Sunday, December 02, 2007

Chak De India!

Just a few more weeks until we are in India!

This is exciting for me because it seems my destiny for trips to India are on a 10 year cycle. Once I left in 1971, I've returned 1980, 1987, 1997, and now 2007! My husband had gone 3 times without me because of the circumstances; I was pregnant, daughter was too young or his trip was last minute and I couldn't schedule it.

I really love going to India, and I know a lot of Indians are skeptical of my claims. When I landed last time, I felt like I was home. People thought I was full of it. I could see their thoughts: Please, you're an ABCD. NJ is home for you.

India has an undeniable power.

When we went to India when I was 11, we stayed for 5 months. We lived like regular Indian kids -- running around the streets of my father's small town, playing with goats (no donkeys, though - you stay away from the donkeys!), drinking and eating everything that was handed to us -- sherbets of all colors of the rainbow. We roamed the neighborhoods of Ahmedabad with our cousins and went for ice cream at every occasion. We saw lots of Hindi films and ate popcorn and masala chips.

We returned to the US very tan, sick, emaciated and malaria-ridden and had trouble adjusting in school after being out so long. Lovely.

What I enjoyed the most about India is the unabashedly open reception. I learned what family really meant that first summer. There are no formalities about who you are to them. (I wrote a little about this experience in My Own Elizabethtown.) There are downsides to that though, such as lack of privacy and how people think you're entitled to heed their comments about your life or your body. I know we've all been made quite miserable at some point or another.

At 6, my daughter is at an excellent age for this trip. My sister made her first trip around the same time and her memories are very strong. However, I'm a bit nervous about my daughter's first trip there. She's a pampered princess from the suburbs. She cringed when we went to Chinatown in NYC and was overwhelmed by the people.

My friends and family in Mumbai live the cosmopolitan life, so I know we'll be comfortable and quite sanitized there. Yet, everything in India is open - especially the poverty. My sister and I have cried in the car from the airport upon seeing the poverty. I'm worried about myself. I've always been close to children and wanted to help every one there. Now, as a mother, how will I be able to react to children knocking on the car window or tugging on my skirt for alms? I'm taking deep breaths now.

I was greatly inspired on my last visit by my cousin and her husband. We were at a temple, and when the children came to beg, they took them to the dining area and made sure they were fed. We all had pulled over to eat at the side of the road, and a poor man was walking. They quickly prepared a plate for him. By the way, I was aghast that after a whole group finished eating on paper plates, they dumped the trash on the side of the road!! (Two points for Humanity, minus one point for the Environment)

Like all my India trips, I know this will be just as exciting. By the way, we're looking to get internet hook up at home, so hopefully I'll be able to post while I'm gone for three weeks. Also,I haven't had a three week vacation since I started this job 6 years ago! So, just the aspect of not being at work for 3 weeks is very exciting as well!

Now, if anyone has any favorite Mumbai spots, please let me know:
- shopping (not looking for Bollywood glam..reasonably priced with classic styles)
- restaurants/clubs (yes, looking for Bollywood glam! Finding John Abraham would be the best!)
- spas and salons
- any other must-see

We're hoping to hit Ahmedabad and Goa, as well.

Also, if you've traveled with children before and have any caveats, I'd like to know too. Yes, we will be staying away from rainbow-colored sherbets and have our sunscreen and malaria prescriptions!

Feel free to email me directly with any of the above.


ZenDenizen said...

I am glad you are so positive about this. I have nothing but negative memories of my India trips and always felt like a foreigner there even though I was born there (left at 1). I was laughed at because of my American accent, hated the food, found the tv programs boring, and spent most of my time being sick. '91 was my last trip and I'm reasonably sure I'll never go back (skipped all my cousin's weddings, only attended the American receptions). My 4 year old NJ born niece is going for the first time this week, I wonder if her experience will mirror mine (she's my total mini me). I feel it will fall somewhere in between since India has changed so much (for the better I hear).

Having said all that, have a safe, healthy and pleasant journey!

Anonymous said...

Zen - I'm not going to say it's all been positive. I remember crying at 11 over the word "going" because no one understood me when I said "we're going to the movies". For me, going to India at 11 confirmed for me that I belonged in America. I always say "India is a nice place to visit, but I can't live there."

However, even when I went 10 yrs ago, it changed a lot. Yeah I remember the TV being boring in 1980.. but in 1997, there was 80 yr old Aiji flipping through MTV with her remote!

