Tuesday, November 29, 2005
I have a cold and all I want to do is sleep. The kittens, though, want to jump on my head and gnaw on my toes, which look suspiciously like chicken sausages.
As for questions of poverty and wealth, of equal distribution...if my maid, for instance, asked me if she could have some nice soap or new shampoo, I would be more than happy to oblige. I just don't want her using mine, without my permission, in my bathroom, while she is supposed to be working. My quibble with her is less about some grand socialist ideal than about the drawing of boundaries between employee and employer, which have thus been completely obliterated.
I totally can't breathe through my left nostril. Is it pollution? The two cigarettes I smoked on Saturday night? An opportunistic infection? Damn you, microbes, damn you. If you aren't gone by Thursday...well...umm....I'll go to my first day of a new job completely ill. Hopefully I won't vomit in a dustbin, as I did when ill on the first day of seventh grade. It's not a great first impression.
Monday, November 28, 2005
It's not that she's (just) incompetent. It's that she...senses my weakness, and goes in for the kill.
In America, it's quite uncommon to employ someone to cook or clean or wash clothes for you. These are all routine daily chores that you somehow squeeze in between work and play and...well, life. Furthermore, the history of the States is such that many domestic workers were either indentured servants/slaves, or are immigrants who are grossly underpaid and mistreated. So I've never been exposed to this scenario, and yet I am too lazy to wash my trousers and unmentionables.
M appeared from nowhere and offered to be our help; S jumped to take advantage of her services. He gave her basic instructions, bought cleaning supplies, and went on his merry way -- ah, the working world. I, of course, lingered in bed, reading the newspaper, sipping tea, and making sure that she didn't steal any of our possessions (which, for the time being, are little more than two mattresses, an electric kettle, curtains and a few cane chairs borrowed from our landlord).
After some perfunctory sweeping, she comes and sits down on the edge of the mattress, and pulls a bidi from the folds of her sari. I glare at her, and she refrains from smoking, but begins expounding in Hindi.
"Mera husband insert unintelligible Hindi here"...
I shrugged. She lingered, I tried to focus on the newspaper, and eventually she left for the day -- without washing clothes.
S explained to M that we are paying her to do x, y and z, and she falls into line. Until he again leaves.
This week, S is in Punjab. After five minutes of sweeping, a quick rinse of the laundry, I heard M in the kitchen. She's tossing peanuts into her mouth by the handful and I want to shout or cry or both. Do I overlook this, because she's clearly hungry, and I have more than enough food in my cupboard? Or do I castigate her for helping herself to what she does not own?
I chose to do nothing. Which, in retrospect, was the wrong choice.
Because next, she turned on the geyser and took a shower. And used my soap. And used my shampoo.
I didn't say anything, because deep in my heart...I know that she just wants to feel clean, or try a different soap, and she deserves these amenities as a fundamental right. But not in my house.
When she asked me to make her tea, I turned bright red. Gestured to the door. And refused to respond to her.
I am ashamed of myself for not doing more for her, for not paying her more money. But I also want to be treated as any other employer would be treated. My white skin should not represent money or affluence or the good life. My inability to string together a perfect Hindi sentence should not mean that I am taken advantage of at every turn.
It's quite difficult to be perpetually caught between shame and anger. Shanti, shanti...shanti.
Friday, November 25, 2005
A maid who thinks I speak fluent Hindi, and who brandishes bidis as she sweeps our place out.
Baby kittens, Earl Grey and Orange Pekoe, from the American Embassy.
A Thanksgiving feast of a paneer roomali roll, steamed rice, yellow dal, and rum and coke.
The Year of Magical Thinking.
Bad news and better news, being away and yet not.
There is too much to write and too little time to capture these experiences as I'm living, not in repose.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
And this one may not damage my liver, cause lung cancer or leave permanent scars, but it may also be the most difficult one to shake.
It is, of course, blogging.
I miss my daily rantings. S and I are having four (COUNT 'EM! 1, 2, 3, 4!) newspapers delivered every morning, and the absurdity of the Indian news is majestic -- but I can't mock Times of India or make astute comments about The Indian Express because I have no internet connection at home and I don't particularly want to walk around with a tree's worth of newsprint under my arm as I make my way to the Def Col internet cafe.
