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
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 Bridge School January 17, 2009
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):
Classes and Other Randomness January 15, 2009
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.
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
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.
Life at the University of Hyderabad January 9, 2009
So this one’s for the fam and friends who want to see the everyday life. Apologies to everyone else.
The first four days of my time here were spent at the “old” international hostel. I confess that, upon entering, I wondered at what I had gotten myself into. However, after getting a power converter, discovering wifi, learning the names of the 20-something people who are in my group with me, and developing a routine, the place was like home. In spite of showers in the same room as the toilet, very small rooms and a tiny communal room that could barely keep us all, it had its homey touches. I grew to love it.
The new place is fancy (someone on the trip remarked that it looked like a “pink palace”), almost too fancy. A few of us felt uncomfortable with the obviously preferential treatment, when compared with the Indian student dorms. There’s plenty of space (almost too much. We fought for awhile to find a communal meeting place.), balconies, showers separate from the toilets, really nice bedding… the list goes on. We did fight for warm water (still are) and wifi (success) for awhile, as the place is still technically under construction. But it’s homey. One major obstacle: it’s one mile from anything on campus, including the library, classes, the shopping center, the health center, EVERYTHING. We have bicycles, but it’s not uncommon for me to bike 5+ miles per day, including to my yoga class.
A couple of notes about life in general: There are cows everywhere. I’ve actually woken up to the sound of cows mooing. Price of transportation operates in exactly the opposite way than I would assume (trains least expensive, auto rickshaws most expensive, cabs and trains in the middle). Things move at a slower pace here. There’s tea-time for 30 minutes at a time at least 3 times a day. That could never happen in the U.S. with its “time is money” culture. You’d be fired. The working lunch is our way of life. Here, things happen as they happen. This is amazing. But it also means that if you’re in a hurry to do anything, you’ve got another thing coming (queue Judas Priest). It also means that occasionally things are very inefficient. Go with the flow. I’ve seen two monkeys. The first one I saw stood up and scratched its balls almost the second I looked at it. How very monkey-like. I also think I saw a mongoose.
As far as the previous requests for observations on Muslim architecture/culture in India go, I really have nothing to compare it to, as this is the only city I’ve been to so far. But I can say that it’s beautiful, that the juxtaposition of British, Hindu, and Muslim is striking and gorgeous, and that the call to prayer is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever heard. The hot boys, I haven’t met any so far. I LOVE Samosas (deep fried bread stuffed with potato and spices and deliciousness), Maaza (a mango juice drink made by Coca Cola)… basically anything deep-fried in India is freakin’ delicious. As far as smell… it’s the most unique thing I’ve ever experienced. It just smells normal now, but when I first got here, it’s all I could smell. It’s not a bad smell, it just permeates. There’s nothing I can compare it to: it’s just India. I would suggest maybe some spices, some wildlife, some dust for sure (everything here is coated with dust), but ultimately it’s just India.
Men pee on the side of the road here, against walls. I totally saw a guys penis the other day. But I can’t show my knees without getting cat calls or an ass slap. Where’s the justice in that? So occasionally, if you hit the wrong road, it smells like stale urine and feces. Don’t trust any liquid you see on the road, basically. Beggars are aggressive, so if you give one money, you’ll have a swarm. The poverty is extreme. I saw a blind man poke a man who was sleeping on the sidewalk with his cane. I’ve also seen one leper and 2-3 polio victims. If I spend too much time in the city on any one day, I develop a cough and a stinging in my nose and my eyes dry out. It’s all the pollution. You can’t not have as much pollution as India when you have as many people as India. They also don’t have a trash system. There’s just heaps of trash on the sides of the roads. At the same time, it’s absolutely beautiful. The nature, the culture, the spirituality… I think I could live here my entire life and still never lose things to look at. I went to a Hindu temple and a Buddhist shrine yesterday (pictures later), and felt a calm and serenity I hadn’t yet felt since being here, or at any time in my life in the U.S. There’s just something different here that I still haven’t put a finger on. More later.
Hello everyone! The dorm officially has wifi, which means I’m free to screw around with video and photos and post them for your viewing pleasure on a regular basis. Yay! So, this first day is going to be catch up session, with multiple entries in one day!
So here’s the first, only first because it happened first chronologically. It was one of our first nights here, back when we were still in the old dorm, and this group, Unity, which is apparently renowned throughout India, even playing on film soundtracks and the like, performed for us in the SIP (Study India Program) Folk Culture Centre. It was amazing. I was, at this point, still reeling from a bit of sensory overload, and it seemed, when they performed, that everything sort of calmed down and I knew that India was going to be great. So, this video is kind of long, and I won’t blame you for browsing other pages while it’s in the background. But come back every once in awhile. Indian music isn’t written. It’s all freestyle, and you can see, when you watch them perform, how much they communicate through glances and sometimes gestures. One of the coolest things about this performance had to be watching them communicate, having their own conversations, unknown to us.