14 November, 2011

Sixty Days

"I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then."
~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Before I came to India, I did my research. I read travel information online, went to a travel doctor, I watched a couple Indian movies, and I talked to anyone I knew who had been to India. But nothing I read, or saw, or heard second-hand can ever fully describe what I have experienced first-hand. Because there are intangible things that I have only been able to understand by being here, things that you can't possibly understand until you are in the situation. Nothing you learn beforehand can fully prepare you for the way your entire previous knowledge of life suddenly is flung out the window and your world is turned upside down. And then you realize that you have to view this world from upside down. It's like when a baby opens it's eyes for the first time, and at first there is so much that is new the baby doesn't really see anything at all, it is blinded by the light, but gradually it picks up more and more details, and the blinding factor wears away. This is how I feel adjusting has been, the blinding light of shock has slowly dimmed so that I can really see with new eyes this place I've been inhabiting the past two months.

When I first arrived in India, I remember being frightened to the core of my being, mostly worried about the many unknowns of this new place. What water is safe to drink? How will I get to work? What will I eat? What food is too spicy for me to eat yet that will just make me sick? What foods are even offered, I don't know the names or how they are eaten? How can I get a phone? What will I wear to work? How do the autos work? How do people learn streets when there are no street signs? What will be my new routine? etc.... My foreign experience consisted of Canada and the Bahamas, which, in my opinion, don't count. I've grown up in the Midwest where the people are "Minnesota Nice," and in the suburbs where keeping a finely manicured lawn is next to godliness and is mandatory to fit in with the neighbors (I have yet to see a lawn like that here even in the most posh areas). I remember everyone telling me I looked scared when I first arrived here and showed up for my first day of work, and I can't argue with that, it was impossible to hide the visible panic on my face as it hit me like a rock that I'm "not in Kansas anymore" (quote from the Wizard of Oz). And I remember the feeling of utter helplessness as I soon realized how very, very little I knew about the true reality of surviving in India, the land of chaos, where rules are made to be broken (such as when an auto driver just today took a "short-cut" going the wrong way on a one-way street to take me home).

One of the hardest aspects to face at times is a feeling of loneliness and homesickness when I am by myself. I have some great friends here, but still this can be hard to deal with at times. Sometimes I miss seeing familiar faces from America, and I miss American food, general cleanliness, being able to communicate with everyone without language barriers, being able to go virtually anywhere on my own without a second thought, and miss a general familiarity of life (although I'm not missing the snow). But I also know it's very natural to feel homesick in one way or another for anyone traveling for extended periods of time anywhere, and really to be expected. And then I know that there will be many things and people and experiences and food from India that I will surely miss when I go back to America, and I'm expecting to undergo some sort of reverse culture adaptation as well. And will I remember how to drive? On the right side of the road stopping at stop signs and stop lights??!

I have slowly begun to understand the chaos, though it can still be difficult as a born and raised rule follower, and the ever moving city better and it's constant flow of street traffic. India is sort of like the bloodstream of the human body. The red blood cells are constantly moving, flowing around each other in a sort of chaotic harmony. Sometimes there are issues when a blockage occurs, but for the most part, the cells, though crowded in the veins, keep flowing around each other. The trick is learning how to enter this bloodstream without causing a collision, seamlessly joining and moving and weaving in sync with the people and the traffic. Even crossing the street requires an agile weave around cars and mopeds (called bikes). I remember in elementary school learning how to jump rope. If there were two girls swinging the rope for you, it took great skill to merge into the swinging rope without getting tripped up, and jumping at exactly the right moment whenever the rope touched the ground. But once you learn the trick, that there was always a certain height the rope had to be at when you quickly jumped in, it became much easier. The main thing is to keep "Constant vigilance!" as Mad-Eye Moody would say (Harry Potter reference). I can't stress this enough for future travelers, take extreme caution on the streets, because people drive like maniacs, better safe than sorry.

I can also add, that someone mentioned I didn't include buttermilk in my list of foods I've tried, and I did forget about it, but I also really don't like buttermilk, probably one of the foods I dislike the most here. It might have something to do with the fact that the first time I tried it, I thought it was like regular cow's milk in America, and instead to my surprise it was so bitter and salty! Milk is also often served warm here if it is regular milk. Cold cereal and milk isn't common. 