I want to bitch about our new maid.
I want to piss and moan about money issues.
I want catharsis through touch typing.
Hell. I need a better fix.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
What a long, strange trip it's been.
I arrived last Saturday and immediately, S and I went searching. S had been scouring the market for about three weeks, viewing places here and there. Our budget was about Rs 10,000, but we were willing to pay Rs 12,000 in the name of protecting the white girl from Delhi's more nefarious elements. S had his heart set on remaining in Nizamuddin East or expanding to Defence Colony. He also considered flats in Jangpura, Greater Kailash and Hauz Khas, but invented excuses (ranging from "I've heard their water is bad" -- what water in Delhi ISN'T bad? -- to "There's too many people on the street") to keep me from getting too excited about any of those prospects.
We first saw two flats he had shortlisted: one in Nizamuddin West, which would be vacated in December or January, and one in the A block of Defence Colony, perfect except for the fact that it was owned by The General.
I dismissed the first offhand, as we couldn't wait a month or two for housing; the second was, as he said, lovely with the exception of its landlords. So as not to shock the man, a retired general pushing 80 and nearly deaf, S had told him and his wife that he wanted simple accomodation for himself and his new American wife. The man, a codger who refused to let the place out for the last two years because no one suitable approached him, seemed receptive to the idea. The first words out of his mouth, eyes widening? "Your wife is very beautiful." Implying..."and you are very unattractive. How in the hell did you snag this naive phirang?"
So we had tea, and The General began to expound.
"We are very old, and we are needing people who are quiet and not going to bother us. You are seeming to be very nice people."
We nodded. "Yes sir, thank you sir."
His wife entered and sat near me. S continued to ingratiate himself to The General. His wife launched into a diatribe, generally aimed at me, I suppose.
"You are seeming very nice. We have been alone a long time. Our son, he is gone..." (pointing to a picture hung above their mantle, festooned with a garland of wilting orange flowers) "...and our other son, he is what you say crippled. He is very...he does not like to be seen. He will not be seen in Delhi. His wife and his daughter, a very young girl, they live upstairs, and we are afraid of what may happen to him. She stays here for making the money, while he stays...away from Delhi. He will not come. She will go see him soon."
A pregnant pause. I grimace a bit, my most tender grimace, but a grimace nonetheless.
"So we are hoping that the persons who move in will be able to come to our succour. We don't have anyone to take care of us anymore, and we are very old..."
She trails off, and I squeeze S's arm. The pair rambles on, expostulating on a number of subjects. Nearly an hour has passed. If I have to live with this every day, I will go mad. After a few more minutes, we excuse ourselves, thank them for allowing us to look at their residence, and promise to follow up.
Which means that in a day or two we will invent some wacky story about how the broker wants an insane amount of money, and we can't possibly pay for this, we are very humble people, etc. Lies, lies, it's all a web of lies!
Again we take to the streets. A lovely, marble-floored palace in Jangpura, delightful inside but in the midst of a chaotic, traffic-choked street. S disapproves.
A similar pristine space in Janpura Extension. Lovely, but that it overlooks a sewer. No, no, it will not do.
One-room flat with a shared kitchen, much admired by S's brother P (who is in hotel school). I don't share. Next.
Then a reasonable Defence Colony second floor place, nice and airy, though expensive. And another, rather nice if lived in, but with a strange floor layout.
We jumped on the Def Col second floor flat, hoping to bargain the landlord down from Rs 15,000 to Rs 12,000, stretching the budget a bit. He would only go to Rs 13,000. In a moment of insanity, we decided that this was fine as well.
And thus ended our yatra. A search epic and unending, peopled by eccentric characters looking to board only vegetarian foreigners married to Sistine nuns who would tolerate the absence of a shower and running water. A search that introduced to me the idea that I am far too fabulously attractive for S.
A search that, thankfully, has ended.
