Friday, January 30, 2009
Last Saturday I went to the old city of Hyderabad with a friend (Laura). I'd been there before when CIEE took us during orientation but it was very rushed and overwhelming. I felt a lot more confident this time, which was nice.
The old city of Hyderabad, which is home to the Chowmahalla palace, Charminar, Mecca Masjid, and Lad bazaar, is largely Muslim which really shows. Many people speak Urdu rather than Telegu, and there is a very different atmosphere. The old city is a lot more like most Westerner's vision of India (at least Muslim India) than other parts of Hyderabad: there are few western chains, and very few people wearing western clothes. Naturally my friend and I stuck out, and attracted a lot of unwanted attention from some starstruck girl scouts, but we managed to escape. (I'm quite pleased though; I really think I'm getting less and less exciting as I get tanner!)
The first thing Laura and I did was to go up into Charminar something we had not done with CIEE. Sorry I can't upload pictures! Just google Charminar and you'll be able to see what it looks like. Anyway char minar means "four minarets" in Hindi, and that's basically what it is. It's beautiful to look at from the outside, but the real attraction is within. After paying the 100 rupee "foreigner price" (Indians pay 5 rupees) we climbed up the narrow spiral stone stairs to the top. The architecture at the top is really interesting; there are a lot of little nooks and passages which are fun to find (and good for avoiding people who want to have their pictures taken with white people). What was really amazing was the view though. By slowly walking around the top, you can really see the old city. Again, really sorry about the pictures!
After coming down we went to Lad Bazaar, the market in Hyderabad famous for its bangles. We both bought some; those vendors are incredibly persistent. At one point, Laura had an entire counterful of bangles that she was deciding between. She eventually narrowed it down to four. I guess the vendors didn't realize that she meant to narrow it down further, because he wrapped them up for her. She promptly unwrapped them and explained that she wasn't done deciding, but they just rewrapped them again. She tried the old "this is all the money I have on me" trick, but even that didn't work. She really had not meant to buy four bangle sets in one go, but somehow it happened (she's very happy with them though). I bought two sets, which I'm also happy with. I think I'm getting better at bargaining! It's actually kind of fun now, though I'm sure I'm still getting ripped off.
The next day (Sunday) I went out with a CIEE friend and some Indian friends. First we went to lunch at Hyderabad house, a quite nice, but not outrageously nice Indian chain that started in (guess where) Hyderabad. I think I wrote about biryani before. Well. That was at the Hotel Kamat, and was NOT real biryani, according to the Indians we were with. This biryani was truly amazing. We got a "family plate" for four people. It turned out to be absolutely enormous. Seriously the size of a typical dining hall tray, holding a mountain of biryani. Fortunately it was REALLY good. We almost finished it. So apparently, in addition to all the layering that goes on during the biryani making process, REAL biryani also has to be made over a wood fire. Wow.
After lunch, we went to one of the old palaces of the 6th nizam, which has been turned into a high school/museum. The 6th Nizam, like all the others, was insanely rich. The museum showed off the things that he used this money for. For example, his wardrobe. From his birth to his death, this man never wore the same outfit twice. Every single day he wore something new; tailors were constantly working. The wardrobe itself was about the size of a ballroom. Other things the 6th nizam decided to use his money for were pure gold perfume bottles, ivory and silver letter holders (which he would use rather than envelopes to deliver letters), gold bound Korans, silver pan boxes, emerald capped walking sticks, silver replicas of charminar, nampally train station, the Hyderabad market place, etc. You know, all the basic necessities of life. Oh and he used diamonds for paper weights. The funny thing is though, that his son, the 7th nizam was a total miser. He ate off of rusty tin plates and never bought new clothes unless he had too. Rebellion? Must have been.
Today CIEE took us to visit the CII Shorabji Godrej Green business center in hitech city. It was pretty interesting. Apparently it's the 3rd greenest building in the world, by LEED standards. I've visited several "green" buildings in the US, but somehow hadn't thought that it would be something that people would find important in India (I have NEVER seen a recycling bin, and even trash cans are rare. Most people just throw their garbage on the street.) I'm really glad people are getting conscious about that here though. India is developing so rapidly, I'm sure the amount of waste generated must be enormous.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Today CIEE took a program field trip to a girls’ (though there were some boys) “bridge school” in Aloor, a rural area about an hour and a half away from Hyderabad. What a bridge school does is take in children previously involved in child labor and get them up to grade level so they can enter regular schools. It was really interesting and a lot of fun.
The second we got off the bus a group of smiling children approached us. Though they only knew a little English and Hindi, and none of us really speak Telegu, we were able to introduce ourselves. They were all really fascinated with our cameras. We let them use our cameras, and they were totally thrilled. I’ve been looking back through my pictures, and there are some pretty good ones.
Eventually we sat down to listen to a lecture about the organization (the MV Foundation). What the foundation does is finds children who have not had the opportunity to go to school. They then work to get the kids up to grade level, so they can enter into regular schools. This is important, as, for example, forcing a ten year old to sit in first grade with six year olds is a sure-fire way to get him to drop out. The foundation is also trying to expand the definition of “child laborer” to include any child who is not in school. Right now, most people imagine the term “child labor” to only include the most horrific of circumstances: sweatshops, factories, etc. But the foundation is trying to emphasize that even a child who just works on the family farm is at a disadvantage. No matter how necessary or fulfilling the work is, the child will nevertheless be blocked from the opportunities that educated children receive.
