Thursday, October 30, 2008


As another Diwali (the Hindu festival of light, that celebrates Ram's return to Ayodhya from exile) passes us by, I sit here and contemplate the large number of meethi (Indian sweets) eaten, the dias (small candles) burned around all the houses (some having been replaced by electric "Christmas-like" lights), the poojas (prayers) to Ganesha and Luxmi (for good luck, good travels, and success), the fireworks set off filling the air with a lot of smoke that made my eyes burn, the wonderful company of my wonderful friend Priya, her grandparents and her aunt and uncle, and good food and drink, I cannot help but miss my own family get togethers and events. As it is though, I could not have had a better Diwali, with better people.
It was too fun, and included some great wine provided by Priya's aunt and uncle. I got to watch Priya's cousins light up the sky and make a lot of noise lighting fire crackers. I even helped Priya and her grandparents set up and do pooja. It was great having a "home for Diwali and it was a great home to be a part of.
Diwali lights put up by my neighbor.

The dias (traditional small Diwali candles) Priya and I set up around her apartment in Noida, a satellite city of Delhi.
More Dias!
The pooja thali (plate) Priya set up. See the little statues of Genesha and Luxmi with the thali infront.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sick in Delhi

So despite big plans for this week (Photo shoot with an ad agency, Diwali shopping) I got sick with a flu like ailment instead, and the only place outside of the house that I visited was the Doctor, oh wait then I went to the Chemist (Pharmacist). Other than that I spent a lot of time in bed, caught up on my bad movies I have been "wanted to see on TV list" -Tuck Everlasting, Man in the Iron Mask, When Harry met Sally- well actually the last one was good. Tried to get myself to eat things despite being on some antibiotic that seems to be doubling as an appetite suppressant and generally roomed around the house with a fever being a little out of it.
Although I am feeling much better now, I am still a bit weak and not really eating (last day of antibiotics).
It all started out well on Monday, but on Tuesday morning I woke up with a fever and it was downhill from there. So I went to the doctor Tuesday evening, she was very nice and took my temperature (somewhere between 100 and 101), and looked into my mouth, felt my throat and stomach, and decided that I did not have Dengue (yeah!) but some flu thing. She wrote down, on a piece of paper, a whole bunch of medications I needed to take and how much each day, and then said to call her in two days. I then went to the Chemist and got my medications (no referrals needed in India, you can literally walk into a chemist shop and get a shot or anything else). After that I went home, tried to eat some soup (which decided it did not want to stay in my stomach about a half hour later) and then went to bed. I spent the next three days at home doing the sleep/bad movie thing. So much for all my plans but I guess getting sick never comes at a good time. In any case it was the cheapest week ever! Because I did not go anywhere or do anything or eat that much.
This coming week is Diwali so there are going to hopefully be some great fireworks, good food, and fun.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pardada Pardadi- Or Village and School Life for a Day

This Saturday, Michele, our friend Dave, his friend Leslie, and I, took a car to an NGO, Dave's wife Jenny has been working for and with. The NGO is called Pardada-Pardadi and it runs a school for girls in Anupshah, a small village in Uttar Pradesh. The village is about 3 hours from Delhi on poorly paved roads. It took us 4.5 hours to get back because of terrible traffic! But that is at the end of this journey. First we got up at 5:30 to get to Daves house by 6:45am. Then we went to the school and village. At the school we were greeted with garlands (flower necklaces) and showered with flower petals, of course these really were not for us. They were for two other visitors, one of which was the head of Xerox in India, who had facilitated large donations from Xerox and from themselves to the school and NGO. We had come to represent Jenny (Dave's wife) who is in the US with two of the students from Pardada-Pardadi. But it was a nice welcome anyway. We then got a tour of the school led by some of the 10th grade students, who were practicing their English, when I was trying to practice my Hindi (so conversation was a little funny), but they seemed to appreciate my Hindi practice, and my knowledge of Hindi, since no one else in our group said anything in Hindi.
We then watched many of the students put on a performance with different cultural dances, and listened to the principle of the school, and its founder, named Sam, talk about the schools mission and goals. The school provides the girls with academic classes, vocational training (sowing, embroidery etc.), three meals a day, and 10 rupees deposited in their own bank account for everyday they attend school- this money is only accessible after they graduate and get married or turn 18. The money is to help them start their own business or job and support their family. As well as to make them independent and self sufficient, in a country where women are not usually able to take care of themselves.
The food, independence and education are valuable to the family of the girl because the girls get fed, and are better marriage matches with their education, and when they work and leave school they can add to the family income.
After the performance, we went to the schools elementary/primary school, a short drive away, and saw another performance. After which we went to Sam's house in the village. Sam, who founded Pardada-Pardadi, comes from the family that collected the taxes in the area/village for many years, is very wealthy and worked in the US for 40 years before coming back to India and literally putting all of his money towards this NGO. This is an interesting thing to do given the trend of some wealthy Indians giving up their wealth for causes, while others move back to India from abroad to live like kings. In any case at his house we were served an amazing lunch and talked with other people involved in the NGO. We then walked around Sam's village, and met with and talked to the villages. We then took the way to long car ride home.
It was great to get out of Delhi for the day, see an interesting organization, and walk around a village.
Some guys on our road trip back, who were excited to see some white people, and a white woman (me taking their picture). Yeah admirers or sketchy men.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Yum Kippur and Dashara

