeful Asian children; cartoon characters; scantily clad blonde women; and a few sultry, sari-ed Indian women too. As if COCK brand wasn’t obvious enough, right? Anyways, let’s just say some fireworks were set off, and that college kids(boys) are really stupid (despite the fact that we are all from UCs, Brown, Vassar, etc).

We waited until 2 am for the fireworks to subside so we could actually walk back through the neighborhoods without dodging launch pads and sparklers and volcanoes and grenades. It was utterly silent compared to the earlier audial carnage. Eerily deserted and the air was legitimately yellowed, clouds of smoke that had hung impatiently after explosion had healthily copulated with the too listless fog. I borrowed a friend’s scarf to attempt to spare my lungs the searingly dry pollutants in the air, but I swear my lungs have never felt so violated and invaded! I can only compare the experience to being in a zombie movie. Something in the air wasn’t quite right. And where was everyone? And those residual explosions of fireworks of a rocket just discovered: emergency flares? And the few groups of kids around our age walking to their respective homes: the other survivors. Dogs sniffing at the old casings and eying us wearily, defensively, were we infected too? Ohhhh my god and at one point on the walk, just after we had seen the other survivors, I swear visibility was not more than 10 or so feet! It was wild! It totally took me back to a Burning Man white-out dust storm.

As I write this, the day after the onslaught, there are still a few fireworks popping throughout the neighborhood. And miraculously, all the wrappings and trash of the fireworks swept away incredibly quickly by poor neighborhood women asking only for sweets in return (oh which every Indian house has copious amounts. And also to clarify: I mean sweets like: this), erasing any evidence of the battle for airspace last night. And the smoke seamlessly united with fog, air hazy from worsening weather or what. Such a chaotic episode of surreality!

Common Wealth Games Break: A prelude

So if everyone didn’t already know: Common Wealth Games = equivalent of the Olympics for former and current British colonies/protectorates/what-have-yous. Held in Delhi, India from Oct 2-14.

Endless construction and endless corruption. Basically, the entire time I’ve been here sidewalks, bridges, roads, buildings, city identity have been constructed before my eyes. Bamboo scaffolding (Actually quite quaint, effective and sustainable! Much less garish than the wrought iron “safety” scaffolding found overseas.) adorned the likes of the mighty Red Fort, office buildings, houses, and even the YWCA we stayed in near Connaught Place. Busy roads with no sidewalks! Gaping holes at major shopping centers with no fences blocking pedestrians from the orifices choked with waste and wires. Hardhats?!? You’re funny. Of course there were no hardhats, or at least they were very rare. And blinding metal work in the streets at all hours of the day and night. JUST LIKE FLASHDANCE. Not really but you get my drift.

The construction made life difficult at times. Like when my dear friends Erika and Kate were here around the end of August and it was monsooning ridiculously as we got off the metro at Connaught Place and had to weave our way through seas of mud and tile and electrical wire, stepping on Styrofoam icebergs bobbing in those unknown waters, walking planks of plywood to reach salvation: the covered alcoves of CP. This is off of a major metro stop that handles thousands and thousands of people a day. One might have expected some kind of walkway to be there considering that many thousands more people were expected for the games in a mere month and a half, but I digress. So was the nature of Games preparation: procrastination in all its painful, anxiety-filling, break-neck glory.

Luckily for us, Delhi University (and pretty much every other school in the entire city) cancelled school for fear of the impending clusterfuck impeding student transport to places of learning. (Sidenote: it didn’t actually get that crowded, the games were kind of a fail in terms of attendance, buttttttt we weren’t even here so ha!). And I decided to extend my 2 week break into 3 weeks. Why? WHY NOT?