After the lecture, some of the girls got up and talked about their experiences. The first two girls were about five years old, and sang some songs for us. One of the songs was about child labor, and the other was a tribal song. It was very cute. The next girl was named Swathi, and she was about fourteen years old (most of these kids aren’t really sure of their exact ages). When she was quite young, her father took a second wife, and forced his first wife (Swathi’s mother), Swathi, and her older sister to leave. Their mother worked hard, and tried to keep them in school, but she became addicted to alcohol, and the girls ended up having to work as well. Eventually, their mother died, and the girls returned home to their father’s house to see if he would take them in. He said he would give them food, but they would have to work, and they were not allowed into the house. Swathi’s sister agreed to work, but begged her father to let Swathi go to school. He would not listen. So the girls slept outside the house and worked; Swathi at home, and her sister as a street sweeper. Though their father had agreed to give the girls food, his wife refused to, so the sisters ended up going to a nearby school and collecting leftovers. It was at the school that the girls got in touch with some MVF representatives. They are now in regular schools and up to grade level. The reason that they were at the school at the time of our visit was that it was vacation time; the bridge school campus is now their home.
The next girl who spoke (I very unfortunately can’t remember her name!) had originally lived with her mother and stepfather. After her mother died, her stepfather wanted nothing to do with her. Her uncle took her in, and received money from the state for doing so. However, he kept the money for himself, and forced his niece to work around the house. The girl was passed along a chain of relatives, each situation as bad as the last. Eventually, she decided she had had enough. She stole 200 rupees, got into a taxi, and went as far as her money would allow her to go. Fortunately, soon after getting out of the vehicle, she was discovered by some members of the MVF foundation.
After a crazy photo session, we had lunch, separately from the kids. After we finished, some of us went into the kids’ lunch room and (sort of) helped to serve them food. One girl, Swaranthi, who I’d made friends with while taking pictures, called me over, and started feeding me her rice, which was really cute. (I checked to make sure that the kids get enough food, and they do. I would have felt truly horrible if this child had been giving up her rice for me!) After lunch we played with the kids, who turned out to be really good at volleyball, even the tiny ones! In the middle of the game, Swaranthi took me to see her room. (“Come see my box! My room!” was what she said which was really cute.) Then she and a bunch of other girls gave me a “makeover”. They did my hair with flowers, and put a bindhi on my forehead. It was really fun.
When we left, everyone on both sides was really sad, but it was a great day. Pictures are on Facebook if you want to see! (I would upload them to the blog, but it takes WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too long).
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Yesterday was yet another Holiday: Sankranti (known as Pongal in some parts of India). Sankranti is a harvest festival, and one of the most auspicious holidays, and it is celebrated when the sun transmigrates to Capricorn. In Hyderabad, the holiday is celebrated with sweets, colors, different kinds of rice, and kites. Ok, you probably want more detail.
Well, the first indication that it was a holiday was the fact that there were no classes. Aside from that though, the guesthouse served a special lunch for us on (real) banana leaves. Besides the many different amazing dishes there were two different kinds of rice (coconut and lemon) as well as kheer (rice pudding): it’s traditional to eat rice, as rice is the staple crop around here. There were also two sweets, and lassi (it’s an auspicious day, so sweetness should prevail apparently). Also relating to the auspiciousness of the day, it is traditional to buy and wear new clothes, so as to ensure a fresh start to the rest of the year (I think Sankranti is thought of as the new year but I’m not 100% on that. I’ve gotten varying answers).
Well, a bunch of us decided to jump on the “buy new things” bandwagon, and went off to Shilparamam, the market near Hyderabad. But that wasn’t the real reason for going there. For Sankranti, Shilparamam was holding a kite festival. In many parts of India (including Andhra Pradesh) it is traditional to fly kites on Sankranti. Many people write messages to the Gods on the kites. As the kites fly higher and higher, the likelihood that they will be read goes up. There were definitely a lot of kites in the sky that day. At one point I watched part of a kite fight (like in kite runner). No one won though.
Another part of Sankranti are beautiful designs on sidewalks and in front of houses. These designs are made with colored powder (apparently the same powder that we’re going to get covered with at Holi, but I’ll tell you all about that when it happens), and are usually about two square feet. In the middle is usually a small dish with water and flowers, or sometimes some pretty stones (I think these are all offerings).
Aside from Sankranti, we also decided that it was “bring your cute kid to Shilparamam day” as there were so many cute kids running around! I saw part of a miniature cricket game. It was great. Obviously, the kids found us as fascinating as we found them, and I definitely caught some people filming and taking pictures of us, paparazzi style. Most people asked though, and were very nice, and wanted to meet us. Well, by us I meant the group. I think I’m getting tanner, because I didn’t attract nearly as much attention as anyone else. I think I’m okay with that though. Haha, the blonds will only get blonder in the sun!
