1/5/09 note, 1/4/09 is under this if you haven’t read it yet. (Sorry, still no internet in the guesthouse!)
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.