Another Lens

Thoughts and Observations in India

Giving Without Going Broke March 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 1:02 am

Originally published in the March 20 edition of  The Mast.

 

In life we often hold ourselves to one standard while our wallets hold us to another. I personally struggle between the decision to get more bang for my limited buck at WalMart, or to spend my money—invest—in a company that ethically spends my dollar. The harsh reality is that too often in the battle between my money and my values, money wins.


Even during the best of times, giving to causes that matter to me (World Vision, presidential candidates and Meals on Wheels for example) is difficult. And too often during times of economic strain charitable institutions take the hardest hit. However an answer has risen out of the ashes of our economy: ways you can spend money you already intended on spending, or no money at all, that will benefit your causes of choice.


The Breast Cancer Site


The instructions couldn’t be clearer: “Click to give FREE mammograms!” You click and the add revenue generated by the site is given so that one woman gets a free mammogram. Along the top of the page are tabs marked “Hunger,” “Child Health,” “Literacy,” “Rainforest” and “Animal Rescue.” Some give tangible objects. For example the hunger site gives cups of food and the literacy site gives books. Others donate money through their sponsors for habitat protection and healthcare.

 


The sites are easily navigable, and the clicks generate tangible results. In February of this year, for example, the Hunger site generated 4,186,410 clicks, which translated to 4,730,643 cups of food at 263.3 metric tons. Along with the option of simply clicking, the ads along the pages tend to feature free trade handicrafts that either go directly toward the artisans that made them or toward books, healthcare, food, etc. The occasional petition is also sometimes featured at the bottom of the page.


Tom’s Shoes


For every pair of shoes bought at this site, another pair is given to a child in a low-income area. The shoes start at around $44 and go up. The shoes are largely canvas with leather insoles, though vegan options are also offered. The store occasionally partners with other companies that offer the same deal. Right now it’s Element Skateboards, which offer kids free skateboards to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. The site offers other wares such as hats and T-shirts, the proceeds of which also go toward a pair of shoes for a child.


Ten Thousand Villages


Ten Thousand Villages is an online market for fair trade handicrafts from all over the world. An excellent source for gifts such as jewelry and home décor, Ten Thousand Villages works with artisans who might otherwise be unemployed or unable to support their families. Their vision is that “one day all artisans in the developing countries will earn a fair wage, be treated with dignity and respect and be able to live a life of quality.”


Product (RED):

 

Nine companies – American Express, Apple, Converse, Dell, Emporio Armani, Gap, Hallmark, Starbucks and Windows – have partnered with Red in donating up to 50% of the profits from certain, specific items to the global fund to fight AIDS. One Dell (RED) laptop plus Windows Vista, for example, pays for six months of antiretroviral treatments for one person. That’s one mom able to stay alive for her kids, one father able to continue providing for his family. Starbucks and American express offer RED cards that donate a specific dollar amount ($.50) or a percentage of the purchase (1%) respectively to the global fund. The fund largely goes toward treatments, but also funds HIV/AIDS education and other preventative measures.


These are just a few of the options online right now that enable charity in a time when so few of us are able to give. Next time you buy a pair of shoes, make sure someone else gets some. Next time you buy a gift, make sure the craftsperson gets his/her due. So many of us get online every day. Why not bookmark the Breast Cancer Site and add a few extra clicks?

 

If anyone has any other sites similar to the ones above, feel free to comment with a link.

 

The Update February 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 11:20 pm

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was this girl named Jessica who lived happily in Tagore International House, which was a dorm of plenty. It had beds, running water, and internet just as the girl dreamed. Then this cloud of fire and inefficiency came and incinerated the wifi and any hopes the girl had for air conditioning before the land experienced its yearly hell-season of 110 degrees. Furthermore, in her travels, the girl lost her magic memory capturer to an evil thief and could no longer illustrate her experiences to her adoring subjects. Without the magical wifi, the girl has to travel great distances to get to a computer, through dirt and sweat and sun.

 

Will the cloud of fire and ineffeciency ever leave this land? Will Jessica ever get a replacement magical memory capturer? Tune in next time, and we’ll see how the saga will end.

End narrative and switch to reality: The powers that be said one month two weeks ago. I’m betting that it’s longer. I’m aggravated, and skeptical and cynical at this moment, but… we’ll see. Keep coming back just in case a miracle happens and the wifi is installed sooner.

 

OBAMA!!! January 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 11:44 am

It’s a little loud (you may be able to hear Wolf Blitzer in the background in the very echoey room), but other than that,  I think it’s a pretty good first video blog. Enjoy!