I tried bargaining for the first time yesterday! It didn’t go so well with the rickshaw driver, but I brought down the price of some earrings. I still absolutely hate bargaining though. I feel really dumb no matter what happens. I know I’m getting ripped off by Indian standards, which makes me want to keep bringing the price down. At the same time though, I know that I’m having a heated argument with someone, all so I can bring the price of something down by about ten cents. And that seems ridiculous, as I know that, even the marked up price is about half of what I’d pay in the states for the same item. The vendor definitely needs the money more than I do, so what’s the problem? Still, I guess if I’m going to be living here I’ll have to stop thinking in terms of dollars. Paying exorbitant prices (by Indian standards) will just upset the balance of things economically, and will perpetuate the stupid Westerner stereotype. So I’ll just keep bargaining I guess.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Yesterday, all the students of CIEE Hyderabad Spring 2009 took part in the much anticipated “Khojo Hyderabad”. Khojo is the Urdu word for “discover”. The program coordinators refused to give us any kind of details about the activity beforehand, except that we would need sunscreen, and our ids, so we were pretty confused when we all assembled Sunday morning at 9:15.
Khojo Hyderabad turned out to be an “Amazing race” style scavenger hunt taking place all over the city of Hyderabad. We were divided in six teams, given 600 rupees for transportation. The idea was that we had to reach each destination in as little time as possible, and by spending as little money as possible. Once at our destination, we would have to answer a set of questions about the place. After hearing the rules, we were set loose with our clues. Part one was on the University Campus, and we had to answer such questions as “Which is the first building to the left as you enter the main gate?” “What is the name of a librarian in the University library?” And so on. We then had a “treasure hunt” during a clue led us to a location. In this location was hidden our “treasure”. We found our location right away. We searched for our treasure for a long time but could not find it. Thinking we must have gone to the wrong place, we asked one of the coordinators for help. He looked, and said that someone must have taken it. Our team had lost valuable time, so we rushed to move on to part two of Khojo Hyderabad.
Part two had us going into the city on a bus. Keep in mind that this is a race. If you miss one bus, who knows when the next will come? This knowledge spurred my teammates and me to chase down a bus on our bikes until it finally stopped. Unfortunately, one of the team members was having bike problems and fell far behind. A Hindi speaking team member begged the bus driver to wait as our friend dragged her bike to the bus stop. Fortunately, he did wait. And we were off.
Our first destination was the Safrani school, the headquarters of Safrani Exports, run by Suraiya Hassan Bose. Safrani exports is a company that produces traditional Indian textiles (Kalamkari style. In Hindi, Kalam=pen, kari=craftsmanship). All of the fabrics are woven the old way on handlooms; no machines are used. Though some of the textiles have patterns and designs woven into them, many of the rugs are patterned using block prints. The Safrani School educates the children of the weavers free of charge. Suraiya believes strongly in the importance of keeping her native craft alive; she remembers attending a bonfire at the age of five at which all of the family’s British made possessions were burned. She took us on a tour of the workshop, and told us about the weaving process. After answering the questions on our sheet, we were off…
Next was lunch, which sounds easy, but we had to get there first! Our rickshaw wallah was pretty ornery about prices, but we were in a hurry and just jumped in anyway. It was pretty tight; I was kind of spread out over several laps. As we went up a hill, the rickshaw’s engine seemed to fail. We started creeping along at snailspace. The driver eventually had to get out and start pushing! Though the situation was quite ridiculous, he wouldn’t let us off until we coasted down a hill to a stop. We then ran off and found another rickshaw.
After lunch we were off to the Salar Jung museum, home to the biggest one man collection of antiques in the world. The one man who amassed this collection was Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan Salar Jung III, a former Prime Minister of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad. We rushed madly around the museum answering the questions on our question sheet. Though it was rushed, we got to see a lot of beautiful things: toys (including antique dollhouses, trainsets and geisha dolls), far Eastern ceramics, statues and other art, Indian textiles and paintings…really, the list is endless. I’m not a huge museum person, but it was pretty interesting. I might go back sometime.
Time for part three, the Vivekanada Institute of Human Excellence. But we had to get there first. My team got a rickshaw at about the same time as two other teams. Determined to beat them, we told our driver to go faster. Apparently the other teams did the same thing, because before we knew it we were in a full on rickshaw race! The drivers got really into it and were laughing and shouting at one another across traffic. It was pretty epic. Once again I was sitting on a lap, holding, white knuckled, onto the bar in front of me. (Sorry Mom and Dad) It was very epic, and tons of fun. Everyone was really into it, which got pretty hilarious. “Do you want some yogurt [to eat] with my dust?!!” And so on. Our drivers messed with us at times too, which raised the stakes even higher. Our guy stopped outside of a pearl shop at one point. “Would you like to go shopping?” he asked innocently. After hearing the resounding “NO!!!!!!!!!! DRIVE!!!!! FASTER!!!!!!!” he shrugged, and we were off again. Once we reached our destination we jumped off our rickshaws and sprinted through the gates so as to be the first to reach the program coordinators. We had beat them. So much for that…
The Vivekanada Institute of Human Excellence is basically a religious center for those who follow the teachings of Swami Vivekanada. I think the religion is Ramakrishna Math (I was pretty tired during the lecture, and the lecturer had a very thick accent) He stressed physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, and emotional health. (I think the program coordinators put this destination last very deliberately--some people were getting very competitive and emotions were running dangerously high). After this we were ready to go home.
Just so you all know, my team did not win the grand prize of 12,000 rupees. Or the 2nd prize of 10,000, or the third prize of 8,000. But that’s ok. We Khojo-ed Hyderabad, and that was the point of the day.
