Sunday, June 21, 2009

Indian Wedding Kanpur Style

While in Delhi I took a side trip to the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. There I attended a wedding with Priya and her family. A family friend was getting married. The wedding was traditional Indian, taking place outside on a very large lawn, with the bride and groom decked out in traditional dress. Here we all are at the wedding: Priya, her grandmother, me, her grandfather, and her mother.
When you first entered the wedding there was a water fountain with pink water:
The bride and groom stood on top of a podium/small stage that rotated (like a turn table) so that everyone could see them while a video camera on a crane taped them from above. See the video camera in the first photo and notice how the bride and groom are facing different directions in each picture because of the turning platform.
There was tons of food at the wedding including buffets of Punjabi, Rajasthani, home style, normal wedding food (dal, subzi jalfrazi etc.), Chinese, and cold salads, along with meethis (sweets), ice creams including Kolfi (traditional Indian ice cream), different types of milk (plain, with saffron), breads (nan, roti) and a pasta bar!
Priya's mother estimates that there were 5,000 people at the wedding!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Delhi and the FRRO

I flew back to Delhi earlier this month to see friends and colleagues and to extend my Indian research visa for about 6 weeks until the end of my grant date (Aug 3rd). Always an intense experience of standing in long lines and being told you have the wrong paper work, the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) could very well be bureaucracy hell on earth or heaven if you like bureaucracy.

I went to the FRRO with another Fulbrighter, Claire, who also had to renew her visa. When going to the FRRO, two is always better then one. After waiting inline for about 2.5 hours the doors to the FRRO were open and we were allowed inside. The first line was to collect our visa extention forms, clare got hers but I was denied one because my proof of Indian address was not sufficent. I was told I would have to go back to the Fulbright office to get a better letter. I showed him lots of paper work about my residency but it was of no use. So I went to the women "in charge" literally there is a sign over her desk that says "in charge." I asked her about what was wrong with my current paperwork and what I needed to be changed. She looked at everything and told me that I needed a more specific letter of residency from the Fulbright and that I was at the wrong place anyway because Fulbright researchers were suppose to extend their visa's at the Department of Home Affairs. This was news to me, and to Claire. We were told to sit a wait a bit, as the woman in charge contacted the Department of Home Affairs, which was not picking up the phone. So we waited... in the mean time I tried to deal with the residency documents and called the Fulbright office who asked for a fax number and faxed a new letter with the currect info. I then showed it to the man behind the forms counter and he nodded and gave me the form (yeah!). 5 minutes later the power went out, and no more fax machine, so that was very lucky. And we continued waiting... So Claire called the Fulbright office to ask about this whole Department of Home Affairs deal, they said that was not true, we needed to extend our visas at the FRRO and told us to put them on the phone with the woman in charge. So we did, and we don't know what was said but then the woman in charge waved us through to the next line where they stamp your visa etc. While there we waited while the power went out again and computers were rebooted. Then a light had to be changed over the desk of the man entering our visa extentions into the computer, so we had to wait as a maintenance man stood on the desk and put in a new light. While we waited the man stamping our visas discovered our knowledge of Hindi and told us about the crazy Taliban (Afghans) in the line next to us and why he liked America for fighting them and thought we should study politics. We just said yes and agreed with everything he said, since he was holding our passports. Finally after being assigned a visa extention number and getting our passports and residency booklets stamped, the man turned to another behind the desk and asked how much a research visa extention is. The man replayed 3500 rupees but you can always charge more. To which Claire replied its 3500 isnt it (in Hindi). Then we went back the the woman in charge who crossed out the 3500 written on our forms and wrote 3720 and told us to go the the "cash counter" to pay. Which we did, then back to her where she took our paperwork and signed over the new stamps in our passports and residency booklets. We were done, 6 hours later. Hugging and cheering insued.

Next: I attened a wedding in Kanpur a small city in Uttar Pradesh with my friend Priya and her family.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Saving the Planet... Indian Style

Anyone who has been to India has seen the trash littered streets, even parts of my hike to the Valley of Flowers seemed to be trash piles, but there are some very interesting things Indians do, that help the environment. Although many of these practices could be attributed to necessity, as oppose to altruism to the earth, people in other countries can still learn from them as all of us battle climate change.
1) The bucket shower- a normal (spray shower) wastes a lot of water, most Indians take a shower by filling a large bucket and then taking a smaller bucket/cup with a handle, dipping that in to the water in the bucket and then pouring it on themselves. You save a lot of water this way- when you lather up with soup, no water is being wasted, and when its 95 degrees out there is nothing nicer then dumping cold water on your head. India has many water issues, and water shortages are not uncommon, so while the bucket shower saves water for the environment, it also means you have more water for other things. Now if people would stop washing their cars everyday...
2) Soda in reusable glass bottles. Most sodas in India served by restaurants or road side stands come in glass bottles. You are given a cup or a straw to drink from (some people just drink from the bottle Indian style without the bottle touching your lips), and when you are finished, you give the bottle back. When a new order of soda comes in the old (used bottles) are given back, they are taken to the plant and re-filled etc. This means less plastic bottles are used, although you can buy sodas and drinks in plastic bottles (and they are becoming more prevalent) but they are more expensive. The downside is that you cannot take the bottles to go. Store owners are very unwilling to part with their glass bottles because then they have one less bottle of soda to sell on a daily basis.
3) Lunch breaks in offices means a lunch break for the air conditioner too. A lot of offices turn off their air conditioners during the office lunch break (usually from 1:00 to 2:00). This saves electricity for an hour and encourages employees to take this time off to (to eat and take a break).
4) Mass transit is what most people take in Bombay. A Bombay commuter train (think NYC subway) can fit 6000 people per train in what is called a "super crush load."
5) Hello Scooties- Scooters are a big form of transport, if you cannot afford a car or if you want to cut your commute in half by weaving around cars and traffic jams then you can save gas and use a scooter (some are even electric). In fact, many families travel on scooters, one kid in the front, the father, then the mother in the back holding the baby. Although most Indians would love to own a car, not everyone can and a scooter is a good answer. Also many women are learning to drive scooters (often called scooties) and are becoming more independent by doing so. There are specific scooty models marketed towards women.

These are just some of the interesting things going on in India that save energy and resources and maybe can be used (built upon) to help stop climate change.