Friday, May 16, 2014

Heading (or Leaving?) Home!

     Today is the first day back in the good ol' USA and I am feeling a bit strange, but otherwise just plain old tired, from the jet lag that is. After about seventeen hours on three different airplanes, and another 8 hours in a combination of buses and a ferry, not to mention the handful of hours spent in layover time, I stumbled home at around 9 o'clock last night, and felt right asleep after a nice big bowl of pasta and my mom's homemade tomato sauce. 
      After going to the eye doctor this morning I noticed a lot of differences in my feelings and experiences. There are a ton less people on the streets of Staten Island, mostly because there are so many less people period on Staten Island. There is a ton of space in-between houses, and in general. The streets are much wider than in Pune, and there is a lot more greenery everywhere. While Pune has its spots of greenery, almost everywhere you turn there is greenery on "the Island" as many locals affectionately call it. And, the air is a lot cleaner, as are the streets. I realised I missed my hometown  a bit, or at least the scenery. While Pune, and India were marvellously wonderful experiences in and of themselves, I think one of the biggest take aways I feel right now is the perspective shift I gained. I felt it today, and I even felt it last night.
     Last night on the ferry there was an elderly disabled woman singing to Jesus on the ferry, and when I heard I sang a bar of a common song, and smiled as she sang the rest (I had forgotten the words), and I listened as she sang and sang different things the whole ride. Most everyone else around me either ignored the singing, was completely oblivious to it, made fun of it, or was visibly annoyed by it. All of these reactions hurt me. If I was in India, someone singing to God would be celebrated, but in NYC, it is perceived as "mental illness." Little things, little things like this, give me some pain and make me miss being in India. I rather have less than squeaky clean toilets, no AC, and deal with auto-rickshaw drivers, than be surrounded by people who are hating on a woman of God. 

A Pune Village: Mulchi

     Samuel Parker, a fellow Alliance student in Pune this semester, and I have decided to join together in the documentary film process we embarked on, to create one documentary film together. We have decided to do a film in tribute of the 17 people who lost their lives in the Februaury 2010 in Pune because of the bomb blast at the German Bakery.

     One of the people we were able to contact to help be a part of the film was a frequenter of the bakery before the attack, and was out in Korageon Park, the neighbourhood in which the German Bakery is located, the day of the attack. The said person had lost a friend in the attack and after giving a brief interview for the documentary film, the person invited Samuel and I out for a trip to an NGO founded in the name of the friend lost in the attack.

    Samuel and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we said yes to the invitation. For uncertain yet ultimately unimportant reasons, Samuel found ourselves at a Shiv Sena rally/political protest/ swim in Mulchi, a village outside of Pune, one morning, and stayed there well into the afternoon. After watching as a man swam about ten miles from one side of the hills to another, we learned that the town of Mulchi is still suffering from an almost one hundred year old dam, originally planned and built by the British, which raised water levels, flooding housing, and currently forcing some residents to travel almost an hour just to get to the hospital, or to get to the road to Pune city. We also filmed the events, and were told our film was aided on television.

    My heart goes out to the struggles people in Mulchi have faced for generations. They claim the government has yet to act on a promise to build the bridge that the residents have demanded, from one side of the river the dam made to the other side, potentially saving lives. I hope that the bridge gets built, but it is a 5 million rupee project, so I can only hope.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

(Not so Hindi) Mindi

     Whew! These last few days have been packed with travel, events, and work! New people, new experiences, new insights, and new situations. During the working week, my Alliance program peer and I have been traveling around Pune filming our documentary, and this last weekend only I attended three Hindu ceremonies.

     Two of the ceremonies were thread ceremonies. As an earlier post described, a thread ceremony is a traditional ceremony performed by Brahmins, for seven year old Brahmin men, to mark their transition from one stage of life, childhood, to another stage in life, scholarship. The first thread ceremony I attended this week was that of my tabla instructor's son. There I witnessed rituals I didn't quite understand at the time, and was given a handful of uncooked rice at one point and told to throw it at my tabla instructor's son, which I did. I also met Pria, a host mother to another group of young American woman in the Alliance program this semester, as well as Pria's father. Pria's father and I got to chatting and I learned that the practice of actually sending male children to a teacher's house stopped "a thousand" years ago, but the day long family gathering ritual remains.