Postscript: Now the real work -- buying things, cleaning, and making the hovel habitable. This morning was spent mopping floors and cleaning a range procured for us by Dr K, our landlord. Tonight we'll search for curtains. S is scouring the black market for a gas cylinder, as rumour has it that no new connections will be approved in Delhi for at least the next six months. We've booked subscriptions to four newspapers -- The Hindu, Times of India, Hindustan Times, and Indian Express -- and we have mattresses. All systems are go.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
I've officially begun the move-in process; as I sit typing at a Def Col cyber cafe, Sumeet's cook is cleaning our flat. The rooms have been deserted for, I would imagine, about a month, and ceaseless dust has settled in every corner. We equipped Ajay with dust rags, brooms, buckets and the like. I tried to stay with him, show solidarity, but was forced to retreat after a sneezing fit weighed heavily on my soul.
My sense of direction is characteristically awful, and I have no clue how I made it from C Block to the Def Col market; I will have to take a rickshaw home lest I become lost. The neighborhood is quiet, serene. There are few stray dogs hounding about and few children in the streets. I think I might like it here.
This morning, we bought mattresses and pillows, which hopefully will be delivered tonight. The traffic around Moolchand -- where an underpass is being constructed -- is horrible, and the drivers of Delhi idiots. But despite the chaos of the streets, I now have a haven -- an island of sanity in the teeming, unrelenting confusion of Delhi.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Have a new phone number.
Snippets of conversation that have made my week:
"My, you have a really beautiful wife!" -- The General, a man from whom Sumeet and I may lease a flat, after we conjured up the white lie that we are married so that we can find a habitable abode. Old traditions die hard, even in the city.
"You are very beautiful. You would like me to take you home." -- Kashmiri tout in Connaught Place. Also, general advice: Just because I'm white doesn't mean I'm a slut. I really, really don't want to hear pick-up lines when I'm just trying to take a walk (or remember how to get from K-Block to F-Block).
And, oh, there are more, but I can't think of them right now. Cool things: If you're in the states and you see any AFP pictures of Pushkar in your newspaper, my friend took them! Woot woot.
When I have regular access to the internet again (rather than stop-gap sessions at ramshackle cafes) I'll write a more comprehensive post on house hunting, which, I think we can all agree, is an objective evil. Shudder. And all for a habitable hovel...please, please God/Allah/Shiva/Yahweh let us find something within the week. I hate living out of a suitcase.
Friday, November 11, 2005
I know I've quickly become addicted, but there are only so many puzzles printed each day (right now, I get three between The Hindu and The New Indian Express).
Thus, let us all applaud WEB SUDOKU! Use the keyboard, make pencil marks, and see how your solving time compares to others. Awesome, awesome, awesome.
That institution, my friends, is Craigslist. What, perchance, is Craigslist? A short primer:
- Local community classifieds and forums - a place to find jobs, housing, goods & services, social activities, a girlfriend or boyfriend, advice, community information, and just about anything else -- all for free, and in a relatively non-commercial environment.
- Started in early 1995, by Craig Newmark, in San Francisco, California.
- About 3 billion page views per month
- More than 10 million use Craigslist each month, meaning they list or respond to a listing
- More than 6 million classified ads and 1 million forums postings each month
- There are now 190 craigslist sites in all 50 US states, and 35 countries
- A page for Bangalore was created in November 2004; Delhi and Mumbai pages were created in April 2005; a Chennai page was added in September 2005
It's a great system! Through Craigslist, I've gotten a free television, bought a great laptop, and even found sources for stories. It's a damn shame that there are only around 10 postings per month on a system that helps bring people together.
So...spread the word! Use Craigslist! If you need to get rid of old stuff, list it in the free section! If you want to lease your flat without involving a broker, list it! If there's a really cool gallery opening or a reading, list it! If you are looking for volunteers for your NGO, list it!
Because there should be more meaningful exchanges than postings like this:
having hard times in India? come to America! It's great here! Tons of buffalo roaming! Marry me and get your green card! contact my email! My email name is CHIMPSAREHUNGRY and I am at yahoo mail
I am 26 Years old Young man, I am avilable for any interested lady from India for sex with different style of Yoga and give extreemlevel of sexual enjoyment, interested mail me.
Today is my last day at my current job. I am a lecturer at the Manorama School of Communication in Kerala, where I spend my days futzing around with commas and periods and desperately try to convey to my students the principles of journalism. Most of the time, I've felt like I'm failing. I am not a disciplinarian, which any sane student will occasionally try to take advantage of, and to counterbalance that (and to try and impress my boss) I sometimes lashed out at the well meaning young journalists.
