6 Jan-7 Feb 2004
It has been a while since my last update, but once again, I am rushing to do this one before I go to my next thing (which will also require an update). So, some things will be truncated, but you will get the jist.
My New Apartment
I moved into my new place. I am living with Lizzy and Mitali, two other Fulbrighters, in a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom apt. It is a good place in that it also has a refridgerator, microwave and washing machine, and it is located right in the heart of the city! However, it doesn’t have that much character. We are still trying to add some color and personal touches, so the photos you will see here will just show the basics (except for the big Ganesh wall hanging—I love Ganesh!).
I managed to get a comforter and pillows for my bed, so my room is looking okay. Need to still put some more things on the wall. The hanging I have above my bed is temporary b/c it is too small. I will need to get another one I think. It is a special kind of work done by artists in Andra Pradesh (the state next to mine) with vegetable dyes. It is called kalamkari. You will notice that my bed is HUGE. What the hell is one person supposed to do with such a bed? In Brussels, I had a single bed, so this is quite a difference. Well, I figured out what to do with the bed—make it into a desk. Hahaha. You will see the piles of articles, books and papers lying on the right side of the bed. Those items live there. They don’t get taken off at night and then replaced in the morning. No! No need. I have plenty of room even with them there. Sad.
We have gotten a woman to clean (you need to clean often b/c there is much dust in India). She is the cleaning woman for our landlady (that is, the woman who is the go between for us and the owner of the apartment—but I will get to her later). It is awful though b/c she is pretty old and I hate the idea of her having to clean my apartment. Plus, she is not that good. However, it is a dilemna b/c she needs the money that cleaning an additional apartment will provide. What to do?? Oh, the inner turmoil. I am not mocking here, I am being serious. These are the types of things that I feel like I have to think about so much more in India than in the U.S. But I probably should be thinking about them even more at home than I do too. It is usually the case that when you are in a foreign land you see things as an outsider and so you therefore think about them more. It doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be more musings of your own society, but you are more comfortable and often do not even notice what is going on around you. Well, for now we are keeping her, so I guess it is decided.
Anyway, we also wanted to get a cook, but that has alluded us thus far (and we are not really pushing the issue out of laziness). I went to lunch at my friend Prashant’s house and it was so yummy (courtesy of his cook that it inspired me—maybe soon I will look into it). Also, we do want to learn how to cook some Indian dishes, so I think that, at some point, we will motivate.
On Republic Day, January 26th, the anniversary of the signing of the Indian Constitution, we had some Fulbrighters over to see our place and then to go to dinner. We got Indian flags to decorate. Here is a photo of the roommies:
Setting Up the Apartment
I am sitting here in debate about whether or not to go into the gory details of the actual setting up of the apartment-- that is, the internet, the phone, the letter of receipt to send in to Fulbright for rent reimbursement, the plumbing, and what have you. Let’s just say that I had to sit home for over a week to wait for all of the necessary parties to come and set things up. Appointments just do not hold the same value as they do in the U.S. (not that any cable guy ever comes on time either—what is that—someone will be there between 9am and 1pm!!). We also had some back and forths with our landlady. It is unclear if some of the mixups were because the people weren’t showing up on time or if she was giving us the wrong information. I hate the go betweens, so I finally told her to give us the phone numbers so we could take care of it ourselves. Ahh! How frustrating. I hate to say it, but I also found that the only way we really wound getting anything done was by yelling. I cannot tell you how many phonecalls went back and forth between the internet “help” desk and us (why are they called that if they can’t ever seem to help??). Finally, when I yelled and demanded to talk to the head person we got something accomplished. Alas, we finally got internet after one month. I still don’t have a phone, mind you. But basically everything is good and functioning so I can’t complain.
My First Illness
This brings up another topic. One of the reasons I didn’t mind waiting at home was because I was sick for the first time since coming to India. It wasn’t anything too major, but went back and forth for a week and half or so. I had a fever and was throwing up and stuff. Went to two doctors (well hospitals—that is where you go—straight to the emergency room). It is quite amazing in fact. If you have enough money here (which is basically nothing for U.S. standards) you just go to a hospital, register (takes less than 5 minutes) and then get shown to a doctor. Can you believe it!!!! In the U.S. you have to wait for weeks for an appointment and if you are really sick, you better hope that you already have a primary care physician who will take you right away (at which time you will wait in the waiting room in his/her office for approximately 2 hours). I was also lucky because my mom’s friend who is a doctor had a doctor here to contact. I felt better knowing there was someone I could go to.
