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January 30, 2004

packed

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go...
Okay, so I left the one I would sing that song to months ago, but still, it is a traveling song and fits my mood.

This past week has been such a whirlwind, another wedding, movies, dancing, interviewing Tibetans and doing other school work, cleaning, packing, eating... and now it all comes to an end. In a few short hours the next part of my learning adventure begins.

I will be boarding the train to Delhi, a short 43 hours later I will be arriving in the capital city, tired, dirty, and overwhelmed. Luckily it looks like two other students will be on the same train though we did not manage to get seats together

I will be in Delhi a few days before another student is joining me. After a some city errands we shall head north as our studies take us - me working on Tibetan culture and Bryan on Tibetan Buddhism.

I am excited and worried and nervous, I have never been north and I hear it is a different world. More crowds, more beggars, more smog, more scam artists, I hope I am prepared. I have gotten so comfortable in Bangalore it has losts its novelty and capacity for fright. However it has given me a good base and I feel comfortable launching my explorations from here. And I will surely look forward to my return in six - seven weeks.

Currently I am too excited looking ahead to think of much else because a well known fact is that I LOVE TRAIN RIDES. The wind in your hair, scenery flying by at a steady 20 - 40 mph (I imagine, I have never actually measured it), nothing to do but read, eat, talk too people, write, think (about writing). What's not to love?

January 25, 2004

clubbing Indians

I went to a club last night.
It was good to stay out late and dance, shaking off the last vestiges of my cold.
Furthermore, none of my companions got embarrassingly drunk and the guest we invited seemed to have a good time.
Packed in like sardines, moving to fast techno accompanied by polyrhythmic drums, I knew I wasn't in Kansas. Most of the faces around me were darker than mine but otherwise it was a typical pleasant experience - only a few lecherous men singled me out. Moving to the music enabled me to lose myself, my whiteness, in a way that is safe and rare.

Then I saw The Couple. I am proud to say they were not American, or at least not obviously so. There they were dancing a little too illicitly on the floor. Plenty of space surrounded them - all their neighbors had turned their backs. I felt embarrassed and wondered if this meant I was truly Indian. I mean they had their clothes on, the way they were dancing isn't uncommon in the U.S., but here it seemed out of place, R rated in a PG 13 world.

When we first arrived in this strange land, we were told not to squat. This is the position Indians usually go to the bathroom in. Therefore if they saw us squatting, it immediately brought to mind some one using the toilet, thus causing a cringe. I could totally relate watching this couple on the dance floor, I cringed, trying not to notice - a difficult task in such a crowded area (when I turned the other direction I faced the wall). Instead I just giggled, and tried to make light of it, then tried to ignore them, feeling thoroughly Indian.

However, when the Bhangra came on, heavy north Indian music, the dancers went wild, moving to rhythms I could barely comprehend, and once again I was reminded what a stranger I am, being pulled by the crowd - to lose myself once more and just enjoy the music.

January 23, 2004

Let's talk about sex

Don't get too excited, it doesn't happen here - sex talk that is. I have been grappling with this cultural difference, unsure of what, if anything I think about it. It seems that not only is premarital sex a taboo, but talking about it is frowned upon as well.
Granted, I have many friends in the states with whom I discuss politics, weather, what we've been doing, and lots of other family friendly topics. However, there are certain circumstances in the U.S. that bring out the raunch in almost all girls, such as when three or more of us are together and there is something to tell. Here this doesn't happen - girl talk is all about familial pressure, school pressure, how to best apply make-up, hair styles, movies, books, cultural nuances, cooking tips, embarrassing stories from the past, music; there is never a shortage of conversation. I am not bothered by this lack of coverage, just mystified.

Now bearing this in mind, let us discuss a different culture that seems to have the same views about this topic: Arabic culture. One friend is dating a man from the middle east and wanted to hook up his friend with our friend. She has been working at this matchmaking for awhile and last night the two potentials finally started talking amongst themselves. The rest of us busied ourselves with our own conversation, giving them the tiniest bit of privacy.
However, after the boys left we discovered our girlfriend was appalled because the potential boyfriend had asked her home, to spend the night!
"He thinks I'm a slut!" She cried, sure that somehow her reputation was ruined.
Trying to get to the bottom of this, our friend called her boyfriend to ask what his friend had been thinking, asking a girl something like that.

It felt like a really strange game of telephone.

The boyfriend felt insulted that we would ever accuse his friend of having such disrepectful thoughts. He insisted that the boy just wanted to get to know the girl better, verbally.

Um, yeah.
To our American minds this seemed ludicrous - when does a boy ever ask you home to talk, alone? It didn't seem to fit in well in the Arabic or Indian world either, where "individual dating" (versus group dating) is strongly discouraged before a couple is engaged.