From talking to my friends and husband, I know India's become more westernized. I definitely know the experience will be even more different this time around.

I know for some people (esp single friends) that going to India is like being a bull walking towards the matadors. I know the pressure and questioning is ruthless. I'm actually bracing myself for the inquiries on why I should try for a son now. Ugh.

Three weeks in December in 80-90 degree weather.. mm..

Anonymous said...

Have a nice trip. I've never been there and can't give you tips on where to go, but I'm sure you and your daughter(and husband) will have a good time.
P.S. What is an ABCD? Even though I've lived in other states and another country I think NJ is home too.

Venkat said...

Hmm... I am afraid I am a skeptic of any reactions to India by ABCDs and almost-ABCDs alike :) Not that the reactions are not authentic, but that they still are different, and even if you feel a sense of "home" there, it is very different from what people like me feel (having grown up there till age 22) which in turn is different from people who've always lived there into adulthood (like some of my friends).

Hence, you'd call people like me 'desensitized' (I can still cheerfully eat panipuri in full sight of a starving street kid, and I definitely don't feel an obligation towards charity), and I'd call your reaction simply ineffective. It takes someone with my attitude, your kindness and Bill Gates' money to actually make a difference I think :)

I am visiting too, Dec 19-Jan 10. Will be in Bombay 21-24. South rest of the time.

Have fun.

Anonymous said...

Venkat - I can appreciate what folks like you feel, since that's my husband's experience. It's funny b/c it's those folks who have issues adjusting to the changes in India. You have a certain memory, perhaps idealized. When you go back, it's not the same.

Anyway, I'll be turning over all my panipuris to the poor kids if I can!! Heck, I'll pull them out of the hands of the tubby folks just to give it to the kids!!

N said...

i.b. -

you know my thoughts on the subject :) i'm glad you're going with such positive vibes and antipation. i have to say as miserable as my last trip was, it could never replace my own trip to India at the age of 13. it was those found relationships with cousins that were more like brothers and sisters at the time that brought me alive...true, there were hardships in adjusting in the beginning.

I can't guess what A's response will be but my guess is, whatever it is it will be memorable! I was 4 my first trip and I remember EVERY little detail. I think when your senses are that jarred it's hard to forget.

Regarless - one place that I thought was cool for shopping while I was there was a shop called Peppertree in Lokhandwala, Andheri I think.

If you're in Andheri or near Andheri at all you have to catch a movie at the Red Lounge theatre. They serve you bhel puri and popcorn while you're fully reclined on a red velvet lounge chair :)

Happy Trip!!!


Unknown said...

You know my feelings are such a mixed bag about India. I love the warmth that people and relationships offer. I loved being loved for who I was. First by my own extended family just because I was my mothers daughter and then by my husband's family just for marrying him. They were giving and wonderful and I really appreciated that aspect of India.

But I found the complete lack and breakdown of hygiene really hard to deal with. Everything was filthy. I couldn't understand how people throw garbage right outside their perfect gardens or eat at a posh restaurant with an open sewer in front. In Rajasthan I couldn't deal with the constant roaming of cows everywhere with cowpoo every step of the way, it was frustrating.

Also I went to a lot of temples this time around and it was very frustrating to deal with the hustle. Every single temple we went to it was a hustle to just be able to see god or go inside and walk around. Every step of the way some religious person hassled you to do something or the other for you that would cost a ton of money and they were constantly trying to hustle us and follow us. That just weighted me down. I like that our temples here are generic but I can pray peacefully and no one hassles me for any money or anything. It allows me to have the space and privacy to pray to god on my terms and none of the "this prasad is for Rs. 100 and if you do this puja for Rs. 400 you'll have children" bs.

I keep having people ask me if I miss India after being there for 3 weeks and I don't. This is my home. I love it here. It's funny because Himanshu says he misses it. He loved it so much but his experience is never the same as mine and never will be. Being a woman in India comes with a lot of heavy responsibilities and expectations and I found those weighted on me a lot. You are constantly judged, poked and prodded along the way and I like my privacy and space here.

Despite all this I still thought this was the best trip I ever had to India but if you ask me to tell you the truth from the heart it wasn't because it was India but rather because I was a newly wed with my husband and he and I really just had the most amazing time with each other. We could have gone to Timbucktoo and I would have said I had a fantastic time.

Oh the one thing I wouldn't leave back with a kid, Mosquito repellent spray and lots of it.