A note on my three blogs


A note on my blogs

(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...

(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!

(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Joy & Eternity

Often there is a storm in the evening, which freshens the atmosphere beautifully... the storms are scary, and it also rains, which is odd for the season apparently, and there's some water and a lot of dust coming in to the house. And as long as it lasts, there is no electricity. It can last one, two... hours... It is scary for me, but it is cooler at least. We sit in the stairs because a little wind comes in and it becomes the most comfortable place to sit in the dark house and wait until it stops and for the light to return...

Yesterday there was one of those storms, and quite a lot of rain, which was very cooling throughout the night. In fact, the weather was beautiful ALL DAY today with about 33 degrees. it seemed extremely fresh and pleasant, and it reminded me how easy life becomes in more moderate temperatures, when I do not need to sleep in the afternoon and when I have a lot of energy, and we are not slaves of the fans when inside the house... And it was Sunday, which means I didn't teach and I went for my weekly spinach omelet on toast.

And tonight, while we were sitting by the temple looking at the children play and I got tears in my eyes from the scenery, Ravi told me that "joy" and "eternity" share the same word in Hindi, "anand". I instantly knew I would have to come and post this out onto my journal... It makes me so happy to learn just how much Hindi reflects yogi philosophy...

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Hot season in the Indian family

I decided not to go to Dharamsala at all. The heat is at about its maximum now (with peaks up to 50 degrees on bad days - around 48 otherwise - after noon), and I am somewhat miraculously coping well! I feel now that it would be pointless to travel some 48 hours and start from scratch again, to teach loved-ones I don't know when I can stay here and teach the loved-ones I do know. I am doing volunteer work here amongst my loving family. And I am on safe ground here, immersed in such a wonderful context to keep learning Hindi and about the Indian culture... And of course there is Vijay's company which I would just find too difficult to leave. Besides he is starting a six-month course right now, which involves a lot of English, and I have the greatest opportunity to help him with it...

Back to the heat, I have to say the first few days were a little difficult. About two weeks ago, I was lacking energy and half of the family (me included) had a weird rash inside our mouths due to the heat. It is common they say - in such extremely different environments your body starts reacting in ways unknown to you, and it is can be odd and scary but it's OK - like the strange rash-line I got on my left arm, because allegedly an insect had walked on me in the night leaving some traces of its urine on my skin! There is nothing to do and it is slowly going... All this, and also sensitive digestion (mostly half-constipation). But I am coping well, and my body reacts to the heat in similar ways to my Indian peers. The mouth rash soon left me, helped but those wonderful neem sticks with which we brush our teeth most mornings. And I decided to seriously tackle my lack of energy, for it is far too easy to become a vegetable in such heat. Thus if we don't go for the morning walk I at least do some yoga; I have resumed my practice, under the sacred fan in the shop.I also started taking some ayurvedic supplements to boost my digestive system (and balance my tridoshas for the connoisseurs - the product is called "triphala"). Since then I am pretty much settled. Teaching helps also, as the one-pointedness of my mind when I work with my little ones helps preserving my energy levels. But, I have to say - blessed are the fans and the air-coolers that allow us to sleep well at night, and the early mornings' and evenings' relative coolness! And cursed are the powercuts - though they are far fewer than they were in Varanasi...

Here in extreme heat it feels like there are two parts of the day, or two small "subdays" within one day. There are two nights: the ordinary night and the afternoon when heat is at its highest.

Morning we awake quite early; about 6.00 at best or 8.00 when the previous day was too hot or tiring or busy with too little siesta. Morning the heat is bearable, and it is lovely because we go for the early walk and once back I'll enjoy watching the peaceful view from the terrace, in some wind, and I'll eat my fruits sitting in the remaining shade. At that time I will not burn my bare feet onto the stone floor yet when I walk. I have started helping Vijay's two sisters with some house work too, now that Rita is gone and while Mummy is still recovering from her operation. I can't cook of course, because according to the cast system I am not allowed to. So I help with simple tasks like sweeping the floor or putting the crookery in its place. Every morning upon waking, my Indian sisters start sweeping the floor, and we fill the pots and buckets and the air-coolers and the 20-30 bottles of water to be kept in the fridge. Then they'll cook all the food for the day. In the morning I'll also do some Hindi homework or teach English to Little Nephew or write, or sit in the coolest room with everyone and watch some TV (mainly a lot of Bollywood dancing, or old and tacky Indian films or silly series to practice listening to Hindi, but best of all Tom & Jerry) - but mostly enjoy the coolness of the house's most efficient air-cooler. Air-cooler are huge, bulky metal boxes with gridded walls covered in dried grass and containing a fan and a lot of water to reproduce the coolness of natural watery/waterfall type environment. They make a lot of noise but at that point it doesn't matter for we clearly prefer coolness to quietness!