 

Sitar!!! January 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 3:29 am

Prepare for an onslaught of awesome like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I’m the owner of a new, cherry sitar with some sort of white mineral inlay (neither me, nor my instrumentally knowledgeable friend know what it is). Anyways, it’s beautiful. I hope to be able to do more than look at it by the time I’m done here, and when that time comes, so will video performances. Eek! And now for pictures:

The fabled sitar. I plan on naming it after I get to know it a little better. I like to think it's a girl, and that we will someday fight the patriarchy with our Awesomeness. She will have an Indian name.

The fabled sitar. I plan on naming it after I get to know it a little better. I like to think it's a girl, and that we will someday fight the musical patriarchy with our Awesomeness. She will have an Indian name.

The detailing with the unknown mineral I mentioned. It's beautiful. You can't really tell from this angle, but the bottom of the sitar is quite huge. It's got some junk in its trunk. It's also the most fragile part.

The detailing with the unknown mineral I mentioned. It's beautiful. You can't really tell from this angle, but the bottom of the sitar is quite huge. It's got some junk in its trunk. It's also the most fragile part. The thing at the bottom appears to be just ornamental. It's a white bird.

Look at all of those knobs. I didn't count on my sitar, but sitars can typically have between 21-23 strings depending on the style, a top set (of six or seven) of playable strings and a bottom set that resonate with the vibration of the top set, creating the unique sitar sound. Each of them is tunable. Yeesh.

Look at all of those knobs. I didn't count on my sitar, but sitars can typically have between 21-23 strings depending on the style, a top set (of six or seven) of playable strings and a bottom set that resonate with the vibration of the top set, creating the unique sitar sound. Each of them is tunable. Yeesh.

Here's some detail of the strings and frets--which you'll notice are concave over the fretboard. Weird. The second set of strings are just barely visable below the frets. You'll also notice that the frets appear to be held down with--among other things--string.

Here's some detail of the strings and frets--which you'll notice are concave over the fretboard. Weird. The second set of strings are just barely visable below the frets. You'll also notice that the frets appear to be held down with--among other things--string.

 

The Bridge School January 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 7:10 am

Yesterday and today were dedicated to understanding a social/political problem in India: that of child labor. It’s a big problem here. The poverty is so extreme in rural India that parents send their children off to work to pay off their debts and idle children are easy-picking for landlords looking for a cheap source of labor. Furthermore, pay careful attention to the vagrant children on the streets of any given city when they receive money. They don’t stick it in their pocket. Sometimes they’ll take it to an adult that you thought was just standing arbitrarily by the corner rickshaw. It’s a racket. A lot is being done at the grassroots level in India through various NGOs to change the situation for child workers in India. A big part of this is increasing the definition of child worker to include more than simply children working in horrible conditions (e.g. factories, coal-mines, etc.), but also children working at home (cooking dinner, taking care of the younger siblings, etc.). This has gradually developed into an effort to move children into schools, some of whom are the first generation in their family to ever attend school. Some of the people in these villages haven’t even heard of school.

The M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MVF) goes from village to village, persuading parents and landlords that school is where their children need to be, often working against cultural as well as situational barriers. For instance, Dhalid–or Untouchable–children often face persecution upon reaching the school and no longer want to return. In one instance, they were working with a village that prized its young girls for their innate cotton-picking ability (because of their “nimble” fingers). It was engrained in their culture that little girls were there for cotton-picking. The struggle was persuading them out of that mindset, and making them see school as another possibility. Of course there are the barriers of “without my child’s income, how do I pay that loan?” But that is also worked out within the NGO. MVF also does a lot of work towards empowering the girl students. One problem this NGO faces is children behind for their age. Sometimes, when a child hasn’t been to school before, and he is 10 years old, he can’t be placed in the grade he belongs in because he has to catch up, and it’s embarrassing for the student when he’s placed in a classroom with kids younger than him. Enter Bridge Schools. Bridge Schools are created for children in limbo; they teach each child what he/she needs to know to get into the grade they should be in. This is where we went today.

I had the best time. socialized, ate, and played with these children. They really liked our cameras. I personally feel weird taking pictures of people without their permission (it’s a bit exploitive), but I gave this kid my camera, and he wandered around taking photos. He was awesome. We wrote our names in English and Telugu (they’re learning how to read and write both. And I’ll probably post a picture of my Telugu name either here or on photobucket later.), took loads of photos, and were “prettied up” by the school girls, who took to braiding our hair and applying the bindi (the red dot, indicating your third eye). The white girls wearing neon hotpink lipstick = hilarious. I thankfully got by unscathed.

And now for the cutest little girl in the world:

And some photos (more (much more) on photobucket):

This was the dude. He took excellent care of my camera (though there were a few "where did he go" moments). He's 8, and absolutely one of the most inquisitive, hilarious kids I've met.