Wed. Sept 29: 44 hour train ride to Chennai commences!
Thurs. Sept 30: Train!
Fri. Oct 1: Arrive in Chennai and straight to Ponidcherry (4 hour bus ride)!
Sat. Oct 2: Pondicherry
Sun. Oct 3: Pondicherry→ Trichy (5 hour bus ride) →Thanjavur (1 hour bus ride)
Mon. Oct 4: Thanjavur→ Madurai (4 hour bus ride)→ Kanyakumari (6 hour bus ride?)
Tues. Oct 5: Kanyakumari → Varkala (3.5 hour bus ride + 1 hour autorickshaw ride)
Wed. Oct 6: Varkala
Thurs. Oct 7: Varkala →Aleppy (2 hour train ride)
Fri. Oct 8: Aleppy—24 hour backwaters boat ride!
Sat. Oct 9: Aleppy→Ft. Kochi (I don’t even remember, 3 hour bus ride?)
Sun. Oct 10: Ft. Kochi
Mon. Oct 11: Ft. Kochi → Goa (14ish hour train ride)
Tues. Oct 12- Thurs. Oct 14: Goa
Fri Oct 15: Goa → Bombay (14ish hour train ride)
Sat. Oct 16 - Tues. Oct 19: Bombay
Wed. Oct 20: Arrive in Delhi in PM (after a 20 hour train ride)

Okay so by my rough, forgotten guestimations of time:
44+ 4+5+1+4+6+3.5+1+2+3+14+14+20 = that is something like 121.5 hours just in transit. Which comes out to how I spent about a 5th of my break. Crazy!

The amount of traveling actually wasn’t so bad. I feel like a totally zen traveler now. Throw me on a bus and I will sit patiently. For hours. And hours. Me! Can you imagine? I hardly can.

Anyways, some highlights of my adventures of south India are to follow!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MONSOON. You're the shit and I'm knee deep in it. Literally!

I could probably live the rest of my life without another drop of rain ever touching me again and be perfectly content. I've reached my quota. But today there was so much rain that I couldn't be annoyed at the minor inconveniences of walking through ankle deep water to get to the main road, which has disintegrated before my very eyes over the past 2 rainy monsoon months in Delhi. Today the rain was so ridiculous that it took me an hour to get to my house--a journey that is usually a 20-minute stroll, a 15-minute walk.

Here's how I found myself knee deep in the shit:
I was over at a friends house, doing some trip planning for the beginning October as we have a 2 week break from Deli University. "Why?" you may ask. Well, you see, this year Delhi has the honor of hosting the Commonwealth Games. They can only be described as what I like to sum up as the Olympics for former British Colonies; tramady (tragedy + comedy) ensues. The entire city has been under construction since we've been here. New overpasses, metro stops, sidewalks, wiring, painting. Everything you can imagine. Makeshift scaffolding crafted out of bamboo. Mini-Machu Picchus made of bricks eroding away under the torrential downpour, completing their life-cycle back to red clay. Styrofoam pallets eroded too, into chunks and pebbles thrashing about in the filthy puddles gone mad with the excess water. Like a sea of green house gas evaporated icebergs, but covered in a film of foodwrappersmangopitsbannanapeelspetrolexcessfecesofthehumanandanimalvariety.

But to get out of the simile and back to the (sur)real. Today, or tonight I must say. As I left my friend's house the wee downpour began, though there had been a steady drizzle all day. Usually I walk back to my house from the metro, but as night had fallen, my shoe had broken earlier in the day--from rain destroying whatever was holding it together (faith? optimism? Elmer's?), and it was raining, I opted to take an auto-rickshaw. But fate would have it otherwise as the mere 3 auto rickshaws that even dared near the newly forming rapids near the metro entrance were filled with passengers like a lifeboat on the Titanic (too soon?). A few bicycle rickshaws approached. After losing the sprint once, I thought I was home free (not technically, for the ride up the street from the metro bike rickshaws are a 15 rupee splurge compared the 5 rupee rides in auto-rickshaws). I asked, "Bayaa, Batra chalogaye?" (Brother shall we go to Batra--the movie theatre near my house) and he said "Baithiye" (sit) and I said "kitna" (which is the abbrev'ed form of how much) and he said "sattar" (70) and I was like "kyaa?! bis!" (What?? 20 rupez) and he just shook his head and I shook my head and went back under the awning. Then the rain got worse so I posted up near the back of the crowd and finished a chapter in the book I'm reading (about the goddess Kali, seriously obsessed with her). Then it let up. Snagged a bike rickshaw for 50 rupez, essentially the cost of a kilo of tomatoes and half a kilo of onions, to put it in perspective.