In the morning we also take turns for the blessed shower; that's when I'll throw pots of cold water onto my sweating body with great relief. I have also started to have "Indian-style" showers, which means I wash my clothes before shower. Before shower, because it is so hot in the bathroom and bashing and hitting my clothes means I'll be as wet before as after shower albeit with sweat... I also have to rub my body a lot more vigorously than ordinarily, because with all that sweat if I don't rub vigorously or exfoliate enough I'll still be dirty when I get out of the bathroom...

And then between 10.00 and 12.00 or when I'm hungry I'll have some lunch, but I have to be very careful not to eat too oily because of my sensitised digestive system. Usually we eat chapati and/or rice with cooked vegetable and/or lentil (daal). Indians eat little raw vegetable, their preferred one is onion and I don't know how they do it because onion feels far too hot inside my tummy when it's so hot outside as well. Instead I'll always have raw tomato and perhaps cucumber too. And I clearly eat less than normal in such heat, too.

Regularly family members come for visit or there's a festival, or like a few days ago, a family came to see my fourth Indian sister for potential marriage. During festive times the staple chapati is replaced by a deep-fried chapati (called puri), which my body strongly dislikes, and the rest of the food is heavier and greasier too. During hot season how they can eat this is beyond my comprehension. It's always at festival time that I'll get tummy bug - but now the family usually gives me chapati instead of puri. But a few days ago, Little Niece ate all my left-over chapatis and we ate late and I was hungry and I had to eat four puris, and there were too many people in the house and I had to look "as local as possible" not to do bad impression on my sister's potential "in-laws" and it was all too much and I went to cry in the bathroom and made sure my tears were dried and my eyes not too red when I came back. A little after that Vijay took me "to the market" (i.e to the small town centre) to eat curd (yogurt) to help my poor tummy, and where I escaped the family busy-ness and lack of privacy with great relief. In the evening all I ate was rice and curd; I slept a lot the next day, and I am back on my two feet now. The house is quiet too, thank God.

And then, in normal times, after lunch it is siesta time for everyone (except Vijay who has to go to school for three hours) and we gather in the coolest rooms on spread out straw mats on the stone floor, by the air-cooler. I can sleep on hard floor now, provided I have a thin pillow. It gives me a wonderful feeling of freedom and independence - because I can really sleep "anywhere" now. Thus we sleep one hour or two or maybe three, and my sleep is as tight as in the night. Upon waking the heat will slowly start to cool down, and like in the morning the routine repeats: I'll go for "half-shower" to refresh myself, I'll eat fruits, we'll start the water pump (it's an electricity-activated well that pumps up water from the ground 85 feet right below the house) and fill up the tank in the bathroom and the pots in the kitchen and the million bottles. And again the neighbouring girl will come to help with the dishes, and we'll sweep the floor (there's a lot of dust in India) with the small straw broom called "jharu", and in the afternoon my sisters will also mop the floor with cloth and water. And I'll teach English or give homework to Little Nephew, or study some Hindi, and at 5-6pm my clever 5-year old pupil will come for his daily class. And at the end of all this, the most pleasant time of day will have come, and I'll often go outside and watch the peaceful view and the neighbouring kids playing and the goats and the buffaloes pass, enjoying the cooling breeze. And then I'll have some light dinner, and soon darkness will fall and Vijay and I go to the market to buy vegetable or whatever or go check internet, and that's also when we'll sit in a quiet dark place for some stolen, forbidden hugs, and chat about what I may have missed or not understood during the day because I couldn't ask earlier in front of the family because it would have looked like we're too close. And we'll go buy fruit and fresh juice for Mummy, and curd for whoever's disturbed tummy, and go home and do some more homework and then it will be bedtime. It takes a while to go to sleep because we have to spread out the mattresses, burn dried cow dung and/or dried neem leaves to repel the mosquito in the house. If we sleep outside on the rooftop, we'll first pour out water onto the stone floor to cool it down before we can spread out the mattresses. Now I sleep on the rooftop with my two Indian sisters, under my mosquito net, watching the stars as I fall asleep, graceful for the next eight hours of coolness, sometimes thinking sleep is the best part of the day...

And sometimes I think about Europe where people have so much time for "non-basic" activities and a weird thing called "entertainment". There is hardly any of that in Indian life in a small town or village. Most especially during hot season when the extreme heat forces you to take so much care about your body's health and welfare that life revolves around survival, basically. And I think of Europe where people can do things like go to concerts regularly and go for a drink and go to the cinema and where children play with millions of toys and adults with gadgets, and how much more important the clothes we wear seem to be, and how easily and quickly we can "prepare a meal", and the countless choices of things and foods we have on display in our massive supermarkets. That massive, insane choice we have, how lucky we are to have that choice and yet how demanding and spoiled and greedy it has made us - and is it real choice or is it alienation?! And then I even start to understand the concept of arranged marriage, because even for a life partner, for someone to have sex and raise children with, even for that most Indians still hardly have any choice at all...