This week was the Hindu holiday of Dashara, which celebrates the triumph of Ram over Ravan (the 10 headed demon and kidnapper of Sita- Rams wife). Basically Ram kills Ravan and rescues Sita. On Dashara, this "fight" is re-enacted in "Ramlilas" or performances where actors dress up as the characters involved and perform the story. It is also re-enacted through the burning of large effigies of Ravan, his brother, and son. These effigies are large paper machie-like puppets filled with fireworks. In this way, someone "playing Ram" will shoot a arrow (often fire tipped) at the puppets causing the puppet to begin to burn, and then let off the fireworks, making lots of noise, smoke, and fire. There are large performances broadcast on national tv, and smaller ones in individual colonies (neighborhoods). These performances
usually take place right around sundown or 6:20pm- the time that Ravan was supposedly killed

This year was particularly fun because Dashara and Yum Kippur (the Jewish day of Atonement- when Jews fast and go to synagogue to repent for last year's wrongs and have a good new year) fell on the same day. This was exciting because many Hindus had been fasting for at least one of the 9 days leading up to Dashara- these days are called Navratri (literally meaning 9 days). These 9 days celebrated the goddess (Shakti/Devi) and her 9 forms. (Ram supposedly prayed to the goddess during Navratri which gave him the power to defeat Ravan.) Thus when I told people I was fasting they were a little confused about why I had waited to fast until Dashara, when no one else was fasting. It was still fun describing "my holiday" which was on the same day as "their holiday."

I broke my fast with traditional Dashara food: chole (chick peas) and Poori (fried roti-like-bread), supplied by our tiffin service. It was very good but too oily to break your fast with, and it made me a bit nauseous. I miss my bagels, spread, and smoked salmon!

On the other hand, describing traditional Yum Kipper food to my Hindi teacher allowed me to describe the finer points of Jewish cucumber pickle (in Hindi!) and how it is different from Indian pickle (made from hard mangoes- not the ones you get in the US- lemons, and chilies). It was very hard to describe. Indian pickle is spicy, red in color, and not cooling like a good cucumber pickle. In any case, I might have to find a way to get someone to bring a jar of Jewish pickle to my Indian friends here, because now they are all curious to try it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

One Long Week In Delhi

Okay, so yeah, of course India is not easy to live in. Things never work as they are suppose to. You have to bargain with everyone to get a fair price. You have to be ready to take on the world, and some very unpleasant men, the minute you step out the door.

So here are the bad things this week: I had another "short term" cold and felt icky. First there was no water and then the washing machine broke downstairs so I am currently trying to wash jeans by hand -which is difficult- and probably does not work as well. Hopefully next week, it will be back to working order. But for right now- I need pants! Getting autos this week has been particularly difficult. And of course Sarah Palin scares me.

The good things this week: 1) The comments I got about my Hindi. Two Auto-rickshaw-walas, a group of Americans who watched me bargain for an auto and tell one of the auto-walas off for charging too much, and a group of people at Moti's Sweet Shop were I was buying some Indian mathi (sweets) all told me I had great Hindi. I have been working so hard at it and it feels really good to know that my conversation skills are improving.
2) Going to a club with Priya and showing off my Bollywood dancing skills and just having a good time with a good friend. As usual, fun and not too serious dancing was involved and Singh is Kinngh was played. Yeah for clubs that play the latest Bollywood item number right after Bon Jovi.

Somethings only happen in India... and sometimes they are amazing (speaking Hindi, hanging out with amazing people like Priya)... and sometimes they are not (washing pants).