Soo much to write about…and yet again not much time. I will try to do my best and go in chronological order.
7-11 December 2003
Before I left India to go to the U.S. for my sister Bonnie’s wedding, I had a crazy busy week (as I already mentioned). The organization I was working with a bit, CKS, was co-sponsoring a conference called DoorsEast with a Dutch organization called Doors of Perception. It brought together people from many different disciplines Europe and India to talk about “service design.” I think I explained this a bit before, but you can also check out the website: doorseast.org to learn more about it and see photos too.
Basically, it was a really interesting week where I had the opportunity to meet bright, creative and enthusiastic people working in different fields. I had originally thought that the work they do is not related to my background or interests because many are in the field of design. However, when one speaker talked about his project his started by saying that he and his colleagues were talking about how there should be a new degree program called a MFPWWTMTWB. That is, a Masters For People Who Want To Make Things Work Better. I thought—Hey, that is me!
Besides, half the people where from Holland (well I am exaggerating a bit)—so of course I would like them all. Hehehe. Seriously, I hope to contact some in the future to see what they are working on and the like
12-23 Dec 2003
Back to the U.S. of A.
So, as in typical Elizabeth fashion, I had to leave directly from the conference to go to the airport to catch the first of my 3, yes 3, flights back to the U.S. Uhh—a long journey of over 30 hours ensued to bring me back to my motherland. Along the way I noticed some things:
In the Bombay airport they have chaise lounges so you can actually lie down while waiting for your flight. Pretty nifty idea. Why couldn’t they have that in Zurich where I had to wait 6 hours???? Don’t ever wait to buy souvenirs in the Bombay airport—man are they ridiculously overpriced. I mean RIDICULOUS. And don’t let them tell you that it is becoming illegal to bring sandalwood outside of the country the next day so you need to get it while you can. Hahaha. Sandalwood is from the south anyway, so no reason to buy it there.
When I stepped off the plane is Zurich and proceeded to the ladies room, I looked around me at the sleek lines, immaculate space, the modern design and felt like I could have been at the MOMA. And that was just the bathroom! I thought to myself—you gotta love Switzerland. After coming from dusty, polluted, crowded and chaotic India, Switzerland is a peaceful, clean oasis. I spent the next hours trying to kill time by looking through the limited number of shops in the aiport. One adorable, tiny (and I mean tiny) wooden trinket I picked up (I thought I could buy for my nephew, Ben, was about $35!!! I thought to myself—you gotta hate Switzerland. After coming from cheap, get-most-everything-for-a-bargain India, Switzerland is like the Tiffany’s of countries (well, maybe Norway is worse, but when I was there I was more used to those prices). Anyway, although I didn’t eat the whole time I was there because I couldn’t afford a $15 hamburger, I did manage to get some beloved chocolate. And that makes the journey home almost worthwhile in itself. Hehe.
Let me ask you, though, why are the legs of multiple flights that are on American carriers so much more sucky than the ones on European carriers? They never have the screens on the back of the seats to that each person can watch her own movies and the flight attendants stink (often, but not always) and the food is worse? By the way, Hulk was one of the worst movies ever created! Why did have to be shown from India to Switzerland, Switzerland to NY and then back again when I left?! The saving grace was that I got to see Finding Nemo and that I finally got to watch a Hindi movie with English subtitles so I actually knew what they were saying. Even so, the Bollywood films I watched on the plane were not good at all. They were no Kal Ho Naa Ho (very popular movie right now in India for those who don’t know—I have the title song as my ring tone on my cell phone).
So, I FINALLY made it to NY with my bag filled with goodies to give as presents (mostly for Bonnie to give to other people for being part of the wedding).
The week was spent getting fitted for my bridesmaid dress, getting a haircut, taking care of some details for the wedding and getting to visit with some friends (although there were many who I missed L). Besides my loving family (including BEN!!!!!), it was great to see you Jen and Roger; Stacy; Kathleen, Lorie and Alexa; Jessica, Erika, Uval, Jbaer, Jami, Stephani, Jason, and Jordon. And it was also wonderful to catch up with so many on the phone who I didn’t get to see in person. It felt so cozy to be in New York during the holidays—with the snow and the cold and the lights and the general feeling of hustle, bustle and energy. Even though India is so crowded I still felt, when walking on Fifth Avenue, that there are so many people buzzing around in New York. I just love it. Mitali (one of my roommates and I were talking about how there are so many people in the streets of India, but they are often just sort of milling about—not moving and on the go like in the big apple).
And on to the reason that I actually went back to the U.S.—Bonnie’s wedding!