And I think now how simply my life has become when I'm here, and how different it is than what it used to be. How five years ago I would have found this life lame or "uncool" or downright unacceptable, and yet "slowly slowly" how I have come to love this life, for its purity and its simplicity and for the beautiful company of a family that I dearly love...

Saturday, 2 May 2009

The bride's farewell

Yesterday was Rita's farewell from her family. Hindu traditions never seem to end. Directly after the marriage (which happens in the husband's town or village) the bride goes back with her husband to her new home. But she will stay there just a few weeks or perhaps about a month, then she will return to her own family for some weeks again. It is when her husband's family comes to pick her up (without her husband who has to wait for her at home) and thus when they come to visit the bride's family for the first time after the wedding ceremony, that the real farewell will take place. I hadn't expected it. As usual with India, I don't ask anything and they don't explain anything to me before it actually happens. It is when the reality unfolds before my eyes that I see and understand how things work here.

So, two evenings ago, friends of the family came to help cook a massive amount of sweet pastries, made of gram flour and another four that I don't know. The women made crowns and designed plates and other beautiful shapes out of the freshly-made dough, to be deep fried later. Yesterday evening the women came again and set back to work. More fine pastries decorated with colourful patterns this time, and even one of them ornamented with one-rupee coins (and cooked)! All these gifts, for they would all be offered to the husband's family, were gathered into a huge basket of about one-meter diameter. They'd just wait for the two-kilogram bag of laddus (sweets) collected from the shop to seal the enormous gift with red fabric.

So much oil, so much sugar. The Hindu tradition is beautiful but to my religious-virgin mind and my dietary-concerned self, it is also a tradition of excess. And even for a family with financial difficulty it will be the rule and they cannot escape it. However much I love India these obligations are the very details that suffocate me. During the farewell-day all the women of both families were upstairs, while the men would stay downstairs sitting and talking. Because the women have to cover her heads in front of the respected men. Men and women eat separately. All day the women of the bride's family, helped by a couple of girlfriends, worked non-stop to serve and feed their venerated guests in the main room - feeding themselves later in the kitchen. Deep fried round breads replace the chapatis during festival or family occasions; deep fried and heavier food, which I have to accept with a sigh especially under the hammering heat.

In those traditional gatherings I do my best to follow the rules too and to appear as "local" as I can, but I am always concerned that I may do or say something wrong (although I know it would be OK). But the custom is heavy on me, and new people look and ask questions and I have to speak a lot of Hindi, and of course I hardly see Vijay so I haven't got much room for mental rest or questions. I am unmarried though so as such I have the right to go downstairs in the men's company. It is somehow easier in the men's company, yet I don't want to go downstairs too much to avoid questions and out of respect for my Indian sisters.

And then, early evening, the bride got ready to go. Decorated as heavily as a Christmas tree, in her shiny saree, hennaed hands, ornamented with heavy golden jewelry from head to toes, and with as many colourful bangles as to cover two third of both of forearms, jiggling whenever she moved and matching her saree. Married women have to wear a saree, and a red line (drawn in powder and/or lipstick) in their hair parting and a round bindi between their eyebrows, and anklets and toe rings, and bangles at all times. The jiggling bangles which I find beautiful when in a good mood, but which I come to loathe with feminist rebellion in Hindu-intensive situations, for then they sound like bells preventing animals to escape... It is extreme beauty violently stained by the inescapable obligation.

And once ready, which took some time, it was time for the young woman to leave her childhood's family for good. Sisters and mother cried like I had never seen them cry before. Hugs were shared, and the groom's mother is a good and understanding woman so there is no problem, but the married girl had lived here for twenty-three years and she was suddenly taken to a new home to live with complete strangers. Soon I couldn't help but join them in tears, although mine were of compassion and not of sadness. Slowly, the ornamented girl in her shiny blue saree, covering her head and hiding her tears, went downstairs. Notes (between 10 and 100 rupees) are always shared between hosts and guests at goodbye times. Although the money represents love, this is another rule-based tradition that can also exasperate me. And at parting time there is also colouring the women's feet in pink and sharing tika (marking the guests between their eyebrows with yellow and red powder), and then the members of the host family will do that beautiful hand-to-feet-to-heart bow which I have come to love.

And so yesterday I didn't do anything really, but by the end of it all I was completely exhausted. And I was told that at 2pm it was 50 degrees and I don't know how on earth my body copes but it does, and way better than last year...