Here is some stuff that I kind of wanted to write about, but wasn’t able to do on the day. These are all isolated incidents or activities; all fun, not necessarily stuck in any particular time.
So. Last week I saw my first monkey of this trip. It was just sitting by the side of the road as I was biking to class one day. I haven’t seen them, but apparently there’s a whole family of them. Other people have also seen mongooses. I’m definitely missing out on the whole animal sighting thing. That might be ok though. One guy swears that he woke up one night with a rat on his neck. Don’t get me wrong; I love rats, but I think I could do without that…
A few days ago I went into the guesthouse kitchen and watched/helped with dinner preparation. It was great. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reproduce those recipes at home, as there was a lot of spices I’ve never even heard of, but I can try. Also, so much of it is intuitive. At one point, when adding spices, one guy put in about three spoonfuls. I asked him if it was always this way. He said no, it really just depended on the taste test (something I got to help with :o)). It’s hard for me to cook without a strict recipe, but I guess it’s a skill you learn over time. Anyway, I got to stir and taste test the aloo gobi and hariali chicken, and I also got to roll and flip the rotis (chapattis). It’s a lot harder than you would think! The dough gets stuck to the rolling pin a lot, and the rotis are so thin that it is really hard to pick them up without tearing them (before they are cooked anyway). The guy who was showing me just kind of spun them expertly with his fingers, somewhat like a frisbee. Yeah. I’m not quite there yet. We had fun though, and I’d definitely like to do it again!
I’ve written a bit about yoga here (the non credit one open to all university students, not the random fourth SIP class), but not too much. I’m really enjoying it so far. India can be pretty stressful sometimes, so it’s great to have some kind of planned relaxation time built into the day! Yoga here is very different from “yoga” in the states. When I think of yoga back home, I envision sweaty mom-type people in spandex, toting foam yoga mats blabbing about weight loss and calories. Here, it’s totally different. I first realized this when one of the American guys (an avid yoga-doer in the US) was nervous because he’d forgotten a sweatshirt (something apparently needed in bikram yoga). The head yoga instructor, a large imposing balding man said, rather grandly, “Our yoga is not for exercise. It is for relax.” Refreshing I think. What’s nice though, is that it actually is very good exercise. I’m pretty sore, and I like to think of myself as at least somewhat flexible. Something else that lets on that this kind of yoga is actually good exercise is the instructor’s narration, which I have to try hard not to laugh at sometimes. “Stretch your arms up…up…Feel the fat deposits disappear! Feel them disappear from your arms, chest, armpits…” Hmm. You don’t quite get the magic of the moment if you’re reading about it I guess. Just imagine all that said very grandly in an Indian accent by a deep-voiced, rather short, round, and balding—but very regal and dignified—Indian man. I hope that gives you a better idea. He’s pretty great. After the first class he made the announcement that “You should be wearing loose pants for yoga. Some of you wear very tight pants. That is not good.” Though there was nothing overt about it, I believe this announcement to have been a not-so subtle dig at some of the Americans in the group that day. I was amused.
Oh, and the yoga mats? They are colorful, woven mats. Each one is unique, leading me to believe that they were woven by craftspeople on looms, as opposed to by machines. Very cool.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Alright, so it looks like I have four classes now. Maybe. The sad thing is, my schedule now might make it impossible for me to take the extracurricular dance class that I was really excited about. Maybe I’ll do one of the other ones? (Sitar, tabala, meditation…) We’ll see. I can’t worry about it, because most people here really don’t understand what there is to get worked up about. Maybe I should follow their lead.
Yesterday was Muharram, a Muslim observance during which practicing Muslims mourn the death of Muhammed’s grandson, Imam Hussain. The rituals are apparently violent; men will take to the streets and basically mutilate themselves with knives, sticks, anything that will cause pain. Supposedly there are literally streams of blood flowing through the streets on that day. For this reason, I decided to stay away from the old city (the Muslim part of Hyderabad) that day.
After Hindi class (even though it was an official university holiday our teacher decided to have class because “none of us are Muslim.” I guess it’s valid…) I went with a group of people into the city. We took an incredibly crowded bus (no peer tutors holding our hands this time!!). It was even more crowded than the last time though. The seats and aisles were packed, so packed that some people just clung to the sides of the bus and rode that way. It looked dangerous, but I wonder if it was cheaper. Hmmm. Anyway, after getting off we went to lunch at “Hotel Kamat,” which looked really shabby from the outside, but, like so many restaurants in India, was actually quite nice within. I had real Hyderabadi biryani for the first time, and it was quite good. It truly is nothing like the biryani you get in the states, even at nice Indian restaurants. And the Trader Joe’s frozen variety doesn’t even compare. Biryani here is fluffy, with a very complex blend of spices. There are yogurt and curry sauces supplied that you can add according to taste. Apparently, the preparation process is very involved; the rice, vegetables, spices, and meat if there is any are layered very carefully, in a very deliberate order, and left to sit in an oven so the flavors can combine properly. Then it’s all mixed up. Ok. Enough about food; I’m getting hungry.
After lunch we went to Lumbini Park, which is a nice, but not incredibly exceptional park. Getting there was kind of crazy though. We weren’t completely sure where we were going, so we ended up having to cross the street multiple times. It was kind of scary, but I think I’m getting better at it! I don’t need an experienced Indian holding my hand anymore at least.