On Friday night, (after I made a quick trip to see the tree at Rockefeller Plaza) we had a intimate rehearsal dinner with the immediate families and the bridal party. It was so nice to get to see Bonnie’s friends and wonderful to meet Kevin’s brothers and best friends for the first time. Everyone gave good speeches, and were especially funny about Kevin’s quirks. I would love to post a photo or two from it, but I had a technical snafoo with the CD with all of the photos from the wedding weekend. I am really disappointed about that because now I don’t have photos to look at while I am here and because you don’t get to see the dress I had made here in India. It was a project of mine for about a month. My friend, Sowmya, took me to a tailor she knows and we designed and Indo-Western dress made of a purple/blue silk and embroidered by hand. I went for about 4 fittings (they are not that great with tailoring western style dresses for women). I also had this silk shawl with golden threads (I think that is called zari) that matched. Well, I will just have to wear it again when I am back in the U.S. to show you all!
Bonnie also gave out her gifts to her bridesmaids, which included hand embroidered silk bags I had made in India to match our dresses and silk shawls I got here as well.
Saturday, the 20th, was the big day. Bonnie had gotten the suite at the Yale club, where the wedding was taking place, so we all got ready there. Two women came to do our hair and makeup. Things were pretty calm, but at the end we were running late of course anyway.
And then the wedding…it was beautiful. I cannot tell you have stunning Bonnie looked. She could have graced the cover of any magazine. The ceremony was really nice (including an openning reminiscent of Joey’s speech for Monica and Chandler on Friends—nobody seemed to notice though except for Bonnie and me, both of whom had an internal chuckle about it) with both a minister and a rabbi. The minister is the chaplain for the UN (how appropriate for Kevin in particular). Besides the fact that one of my contacts fell out (I got it back in luckily) during the ceremony it went off without a hitch. There were also some personal touches. My uncle, a violinist, played in the quartet which performed the music as we all walked down the aisle. Kevin’s dear friend from college is an opera singer and she also performed during the ceremony. She was incredible!
On to the party - my primary concern during the cocktail hour was to get SUSHI! I could barely wait…but I would have to. Every time I made a move to the sushi bar I bumped into a relative or friend who wanted to know about India. I felt a bit like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (with the exception that nobody adivised me about getting into “plastics”). I was excited to see my whole family and all of my family friends and was so honored that they wanted to hear all about my life, but I just needed some of that sushi. I mean, 10 months without is just too damn long! Hehe. I did finally get to savour some tuna and eel and was I happy.
I also got to catch up with everyone, which of course was so wonderful. I just could not believe how many people told me they have been reading my site. I was shocked! Thank you all so much for being so interested. But now I feel all the pressure to make sure it is good. Hahaha. I figured no one read it, well, maybe skim or look at the photos, but then my mom’s friend’s date’s cousin is telling me how interesting it is and I am thinking “Oh no, I better come up with some good stuff!” So (to all of you who are still reading), I hope it delivers.
The reception was beautiful, the food was delicious and the band was great. The white flowers and candles that dotted the tables added romance and warmth to the grand room. The four courses were so yummy that I made sure to run back to the table during dancing to at least have a bite or two of each. The psychotically amazing bongo player with the buffest arms I have ever seen on a woman (and she was 50 years old!) added incredible energy. Everyone got down to her insane rythms. The band opened up with a welcoming song of “We Coming to America” by Neil Diamond in honor of all of us how had travelled far and wide to make it to the wedding. Not only was I in from India, but Kevin’s brothers live in Japan and Scotland. There were people from about 15 countries I think in total. Bonnie and Kevin also asked my cousin, Laura, a professional singer-and AMAZING at that, to sing a tribute to my parents and his. She sang Natalie Merchant’s Thank You (well, that is not the title, but I can’t remember the real one). It was perfect except for one snag—my uncle, her father, was stuck in the elevator during the performance! and for another hour of the party! That was probably the only catastrophe of the wedding (and minor at that because he, as well as the other guest stuck in there, were fine. And it adds a sort of funny story too, I guess).
After the party, we were so tired, but went to the Royalton for some drinks and more conversation. And then to bed for a few hours before going to the final activity—the Sunday brunch. It provided a good chance to talk a bit more with close friends and relatives before concluding the weekend.
Here are some photos of the wedding. They are not necessarily the best, but they are the only ones I have here.
I then had to get myself ready to go back to India. I have to say that I am not that fond of the going back and forth thing. On the one hand, it was so comforting for me to know that I was returning to the U.S. in two months when I originally left for my time in India. But then, when I was trying to get settled here, I didn’t feel quite ready to pick up and go back. Once I was back in the U.S. it felt normal to be there, but also a bit weird (as always happens in these circumstances) in a way I have never been able to describe, but if you have been through it you know. After the week and a half, I again felt adjusted back to America mode, just in time to have to go back. This time it was easier in that I knew what I was going back to—India was no longer a complete mystery—but it was also so much harder to know it would a separation for so long. Despite my travels, my living in a different city from family for more than four years (both in the U.S. and overseas), I have always seen those people so special to me within 5 or 6 months at most. This time it would be more like 7 months at least. Time flies, as we all know, but saying goodbye was hard.