The water is so high that me are holding their khakis up to their knees, where the water is lapping after each car makes any kind of movement (did I mention that traffic was a total clustercuss?). Cars are honking constantly (typical, but especially futile considering the weather conditions, making it excessively pointless) and car alarms go off. I am in a matrix of small 4 doors (silver is the color of choice here), motorcycles with 2 or even 3 young men straddling the struggling beast, little Vespa-esque scooters, old rusted Hero bicyclists, huge city buses white with two thin horizontal stripes running down the middle of its shell dividing top and bottom sometimes with windows smashed out running until they literally can run no more, a few auto-rickshaws that seem to hover on the grey-brown water, a myriad of walkers (much less common when there's no downpour) and other bike rickshaws proving their efficiency in all weather conditions.

Some motorcyclists had to get off their bikes and walk them through the streets or on the 2 foot center divide (also rapidly eroding due to the fact it is made of a line of concrete slabs leaning up against mud and maybe a few rocks here and there) because their exhausts were inhaling water and their engines were starting to smoke. For a quick second I thought that the bike right next to my rickshaw was going to explode or something because it was smoking up so bad and I thought about how devastating it would be to lose an eye because of that. But he turned off his bike and started walking. Those brave souls that walked probably didn't want to wait in the traffic, or pay the exorbitant monsoon prices for hallowed admission into any kind of vehicle. It could've been me, really, when that police SUV sped past us heading north bound on the deserted southbound side of the street (because that would mean people having to leave via S on Dr. Mukhergee Nagar having to walk through the rain to their cars to escape the neighborhood into something that could be even more fearful in the concrete maze of Delhi). It could've been me, really, when the SUV not only splashed the people on the center divide, but drenched them from head to foot. 5-foot tidal waves like big blown kisses from the drivers via the tires in bliss with the dirty-grey...paani (water!). The guy closest to me that got drenched did a classic "Are you serious?!" gesture and sighed at the heavens and continued on his way.

Times were slow, I started singing to myself. Or I guess you could say I was serenading the rickshaw-walla. Braided my hair and enjoyed the ride. A little Monk nun (Biksuni) in a little Docker's khaki colored rain poncho and matching rain hat saw me peeking out under my little red rickshaw roof and gave me a big, adorable smile and a wave. SO ADORABLE. I was already in the zone of this-is-so-ridiculous-that-I-am-getting-zen-Buddhist-on-this-and-maybe-even-enjoying-it-because-it-is-so-ridiculous stage and her smile brought me into the's.awesome stage. Water was up to my feet while sitting in the rickshaw (something like 2ish feet from the ground?!). The center divide was no longer visible under the newly born sea, see? Those who had been navigating their ways home on it appeared to be dogged and dogmatic Christ-like walking on water while wheels drowned. Bikes were stalling and so were cars. Men pushing rickshaws out of the mess, searching for some higher ground. And all the while, amid this seeming chaos people watched from the sides of the streets. Sometimes clutching umbrellas trying to gain strength for their eventual submission to the fact that they would get wet somehow or another on their way home. Some cozied up in restaurants or the neighborhood Cafe Coffee Day (i.e.: India's version of Starbucks).

Eventually we arrived to the stretch of the street that isn't constantly flooded--maybe it has some whisper of a drainage system?, and cruised up towards Batra and my home. In front of one of the sweet shops a group of young guys probably in the mid-20s, were splashing and playing on the side of the street since they were already all so soaked anyways, why not take it the max? It was pretty awesome. One guy tackled his friend into the water and the guy in the water dragged his assailant in with him and then the other friends got in there too. I thought I was the beach for a second. No, really. So mirthful! Then it was time for me the get back into the rains, though I was already soaked (the little rickshaw roof doesn’t cover your legs or protect you from being in the splash zone of motor vehicles, nor does it help when its raining sideways, nor does it help when you go through a big ditch that it sheds all the water it's been keeping between you and the bursting sky on you all at once from that sudden deep-ditch jolt). I paid my rickshaw-walla a few crumpled 10 and 20 rupee notes and held my Ali Baba pants up to my knees.

And I was knee deep in it. And then my sandal broke even further submerged in that water and I was floppin around on one good foot, trying to keep the other sandal from totally slipping away. As I neared my street the water receded, and collected in pools instead of drowning the entire street like it had on the main road. I was still singing to myself and a guy right behind me with some of his friends was singing too. He caught my stride and said "nice huh?" and I said "pyara mausum" (cute weather, literal translation). And he said "oh you know Hindi" and I said "thori Hindi aati he" I have acquired a little Hindi. "Nice Hindi" he says and I continue home, no more than a minute away I'd say. Belt out some Rilo Kiley and traipse up to the third floor of ol' 907 Mukhergee Nagar.