It's been, perhaps, my most difficult job because there are so many conflicts, internal and external. How do I reconcile my Americanness with India? Where does one draw the line between criticizing and denigrating a culture that is not her own? Can I exercise authority over students who are my own age or older? Do my academic and professional experiences sufficiently qualify me for this?
But earlier this week, I realized just how valuable I have been to the school -- and how important the school has been in forcing me to mature. K, one of my students, had a "delusional psychotic episode" (the doctor's terms, not mine), and I had to confront my past.
It's not something I like to talk about much anymore. My close friends know my history, and anyone with access to the internet can find a column describing my travails with mental health. But in India, particularly, it's anathema to admit to people that I take three kinds of medicine to monitor my moods; it is downright unthinkable to tell them that I once was hospitalized for a good deal of time to correct my mental disorders.
Though there is still fallout from my mental health problems, it doesn't factor into my daily life. I take two pills when I wake up, one before bed, so I can sleep. And I get on with my day.
But when I saw K on Wednesday morning, my heart dropped. She was curled in her bed, cowering in a small corner, feebly asking the students and me to leave her alone. K is an unusually bright girl, cheerful and outgoing, always ready with a question. The contrast was shocking. Perhaps more shocking for me was the realization just how alike K and I are.
Because...I've been in that place. I can't say that I've suffered from the same problems she has, but I've suffered panic attacks that would consign me to bed for days. When I was younger, I would hear phones ringing, ringing, always ringing; I would imagine that my father was following me, though I hadn't seen him in years. As she shrunk into herself, shivering and insisting that someone was tryi9ng to harm her and her family, all I wanted to do was take K into my arms and reassure her that everything would be OK.
It wasn't OK that day. After failing in our attempts to bring her out of the spell, U carried K's limp body to a car, which took her to a hospital. The school's librarian, as well as a student, S, spent much of the day with her.
The students, as committed and loving a group of people as I've ever met, visited the hospital to try and cheer her up. And they seemed stunned to see the vibrant girl with a glucose drip in her arm, intermittently raving and passing in and out of consciousness. It was, perhaps, something that they had never seen before -- and as young journalists, something they probably should have been more aware of.
Once some of K's distant relatives arrived, the doctor agreed to treat the girl. After sedation and a cocktail of drugs, she came to the next morning and was able to return to MASCOM for a few minutes to say goodbye.
I don't know whether she heard me recount my past to her as she lay, pale as a sheet and still as the unbroken waters of a lake at early morning. I don't know whether telling my story does any good, or whether people will see me in the same light after making these admissions. But as I held her hand, whispered into her ear the secrets I've kept inside me for years, it felt right.
K will return to school after spending a week at home to sort out some of these issues. She has an incredibly bright future and I hope that this doesn't leave any negative ripples. And if she ever needs any support, I hope she knows that she can speak to me honestly, without worrying that I will judge her or think less of her; I hope she knows that, more than her teacher, I am her friend.
It is interesting that, five years after being released from the hospital where I lay emotionless and blank, I had the opportunity to return the care that so many of my friends and relatives offered to me. It was a powerful week, one that I'll remember for years to come as a turning point. I am no longer someone that must be cared for. I am whole, I am useful, and I can offer compassion from deep inside that I had forgotten existed.
It's funny how most often, we learn these lessons outside of classrooms.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
The magazine focuses on three regions where people live significantly longer lives -- Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California (where Seventh-Day Adventists "rank among America's longevity all-stars").
Common attributes that preserve them all, sans formaldehyde?
- Don't smoke
- Put family first
- Be active every day
- Keep socially engaged
- Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
If you are an adventist, you also eat nuts and beans, observe the Sabbath, and have faith.
Sardinians drink red wine (in moderation), share the work burden with spouse, and eat pecorino cheese (and other omega-3 foods).
Okinawans keep lifelong friends, eat small portions, and find purpose.
So, what you're saying here is the fact that people tire of me after a few weeks, I live a heathen, purposeless existence, and I force my future spouse to wait on me hand and foot doesn't bode well for my future? Damn.
From a story ("Traffic stopper", an interview with former Miss World Diana Hayden) in the Nov 9 issue of Femina:
Femina: What's one of the nicest things you've ever heard about yourself?
