Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Imperialism Song and Dance

Our field trip to Laporiya today was cancelled due to inclement weather aka a freak thunderstorm that is never supposed to happen this time of year. After watching a classically ridiculous 3 hour Bollywood movie at the school, a group of us decide to do some monsoon sight-seeing. So we make the 20 minute auto rickshaw ride to the City Palace just in time for some sunshine. I won’t even try to describe palace, it was massive and unspeakably beautiful. I did however make a complete fool out of myself in one of the buildings. It housed most of the traditional wears of past kings and such, and the ceiling was this gorgeous carved white and pale blue marble. So as any tourist/student would do, I whip out my camera and take a picture. I forgot about the large sign at the entrance that said no photography. This traditionally dressed security guard comes running in my direction, holding his red turban with it’s 3 foot train, and shouting at me in Hindi. I, of course, am transfixed on getting a good angle for this ceiling and hear nothing. India is freaking loud-- I’ve learned to not be phased by shouting. By the time he reaches me and I’ve realized why he’s shouting, my flash has already gone off, aging the ancient clothing by at least a decade. The entire room is full of Indian students who have heard the shouting and are now looking at me with disgust for just tampering with their history. What an imperialist I’ve become.
After walking through this palace, we head towards the next one, which is called Hawa Mahal. It’s this great monument that was built so that the royal women could watch processions in the street without showing their faces to the public. Google it. So amazing. Anyway, as we’re walking there the usual street creeper comes up to our small pack of white girls and starts saying “hello, you’re so pretty, can I have two minutes?” As always, we ignore him and keep walking. Usually he’ll follow us, repeating the same three lines, for 2 minutes before he’s bored. This guy was rather persistent and started to ask my friend if she wasn’t talking to him because he was Indian, or because he wasn’t white, or because he was black. After ten ish minutes when we still ignored him, he says “Fucking bitches!” and leaves. We were just insulted in our language by a Hindi-native because we wouldn’t . Again, what imperialists.
Lastly, we stop in a notebook shop and browse through its stacks. Jaipur is famous for its hand-made paper, and I am a notebook fiend. I brought 11 notebooks here, including two mini ones for pockets for those times when I can’t carry one. The shopkeeper is incredibly nice and a great opposition to the ass we just escaped. He tells me all about the paper and such without doing the usual Indian song and dance of pushing you to buy everything in their store right     NOW for an outrageous price. I settle on the ones I like and he sells them to me for pretty cheap. I’m feeling great cuz I asked him the price in Hindi, haggled in Hindi, and he gave it to me. Then in Hindi he asks where I’m from, to which I respond in Hindi that I’m American. He immediately asks, in English, if I’m interested in the Kama Sutra books. I cannot escape the loose morals stereotype.

Chapati times with my host mom.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hanky Panky