25-26 Dec 2003
Now that I spent a few pages talking about the U.S., which you already know about I am left with not much time to write about my travels back in India. Of course this update was supposed to be posted several days ago already and here I am, about to leave to go back up to Bombay (and therefore a self-imposed deadline was created). Therefore, I will be borrowing liberally from my Aussie friend, Ian, with whom I travelled because he wrote a very eloquant group email to his friends about his journey. Thanks, Ian! I will let you know where it is his writing (however, you can tell because he is quite a bit more eloquant than I).
I arrived late on Christmas Eve and within days of arrival I lost (or it was stolen) my very favorite jean jacket, which was my only jacket and now I am quite chilled at night, my watch broke and the zipper on my backpack broke. Ahh! Why couldn’t any of this have happened in the U.S.?? Anyway, we stayed at a Salvation Army hostel that was quite disgusting (does having a huge hole in the wall that goes to the outside tell you anything about this place?), but it was across from the Taj Hotel and therefore was quite expensive. Couldn’t wait to get out of there.
The first day there was Christmas. We met up with Mitali who was staying there with her family and went for an Indian lunch. I found it quite ironic that Ian, who got to spend Christmas with westerners, still didn’t get to really celebrate the holiday fully because, despite that fact that Mitali and I are westerners, neither of us are Christian. Hahaha. What are the odds? We spent the rest of the day resting (after we had already seen the Gateway to India which served as the final point of departure for the British as they left their former colony) particularly because I was tired from my journey.
The next day we went to go see the Dabawallahs who are now becoming world renown for the efficiency and effectiveness. They are the men who bring the lunches, made by mothers and wives in the suburbs of Bombay, to the men who work in the city. They are famous because there are thousands and thousands (maybe more) of lunches that they transport without making a single error. It is even more remarkable because the lunch goes through 10-20 hands of Dabawallahs, most of whom are illiterate. There have now been many business cases done on them and one of the leaders told us that two masters students were currently studying them. They are quite amazing to see in action. They carry these things on their heads across the rows and rows of traffic and even cross the dividers in the middle of the road!
After our observations, we went to go learn about another phenomenon in India-cricket. I finally learned the rules of the game. Ian, being and Aussie, is a huge fan. We got to watch a game in action in the park and he explained it all. Hooray! But I am not really sure why I am saying this so enthusiastically. It is not as if I plan to watch any of these about-as-exciting-as-watching-paint-dry matches that drag on for days (what?!).
We then hung out in Mitali’s uncles’ store and then their club. Pretty tough life, huh? But mostly because we were all pretty beat. So not a minute out in any of the swanky Bombay hotspots. I will be back so I hope to at least see what the financial capital and center of the Bollywood industry have to offer.
Gateway of India
Funny cab driver photo
Some of Bombay's architecture
27 Dec 2003
Now-borrowed from Ian: The following day saw us travelling to Aurangabad to visit the Ellora and Ajanta caves, famed masterpieces of Hindu and Buddhist art and architecture, and ancient testament to the grand and unswerving devotion so often inspired by those two great faiths.
The Ellora caves (which include Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves) we visited first, with the centrepiece being the Kailash Temple, a huge Hindu temple not built upwards in the usual fashion but instead carved out of a mountainside, an effort that took a whole one hundred and fifty years. The end result is an elaborate network of pillars, courtyards and shrines all richly decorated with the fine carvings of abundantly-limbed deities polishing off various irksome demons that distinguish Hindu art, and all set within what is effectively a quarry.
It is incredible to see and the pictures just do not do it justice.
One of me in the Buddhist caves
The same day we also saw the mini-Taj, which is pretty crappy (and I haven’t even see the Taj Mahal yet to compare it to), this fort that one of the old rulers decided should serve as the new capital and so therefore forced all of the people of Delhi to walk thousands of miles there, most dying along the way, only to change his mind a few years later, the tomb of the last Moghul Ruler, Aurengzab (sp?), and this interesting temple where all the men had to take their shirts off in orfer to enter.
Muslim men outside of the tomb
28 Dec 2003
The following day we visited the Ajanta caves, older than the Ellora caves and exclusively Buddhist. Where Ellora is justly famous for its masterful sculpture, Ajanta is equally famous for
its murals, depicting the Buddha in his various incarnations through the ages, performing acts of tremendous self-sacrifice for the good of the less sanguine public within which he found himself.
The one problem I found with the caves was that it was difficult to see some of the paintings because was kept dark to preserve the caves. This, coupled with the fact that I neither knew what I was looking at nor knew the religious stories that they were depicting, made it harder to get the full value out of the caves. However, even with these constraints it is quite amazing to see these caves and paintings some of which are almost two thousand years old.