Diana Hayden: I met Bill Clinton five years back at the White House. And the most amazing part was that when I met him recently at Lucknow, he remembered me. And his exact words were 'How can a man forget such a beautiful face!' That's the sweetest thing I've ever heard.
I bet Hilary was thrilled to read that.
Also: I know Femina is no bastion of women's empowerment, but why must the nicest thing this woman's ever heard be about her appearance? Sigh.
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Monday, November 7, 2005
Take, for example, this blurb in the Nov 7 issue of Outlook:
In its latest consumer goods ratings, The Ahmedabad-based CERC Insight magazine has named Amul cheese as the best in price, quality and protein and calcium content. Britannia tops in pizza cheese and Verka in blocks. What's worrisome though is that all products were uniformly found to have three to four times the acceptable (global) norms of sodium content -- more than declared on the packs. For adults, it's definitely not a time to say cheese.
Now, it might just be me, but Amul cheese is hot buttered ass. Not tasty. Not even close to tasty.
I'm not advocating that all Indians should buy imported cheese -- like the delectable goudas and havartis and cheddars and smoked something-or-others you can buy in more luxe markets of the cities. But...maybe cheese isn't just India's thing. Paneer is good. Stick to paneer. Don't try and pass off some canned white pasty stuff...or plasticky, individually wrapped slices...as the real McCoy.
In case they are difficult to make out, these ads include copy such as:
"Fun Tertainment with Magic Tronics!"
"Blink Your Eyes Elephant Vanishes"
"Never seen before They say who 'have seen' such Magic in Magic"
"World's Fastest Magician Who Flies Like a Butterfly"
And, a parting shot, a great painting of what is presumably one of Anand's tricks.
I've titled a Flickr set "Jesus Mobiles" and devoted it to all the manifestations our OUR LORD that can be viewed on local transportation. Enjoy some of my first images!
And oh yeah, lest it seems I am mocking these manifestations of the holy -- think again. I have an affinity for the quirky, as you must know, and I find these appropriations a particularly earnest way of affirming one's faith. Whereas in the west some might consider this practice idolatrous, it is my interpretation (generally following in the vein of Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, a book on Hindu religious iconography by Diana L. Eck) that this is merely indicative of the importance placed upon image as essential to paying tribute to the god or gods, "or the visual perception of the sacred". Eck adds, "Beholding the image is an act of worship, and through the eyes one gains the blessings of the divine."
Not being a scholar of the Hindu religion, I can't affirm or disavow this interpretation, but Eck's book has encouraged me to explore religious iconography in India. And, in this "globalizing" (whatever) world, it's interesting to see how a tradition is adapted to modern technology.
Friday, November 4, 2005
I don't know what else to say. I'm, um, packing up my life (which consists of one suitcase, a red Samsonite 24-incher, and a black Samsonite rolling carry on) and trying not to get lachrymose, because honestly, the move is the best thing for me.
Relocating from small-town South India to bustling Delhi. Moving is vaguely media-related, but that's all you'll get out of me. For now.
In the past two years, I've shifted residences about 10 times. I travel light, and my emotional baggage is much more difficult to heave than the leaden luggage full of knitting supplies, basic cotton clothes, and a stockpile of DVDs (my current favorite: The Tick, Season 1).
It's all kind of getting to me.
That's right, now you, the scootering public, can harness the power of canine! It's called the Dog Powered Scooter, and it's totally hot.
The company claims, "Makes dog mushing available to any dog, any owner, any place, any season, because the rider steers the dog....Enjoy the new sport of Urban Dog Mushing."
Why a dog would want a harness system available to him is beyond me, though. And -- did I miss something? Urban Dog Mushing is the new black?
For a scooter and the harness ("the basic single dog system"), you're looking at $500.
What makes this even better is the wacky guy behind the venture is from my home state. Goooooo Oregon!
Thursday, November 3, 2005
Interesting BBC story on the phenomenon of Emami Industries' new fairness cream for men, Fair and Handsome.
Apart from the ludicrousness of the ad campaign ("The efficiency of this cream has been dermatologically tested on Indian male skin!" "This wonder molecule peptide works on the collagen structure of male skin and dramatically improves skin texture and fairness in just 4 weeks."), I am saddened by the way middle-class India seems to have embraced this need for cosmetic improvement.