Thinking about all the cultural differences, and the fact that the man we were discussing seemed to be shy, polite, and respectful during all of the four months we have known him, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. My opinion however, isn't the one that counts.
Looking at the facts and resources available, this is one cultural mystery that may never be solved.

Posted by miriam holsinger on 1/23/04; 11:43:00 AM archived under

January 19, 2004

Code

Ugh, I'be feeding doe tyed, cod I hab a code

Here I am, in Bangalore, city of perfect weather, if a bit too much pollution, and somehow I have managed to get the good old fashioned common cold. Lots of nose blowing going on here in the cyber city of India.

I am lucky though,petit Ann, my roommate, is currently in the hospital due to a nasty kidney infection. I won't relate the horror of her experiences, just say that I hope I never have to be hospitalized in this country.
We were suppose to have a house-warming party last weekend, sadly it had to be postponed a week. Ann is doing better, but we are still hoping she will be welling enough to check herself out in a day or two.

Posted by miriam holsinger on 1/19/04; 3:07:52 PM

January 16, 2004

Dressing Up

There are so many holidays here it makes my head spin. Yesterday was the Hindu new year and Tuesday was an inpromptu holiday when a former cheif minister died. He was quite popular, especially with the lower classes, thus our teachers were worried for our safety. Police were out in mass, just in case the grief stricken decided to riot.

As instructed we stayed in all day. Diya, my host sister came over bringing goodies to play dress up with. It was Ann's first Sari, my second. We barely convinced John to play along and he will surely clobber me when he realizes I've posted this picture. I'll probably never get him into a lungi and kurta again.

January 14, 2004

marriage!

This entry been updated because many of the links to pictures no longer work, so I deleted a lot of the text that referred to them... many apologies, please just use your imagination.

 

Ahhh, Weddings! The glorious union of two people who decide to buck the odds and risk their own identity for the sake of community and family. I must admit being a long time skeptic - it may or may not come from my heritage: three generations of divorce is an intimidating legacy. However, Indian weddings (and marriages) are reported to be a completely different breed so when I was lucky enough to be invited I decided to set aside my personal grudge and see what the hullabaloo is all about. Well one thing leads to another - in a short two weeks I ended up attending not one, but two very different weddings. Most people not familiar with the subcontinent think of India as one big country but in reality it is a myriad of clans, each with its own traditions and rules. Both of these marriages I attended were love matches (not the traditional arranged marriages) and both of them were multi-cultural. It seems globalization affects us on all levels.

Perhaps because it was in the country, perhaps because I was with fabulously warm and friendly people, perhaps because it wasn't exactly traditional, for whatever reason, I had a great time - despite my own personal feelings about marriage. The bride was not Indian so only ten of her relatives were able to attend, which made the celebration untraditionally small and I wasn't the only non-Indian.

We boarded the bus early, the car had been sent with some family two days earlier, loaded with chocolates, clothes, and who knows what else, so we didn't need to bring a lot on the bus. Six hours later, around noon, we thankfully left the bus and inhaled some delicious fresh air.

The place we arrived at was the homeland of the groom and was lush and green with lovely flowering trees.

I had imagined that during the two days of wedding we would be busy getting dressed and meeting an greeting people and attending lots of rites that happen making the wedding last more than the one day, or even several hours that Christian style weddings seem to call for.

It was much more relaxing. So the first night we helped with setting the food out and feeding the elders, and were allowed to just wear jeans and sweaters. Granted I still felt underdressed since my jeans are very old, worn and fit me only in loosest sense. I have learned that when Indians say jeans are okay to wear, black slacks are a better idea. Too bad I didn't bring any.

But my host family's extended family was marvelous and I soon felt fine, despite my attire. In fact, I soon forgot I wasn't Indian. So after napping and relaxing all day the first night wasn't too stressful. Sort of like a pre-reception where all the relatives get to see each other, the bride and groom, and (of course) eat a lot. In fact, as far as I can tell weddings are really an excuse to gain weight. First we had snacks from eight to ten p.m. and then dinner from ten to eleven p.m. After dinner was dancing; a good way to help work off some of those snacks.

The pre-reception thing was small and by midnight there weren't too many folks left.

After sleeping in (looking back it seems most of what we did that weekend was eat and sleep), bathing and getting ready we went to see where the official wedding part of the wedding.

We waited and greeted people. Normally the bride's family takes care of the details but since the bride wasn't from India, they weren't always able to stick to tradition so things like food, flowers, and other decorations varied a bit from other weddings in style. For example, the bride didn't have the traditional Henna designs on her hands because this would typically be done by her close relatives or friends. There is a traditional henna pattern, with a mango leaf shape in the center but now days sometimes people also do their own creations. is the photo after we all got dolled up.