       The second thread ceremony I attended this week was that of my host mother's sister's daughter's son. I know that relation may seem like a mouthful, so I will give you some time to think if over as you look at this lovely photo I snapped of myself:

Me, a young woman with long dark brown hair, 
smiling, with an Arabic Mindi on the back 
of my left hand.

This photo was taken a day before my host family's thread ceremony. The night before the photo, my host family threw a dinner party, with music, dancing, mindi, and bangle selections, and pani puri. Pani puri is a wonderful dish, which consists of small hard flour balls being pricked with a hole and filled with water, spices, lentils, and marvellousness. Mindi, also known as henna, is actually mind flower paste applied artistically to the body, most commonly the hands and the feet. There are different styles of mind designs. At my host family's thread ceremony I learned that the cloth ritual, where the father and son are covered in a cloth involves the passing of a scared knowledge sun mantra from father to son. Upon this ritual's closing the son is expected to repeat this mantra twice daily, at sunrise and sunset. Needless to say amazing food and interesting conversation ensued for the rest of the day. The ceremonies ended with a bang, dinner and various dance, comedy, and song performances by the children who attended the event.

     The third ceremony I attended this week was Uttaraa's (the director of the Alliance program) mother's one thousand moons ceremony, which marks eighty years of her life. It was a beautiful ceremony that I am very grateful to have attended. I was also grateful for the occasional pauses and English explanations of the rituals. One involved weighing the star of the night on a giant balance beam with bags of rice, to demonstrate her pricelessness. Another involved group meditating on the infinite. Sweets were involved as well, and everyone got a bag of almonds and raisins at the end. At this ceremony  through conversation with a friend of Uttaraa I learned that there are two common designs in mindi in India, one Arabic, the other Hindi, and I had gotten the Arabic design. Considering the long and influential Mughal regime in India, I was pleased with this knowledge. Overall, the ceremony celebrated Uttaraa's mother's life, her strength, her longevity, and her knowledge, she has a PhD in a Hindu scripture; and it was truly touchingly beautiful.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Marathi Mother

     "Aee" pronounced "a" as in banana and "ee" as is "tea" means mother in Marathi, the local language of many Indian people in the state of Maharashtra, the state in which I have resided the last few months. When my roommate and I first met our host mother, three months or so ago, the first thing we asked was what we may address her as, and she replied, "Aee." At the time, this seemed sweet, even endearing, but I had no idea how much it would come to mean in a few months.
    It was not until I called out "Aye," how I had been addressing my host mother out of misunderstanding how to pronounce the Marathi word for mother, one day from the street, up to the window of the flat, to try to get my host mother's attention, and two young men passing by snickered over my act, that I thought to ask my host mother about the word "Aye." After I get upstairs and inside the apartment and relate the events to my host mother, she smiles. "Aye," she tells me, is not the Marathi word for mother, it actually means nurse-servant, one who works as a servant in hospitals. Things began making sense, like why my host mother's family also had a little giggle when I called my host mother "Aye." Feeling at first horrible that I was mistakenly insulting my host mother, my roommate, and later me too, got a good laugh out of the whole scenario.My host mother, told me to not worry, because she said that the pronunciation didn't matter, it was only the love between us that matter. Because she felt that the love was there, she never corrected me.
    And, because I love her, I now proudly call my host mother, my "Aee."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Trash Disposal in Pune: What a Pile of Rubbish!

     In the three months or so I have inhabited Pune, I have experienced nothing but wonderfulness, expect in one (or maybe two, if I count air pollution, mostly a result of a fun fact: Pune is the city with the most two wheelers- scooters and motorcycles- in the world) regard(s): the trash. In Pune, as in some other cities in India, trash disposal, collection, and processing is an infrastructural challenge, partly due to corruption.
     Most all residents and restaurants of Pune have separate bins for "wet" and "dry" waste, or organic and non-organic waste, and most Puneites do separate their trash. Yet the insufficiency of the city's trash processing plant, which was designed to process about ten times more garbage than it is currently processing, according to an article in The Times of India, has led to the common practice of burning trash in the streets.
      To my dismay, but to the numerous stray dogs' delight, trash is piled into overflowing dumpsters and left to sit around the city. The city employs people to sweep the streets and to sort through this build up of trash. These city workers and other citizens can be found collecting leaves, and piling them onto small mounds of trash, to set ablaze every morning. Not only is this a health hazard, as the burning of plastics release harmful toxins into the air, but it also worsens air pollution as well, further taxing the environment. Yet, if it wasn't done trash would surely overwhelm the streets, since the trash processing plant isn't serving the needs of the city. While I see this trash disposal method as problematic, I can appreciate citizens' need to take disposal into their own hands. I just wish a healthier solution can be found, for the people of the city's health.

