It was two years ago that I left Europe for India, and my life has been here all the time since then. Since two years ago, I have spent five months in Europe only.
It has again been quite some time since I haven't written, but I feel like writing this morning, from my own computer settled at my desk, in my little home. It is about 10 o'clock and the light is crisp and beautiful. It is getting seriously colder now at last; evenings and mornings a jumper is necessary. Everyone has a cough and cold, me included. And man, how lovely does it feel to be able to wear my jeans or corduroy trousers with a long sleeve top, and at least a sweater after 5 pm! Last night at 10:00 according to my computer, it was 18°C.
I had not mentioned here that I had typhoid four weeks ago. I went to the doctor's straight away with my amazing Spanish flatmate, Rudra, who was very helpful and caring. I love having him as a neighbour. We always borrow utensils from each other, share tea, or offer each other our food to taste. So, that day I woke up with fever, probably because of that damn glass of local water taken the night before. We went to the doctor's in the morning; I took the blood test; we had to wait until 2 o'clock for the result to finally show it to the doctor after 6pm. Thus I was resting, cranky with fever most of that day because it took a lot of waiting to get the treatment, but five days of antibiotics later I was back on form. I took a second blood test some days ago; the result was negative. I am still taking the cure of pre/probiotics and multi-vitamines, and will probably carry on with chyavanprash and protein supplements all this winter because it is all good for me. I bought myself a thermos, too, and drink most of my water hot, which feels like much goodness too.
I finally started yoga again this morning, after over a month of idleness, firstly due to being in Khajuraho most of October, then having typhoid and last week Vijay visiting me. It felt great. It's really odd though; aren't you supposed to feel rusty after a month's break? Usually my neck feels stiff in the morning which makes it difficult for me to dohalasana (plough pose) and sarvangasana (shoulder stand), but surprisingly this morning I had no problem at all. No, I think breaks are good. For me anyway. And they are always good with violin, too.
Violin is going well. I felt seriously bored and uninspired a few days back, but that's because I hadn't seen Sukhdev in a few weeks. When I returned for class I made sure to tell him about my demotivation, that I didn't like when I played, I didn't feel good improvising, and I was sick of having to listen again and again to that bloody Teen Taal (sixteen beat). He just asked me why I felt bad about my play, because it is good, he assured me, he is happy with me, it's coming well; that brought a big bright smile on my face again and I was back on track. And of course, we did the alaap (improvisation) together and it felt all miraculously good again. And I am improving! I have started improvising freely and I don't feel bad or shy or embarrassed about myself. Slowly but surely I am letting go of the judgement, finally. I am better and better at copying Sukhdev's alaap and I enjoy it more and more. And I am able to hear the Teen Taal and finding the right beats within it now – provided that I'm not playing at the same time. I'll have to be able to do both together obviously, but it is a start. I couldn't differentiate the beats at all a few months ago.
Hindi is good. I have been pushing my teachers to come on time, and recently even took one to the Head of department's office to clarify what he was supposed to teach me from the syllabus. I've always let the Head know how upset I am when teachers don't turn up or if they come late (15 minutes out of a 45-minute class is quite considerable), and he told me that if he enjoys to teach me, he also gets quite “scared” about coming on time for my class now! But I always complain with a smile and some understanding, and we laughed about it. It works, and I am happy. These days I have a lot of composition to do – at least one text about something related to my life to write each week. It is a great way to study as all the vocabulary I learn in the process is related to me personally so I remember it better...
Rudra had a young Polish friend round a few weeks ago because she had persevering fever. She had to live with him because the fever wouldn't get down and she needed to be cared for. He took her time and again to a doctor and another; in a week she got her antibiotics changed four times. The fever would break for half a day and then come back again. In the end she was admitted to the hospital near my university. She took tests and it turns out to be malaria (although it wasn't found through her first blood check) and perhaps some other infection. She has been on perfusion for a week now and finally the fever is gone, but she is still pretty weak. Rudra is gone to Kolkata for a week or two so I go visit her everyday. She had no clothes with her; I had to bring her a rucksack from her guesthouse, and I washed her hair the other day because she hadn't been able to for a whole week. She has no-one else here of course, so I couldn't not do this. It's lovely to care for a stranger; it reminds me of the jobs that I once had...