Finally the wedding started, beginning with the tradition of the Bride's mother putting a symbolic necklace on her daughter. Then there is a procession to the wedding stage, complete with live music, which sounded to me something like a band falling down a stairs - but I have a very poor musical ear. I didn't get a recording but there were lots of big curved horns

Cheers to the groom and bride

They arrive on stage, sit on small stools and say vows to each other. There is no preacher. Then the whole family lines up to give gifts. Since weddings tend to be expensive, gifts are usually cash, anonymous, in a pretty envelope. The person giving the gift also showers rice on the bride and groom three times and gives blessings. At some weddings there are so many people that the lucky couple can be up to their knees in rice by the end of the blessings. Somewhere in there the newlyweds also have to ask blessings of all the elders. This too can take hours and is difficult physically this traditional blessing is achieved by touching the tops of the blesser's feet then bring your hands up to your chest three times - not exactly good for your back. At last the new couple tries to leave the stage but one of the groom's male relatives tries to stop them, asking the bride what happened - she was suppose to marry him and now she was running off with his relative - basically giving them a hard time. The groom has to buy him off enabling them to leave the stage.

After these festivities there was a break, more food and in a traditional wedding there would be a ganga (water) puja (prayer thingy). In this ritual the new wife is suppose to take water from the well and bring it to the altar. A simple task made more complicated by the fact that she is supposed to balance this water on her head and the groom's male relatives (again) get in her way. This time they dance in front of her, preventing her from reaching the altar. Apparently this can go on for hours and the dancing can get kind of dirty. The bride at this wedding said she wasn't comfortable with this, even though the groom's family promised to be good. I've heard that that usually brides will carry a hat pin with them and if the dancer gets too close she will prick him, making him jump back, allowing her a few steps forward.

So I missed out on that stuff. Instead we reconvened for more food and dancing. We wore jeans and sweaters again. The next day we headed back early, as some of the family had another wedding to attend that night.

My next wedding was also only half Indian, the bride was Chilean. I missed the actual ceremony for this one, but it seemed simpler. There were lots of flowers, lots of food, but no dancing.

January 12, 2004

Culture

The longer I am here the more I enjoy it. My friend Edurne,who studied at the SAC a few years ago, warned me about this effect. It takes awhile to get settled in. I got so settled in the my host family all but legally adopted me. They took me to two weddings and did countless other things to make me feel part of the family. Diya, the eldest sister, is an artist and did Mehndi on my hands in preparation for the first wedding. This is the ancient art of henna drawing on skin. The bride gets done up to her elbows. Her feet and ankles, sometimes up to her knees, are also decorated. My left hand has the traditional pattern; the center shape is of a mango leaf. My right hand is as original as can be though, all Diya's own creation.

Posted by miriam holsinger on 1/12/04; 1:25:38 PM
Bangalore, India

January 02, 2004

Midnight Coffee Run

Just when you think you know people!
Last night I was invited with my host sisters to go for a midnight coffee run. It was suppose to be an eleven o clock coffee run but somehow things took more time than anticipated. So here I was squooshed in a car the size of a geo metro with six Indians - at least I think they were all Indian. One may be a NRI (Non Resident Indian) as he had a funny accent and talked a bit about Hong Kong or some place in that vicinity.

We fit in somehow, us four girls in the back and three boys in the front. The coffee run turned into an ice cream run, we went to Cornerhouse where my hosts insisted I order something called "Death by Chocolate." If chocolate could kill this would be its atom bomb.

Luckily everyone helped me eat it. And this is another funny thing - these guys were all going against every Indian precept I had learned. They were going out late (my host sisters were quite surprised their dad let them go out like this on the spur of the moment), only one boy was known in common to all, and despite our relative strangeness we all swapped spit by sharing ice cream and spoons. It wasn't anything serious but previously I learned how to drink out of a bottle with out using my mouth because I had heard of the Indian taboo against possibilities of back wash and germs. Yet all this goes out the window. And of course everybody was dressed in jeans or slacks and shirts. We had fun - they teased each other a lot, it seems one boy had a desperate crush on a girl not there that everyone knew and had a low opinion of. He was told he would be destined to die unmarried and a virgin. It was fun to hang out with the gang and ice cream at midnight is always a deliciously naughty idea.

Posted by miriam holsinger on 1/2/04; 6:39:53 PM
Bangalore, India

January 01, 2004

Happy New Year

Out with the old, in with the new.

New Years was a bang, the best in years. Don't ask why, I can only imagine it had something to do with friends. Being such an arbitrary day I don't usually celebrate it with gusto. After all, in my heritage we also have Yom Kippur, the Jewish new year (celebrated a few months ago) and Losar, the Tibetan new year (to be celebrated in February). So who is to say when a year ends and begins?

This year it was just a good excuse to dance, drink too much caffeine, and have a blast. I hope every body else had a wonderful time too. In India they did - I don't think I have ever seen so many smiles on the streets. I could do with out the fire crackers though.

Posted by miriam holsinger on 1/1/04; 6:29:42 PM
Bangalore India