Lumbini park is famous for its lake, which has a Buddha statue on an island in the middle. There are ferries that go out there so you can take pictures. I didn’t take the ferry so I stayed back with one other person and we walked around. I had wanted to rent a pedal boat, but no one else would do it with me, as the water literally looked like saag paneer (look it up if you don’t know what it looks like). I guess I can’t blame them. Still, walking around was fun. The park has a cricket batting cage, which I think I’ll try sometime when I come back. I didn’t want to try just yet, as there was a pretty intense guy already in there getting some pretty good hits in. I’m sure I would look quite pathetic next to him, and there are some limits to my touristiness.
Something that I noticed to a great extent today was what a novelty we Americans are in Hyderabad. So many random people just came up and started talking to us. Most were very nice, asking us how we liked India, and giving travel recommendations. Some were sketchy: “Where are you studying? Which hostel do you live in? What’s your room number? But those were few and far between. What I found funny was the number of people who wanted to take pictures of us, and of us with them. Well, actually I don’t think I’m quite as interesting as some of my friends, and I will definitely get less and less interesting the tanner I get. But the blonds are seriously like walking talking statues of liberty or Washington monuments. It’s quite funny. One guy even asked to videotape one of us (blond hair, blue eyes). He declined.
After Lumbini park we took a rickshaw to the Birla Mandir Hindu temple. It was absolutely beautiful, and a great end to a somewhat hectic day. We had to take our shoes off again, so, guided by past experience we decided to go in shifts so we could guard one another’s shoes. The Birla Mandir is on a hill, so once you get to the upper floors you get a panoramic view of Hyderabad. It’s amazing. From that level it’s impossible to see the crazy crowds of people and vehicles, or hear the blaring horns and hawker’s cries, or smell the urine and garbage. It looks really peaceful. I felt like a total tourist, as we were pretty much the only ones not going into the temple to pray and pay respects to the Gods, but no one seemed to mind. Everyone just did their own thing. I really like that Hyderabad has places like this along with its more hectic spots. Even though India’s very stark, extreme contrasts can be jarring, in the end the polarities make you appreciate each contrasting entity a whole lot more.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Yesterday we met our “peer language tutors” (for Hindi). My tutor is very nice. Her name is Mamata, and she is actually the (identical) twin sister of our program coordinator! They're pretty different though. In groups, our tutors took us into the city, and basically showed us how to navigate the public transportation system in Hyderabad. A lot of us have been talking about how sheltered we are, as we’ve always been taking cars or taxis or private buses to get where we need to go. We all agreed that it was time for the “real deal India”. Well, we got it yesterday! The buses were very crowded and crazy and loud, but fortunately cool and airy as all the windows were open. The front section is reserved for women, while men must move to the back. I found that very interesting. We took the bus to a place in the city called Koti, which is kind of a terminal area from which you can catch many different kinds of public transportation to many different places. Koti is also a busy, bustling marketplace, and we walked around it a bit. There were a lot of vendors selling new and used books, a lot of them academic textbooks or SAT LSAT MCAT etc preparation books. Apparently, most books sold there on Sundays are either stolen or off the black market, so they’re very cheap. There are also lots of places to buy clothes, jewelry, watches, anything you can think of. The shops are on very narrow streets, and there are always lots of people walking and buying, but cars still run on them! At one point I saw a woman walking with her friend, talking and laughing and not really paying attention to her surroundings. A motorbike ran right into her! The driver braked just in tome, so she wasn’t hurt, but it definitely bumped her back considerably, slamming her into someone else.
Everyone is so packed together in this country all the time! I noticed that a lot on the buses, as well as on the streets. As I guess you all know, India’s population is huge, and there are people being born, living, and dying all the time. It’s not too uncommon to have to step around bodies on the streets. In the US everyone is hyper-protective of their personal space, their “bubble”. Here it’s not like that. Everyone is crammed together all the time. It’s funny, at home I definitely appreciate personal space and get a bit uncomfortable when people stand too close, but here I almost like the crowding. It’s a lot more intimate, and kind of forces you to notice and appreciate other human beings as individuals, as well as as a group.
While I do appreciate some aspects about India’s overcrowding, one thing about it absolutely terrifies me, and that is crossing the road. Cars, bikes, motorbikes and autorickshaws barrel down the streets at top speeds, and could come at you from either direction. Horns are blaring all the time, so you have no way of knowing if they’re intended for your ears or others. I’m scared of crossing the street in America, so Indian streets petrify me. So far, I’ve done it holding the hand of my peer tutor, but hopefully I can strike out on my own soon! Apparently your supposed to pick a spot on the other side of the road and walk in a straight line towards it, always keeping a steady pace. If a car is coming at you, make eye contact with the driver, and he will maneuver around you. You just have to make sure to always keep a steady pace, because if your moves are erratic, the drivers will not know what to expect from you, and will be more likely to hit you. So. Pick a spot, walk towards it at a steady pace. SOOOOO much more easier said than done. It is an adventure though. Maybe I’ll finally get over my lifelong fear!