So I went to my second wedding over the weekend, and this time my entire 22 person group was invited. So of course our hoard of loud Americans comes dressed in our brand new sarees and eat everything in sight. Now, I didn’t actually buy a saree, but I told my host mom that most everyone else bought one to wear to the wedding. She gets all flustered and tells me that I have to wear a saree if my group is dressing up. The flashy thing I got last time just won’t do with so many fancy Americans. Hmm. Then she asks me what kind of earrings I have, to which I respond none. I didn’t bring any jewelry here. It’s rustic and quaint right? My mom doesn’t try to hide her shock and says “Nuhhhthing? You have no earrings?” And I tell her again that I brought not a single piece of jewelry with me. I’ve committed such a sin against females. It’s 7 and my ride is coming at 8:30 for the wedding, but she throws on her shawl and announces that we have to go buy earrings. On the way to the first store, I remark that people respect me much more when I’m walking with her. She very seriously replies, “They know that if they try any hanky panky with you, I’ll insult them!” Thank goodness.
We go to two stores before finding a pair that she finds fancy and, frankly, gaudy enough to match the saree she wants me to wear. Oh and conveniently it’s a two for one “scheme,” so I buy two pairs of large gold earrings with crazy bright gem stones. The pair weighs about the same as my cell phone. I spent 890 rupees to turn my ears purple by the end of the night.
So I borrow one of her sarees, which is chiffon and expensive, so I‘m super worried about ruining it or getting it dirty. The more my mom tucks and folds me in saree the more I realize I have to pee. By the time she finishes, I’m  cross-your-legs desperate to piss and I sheepishly ask her how to use the bathroom in a saree. Then, for the second time while in India, someone has to show me how to go to the bathroom. The first time was in orientation from the Indian version of Borat in a youtube video about Indian toilets, aka a ceramic hole in the ground with a water hose to “wash.” Peeing in a saree is the most delicate and careful thing I’ve done since I’ve been here. Before I leave, my mom asks if I want a picture in my first saree. My dad gets super excited about it and says “Yes! Yes! A photo shoot for your parents. Come to our couch!!” They take me into their never sat in family room and have me sit on a couch below a painting of his grandfather. Then my mom re-does my hair so that everyone can see my new earrings.  They both command me during the pictures as the dad gives me a play by play of the photos he’s taking. “Now for a close-up. Now don’t smile; be an Indian. Now smile; be American. Now stand and show the saree. Turn this way to catch the light.” I could hear their son stifling his laugh in the next room.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Adopt These Phrases

I just wanted to share a list of great things that my mom says in everyday life:

"We live in such a good area. There are many malls close by. You should go and model around in them."

"Are your shoes biting you?"

"Do you know about Gandhi?"

"This is Dogha Singh. He is our dog. Don't pet him though. He runs through the yard and spoils my hedges. Then I must beat him with a stick. He will spoil them again in 3-4 months, and then I must beat him again."

"You shouldn't go for runs around here. Men will misbehave at you." -My homestay Dad

We went to the nearest bhasti, or slum, that day. It's the area where all the puppeteers live. There is a certain kind of puppets for which Jaipur is famous, and these people make the puppets and put on the shows. We were able to get a group of men, women and kids to sit down with us and talk about changes and such that they want for their community. It was...ahhh FANTASTIC.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Awh Nutts

Wedding day. My friends and I somehow managed to fit six people into an auto rickshaw as the driver yells to tell us he can only take five. We’re American and will pay twice the normal rate to get to the old city, so he lets us stuff ourselves inside-- oh the white man’s burden. We have so much weight in this itty vehicle that when he takes turns, it nearly tips. Anyway, I show up to the wedding in my new, expensive kurta and these ridiculously billowy cotton pants that are way too big but had borrow to match the kurta. My legs look about four feet wide and I make an obnoxious noise of rubbing starchy fabric when I walk. Subtle way to tell people the white chick is here. The wedding was incredibly different from what I expected. Yes all the women look gorgeous in these outrageously adorned outfits with jewels on every inch of fabric, but the actual wedding ceremony was, well odd. The men don’t even watch the ceremony. They are separated by a large wall of tapestries and do not interact with the women at all. The bride and groom sit on the ground in a special area under a tent of sorts in these incredibly beautiful outfits. Everyone else (meaning the women) sit on the outside of the tent chatting, eating food, talking on their phones, and really barely paying attention to the ceremony. Sometimes they watch and get involved, but the guests just felt very removed from the ceremony, which is complex and long. I definitely did not understand all of it, and sometimes my mom didn’t even know which part of the ceremony they were doing. I’m going to another one on Friday and then another on Saturday. I’m sure it varies. The food was great though. My other American friend and I sat with two Indian girls of the same age. One of them had that huge, stereotypical Indian nose ring with jewels and pearls hanging off of it. It looked really elegant until she had to hold it out of the way each time she took a bite of food. Every few seconds she put her fingers up her nose and held the “nutt” until she was done chewing. She said it wasn’t a hassle at all, but it was ripping at her cartilage because it was heavy and her nose was newly pierced. Hmm…

