Sunday, April 22, 2007

My 'Ind'cyclopedia

In the Times of India today, Shashi Tharoor introduced an intermittent series, "A glossary of Indianness." Today he highlighted India exemplified by the letter A: for example, Ambassador (car) and Amitabh (star).

Inspired, I decided to take a quick alphabetical stab at how I perceive India.

A: Autowallahs -- they're aggravating, uncouth, and often outlandish, but their buzzing buggies are so typically India that green-and-yellow plastic rickshaws are hot sellers in the tourist trap that is CP
B: Bureaucracy -- wait in a line for four hours to have a simple yes or no question answered, then be openly mocked by the attending counterperson; infuriating and byzantine, and yet, the system (somehow, mostly) works
C: Caste confusion -- a code I can't parse; trying to sort out Yadavs, Patels, Nayyars, and Chatterjees feels like trying to read Ulysses without Cliffs Notes by my side
D: Dilli darshan -- constant exploration of the seven cities; there's always something new to see
E: Excreta -- even in Defence Colony, it's the nalla that defines the sweet smell of succes
F: Family -- the bonds are immutable, at times overwhelming; at times, I envy the uncomplicated allegiance S has to his bawdy clan
G: Gol gappas -- the best street food I've ever encountered, a complete explosion of the senses (sweet, salty, sour, crispy, wet, messy, addictive); so popular, it's inspired a nouveau cocktail including at an upmarket Delhi restaurant, featuring flavored vodka and a Kingfisher chaser
H: Hot hot heat -- when I read Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Heat and Dust, I imagined it was dramatization. I guess this web-footed Oregonian should have watched the Weather Channel before she left the balmy Northwest for the Deccan plain
I: Izzat -- honor is paramount, and crossing the line can lead to some unhonorable consequences
J: Jewels -- rubies, emeralds, pearls, gold, all my wedding ornaments all in a row
K: K serials -- ludicrously overwrought, my co-workers can't seem to stop gossiping about these trashy soaps
L: Love -- I came, I saw, I met my husband!
M: Mystery -- regardless of how long I live here, I suppose there will always be something new to learn, an air of the unknown hanging as thick as the smog around the towering Qutab
N: Natkhat -- possibly my favorite Hindi word in terms of mouth feel, it's also the preferred moniker for my catty-kin
O: Overcrowding -- in a country of more than a billion, it's inevitable that one will sometime feel the crunch; on the bus, on the street, in chaotic lines, at the grocery store, out for dinner, it feels almost decadent to imagine asking for peace, quiet, or personal space
P: Page 3 people -- obnoxious social climbers in bejeweled, overpriced, ostentatious outfits; they're in TOI and HT, and they get lots of free drinks, but conversation begins and ends at dropping clues about how fabulous they are
Q: Qutab -- World Heritage in my backyard, but no one really knows the original purpose of the Qutab's construction -- mosque, watchtower, tower of victory?
R: Railways -- on the Shatabdi or trying to sleep in the dodgy classes on an overnight ride to Faridkot, riding the rails in India provides a glimpse at a broad slice of the subcontinent
S: Shanti -- overwhelming traffic got you down? No one will renew your visa? In laws asking when you're going to produce a son? Shanti, shanti, shanti
T: Touts -- no, I don't want your chess set; no, I don't want a squeaky puppet; I'm not interested in a slithering wooden snake, I have no use for a rudimentary copy of a Mughal miniature, and for god's sake, I don't need any Punjabi suits or cashmere stoles
U: Unbelonging -- no matter how hard I try, I'll never fit in. And that's precisely why it's so wonderful to live here; it pushes me, forces me to confront what I don't like in myself and others, and requires that I actively pursue change
V: Vexatious -- my time here has been high on character building, which is good in the long run, but in the moment? Absolutely frustrating. But, in the words of one of my journalism profs, "Bad for me, good for the story"
W: Weddings -- whether glistening five-star affairs or my own disaster-riddled court ceremony, India certainly is a land of romance
X: X marks the spot -- for a significant slice of India's population, illiteracy is still a plague, and thumbprints count for signatures
Y: Yamuna -- it's a stinking, filthy cess pool that used to be a pristine river; nonetheless, it is (or was) lifeblood for disparate communities -- drum makers, food vendors, families, Hindus, Muslims, and more
Z: Zed -- somewhat sweeter than "zee," adapting to a different ending for the alphabet song is just one of the myriad adjustments in my life in the last few years; once I embraced the Oxford comma, I knew my life would never be the same

2 comments:

Tabula Rasa said...

hi zoey,
long-time lurker stepping out of the shadows here. this is a great list and in general i love your take on things indian and delhi-ite -- it's wonderful to see my home country and city through your eyes.
i'm someone who's spent a few years trying to find their own way in hong kong and the united states, so what you write resonates at many levels. keep posting!

Vivek said...

That should go into a guide book! Very entertaining :)