A recently added trash can along the walking
 park of a jogging track nearby Gokhale Insitute.

Monday, April 14, 2014

India's 2014 Elections

     This coming Thursday, April 17, 2014, elections for the Indian Union Government will be held in Pune, and so thousands will votes. This election year has created quite a buzz in India and abroad. Narenda Modi, one of the prime minister candidates, has been the center of much of the commotion. As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, the candidate of what is considered by some to be a right wing Hindu nationalist party, and what is the second biggest party next to the Indian National Congress Party (INC), Modi has gotten a lot of media attention. Many Indians, especially many youth see Modi and the BJP as the change they and India has been looking for.

   The Indian National Congress has been in power for over ten years, and many Indians struggle with issues like child malnutrition, lack of safe drinking water, unemployment, and corruption, which is not INC's doing, but inherent to Indian politics. The BJP has been campaigning on a platform of change, one of the biggest parts of that change being Modi's Gujarat Model of Growth. As the chief minister of Gujarat Modi has facilitated infrastructural growth in Gujarat, but some critics are weary that an economic model that works for one state of India will work for the entire country, given the huge differences in the dynamics of each of the states.

    With promises of jobs, industry, better roads, electricity, drinking water, "empowered" women and citizens, regardless of caste or creed, Modi has won the liking of many Indian youth, to which he has campaigned strongly. Yet, when I talk to college age, middle class Indians who say they will vote for Modi, they, like Modi's campaigners, overlook, if not outright disregard, the Gujarati riots of 2002, during which Modi did nothing to stop communal violence and mass murder and rape between the Muslimi and Hindu communities of the stage.

    So, with the elections coming up, and with Modi's and the BJP's success looking good- though one can never really say- we all wonder, who will win, and what will it mean for India?

For those interested, take a peek at Modi's, I mean the BJP's offical website:

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Mysterious Rash: Part 2

     Desperate indeed I was. Handling things well, I wasn't outwardly showing my discomfort, so much so that most everyone in the program commented on how happy I was despite my condition. One evening, I vomited  and missed the next day's classes to recover. So, it was at the point where Uttarra (the program director) had to intervene, for her sake as much as for mine. She suggested a homeopathetic doctor. I was willing to say yes to anything, so later that day I went to the doctor. He laughed over how simple my situation was: I had acidity. All I needed to do was take two pills four times a day, another two pills twice a day, and drink a glass of water twice a day with ten drops of some medicine in it. Easy enough, right?

     If only. Not only can I not touch any of these medicines, I must put them in the cap and use that to swallow them, but after a week of them my conditions were the same. At this point Uttarra also suggested I change my diet again and so I began packing lunch again, to no avail.

   Then, a professor noticed my plight and suggested kokam. We all sat in Uttarra's office and talked about home remedies of tulsi seeds and kokam and rose leaf jam. I would drink kokam sherbets and apply dried kokam, soaked in water for a few minutes, to my rash, and drink tulsi seeds soaked in water overnight every morning inside a glass of milk, and eat a spoon full of the rose jam every morning, to cool my body down, because both the rash and the diarrhea are a result of too much body heat. I learned from the professor that according to Ayurvedic medicine there are different types of body compositions and I am a pitta person, a heat based person. The summer heat which has increased dramatically these last three weeks combined with spicy food intake has irritated my body and given the rash and stomach problems, or the acidity. Kokam, a fruit, and tulsi leaves, plant leaves, combined with buttermilk and ice cream will cool my body down. I was thrilled to hear the answer I was looking for was ice cream (among other things of course).

     And it worked! As of this last week without medicine, and just now with a glass of kokam sherbet and a glass of buttermilk I have no more rash and no more stomach problems! Home remedies were all that I needed. This meshed well with my long held distrust and dislike of pills and of the medical industrial complex, which is a whole other story. To leave it like this: now I am itch free, pill free, and hap-hap-happy.