Thursday, January 24, 2008

Adventures in India 9 - Spiritual Awakenings

I just finished “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert, her memoir tracking her journey of self discovery in three countries. Part of her adventure was learning about devotion and spirituality in India. Even I was inspired to go live in an ashram in India.

This trip to India didn’t leave much time for any spiritual connections for me. However, I was surprised to see my daughter received quite a spiritual awakening.

I always thought my daughter was a little bhakti (devotee). When she was 2, we had videotaped a Teletubbies episode where they showed Indian kids dressed up for Diwali and going to the temple. Annika used to sit there glued to the TV while the kids did their aarti. My mom handed her a thali and she started waving the plate around as the kids did.

She goes to an Indian Sunday school, which offers language, culture and religion classes for children. We never had anything like this when I was growing up, so I’m really happy we can take advantage of a great program in our community. This has really given her a level of confidence that my generation never had about being Indian and Hindu.

In India, she became a big fan of the religious cartoons such as Bal Hanuman, Bal Ganesh and Krishna. The shows are offered in Hindi and English, which was good for her. I was impressed when she said she watched one movie in Hindi with English subtitles. So, she was always willing to watch one of these animated shows. Our 4-year-old nephew talks about being Hanuman and Ganesh like other kids talk about Spiderman and Batman. He has stickers, a dhanushya (bow) and a plastic mace like Hanuman. He even dons the plastic masks and dhoti.

I was happy to find two books on Hindu Gods and Indian historical figures, which she loved. It's always been a challenge finding age-appropriate reading material for her. Some of the books have too much graphic violence or too much text and lofty materials.

Oftentimes, she would curl up with these books even if no one was available to read the stories to her. This pleasantly surprised me to see my daughter read something that did not have a princess or a mermaid in it.


The books I bought were by Nita Mehta Publications and titled "Historical Tales of India" and "Tell Me About Hindu Gods and Goddesses." These seem to be available only in India, but can be bought online. Another publisher that has been recommended to me is Tulika, whose books are available online.

Adventures in India 8 - Coming Home to Zuzu's Petals

We've been home more than a week and for seven of those days, I was sick with the flu. I returned healthy, but the first Monday I went to work, I got sick. Coincidence? I think not.

When we arrived home, I felt like George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life." Remember the scene when he comes back to life and is thrilled to see his town and his house intact? He runs around saying "Hello you old Bailey Building & Loan" and comes home to "Hello you drafty old house" and broken stairs, etc. He finds Zuzu's petals in his pocket and knows he's home and alive.

That was me that night. When we entered, we went around the house checking for any problems. I went into the basement to check it was dry, and it was perfect. I just jumped on my big red couch. I wanted to touch everything, which made me realize I was home.

Truth be told, I was homesick before I left. I knew I was going to miss the comforts of my house. You don't realize how much you really care for something until it's not there. The difference between India and the US is quite substantial. When I had gone to India when I was in college, I returned to the US with culture shock. Everything seemed too perfect and surreal. I was angered by the wastefulness of Americans. It wasn't fair or real.

This time, I felt more relief to be home. Watching mindless reality TV shows is a bit of a shock. People are stressing about the most inconsequential things, while there are people struggling with basic necessities of life.

Anyway, we all miss the family in India. My daughter longs to call her grandmother every day and we have to explain that there's a time difference. We hope we're able to go again in another two years.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Adventures in India 7 - Traffic Guidelines

Here are some observations

1. Traffic signals are suggestions, not requirements. If you're in a rush, you're allowed to go.

2. Headlights are optional. There's plenty of light on the streets, you don't need it.

3. When driving, if a pedestrian is crossing, go around him.

4. When walking across a street and a car is coming, try to beat it.

5. If a car or truck is reversing, by all means continue on your path and go around the car. The driver in reverse will remain in that position. If he hits you, as you go intentionally and recklessly behind him, it will be his fault.

6. Cows, camels, horses, dogs and cats always get the right of way.

Adventures in India 6 - Homeward Bound

"Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
don't know when i'll be back again
oh babe I hate to go "

We're leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow. We've been homesick this week. My daughter's had a fever on and off, my husband is frantically finishing his to-do list and I'm missing the comfort of my own bed and sofa.

We're going to miss the family the most and it'll be hard for them as well.. the small apartments will suddenly feel spacious and lonely.

This morning I looked out of the window and realized I'm going to miss Mumbai, goddammit. The city that frustrated me to no end is now going to go away and I'm going to miss it. All the people, all the lives and stories behind each face. The noise outside my window now is incredibly loud -- horns, engines revving up, incessant crows cawing. It'll be gone.

Now I understand what people mean.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Adventures in India 5 - Life in India

We’re nearing the end of our vacation and I’ve seen some changes. My daughter’s picked up an Indian accent when talking to cousins. I'm wondering how I can bring the nanny and dhobi with me and how Elco Restaurant can deliver dahi sev puri to me (these are bite-sized crispy puris filled with crunchies, chutney, and drenched in yogurt -- it's like an explosion of flavors in your mouth!)

The best part of the trip is definitely being able to see family and friends. I spent two days with my family in Gujarat and loved every moment. It was exciting to meet after 10 years and be in different places in our lives. I was worried about a younger cousin back then, but I see her now and see how her life is totally together.