After our public transit tutorial, we went with our peer tutors to see “Ghajini,” a Bollywood remake of “Memento” (which I have never seen). It was in Hindi, no subtitles, but I managed to follow along (Mamata helped to explain some key plot turns). Even if I had seen Memento it may not have helped that much; I imagine that the two films are quite different! Ghajini seemed to have all genres of movie mashed into one. There was romance, comedy, drama, action, music, dancing… Everything was colorful and larger than life, especially the characters. One thing that I found interesting was the way that the movie heroines dressed. Obviously, they were drop dead gorgeous, but they also wore quite revealing clothes—very different from everyday Indian women. But what was really interesting was that the movie seemed to acknowledge that these women were not regular Indian women; all the other female extras dressed in saris and traditional salwaar kameze, or at least in more modest western clothes, EXCEPT for the Caucasian extras. Hmmm.
Also interesting was the way in which so much was stylized. The movie was very violent and bloody, but the fighting was so choreographed looking that it was much easier to watch than a typical American action movie. The romantic parts were also very stylized. There is no kissing in Bollywood films, and no overt sexuality; however, the film still managed to be very sexual—not in a dirty raunchy way—but somehow I felt that in this movie, a hand on the arm or an interlacing of the fingers told a lot more than even the most explicit sex scene in an American movie.
Probably most entertaining was the reaction of the audience. As the movie began cheers and whistles erupted from the crowd. I’ve heard that movie stars have fanatic followers here. I see it’s true! As soon as the hero appeared there were loud cheers, which became deafening as he removed his shirt. (He did this many times throughout the movie.) At one point, there was some technical glitch and the sound of the film went dead. The roars of anger matched the cheers and whistles that had been ringing out just before. For a second I was scared there would be a riot or fight! Fortunately for everyone though, the problem resolved itself and sound came back.
I quite enjoyed “real deal India” yesterday. Today classes, another component of “real deal India,” begin. Hopefully they will go ok…
So, the University of Hyderabad’s English department has completely screwed me over. While the schedule I was given says class is from 2-4, the schedule that is in the English office says 2:15-4:15. This is just enough time to make me inexcusably late to Basic Hindi at 4. So, my entire schedule is messed up and I have to start from scratch. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH. Oh well. Things will work out. Go with the flow and all that.
So the day after we visited the monuments and mosques we had academic orientation. Anyone who thinks that Haverford registration is stressful should come here! It’s ridiculously hard to reconcile classes and build a schedule, as, unlike Haverford where a class might be MW 11:30-1, here, the typical class is M 2-4, T 9-10, F 3-4, or something equally random. Since every class has similarly random times, it hard to build a schedule with no conflicts. This has forced me to take 3 English classes, which all look really interesting. Unfortunately however, this puts me in danger of being unable to fulfill Haverford’s 19 courses outside the major requirement. Hopefully it will work out…
As part of the academic orientation the SIP (Study in India Program) coordinators talked to us about things we should and should not do, and what may be expected of us. Apparently the stereotype of Americans is that we get drunk a lot and are loud and promiscuous. Great. I guess I’ll try to combat that. Also we (especially women) should avoid walking alone around campus, particularly at night, and we should also avoid flip flips or other open toed/hard to run in shoes because as Mr. Das (the director of the guest house) says “There are lots of creepie crawlies around, both human and non-human.” Heeheehee. Haven’t seen any of those little guys yet, but I have seen a lot of cows and water buffalo around campus, and once as we were walking up a street a herd of wild boar burst out of the bushes and crossed in front of us!
After the long process of academic orientation I went with a group of people to an open air market/handicrafts fair. We took a car, which was good I think. I’m not sure that I was quite ready to face Indian traffic in a rickshaw! People drive so fast, and weave in and out of traffic often driving on the wrong side of the road. Many cars don’t have side view mirrors, as they would likely get lopped off when passing too close to other cars. Instead, people constantly honk their horns to let other drivers know of their existence.
The market was big and beautiful and loud and crazy. Not only were there vendors, but there were vocal and instrumental performances, and shadow puppet demonstrations! I didn’t buy anything, as I just wanted to take it all in, but other people went a little wild, as everything (obviously) is much cheaper here. People also wanted to try their hand at bargaining. Most people didn’t do so well (one guy, Kyle, tried to bring down the price of a scarf, and the vendor just laughed at him. My roommate, Emily, was great though! She managed to bring a pair of shoes down from 1600 to 900 rupees! A natural. She also brought down the price of the scarf that the abovementioned Kyle was trying to buy. Not bad.
As we left the market beggars descended on us, which was a little overwhelming. One girl followed us all the way to the car and tried to get in. She was tiny, and was holding an even tinier baby. It was quite heartbreaking. As we drove away one of us threw some money to her out the window. I guess that’s really the only way to do it.
That was Friday the 2nd. Saturday the 3rd a big group of us went to Cyberabad to register with the police. I didn’t go, so I will have to do that Monday. However, I have class Monday 9-11, so I’ll have to miss that. Since I didn’t have to do anything Saturday morning, I walked to the main campus and explored the English dept to check out where my classes would be. I guess I looked lost because the head of the English department came out and asked if he could help me. I explained to him that I would have to miss my first class due to police registration, and he asked if I would like to speak to the professor. He led me right to the office. I talked to the professor, who understood the situation. He even gave me the first text that we would be using! Everyone was so nice and helpful. I think I’ll like the English department, which I’m happy about as I’ll be spending a lot of time there.