I didn’t eat much for a few days. After which time, a few people said—you look thinner. I was laughing because it goes with my new found observation. It always seems that people lose weight when they go to India. Well, I hadn’t lost any and laughed at myself thinking I would be the only person to live on the subcontinent and not lose weight (figures, right?). But then I realized most people lose weight because they get sick. Well, I hadn’t gotten sick. The more I talked to other foreigners about it, the more I heard that people were actually gaining weight. Who knew? So, here was the proof—the first time anyone said I had lost weight was after I didn’t eat for a few days. Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Hahaha.
Anyway, just in case you were worrying—don’t. I am pretty much fine now!
I am very happy to report that I have enjoyed a few cultural events in the past month. I went with Mitali and Lizzie to see a very famous tabla player. The tabla is a bongo/drum like instrument that I don’t much about. I do know that it is very difficult to make a sound out of it. But you would never guess from the fabulous rythms, and marvelous melodies that rose from the instrument in the hands of a master, Zakir Hussein. It is difficult to describe how incredible it is to watch the hands move at lightning speed and make sounds like a train if he wants them to—the rhythm and tempo exact, or an argument between a husband and wife--the inflection and intonation mimicking to a tee. I had never heard it before and I am sure if you haven’t you don’t know what I mean. But trust me and go see someone sometime—it is worth it!
I also went with Mitali and with my friend Sonam to see a famous flautist. There was an all night festival at IIMB a few weekends ago (we didn’t stay the whole time). This a traditional type of festival as villagers used to (and still do) stay up all night to play music, sing, dance and watch performers. This time we saw Hariprasad Chaurasia. His music echoed the sounds of the forest and and put a trance on all of the listeners. At first, I think for a not accustomed ear, you think, “How can I listen to this for two hours?” But then, somehow, the time flies by while you are lost in the motion of the music. I have a photo, but it is far away and hard to see because it was taken at night. Boo!
Here you can see him:
I went last night to a yearly all night festival called Vasantha Habba (wich means Spring Festival I think). It is at a village nearby which is famous for teaching dancers the art of traditional Indian dance techniques. We saw dancers and musicians and in the morning there was supposed to be fusion music, but we only stayed until about 3:30. There were tons of people there. Supposedly last year there were 40,000.
Besides music, I also went to museums while I was in Bombay (will talk more about that in a minute). I went to see an exhibit of paintings by a famous Indian modern artist, MF Hussein. It was a series done on Kerala, the long, thin western coastal state boardering mine. It is supposed to be fabulous! I am hoping to go in April/May. I would not miss it. Anyway, I LOVED the exhibit and was very much looking forward to buying some posters. I did, but of course, they did not have posters of my favorite pieces. Why does that always happen? I always wonder who is the person that decides which paintings they will make as the exhibit’s posters. I never agree with those people. I am not sure if you can tell, but I took a photo of some of the postcards they gave away (as a promotion from the Kerala toursims bureau). Here they are:
I also went to the Prince of Wales Museum where I got to look at beautiful carved ivory and jade and wooden boxes and Indian miniatures. They are so beautiful and I have learned to appreciate them a bit too. I hope to get one before I leave. Not sure if you are familiar with these, but there are many websites where you can learn more about them (don’t know any off hand).
World Social Forum: 15-19 Jan
I had wanted to write a lot about my thoughts on the World Social Forum, but I find I am not sure what to say. In addition, the time that has passed since I returned has dampened my thoughts and memories of the impressions of the events.
The WSF is in its 3rd year and was started in Brazil as a response to the World Economic Forum. It basically strives to give a voice to those in opposition to the one framework ideology of globalization and and a space for people and organizations from across the globe to come together to talk about issues, concerns, action plans, etc. I was hesitant to go because I felt like it was going to be one big “Kill the Man” bash, but I also felt that it was a unique opportunity that I would not have again. Lizzy joked that Mitali was going there and going to slap the Man and that I was going to kiss him and make it better. Hahaha.
When I first got there and met some people, I felt like I didn’t really belong and also sort of felt like it was a bit of BS. But then, after a few days, I heard some interesting talks (including by Joseph Stiglitz, Arundhati Roy, the head of Amnesty International, and the Nobel Peace Prize woman from Iran –can never spell her name). I also went to some good smaller sessions on about accountability in NGOs (sponspored by one of centers at the Kennedy School), CSR in small-medium enterprises and the like.