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My mom asks me to show her my clothes since we’re going to a wedding the next day. She looks at all of it while making politest groans she can muster. Then she says we will have to buy something fancy, you know something with a lot of shimmer and shine. It’s 7 by this time and my curfew is 9; it’s dark outside and I was told to avoid traveling as a girl once the sun sets. But there’s a wedding tomorrow, and Indian fashion takes sacrifices. We end up at this relatively expensive shop, in rupee terms, and I find myself really wanting to make my mom happy, so I buy a flashy shimmery outfit and spend more money than I have in the last two days. My host mom loved it though, and I felt so pathetic wanting to please her. I felt so pathetic wanting to please her, but my host mom loved it. I couldn’t help being happy that she was happy. When we get back home, it starts thundering and pouring, super rare for the desert state of Rajasthan. Half the lights in the house go out and my father jokingly says that we will have to have a candle light dinner. Then all of the power goes out, and he says very somberly and seriously “now we must really have one.” My first meal with just my family is a true candlelight dinner. How intimate.

Flash dance

First day of actual school comes around and my mom cooked a feast of a breakfast with the help of the two serving girls. I expected the family to have domestic help since well everyone does in India, especially since hierarchy is such a respected system. However, I still feel really uncomfortable since they are both short females who have obviously been stunted from malnourishment. Because of this, I can’t quite tell how old they are, but they cannot be any older than 17. They both live in a cement square type thing and one of them has three children about the ages of 4, 5 and 9. They are almost always dirty and every time I see them, they stop what they’re doing and just stare, mouths wide open. I want to play with them and learn Hindi with them, but it would seriously embarrass my family. I’m not supposed to talk them really, but we leave for school at the same time. Awkward and sad. A couple girls and I decide to walk to get some necessities and make our way through the crazy streets. Indian traffic is hard to picture, but it would help to say that lane lines are jokes and even lines between directions of traffic are mere suggestions. Horns are not used sparingly to say you’re mad or don’t hit me. They are used to announce your presence every time you change positions in traffic, and without lane lines, that’s about every minute or so. It also means get out of my way and I’m bored. What we’d consider a near accident in terms of being close to other vehicles is just the way you make a turn at an intersection. So we’re walking on the non-existent sidewalk next to this traffic and attracting a whole bunch of attention. We’re white and young girls, so everyone assumes we have loose morals and dubious intentions. Motorcyclists turn almost completely around while driving just to stare. One man passed us and whistled, and then scurried up ahead. 50 yards in front of us, he turns to a wall on sidewalk and starts to make it look like he is peeing. Then he stands in full on piss position and turns to stare at us. I wanted to vomit.

Apple Death

For dinner, they also have family over, more showing off, telling them about me, or as much as they know about me. While we wait for it to be served, I sit with my brother for the first time. We watch rock rules on VH1 and I’m shocked to hear music besides Bollywood tunes. We have our first conversation ever about music, and He loves Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Pearl Jam and the works. When I ask him about Eddie Vedder, he automatically goes off about Into the Wild. I’m ecstatic to actually have a convo beyond small talk as we talk about the movie and I play his solo album for. Then a Mumford and Sons music video comes on and I get even more excited. we listen to The Cave ,part of which is filmed in South India, or least in South Indian attire, he told me. Then I get to teach him about a banjo and how to identify its sounds in the song. Sooo fantastic. When their family comes over for dinner, we all start watching the equivalent of the grammy awards and the oscars for Indian entertainment. All the Bollywood stars are suggestively dancing and shaking on the screen in these outfits that show their stomachs and just the slightest hint of cleavage. Here, I’m not even allowed to show my ankles, let alone any sort  of collar bone. You know that awkward feeling when you’re watching a movie with your parents and a sex scene comes on? That’s how I felt watching the awards; it didn’t help that I was the only girl in the room. At dinner, my father, Hemant, tells me, in front of everyone that eating without utensils is better, for then you get the best flavor out of the food. Also, I can use my left hand in an emergency. They all laugh and agree. Because  told them I love apples and sweet things, the mom makes me an apple pie and expects me to eat most of it. In Indian culture, denying food is rude and means you don’t like it. I have never been so full and had such an immense sugar headache.