Oh, and I received a surprising message through the Varanasi group of an internet community I'm a member of. It was from an Indian guy who has an NGO and works as a researcher and translator. It was to make an announcement about a conference on climate change taking place on 29 November, followed on the next day with a protest against Coca Cola. Apparently there's a Coke plant some fifteen kilometres away from Varanasi that sucks up all the water in the area, contamining it in the process, which has devastating consequences for the local community living around it... I couldn't help but reply to the guy; a couple of hours later we met as he conveniently lives in the same area of the city as I do. I was pretty excited, firstly because the issue is too close to me to ignore, secondly because it's the first time I have the opportunity to take part in any sort of activism in the country, and I am very curious about it. And finally, because it is very difficult here to meet local people with whom to be able to talk about deep topics. Of course, being a white woman in India forces me to be extremely careful with whom I speak to. I start being familiar in my neighbourhood but having a real, local, friend in Varanasi is another matter. The only Indian person I trust in Varanasi really is Sukhdev.
The contact I have with locals – mostly men – does not go beyond the hellos/how-are-you's or buying something to them or sitting on their rickshaws, or pretending I didn't hear anything because I'm sick to get attention only because I am of the female gender and I'm foreign – and it seems, for them, like the message “MONEY HERE” is written on any foreigner's forehead. Or else, as kind of regularly happens I have to say, it's the man who takes advantage of being in a crowd to pass you and brush your breast on the way with his arm, because men are mostly completely sexually repressed and extremely emotionally immature here. Or far less frequently but interesting to note, there's the bastard who comes passed you on his bicycle and frankly grabs your breast for a second. Is this satisfying even to them!? By the time you turn your head to look he's too far gone with bicycle, the coward, and you can only see the back of his head in the dark. That time, the only opportunity I would have had to communicate to him was to shout the appropriate abuse I had been taught in Hindi, but then even, caught by shock all that came out was in French...! But they do not scare or intimidate me. I feel sorry for them mostly and carry on my way. And that's the best way to deal with it really. Oh, but there was that fun time in the station, when Vijay and I were waiting for a train. The typical “inadvertently breast brushing” man passed me. That one however was really persevering, coming again and again to “brush” me, so I had no doubt that he was doing it purposefully. Vijay was ready to deal with him but it turned out to be unnecessary. Then the man went for a while; I thought he was gone for good... and again he came back. To my own surprise, I stopped to face him I felt the anger rise from my tummy up to my head, my eyes grew big and scary (or so I like to think!) when suddenly an enormous “HAAAATH!!!” came storming out of my mouth – that “hath!” Indians normally shout at cows when they are in the way. It all happened in a split of a second, and I was shocked almost as much as he was. He suddenly pulled back, started shaking, and the locals around burst out in laughter. After that, he followed us not to brush my breast but to ask Vijay whether we were actually walking towards the police station! We were not – we didn't know that there was a police station there! I felt really strong and empowered after that. I was so proud of myself, what fun! And Vijay completely amazed by my reaction. He was happy, because that made him realise that I am strong enough to deal with most hassling men on my own.
So. Being a foreign woman in India requires being alert, vigilant and firm. But don't get me wrong, I am happy in India, and I take the rare opportunity to use abusive Hindi vocabulary as further training on the road towards fluency (and spontaneity!) Most of the time people are very lovely, and I'm just a little tired of hearing “Hello Madam, which country from?” but with the understanding that I'd probably be interested in the same way if I was in their shoes (or sandals!) So all I do is ignore them politely... and from time to time, if I'm in the mood to answer I'll engage some light conversation, but making sure I don't speak TOO much in Hindi as it gets them quite overexcited at time... So yeah, I was saying that making local friends is quite a rare chance in India – and opportunities to befriend women even more so. But yesterday with that NGO guy from Couchsurfing, we were talking about Coca Cola being arseholes, the Indian gay community, woman empowerment, and even those mysterious of transgendered hijras!
And did I mention that I'm really enjoying my bicycle now? Or that I'm getting pretty good at making chapati? Or that receiving letters from my grandmother makes me happy?
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.