We know we’re different, but we know we’re the same though. There’s such a sense of comfort with them. I understand Gujarati perfectly, but my accent is a little rough. Sometimes, I fall back into English. I understand colloquial Marathi quite well, and can say short phrases, usually in the wrong tense/gender. With my cousins, I didn’t feel any judgment when I spoke in Gujarati. They just listened quietly and helped me if I stumbled. But, they understood.

They were quite curious about my life and choices I have made. The simple fact that I’ve kept my maiden name as my middle name and my daughter has her own middle name stumped them. We have broken an ancient naming tradition of the husband's name being the middle name for all of us. I explained my reasoning and at that moment, it didn't make sense to me either. I tried to explain we have different issues with names since we live in the US.

My friends in the US told me to relax and get pampered. Actually, in India, you don't have to go to a spa to get pampered. It happens at home. Laundry "magically" appears folded on your bed. Beds are made in the morning, set up for the afternoon nap, made up afterwards and then set for night. Afternoon naps are just lovely, especially after an Indian meal; I usually have veggie burger or a salad so roti, two veggies, dal, raita, etc is massive for me. This nap routine is a way of life given to those with flexible schedules. Close the window shades, turn on the ceiling fan, and grab a light blanket and pillow. Everyone wishes you a pleasant sleep. You awake, and it's chai or coffee time. My sister-in-law serves chai made with fresh lemongrass. Or, there's freshly brewed coffee on the coffeemaker my mother-in-law secured just for me. When I visited one cousin in Gujarat, we took naptime as an opportunity to lie in bed and just chat and catch up.

When I visited my cousins, on a lark he counted how many different services they get at home. Milk delivered daily..fruits and vegetables delivered.. tailor can pick up and delivery..newspaper delivery (hey! I got that!)..massage at home. Whoa. Massage at home? "Yes, the maleeshvalli comes every day." Whoa. I've been here one day and could've had a massage?

Next morning, I'm trying to get my daughter to brush her teeth and sneak in a bath as soon as the water is hot. The maleeshvali bai is there. Apparently, she knows the family and everyone addresses her as "masi" (aunt). She said one of my cousins, who is known for her high-maintenanced attitude, always asks for 2 massages a day when she comes.

The olive oil massage was absolutely great and my skin stayed soft all day, which surprised me. I also had a bruise on my arm from the massage, but that's ok. It wasn't the lush massage I've gotten at the spas on those massage tables and scented candles and lime/cucumber water to cool off. This was on the cool tiled floor on top of a black sheet in my neice's bedroom. I thanked her and quickly jumped in to take my bucket-bath, which was ready.

I also went for a facial and manicure/pedicure at a salon run by an acquaintance. The service and results were great. However, the experience was quite different than what I'm used to in terms of comfort (and hygiene).

One can definitely find whatever one needs in India. How you get it will be very different than in the US. My father asked for an out-of-print book. We went to a local bookstall, which had Visual C++ books in stock. The owner took our information, made a call from his pay telephone and said he'd get back to us. Today, we received word he did have the book! I was amazed at the one-day turnaround!

On the other hand, if you're like my BIL and need a copy of your birth certificate, you may end up going to 3 different municipalities and filling out umpteen forms and finding out the birth certificate doesn't even have your name spelled out on it and you need to have an affadavit from someone testifying you are who you say you are.

Adventures in India 4 - Art in India

My husband and I both enjoy art and have always tried to pick up artwork when we travel. We’ve decorated our house with special pieces from local art fairs, Asia, Europe and South America. We're not looking to make investments or anything. We just appreciate art and support emerging artists.

Recently on NPR, there was a program about the booming art market in India . It’s exciting that Indian artists are gaining recognition for their work. I particularly love the way contemporary artists meld India into abstract movements. For example, you’ll find landscapes, which will be complete with a distinctive Indian villager in the background. There’s a need for expression of a world and history that is evident as it comes out in bold forms.

We enjoyed walking through Art Plaza in front Jehangir Gallery and did pick up a piece from a local artist. We have two exquisite pieces that were bought on the last trip and knew that’s where we could find something. We also purchased 3 abstract Ganesha canvas paintings from a local shop, which we’re very excited about. (Stay tuned to this blog for updates with pictures!)

When we walked into the Jehangir Gallery, we were unaware of the artist on exhibit. There were words splashed on huge canvases. Specific words were bolded and highlighted and emotion felt. My first thought, “This is a writer. Who’s the poet.” Then we saw the exhibit was by the editor Pritish Nandy. Since the paintings were in hundred thousand dollars range, I desperately wished these were compiled into a book.

We browsed through one room, and then stepped into another. The vibrant colors and lines gripped us. The yet soft. They were city scapes of Mumbai - hard lines, soft bodies. Someone pointed us to the artist at the table and we had a delightful chat with him.

Request from an Artist
His name is Vigyan Vrat and he’s asked us to help him launch a gallery exhibit in the US. He is quite an accomplished artist and writer, and can secure his own travel papers. He simply needs to be able to have a show

If any of my readers can assist with this, please contact me directly.