"The advert for the male cream shows a dark-skinned college boy relegated to the back seat and ignored by the girls until he uses the product. Soon enough, his complexion lightens and girls flock to him like moths to a flame," journalist Monica Chadha writes.
American freelancer Mike McPhate's story in the Philadelphia Inquirer is a nice glossing of the history of fairness.
The gora/firangi perspective? Hey, of course I'm aware of this phenomenon -- I am beyond pale, with my ancestors originally rooting around Ireland and Germany -- and friends here often counsel me to do something about my freckles, which I've always assumed has something to do with the dark wash sprinkled across my otherwise porcelain skin.
Beyond the mere ethos that surrounds the issue, it's personal for me. I am the epitome of "Fair and Lovely", some would say, and I feel anything but. Mostly, I feel a little caught -- at once assumed to be in some way wealthy or powerful and, on the other hand, symbolic of a rather ugly part of India's past, my white skin does me no favors. Why would anyone want to live up to this ideal?
In a way, I'm fiendishly pleased that men now are subjected to the same torture as women in terms of pressure to be fair, but...wouldn't it be nicer if no one had to conform to these standards at all?
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
On anxiety over outsourcing:
"The total number of workers in all possible forms of IT-related jobs in India comes to less than a million workers – one-quarter of one percent of the Indian labor force. For all its Nobel Prizes and brilliant scholars and professionals, India is the largest single-country contributor to the pool of illiterate people in the world. Lifting them out of poverty and dead-end menial jobs will remain a Herculean task for decades to come."
And on the whole:
"We should not lose our sense of proportion in thinking about the rise of China and India. While adjusting its economies to the new reality and utilizing the new opportunities, the West should not overlook the enormity of the economic gap that exists between it and those two countries (particularly India). There are many severe pitfalls and roadblocks which they have to overcome in the near future, before they can become significant players in the international economic scene on a sustained basis."
I love me some India, but living here has driven home these lessons. Although a certain number of people, primarily in large cities, can afford to live in Western opulence, the subcontinent is more -- nay, much more -- than a conglomeration of sprawling metropolises. Mahatma Gandhi once said that the heart of India is in its villages; it would be wise not to discount the majority of Indians who live outside the bounds of Westernised, homogenised city centres. I can't predict the future, and I don't know enough about economics to formulate insightful opinions about India's chances of becoming a proto-America. But I do know that the myths surrounding India in the US hardly stand up to reality here.
And what makes this even more special, perhaps, is the way it can be personalized. Individuals donate through PayPal, but the money doesn't go to a nameless, faceless person. Rather, the lender can receive regular updates from the people whom they are benefiting.
This last piece, of course, sounds an alert in my head. It's all very sanguine and nice, but how do you REALLY know that these are real people and not a corporation's creation? I mean, really -- how many villagers in Africa are literate enough in English to dispatch weekly mail to a donor? Skepticism, perhaps, and maybe even hubris (who is to say that English is that hard to master), but nonetheless this seems a little far-fetched.
There's a caveat -- if the business can't repay the loan, your loan becomes a gift. But the site assures us that thus far, no loan has defaulted.
Quite interesting, and well worth some consideration. It appears to only be engaged in Uganda right now, but there seems to be a great potential here for change.
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
From the Nov. 6 issue of The Week:
Passion for rape
Thiruvananthapuram: Actors who play the role of villians often lament of their plight of being rapists on screen. Rajan P. Dev, a leading villain in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu movies, is an exception. Rajan regrets that he hasn't done a single rape scene. Meera Jasmine, Bhavana, Kavya Madhavan, Gopika and Padmapriya are on his list of favourite actors that he would like to assault on screen. Any takers?
So, I'll try and calm my feminist outrage for a second. From a purely journalistic standpoint, this is handled poorly. If one is going to make this objectionable claim, you do owe it to the actor to at least explain why he has this proclivity. Does he usually play puffy roles and now would like to stretch himself as an actor? Or is he just a sadist?
Furthermore, naming the women he would like to "rape" is...god. I don't like using the term "objectification", but there's no other word for this.
I wonder how editors allowed this to be printed without clarifying what the hell it really means.