I drip in through the front door tell my tale to my enthralled housemates. And I peel off my soaking clothes that smack on the floor with a satisfying, engorged slap. And then my roommate Alyssa says, "Oh my god you're blue." Turns out the shirt I was wearing today, borrowed from dear Nina, hadn’t been washed yet. And if you didn't know, everything in India bleeds its die. All over the place. Like a dog in heat. Buckets of laundry (no washing machines here, sorry!) bleed together. It is a crime here for any fabric to maintain white. I'm starting to think that the whole hippies are obsessed with India thing is all backwards. My theory? India forcibly turns people into hippies by dying their formerly white clothes into Berkeley Telegraph Ave wet dreams. And then monsoon rains dye my body blue. Can you imagine! A sheen of blue hue seeped into my torso. The color of a dying Navii in the movie Avatar. Not that vibrant blue, but a blue-y grey. Subtle. Call me Susan Sarandon already.

If you're’s still raining right now. We'll see what more destruction the rains bring. Supposedly the Yamuna River (which runs through Delhi and is oh so close to my neighborhood) is a just .2 meters from 1978 levels--the highest monsoon recorded in recent history. Awesome!

Soggy Delhi Dime

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wine, Water, Milk and Honey

So this past weekend our study abroad program took a long weekend to visit such sites as the Amber Fort, Jantar Mantar, the Agra Fort, the Tomb of Akbar the Great in Sikandra, and the TAJ! It is incredibly difficult to describe the all-encompassing, intricate, delicate, splendid, immense, meticulous, towering beauty of each of these sites. They are the relics of the Mughal Empire—a Muslim kingdom that held power from the mid-1500s to the mid-1800s before the British colonized the subcontinent. As result many of them have been preserved pretty well—at least the red sandstone and marble structures have not been plundered or eroded, but the rich carpets and liquid gold paintings are details that have faded. It was stunning to go to Akbar’s tomb, our last stop on our intense touring itinerary, and see a fabulous mix of sand stone and marble architecture and go into his tomb and see some of the fantastic paintings with some gilded gold edges still preserved. The Mughals had TASTE. Anyways, I digress.

I’m titling this post Wine, Water, Milk and Honey because when these epic tombs were designed (including the Taj Mahal) they included little moats on all 4 sides of the structure so that those four liquids can flow into the tomb in the after life. BEAUTIFUL! But for myself and my study abroad companions it would be something more like Kingfisher, Pani, Paneer and Julabi. Kingfisher being the national beer of India, Pani being the Hindi word for water, Paneer being Indian cottage cheese which appears in infinite dishes here in the form of little cubes (a visual trick! They look just like tofu chunks!) and Julabi being a delicious Indian desert.

Also, I must apologize for not updating this little blog since I’ve been back in Delhi (about a month). It’s been difficult for me to just sit down and write because there is always something happening. I find myself in a constant state of processing new information: new smells, new sites, new human interactions. Everything. When I have downtime I find myself reading books (just read Island by Aldous Huxley—SO GOOD) or trying to read the news or watching movies. And all of these activities are just consuming more intellectual material to process. And then there’s the difficulty of trying to establish regular routines (um why has it been nearly impossible to find a yoga studio near my house in North Delhi??!). Plus traveling for long weekends—the weekend before last I journeyed to McLeod Ganj, where the Tibetan government-in-exile is located. Whilst there I finally had a really good Ashtanga yoga class and learned how to make Momos (steamed Tibetan dumplings).

Anyways I don’t want to make this too absurdly long so I will recount a typical day-in the life and a brief account of last Thursday because it was crazy.