This was the dude. He took excellent care of my camera (though there were a few "where did he go" moments). He's 8, and absolutely one of the most inquisitive, hilarious kids I've met (excluding my brother).

Literally, I've never had my picture taken so many times in my life, and for those of you who know my dad, that's saying something. Here's just one of many photos of me in the Bridge School.

Literally, I've never had my picture taken so many times in my life, and for those of you who know my dad, that's saying something. Here's just one of many photos of me in the Bridge School.

This little girl was one of two spunky, spicy girls in the group. This is Nick (one of the people studying here with me) helping her with a self-portrait.

This little girl was one of two spunky, spicy girls in the group. This is Nick (one of the people studying here with me) helping her with a self-portrait.

When we first got there, some of the kids didn't know which way to look into the camera to take it. So this kid took a picture of her eye. It was adorable, and kind of indicative of the experience as a whole in the innocence and awe that it shows.

When we first got there, some of the kids didn't know which way to look into the camera to take it. So this kid took a picture of her eye. It was adorable, and kind of indicative of the experience as a whole in the innocence and awe that it conveys.

 

Classes and Other Randomness January 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 9:12 am
Tags: , ,

So, I haven’t posted in about a week, and my excuse has been “I have nothing to talk about.” Today, Mr. Matt Click informed me that that was absolutely ridiculous and proceeded to give a laundry-list of topics, one of which was my classes. I don’t know, it’s not that they’re not interesting, it’s just that I didn’t really think I’d be talking about that when I created my blog. For some reason, I just thought I’d have an endless buffet of intellectual stimuli which I could then unload here. Not so much. I suppose I could talk about the cool things I learn in my classes eventually, but they’re just beginning.

So, in the mean time, a list of courses and their descriptions:

Basic Hindi: I wanted to take conversational, which is more of a rudimentary guide to getting by, viewing Bollywood films and stuff, but it conflicted with my schedule. So, basic Hindi. Hindi is a really cool language, and I’m looking forward to understanding Bollywood films in all their glory. However there are some major differences (for all of my language-nerd friends out there: primarily Kat). Hindi characters represent longer sounds than our Latin alphabet. As in the symbol for ‘M’ makes the sound “Muh” as opposed to our “mmm”. This means that if you’re spelling a name like “Mike” or “Matt” (I tried both), you have to memorize the “shorthand” character for that letter to make it a short sound ‘mmm’. Also, vowel symbols are rarely used in their entire form unless it’s starting a word. Instead, you memorize another symbol that attaches to the previous consonant. Crazy stuff.

Jessica auf Hindi (I don't know how to say "in" in Hindi, so I'm just replacing it with German. Deal.

Jessica auf Hindi (I don't know how to say "in" in Hindi, so I'm just replacing it with German. Deal.

So here we have “Jessica” (my name) in Hindi. The hook attached to a line is the ‘J’. Because my name isn’t “juhsica”, it’s actually a half character, and the line it attaches to is the ‘e’ sound (I think. I actually had help from a fellow student with infinitely more experience. So if an expert Hindi speaker gets on here, please, bare with me.). The ‘2’ attached to a line is the ‘suh’ sound. The line next to that with the little arch going over the horizontal line makes an ‘i’ sound. The really cool line with a loopy thing and an arc (kind of like an ‘h’ with a loop on the left’) makes a ‘kuh’ sound and the line after that is the ‘ah’. Phew.

I’ve always imagined that if I learned a language with a different alphabet, it would definitely be Chinese or Japanese. I’m really interested in both of those languages. And, quite honestly, learning a new alphabet is a lot of work. I don’t know if I’ll be doing it again. I say that now, but the urge to learn Japanese is too overwhelming. Anyways… I know how to say “my name is” and “what’s your name” and “How are you?” and “I’m fine” and “I’m bad”. At least I do when I have my notebook in front of me, which I’m infinitely too lazy to track down right now.

Gay Indian Literature: Eff yes. This class is amazing. I’m really interested in queer culture and sex and gender issues in the states. It’s so interesting to hear it from a different cultural perspective, from a culture where sex is taboo. In the introduction to one of the texts we’re reading, the author (our professor, Hoshang Merchant) says that Hindu culture is a culture of shame, not guilt (as opposed to Christianity and Judaism, for example). This means that while homosexuality is taboo, it goes on in silence. People know it happens, they may even suspect that they know a queer individual (some are even openly so), but it can usually go on unhindered. That’s not to say that hate crimes and badgering don’t happen. That’s sort of changing right now. Merchant quotes Foucault in History of Sexuality in saying “Sex is not modern, talking about it is.” Here, they’re talking about it. Our professor, for example, is an open homosexual (he doesn’t agree with the terms gay and queer, so I’m respecting that in calling him homosexual). He’s actually quite flamboyant. We know things about his sex life, for instance. Now, of course, he’s an academic. He’s in a university and I don’t know how able he is to be openly homosexual on the streets of Hyderabad, for instance. But the fact is that things are changing. Anyways, in this course we read literature (mainly poetry) from gay individuals (not that that’s all it is. It’s good writing from someone who happens to be gay.) and discuss their writing and queer issues in India. Our professor also happens to be hilarious and amazing. The class almost amounts to “The Merchant Show.” He just sits there and tangents into life stories. But it’s a great class.