After the group got back from police registration, 6 of us headed into the city to go to the Birla Planetarium and science museum. Supposedly, the planetarium is ranked a lot better than many in developed countries! It was quite corny, but a lot of fun. The narrator really enjoyed talking about bacteria, and used them in all his analogies. The many universes are like bacteria floating around in a cup, as are the galaxies. And the planets. And stars. And us. After the show we went to the science museum, which was great. It was basically one of those kiddy science museums where you look at holograms and optical illusions and mechanics demonstrations (spinning yourself on a spinny chair for example) and stuff like that. It was in horrible disrepair though, and a lot of stuff was broken. Somehow this made it even more fun, as we tried and failed over and over again to see the intended optical illusions. The museum also had a “dinosaurium” which was fun. Apparently, India is a very rich site for paleontology.
After the museum we went to a restaurant called Fusion 9, as a lot of people were craving western food. I wasn’t yet, but went along anyway. It was such a nice restaurant! I felt totally underdressed in my Hawthorne Valley t shirt, gaucho pants and chacos. Everyone was really nice though, and ignored our grunginess. They did all the fancy restaurant stuff like pulling out your chair for you and calling you “sir” or “ma’am”. I got an “Arabian mezze platter” which had great hummus, which I must admit that I’ve missed a lot. Other people got lamb chops, pizza, quesadillas… Though I do love India food, I have to admit that this was a very nice change, and a very nice piece of home. However, at home this would have cost untold amounts of money. Here, it was approximately 400 rupees each. That’s about 8 dollars! That’s including drinks too. It’s kind of unreal.
Friday, January 2, 2009
1/1/09 note, 12/31 will be appearing below this if you haven't read it already.
Happy New Year! I got to celebrate it before you! Muahahaha. Today we visited a bunch of historic and cultural sites in Hyderabad. The first was Chowmohalla Palace which is where seven generations of Nizams (rulers) lived. It was incredibly decadent. Then we walked over to Charminar, the “charm of Hyderabad”. It’s a structure right in the heart of the old city, which consists of an archway and four minarets. It was beautiful, and I tried to take pictures, but it proved to be difficult. You really have to pay attention to your surroundings at all times! Seriously, in the time it takes to take a picture you could be smashed into the pavement, wearing the tracks of five different auto rickshaws. It’s crazy. The streets are full of hawkers, beggars, tourist, goats, cows… the list goes on.
Once in the old city we walked over to the Mecca Masjid which is a huge mosque. We went in (women had to cover their heads, and everyone had to remove shoes). When we entered into a section of the mosque housing a royal tomb, a man immediately started batting us on the head with a palm branch and handing us rose petals to place on the tomb. Then he asked for bakshish, an offering of money. However, we had been required to leave our bags outside, and none of us had money. It could have gotten bad, but Suresh, one of our guides basically told us to book it. So we did. Fun tour.
After lunch (a really good lunch, as per the usual) we went to the Qutb Shahi tombs which were amazingly beautiful. That’s where a lot of past Sultans are buried, or rather entombed (they are above ground). Now, the tombs are a yellowish brownish color, but we could see traces of where they had once been blue and green. And the domes were still as they were. Again, before entering the tombs, we had to take off our shoes. As we did this, Slumdog Millionaire definitely came to mind, but I didn’t think much of it. BUT when we came out Keiko, one of the students on the program realized that her shoes were gone! Movies don’t lie. Keiko had to walk in socks until we finally found a vendor that sold shoes. So now she has a lovely pair of purple flip flops with a plastic flower on them.
After the tombs we went to Golconda fort, which is famous for its architecture, water and drainage system, and acoustics. Here we saw a bunch of people flying kites. It didn’t seem like people were actually fighting the kites, but they were going incredibly high. I did see a lot of little boys chasing after kites that had gotten loose though, like in Kite Runner. I’m thinking maybe they were practicing for the kite festival, which I believe happens in spring.
While at the fort we saw a “sound and light show” in which different parts of the fort were illuminated while a narrator (Amitabh Bachchan, the actor who gives his autograph to the poop covered kid in Slumdog Millionaire) tells about the history of the fort. It was pretty corny, especially when it talked about the romance between one of the sultan’s sons and a dancer girl (“How did you find me?” “I followed the beating of my heart” “We cannot be together” “But we are one!”). Blahblahblah. But it was amusing. The mosquitoes were fierce though. I had to cover my head with a scarf. I feel like a burqa might have actually been quite useful then. Speaking of burqas, I noticed some “burqa boutique” type places in the city selling the latest in burqa fashions. I didn’t know that burqa fashion changed much but I guess it does. I wonder what the selection process is like for burqa models. Do burqa models face the kind of pressure that Western models do? Probably not. The model did have beautiful eyes though. But I guess you’ve either got those or you don’t.
So, I didn’t post yesterday. I know you all are terribly disappointed. Just kidding. Basically, yesterday was the stressful/tedious part of the orientation. We registered online with the police department in Hyderabad (or Cyberabad), then we got our cellphones. Basically, tons of paperwork. I’m not completely sure how to work the cellphone yet, even though, as you all know, I’m a genius with technology. But we all have the same phone, so I’m sure I can get help. What I do know is that we can get super cool Indian pop music ring tones. Email me if you want the number. If you call me, then it’s free (for me anyway, muahahaha). But please call at reasonable hours; I do not want to be awoken at odd hours by loud Bollywood music, no matter how awesome.