It was like a big festival in some ways. There were people from different tribes who were performing, dancing, singing, playing intruments, as well as actors, professional musicians, activists, parades and documentaries. There were so many people, advocating for so many things that it was at once inspiring and demotivating---all of the suffering in the world. Yes, yes- people with disabilities have rights; yes-untouchables are still poor and marginalized; yes, women are baring the bront of the evils of globalization; yes, the environment is being destroyed; yes, farmers are losing their livelihoods to unfair trade…and the list goes on and on. AHHH! So overwhelming. But in the end, I felt it was good to touch base with the realities of the world. I claim to want to help people, but it is too easy to just forget about what many people have to go through each and every day to survive. That doesn’t mean I am against capitalism, and it doesn’t mean I am even against globalization. But I have lived an incredibly priviledged life and I just cannot even imagine a different one. If I don’t live in that other world, at least I should visit to see what it is like…
I think it is important for us all to think about that. To think about how the world is working, to step away from our comfortable lives, to ask what are those with power doing to those without. For example, think about Enron. We were all outraged at the scandal and at how many people lost their jobs and their savings. But most of those people, still could survive, they received Social Security, they had skills that could be applied elsewhere. But what about poor people in developing countries whose livelihoods are controlled by large multi-nationals? What happens to them when there is a scandal or when the company pulls out because of one reason or another? They have nothing. I think one of the main things that hit home was the lack of any security for these people. Not to go on a rampage, but I think these are things we are responsible for thinking about. I surely don’t know the answers, and, in fact, am very ambivalent about the whole situation, but just wanted to share…
Here are some photos of the forum (by the way, I think someone should do a case study on the incredibly organized Save Tibet movement—those folks are everywhere):
Pune: 20-21 Jan
We decided that 4 days of the WSF was enough and planned to go to Pune, another city about 4 hours away from Bombay, for a day or two. Our idea was to go to the OSHO ashram, an internationally famous locale where people come, wear maroon robes, and partake in meditation, yoga, and the like to obtain some greater meaning of life. OSHO was the guru who founded the movement and the ashram in Pune, as well as one in Oregon. He died, but his teachings are a bit different then with some other movements because he doesn’t seem to stress depriving the self of material pleasures. I really don’t know much about it, but it is supposed to be an ashram for the wealthy that combines spirituality with materialism. Many, many followers, haha. You can easily find out more with a google search.
Here is a photo of the entrance. It is pretty space/futuristic-like with all these people walking around in maroon robes and with the slate grey walkways and buildings. Seems like straight out of a Star Trek movie.
Well, it is not really set up to have day visitors and the man who greeted us (either an American or a Canadian) was sort of a jerk. We didn’t feel that welcome (huh?? Isn’t that the point) and realized it was not worth the cost (lots of start up costs—including an HIV test--only make sense if you are staying for a week or so), especially because we might not even be able to attend any meditation sessions.
We did take advantage of the European style bakery (catering to the many OSHO guests) and had real grain bread and gouda cheese! Yum. Then decided, instead of reaching the heights of enlightenment we would climb up and reach the heights of a Fort on one of the many plateaus outside of the city. Maharashtra, the state where Bombay and Pune are located, has magnificent landscapes of plateau after plateau. I don’t feel like people talk about visiting there for that, but I had noticed these vistas from the train on the way to Bombay, and I wanted to take advantage of it.
Here are some photos from the “Fort”—there is really nothing there, you just go for the views.
Loved this image
Me and the world (I am the small orange spec)
A funny aside—we ate at a Pizza Hut the night before (with a Brit who we met at the hotel). There we were, happily eating our pizza, when all of a sudden, the waiters announced that they were going to do a dance for us. Within one second some dance music came on and four of the waiters were boogeying down (very skillfully, I might add) as if in a Bollywood movie. How hilarious and utterly random? We never get that kind of entertainment in Pizza Huts in the U.S.!
Check out this street sign from Pune-hehe
Mitali’s Family’s House
I was so lucky that when I went to Bombay I got to stay with Mitali at her family’s house. Her father’s two brothers are in business together and have a house where everyone resides. Their wives, along with the widow of another brother, spend their days making delicious Gujarati food. Happily, I got to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I also got to go out with the family to some delicious restaurants (Bombay is known as the most cosmopolitan of Indian cities and the only one who truly has a great night life). I also got to appreciate their immaculate apartment and their driver (who took us back and forth to the WSF—pretty ironic, no? Having a driver take you to a forum where everyone is saying down with neo-imperialism). Here are some photos of the apartment and her family.
Also, the Shiv Sena—essentially the Mumbai mob that has incredible influence over the politics of Bombay has an enclave right outside of her family’s house (nothing dangerous—don’t worry). Here is the symbol of organization:
I am going to Goa today for the Fulbright Conference. I can’t believe that is here already. Time is flying by! When I get back I will update on the activities and have more to say about my project—I think it is getting going (been doing a lot in the past few weeks, but will let you know about that later). Until then!