Alright, so I live in North Delhi, aka Old Delhi. Where the streets are winding little mazes and the three and three storied structures are cozied up wall to wall painted all kinds of colors with intricate wrought-iron gates and balconies for everyone. A different family lives on each floor of the buildings—like mini apartment buildings. I live on the third floor of a mint green abode with 6 other students from my program. The apartment has marble floors and a fan in every room (no AC but the fans are usually sufficient). We have to order 5-gallon water jugs about every other day since the tap water isn’t safe to drink. We cook on a little propane-powered stove that evokes an aura of a really serious camper. Once we wind our way out to the main street there is a shopping complex—kind of like an Indian strip mall—with cheap restaurants, pharmacies, some clothing stores, general stores and all kinds of posters and billboards for law classes and tutoring for an array of subjects (it takes about 30 minutes to walk to Delhi University from our house, needless to say there are many students in our neighborhood). But once we make it across the street after dodging auto-rickshaws, passenger cars, city and state buses, bike-rickshaws and infinite motor bikes, there is a row of sabzi-wallahs (vegetable sellers) where we can buy all kinds of fruits and veggies for super cheap. My typical dinner consists of Nina and/or I making lentils and sautéed okra or eggplants or tomatoes or green beans or spinach or potatoes or mushrooms and any combination thereof. Plus fresh garlic, onions and green peppers of course.

So on a typical school day I will wake up around 815 (aka the crack of dawn). It will be AT LEAST 80 degrees in our room. (Side note: I don’t know if you know this about me, but I love the heat. If I had to choose it’d be 85 degrees all the time. In short, this is the country is fulfilling that desire. I bought a sweat rag to deal with when the sweat inevitably starts dripping off my face while I walk to class, so no problem there!). Okay so I’ll wake up, down some water, eat some Museli (basically granola) for breakfast, get dressed (always modestly. I have had my legs totally covered the entire time I’ve been here. When I’m feeling like I can handle all the extra-unwanted attention I even show some shoulder.), walk out to the main street, hop in an auto-rickshaw down to the road that the University is on for 5 rupees a ride (our house is about 15-20 mins walk to that street + 20 minutes to get to class so I take a rickshaw if I am running a wee bit late), walk to class, learn about ancient India, eat lunch at the University’s Holistic Food Center (stuffed parantha + veggies + sprouted laddoo for desert. For 27 rupees. Dank!), hop on the metro for 3 stops down to Hindi class at the study center (basically an apartment in a nice little neighborhood where we have class, a little computer lab with 6 ol’ PCs that have to be coaxed into functioning at all, and a library with past students’ paperbacks and textbooks), learn Hindi, metro back home, do some yoga in the living room, make dinner, read/study/movie/go out (hope you liked that run-on sentence). Then do it all over again. But I only have class MonTuesWeds so my other days are like today: waiting for everyone to get ready to go on some shopping/art/site-seeing adventure. Which takes forever. Maybe its just after this weekend traveling in a group of 30 but I don’t think I will ever travel with more than like 4 people. It’s too infuriating.

10 am: Wake up, eat cereal, troll the internet.
11 am: shower.
Noon: depart for Pahar Ganj, aka the main bazaar near Connaught Place in central Delhi. Buy the last of my travel tickets for the 2 week break we get off for the Common Wealth Games ( Eat delicious samosas.
3 pm: Begin the journey to find this urban art exhibit in a little gallery that I had read about earlier in the week. Happen upon some sort of strike/demonstration for I had no idea what (though I read the news paper a few days later and discovered it was a hoard of farmers protesting an imminent tax-imposition). Make eye contact inadvertently with one of the protestors in the street while walking along the sidewalk and he chucks an empty 1 ltr sprite bottle of Sprite at me and charges towards me yelling something to his comrades, one of which who grabs my hand and tries to pull me away from Nina. It was really jarring. Especially since we had no idea what they were protesting and it all happened so fast. I wasn’t really concerned anything that bad would happen since their were police monitoring everywhere, but it was really surreal experience. I don’t know how I incited any passions in those men, but I guess being a comparatively wealthy white woman in enough for any form of harassment here. Anyways, finally find the gallery and it is AWESOME.
5 pm: Head to Manju Ka Tila, the Tibetan refugee settlement in Delhi, for dinner. Eat a delicious meal of Tingmo (steamed bread), veggie thupka and broccoli in garlic tomato sauce. For a mere 205 rupees! Thats under 5 dollars for an amazing meal for two in a nice sit down restaurant with adorable Tibetan waiters. ONLY IN INDIA.
730 pm: Take the metro back to our place in North Delhi. While walking home along the main road a pack of 5 year old boys start grabbing our posteriors (but mostly Nina's) and she yells “NOT OK” and a guy on his bike rickshaw pulls his bike over and starts telling the boys off in Hindi and chasing them, as well as another guy who was walking behind us in the street. The 5 year old perverts scatter and Nina and I are like “Whaaaaat?”