Oh, also yesterday, we moved into the new gigantic guesthouse. It’s cavernous, and still smells and looks very new, and unfinished. Part of the unfinishedness is the absence of internet, so my apologies if this blog entry goes up late. The house is REALLY nice though, almost uncomfortably so, especially since our beautiful common room overlooks a shantytown made of garbage. It’s a very strange situation to be in. We’re pretty far away from the rest of campus too (a 25 minute walk—the walk from HCA truly is nothing). Right now I really wish I’d requested a home stay; some of the houses are barely further from campus than the new guesthouse, and it’d definitely be a less sheltered experience. But I’m sure this will still be good.
This morning we woke up to the sounds of construction, and to new international students moving in. I’ll be happy to have this place more populated; it seems so cavernous now. The group that came today is from Miami University (the one in Ohio). There are about 15 of them plus there professor/India program director and his wife who are originally from Andhra Pradesh. I talked to the professor; turns out he’s really good friends with the one and only Professor Gangadean! Small world I guess.
Some of you may remember me wondering what an Indian breakfast consists of. Well, so far the buffet has consisted of muesli or choco cornflakes, bananas (really really good ones!), yogurt, toast, hard boiled eggs, and pancakes, French toast, or oatmeal. Fine, but fairly uninteresting. This morning was different though. They had the regular stuff, but they also offered a couscous-like dish with spices and vegetables, and a kind of sauce which tasted very cumin-y, and as though it contained ground chickpeas or lentils. These along with yogurt were quite good. Seriously, who needs toast or cereal when you’ve got that?
After breakfast a group of us went on a walk. The second we stepped out of the guesthouse we were met by a herd of cows foraging, which was kind of exciting. They look pretty different from the cows I’m used to though. They’re much smaller, which I suppose makes sense given the fact that they don’t have access to unlimited feed and pastures. They seem much more nimble too.
Our scheduled lecture on human rights issues in India was cancelled, which is sad, but it’ll be rescheduled apparently. We did get to hear a really interesting talk on women issues in India. It’s interesting to hear how things are changing. It’s really complex; many Indians, both men and women, often find it hard to strike a balance between feminism and tradition. At what point does one cross the line between helping the situation and just succumbing to Western influences? The speaker (Dr. Rama Melkote, retired prof from Osmania University) seemed to feel very strongly that feminism is not a western idea; it just caught on faster in the west. Women’s rights issues in India are unique, and while western feminist thought is certainly applicable, the two cannot simply map out onto one another. I think this makes sense, but clearly it’s controversial, and there are many different opinions on the issue. Something else that was interesting was her views on the portrayal of women in the media in India. As we had all noticed, the billboards around Hyderabad show women in fairly revealing clothing in suggestive poses. However, we also know that actual women around Hyderabad dress quite conservatively. Dr. Melkote felt that the billboards did not speak so much to sexual liberation, but rather to consumerism, and to the reconstruction of the woman as an object of consumption. Obviously, the talk was long and included a lot more interesting stuff, but I can’t do it justice, so…moving on.
In the afternoon we got on a bus and drove off to Banjara Hills to go shopping for Indian clothes. It’s really nice; CIEE is allotting us 3000 rupees to spend on clothes, so we can “blend in,” though honestly I don’t think anything would be able to prevent us from majorly sticking out. I’ve concluded that Banjara Hills is the Beverly Hills of Hyderabad. That part of the city even looks like LA. At one point the bus drove up a long winding road on a hill, and we could look out over the valley and see the beautiful ritzy white blockish houses veiled in smog. It was uncanny.
Shopping was a little stressful (anyone who’s gone shopping with me can imagine) but it was fun. The guys were shopping for kurta pajama (long shirts and loose pants—I think that’s where “pajamas” came from) and the girls were shopping for salwaar kameze (long shirts, pants which could either tight and close to the leg or poofy genie balloon pants, and scarves). Salwaar Kameze are not sold as outfits—you have to mix and match. The variety was incredible, and everything was beautiful, so naturally it was really hard to make decisions. One decision I made early on was to get the poofy pants: I attempted to try on a pair of the tighter ones and they didn’t make it up over my calves! I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me, but whatever. The people working at the store were expert matchers however, so that was a big help. Still, there was some conflict though, which was pretty funny. Madhuri, one of our program coordinators sometimes disagreed with the store workers “No no you can’t wear those together!” The store workers were thrilled I’m sure. Twas amusing.
After buying our clothes (and changing into them!) we drove off to a really fancy restaurant, also in Banjara Hills called Southern Spice, where we got to have our first non guesthouse eating experience. It was really really good. We got to eat off of banana leaves (used for auspicious occasions). Hung around the dining room were banana leaves and marigold garlands—also auspicious. And, I managed to get through the whole meal using only my right hand! Well, I scooped the yogurt with a spoon, but I feel like that shouldn’t count. Some of the food was familiar from Indian restaurants back home, like dal, naan, roti, and stuff like that, but other stuff was pretty different. It was spicy, but good. I cleaned my plate, or rather, banana leaf. Oh, also, we tried pan, which is anise, coconut and crushed betel nut wrapped in a banana leaf. That was pretty gross honestly. You know how potpourri smells? Well that’s how it tasted. Like spraying cheap perfume into your mouth. Blech. Anyway, I’m feeling fine after my first “authentic Indian meal”. Well, so far. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow. Alright, talk to you all later. I’ve got to go ring in the new year!