Something Ian noted was about how often “the religious painter, who, generally something of an ardent soul to begin with, is free to give full vent to whatever angels and demons lurk within, thus the prevalence of violent and disturbing scenes in the great works of religious art. With this in mind, it is quite remarkable that the Ajanta cave paintings, full of the myths and legends of the Buddhist faith and painted by artists drunk on the fervent spirit of the faithful, are entirely free of fire, brimstone and divine wrath, and instead show us the very epitome of benevolence and grace. While confessing ignorance of the subtle nuances of Buddhism, and without wishing to sound too much like Richard Gere, it is this genuine benevolence that for me is the most striking element of the faith, and the one that is most instructive to the non-Buddhist. After all, a Buddhist fundamentalist is just someone who is really, really peaceful and extremely inclined to let everybody else go about their business.” Interesting.
On a lighter note, I found great pleasure in taking photos in India of these ancient caves and with Indians while wearing my newly acquired “I love NY” t-shirt.
On the way back to Aurangabad we saw many a vehichle OVERLOADED with people. First there is the two wheeler with three people on it, then there is an autorickshaw with six people in it, there there is this oversized autorickshaw with about 10 people in it, then there is this larger than a jeep type of truck with about 12 people in it, 2 on top and four hanging off the sides and then you have big trucks packed with people standing up packed in like sardines for hours and hours. I wish I had photos to show you what I mean, but it is hard to get it because they are on the move.
We also went to this place where they weave fabric, including sarees. Take a look at this--takes 6 months to make one.
30 Dec 2003-3 Jan 2004
After the caves, we had a pretty annoying, very long journey on two, very much delayed trains to get to Palolem in the middle of the night to find that our room was given away. We managed to stay in the room of the man who takes care of a hotel for a few hours before we woke up to search for a new place. No worries though because before long we found a place with huts on the beach and friends of ours from IIMB to boot!! It wound up being a great group and I even had another group of friends who met up at the same beach later in the day.
The next days were spent relaxing, enjoying the beach, the sun, the sea, and most definitely the food. We would joke about how we didn’t understand where the day went and then we realized we spent about 6 hours a day waiting for food. Let’s just say that no one was ever in a rush to serve you. Things move slowly in a beach culture and definitely one influenced by hundreds of years of Portuguese rule. But again, no worries, while waiting you were usually looking at the beach and watching the waves.
Our hands down favorite food item was Banoffee pie. Have you ever had it? Well, apparently it is not just found in Goa, but also in the UK and who knows where else. Hooray!!!!! I can’t wait to comparison taste tests. Please take my advice and try it. It is fabulous and we were obsessed with it—all of us.
I got mendhi for the first time (henna) on my feet, but only a little. It will be fun to do it again. We spent New Years as a group of 3 Belgains, 2 Italians, an Australian, 4 Americans and surrounded by hordes of Indians, not to mention the even bigger numbers of Israelis and Dutch who religiously go to Goa year round (but especially during the New Years time). Here is a blurb from Ian that is really amusing:
All around were other Western backpackers doing not much on the beach, many decked out in the ridiculously baggy, outrageously colourful and zipper and button free clothing that is the exclusive uniform of Western backpackers at tropical beaches, attire that makes for the sort of
defiantly casual look that says to the world “I’m breaking free of the rigid confines of Western
society, this is the real me, and next board meeting I chair I’m going to be dressed exactly as I am today”. Still, far from being above such theatrics, I must own that I did make some thankfully temporary concessions to the style, saying to the world “I know I’d look ridiculous to any objective eye, but not half as ridiculous as that guy over there with the blonde dreadlocks, henna tattoos and an anklet.” --hehehe
Me with the palms, the sea, and the setting sun
The restaurants all decorate with this beautiful stars lit up at night and the whole beach is lined with them. I asked one place if I could buy one that I particularly liked and they gave it to me for free!
I met quite a few interesting people from among these westerners, including these 2 Israelis who took a bunch of us to the best part of the beach to watch the sunset (they should know b/c they had been at Palolem for a month). It was so serene and peaceful and just beautiful. One of them said:
“It was nice, and it is nice that is was”
He told me it was a Hebrew saying. I just loved it. It fit so beautifully with the setting and with the ending of a year and how I was feeling. I thought, how wonderful it would be if we could always feel that way about the things that we encounter in our lives. To feel it was good, to be glad to have had the experience, and to be satisfied with it-ready to move on. That is one of my hopes for me for this year and all of the years to come.
4-5 Jan 2004
We then went on to another beach area, but this time in Karnataka (the state in which I live) called Gokarna. This place is a sort of secret (but one that is slowly becoming more and more known) and is more quite, beautiful and serene than Goa. We stayed for only a day and half, but got to hike a bit from one beach to another and to watch another beautiful sunset.
A truly Indian sunset