I could go off on more, but the day calls.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

REALLY miss carrots

On Saturday some of us visited the Purkal Society for Youth Development, a school created for bright children who come from impoverished families located in villages south of Mussorie and North of Deradhun. The organization essentially began as after school tutoring by this man GK Swamy 20 years ago and is now a fully developed school for over 200 students. It is able to operate mostly thanks to donations from wealthy Indian citizens. How did 17 EAP students find themselves here? Well I’ll tell you! The woman who does a lot of financial work for the organization just so happened to be in a language class with a few of EAP students and invited us to the school for the day!

We were picked up by the Purkal school bus around noon and arrived in time for lunch. As soon as we got off the school bus after a ride of twists and turns and curves like a Botecelli painting we were transported into a humid, tropical place complete with the whisperings of bugs wings flapping through the sticky air and the more audible cries of birds and the familiar, but long unheard by our ears: songs of children laughing and playing! We sat down for lunch with a few of the students, who were adorable and had incredible mastery of English. Lunch consisted of rice, beans, some curried veggies and fresh cut tomatoes, cucumbers, radish and carrots (YESSSSS). It was delicious and fully balanced and not fried (YESSSS). Speaking Hindi with them was funny and inspiring as they have such a good grasp on our language while we are still bumbling and butchering our way through using Hindi to communicate more than just “hello’s; how are you?’s; and what’s your name?’s.”

After lunch we entered the Stree Shakti quilt making complex—another part of the Purkal society that focuses on women empowerment via quilt making for personal profit. Village women are employed to craft quilts and organize themselves into groups of 10, which share bank accounts and savings. Purkal provides the materials and pattern templates, which the women use to make the most sundar quilts and other precious knick knacks (pot holders, baby quilts, purses, lap top cases, etc). Essentially the women are able to generate their own income and savings, a much more practical seeming help-model than ridiculous low finance loans. We also got to visit the nursery (krish) for the children of the quilt makers. ADORABLE!

After that we were paired into teams of 2 and sent to classrooms where kids ranging from grade 3 to grade 11 asked us questions! “What’s your hobby?” “How do you rule places like Alaska and Hawaii if they’re not connected?” “Can you sing your national anthem?” “What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you?” etc, etc. We stumbled through the national anthem and told them a bit about California culture (beaches, burritos, babes obviously). They were interested in hearing the differences between American schools and Indian schools, a question which stumped me because I don’t know too absurdly much about the Indian education system but that Indian public schools, especially in rural areas, have horrible track records of absentee or basically bad teachers who are ill-equipped to prepare children for the intensity of higher levels of education.

The intelligence and eagerness of the kids to learn about us and America was really refreshing and unadulterated compared to being asked more personal or blunt questions by strangers in the street. The kids also tested out Hindi abilities and made us write our names in Hindi on the white board and then had us write down some of their names in Hindi too! Afterwards they sang the theme song to my favorite Bollywood movie (Gol Maal) and then we sang them N’SYNC’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart” with a little choreography by yours truly. SO GOOD.

The experience really makes me want to teach English abroad after I graduate (if I can afford to with all these budget cuts! Thanks Arnold, Prop 13, UC Regents, etc). One child asked us why we wanted to learn to speak Hindi. I responded: Hindi bhasha bahut sundar he! (Hindi language is very beautiful!). And a few other students received the same question in their classes too (Q: Do you think Hindi is a practical language? A: Anything in addition to English is practical). English is the language of power. Americans are lucky enough to currently be the strongest power in the world and thus really don’t need to know anything but English, but it is egotistical and ignorant to only teach English. While children in India are forced to learn English if they expect to go into higher education (all classes at Delhi University are taught in English, for example), we are allowed to weasel by that requirement in America far too easily. When we take foreign language classes it is often not for career survival or even to necessarily visit the country of whatever language we’re learning. My experience learning Hindi is challenging but exciting—to learn a language in context and to be able to interact with people who haven’t received a formal education. Additionally, it shows my respect for the country that I am currently inhabiting.

Back to Delhi in 5 days! Ahh!