Puppy Times

Second day with my family. I’m like the new puppy you bring to the park. Everyone is transfixed by you and wants to know about you, where you’re from, how old you are, what you’re doing. Except, you can’t speak for yourself, so your owner, or in this case my mom, speaks for me. I can’t understand her, so I sit, look nice and scratch my head. Don’t get the wrong impression though about my host mom; she is fantastic. She is 54 and incredibly elegant and speaks with the greatest Indian British English. She says really genuine and endearing things all the time in English, like “oh mi gahd, what am I doing?” about spilled veggies and “you have ghost pimples!” (goose bumps) when she sits outside with me waiting for my rickshaw to take me to school. She is a total socialite and spends the day talking to friends, cooking, and shopping. One of the first things she told me was her family’s caste: Rajput. No really sure what that means. We go to her in-laws for lunch andthe food is of course fantastic. The brother is this adorable short, round man with a mustache that makes him exactly resemble the little man from monopoly. I try to follow what they do by eating only with my hands and using a chapati as my utensil. You use it to pick up your food and then eat it with your food. The family is all chatting rapidly in Hindi, so I concentrate on teaching myself how to eat with my hands. It’s a lot harder than you think when there’s a proper method and left hand is inherently “soiled.” I start chasing this potato around my plate for a good thirty seconds before I realize that the table is silent. I look up and everyone bursts out laughing at me as I finally pick up my potato wedge and sheepishly eat it. The little monopoly man gives me a fork and tells me it’s ok to use my american tools.

Indian hospitality is not a joke.

Meh, I finally convinced myself to start. I guess since I got my phone today (it has Hindi letters and numbers on the buttons!), I should just commit to being in contact with people. I'll start with my first day with my homestay family. So… my group (22 people, two of which are boys) is all dressed up in our salwar kameez suits that we bought from the same store, so most of us are in different colors of the exact same outfit and we’re standing on this deck watching different families come in to collect their children. We’re like orphans on the line to adoption. When I meet my mom, she automatically hugs me, which makes me feel super great since hugging NEVER happens in India. From here out, I just make a constant line of mistakes. First, the rickshaw driver she brought is the size of my left thigh and he’s lifting my suitcase packed with 5 months of stuff. Of course she brings a nicer rickshaw that doesn’t have an open back for people or luggage, so he wiggles it into our foot room and my host mom politely asks “Where will we sit?” So the whole way home I sit with my legs on top of the suitcase so she can be comfortable. That was a super fun ride. We made small talk as I bounced around on top of my suitcase. My group and I decided that in order to take a rickshaw, you should wear a sports-bra; I hope that characterizes the ride enough. So we get home and she shows me around and fixes me a half coffee half whole milk drink that gives me the worst stomach ache. I then proceed to eat the snack she gives me with my left hand, the soiled hand, the one they warned us to never eat with. Oops. My mom introduces to me to my “brother” Yeshu who is 18, super shy, studying mechanical engineering and my Dad who is this really gentle skinny man with a colorful beard. She takes me to her friends house for the monthly “kitteh party” that all the ladies on the block have. They each put in money to play super feminine games (one is whoever can write down the most accessory and clothing stores in 2 minutes wins!) and then sit around eating sweets and chatting. Everyone is really dressed up and gossiping. I sit awkwardly and don’t actually play nor can I eat because all the sweets have milk. I smile like a trophy wife and sit in my yards of starchy fabric. For dinner, they take to me a friend’s house where I do the exact same thing. My mom talks to me occasionally, but mostly, she talks about me in Hindi to all the people staring and wondering what’s with the white chick. That night I unpack my room, which is bigger than any room I’ve ever had and is this really tacky pale seafoam green color, and I go into the second closet to put away my shoes. First I see this newspaper article with my last name in the headline-- always exciting-- and then I see a perfectly polished shotgun and stack of bullets. My room holds the ultimate household protection. Indian hospitality is no joke.