Cultural History of Modern India: This is a history course in which we discuss history and how it pertains to the current culture of India… I think. I really don’t know what I’m supposed to be getting out of this course at this point, or what it’s about. I just know that, right now, we’re talking about foreign literature written about India by Brits, with lots of terrible stereotypes and assumptions. Fun stuff.

Migration, Diaspora, and Transnationalism: This class is SO INTERESTING. We talk about communities who have settled elsewhere, why they do that, what life is like when they get there… all sorts of fun stuff. Again, it’s within the first two weeks, so I don’t know how this class is going to pan out really.

And I’m also taking cultural classes. I take yoga every morning at 7 a.m. (ugh) and sitar (which I buy tomorrow!) and a class titled “meditation and philosophy”. I came to India totally intending on buying a sitar and taking yoga, but honestly, I’m most excited about that last class. We spend the first 15-25 minutes of an hour meditating, then we read spiritual and philosophical texts and discuss them. Eek!!! (that was my best excited girl squeek, by the way). Only the yoga classes have begun. The other cultural courses are scheduled for next week. I’m so stoked.

Anywho: I have a photobucket account (which isn’t completely updated but whatev). I decided that there are a ton of photos for me to show everyone, and they would take up so much room if I put them all up here. So, here is the link. And I will definitely be blogging about the events around Barack Obama’s (aka: my husband’s) inauguration, and what that’s like in a foreign country (which is, largely, for Obama). So, updates soon!

 

Bollywood, an Introduction January 10, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 8:48 am
Tags: ,
Ghajini, a poster

Ghajini, the poster

Coming to India, I knew there were a few things that I needed to experience. This list included yoga, sitar, chai, and BOLLYWOOD. The Indian film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), christened Bollywood, grosses second only to Hollywood in the world-wide film industry. The Bollywood style distinguishes itself with song and dance numbers, often used to convey an emotion, a la montages in U.S. cinema. The films are often more light-hearted, much more PG, and tend to be more fantastical in their interpretations of reality (to say the least).

Ghajini was my first foray into Indian cinema. An adaptation of the American film Memento, the film follows Sanjay Singhania (played by Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan) through his romance with Kalpana (Asin), until she foils the criminal attempts of Ghajini, who quickly has her killed for her meddling, and gives Sanjay a head injury that gives him severe short term memory. The rest is about Sanjay’s attempts at revenge given this impediment. I haven’t seen Memento (I gave nothing away, by the way. Everyone knows that plot point before the movie even starts), but have heard that this movie is nothing like it, even excluding the song and dance numbers. I also have very little Bollywood to compare it to, as I have yet to see any other Bollywood films. However, I’ve been told that it’s an extremely Westernized Bollywood film. But I’ll give my impressions nonetheless.

It was amazing. By that I do not mean that it was a good movie (it won’t make you think, it wasn’t artful in any way), but instead that it was sheer entertainment. From the first moments of current-day Sanjay’s morning exercise routine (accompanied by over-the-top Latin opera), to the love-struck song-and-dance numbers (complete with pelvic thrusts), everything was over-the-top and just fun. I should also mention that Khan is apparently some sort of sex God here. The moment his face hit the screen, the people in the theater cheered. This was repeated tenfold when he first took his shirt off. Hilarious. There’s one song in particular that I can’t get out of my head, which will give you a little taste of the movie as a whole. It is meant to convey how crazy the main character, Sanjay, is about Kalpana (again, music to convey emotion).

The movie is being haled in Indian newspapers throughout the country as “the return of Indian cinema,” as though it went somewhere. I find it interesting that “the return” is marked by a “Westernized” Indian movie, but I suppose that’s a thought for another post, after I’ve experienced more of Bollywood. It’s just now out in theaters here, but if you’re in the mood for a movie that won’t make you think, that’s just for fun, I highly recommend it. I had a ton of fun with it. It should be available for your Netflix queue within the year. A few observations: at the beginning of every movie in an Indian movie theater, a scanned image of the stamped approval form from the Indian censorship board (the Central Board of Film Certification) hits the screen. Also, before the movie begins, everyone stands for the Indian national anthem. I don’t have an opinion on either thing (except that censorship is the source of all evil); I just thought it was interesting. Different.

 

 
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