Below are images of clothes that I wear to work or out and about. I feel a little weird posting this many pictures of me, but, people from back home want to see what kind of Indian clothes I'm wearing, so, here it is. I am loving my new wardrobe, but will have to be careful with what I buy or could have trouble packing for the way home....

Kurtie/Kurta and leggings. A Salwar Suit is similar, but the pants would be made of cloth instead of stretchy fabric (although I'm told you aren't really supposed to call them "pants" because they have a different name). 

 Patiala Suit (baggy pants are patiala, also called Punjabi Suit). I pieced this outfit together myself, I'm getting the hang of Indian dressing, I think, quite fun.  This is the absolute most comfortable and chic outfit I've worn so far, although leggings and kurtie is also very comfortable. Definitely going to be wearing this back home, along with the rest of the clothes I've bought here. The patiala remind me of Jasmine in Aladdin.

The scarf is called a dupatta. This is one of the "right" ways to wear it.

Because being an art student means an inability to take all normal photos. I think just for the heck of it I'll call this "Girl with a Pearl Earring Goes to India."
Original "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Vermeer

Since jeans and a t-shirt are also very commonplace, I thought I would include a picture of typical Western Wear in India. For girls, skinny jeans and a t-shirt is common. Men wear Western wear over traditional wear more than women I think, either jeans and t-shirt or dress shirt and dress pants for work. Skinny jeans are much more practical than anything else because they don't drag on the ground, which is good because the streets are so dirty. They are also commonly worn with a kurtie/kurta top. Also, this is technically the "wrong" way to wear a scarf, because no women tie their scarfs, but for an unskilled dupatta wearer like me, I like it because it stays put better and doesn't fall off. I have also learned chappals are a type of sandal with a strap over the big toe, and sandals are called slippers.

It also occurred to me over the weekend that since all of the Indian languages have different alphabets and lettering systems, you would need a different kind of keyboard if you didn't know English. So I asked someone about it, and he said that they don't make computers with any of the Indian alphabets, so if you don't know English characters, you can't use a computer. The only option is to type something in another language using English characters, then use Google translate to translate the text to a different alphabet's characters. See how lucky native English speakers are? We don't have to learn another language just to use a computer.

I went with a friend to the Birla Mandir Temple on Sunday. It is a Hindu temple for the Lord Venkateshwara, but is named after the person who built the temple. Different statues of gods fill the temple, but unfortunately no cameras were allowed inside, so I couldn't take any close up shots of the temple itself. Before going in, it is necessary to check your shoes, mobile, and camera to enter the temple. It is a gorgeous building, made entirely of white marble, and extremely intricate and beautfiful hand carving of the stone on the facade, arches, ceilings, and on every surface of the building. Took something like 10 years to construct in the 20th century. Definitely a great place to go. The largest deity featured in the temple is Lord Venkateshwara, who people bow to as you proceed through the temple in a line. From the balcony of the temple, there is a wonderful view of Hyderabad and south side of the prominent lake Hussein Sagar. Around Hussein Sagar is the well-known Necklace Road, so named I believe because the lights around the lake form the shape of a necklace. Night is a good time to go because the temple is lit up and the weather is nice.

There are millions of gods in the Hindu religion, but there are a few that are much more common to pray to than others. Ganesh, Shiva, Venkateshwara were all featured here, and are more common. While walking through the temple, a long prayer was being read through the speakers in a rhythmic voice, which I was told was being read in Sanskrit. Sanskrit isn't actually spoken anymore, it's like Latin, so this kind of reminded me of how Catholic Mass used to be held only in Latin until the 1960s even though no one speaks the language. It was kind of funny because there was one wall with some scripture featuring a few different world religions, and my friend asked me if it was in English, and I just had to laugh because it was English from the 1600s, from the King James version of the Bible. "As ye doest..." etc, which I'm fairly certain a large majority of native English speakers don't understand, so a fairly reasonable question.
Front entrance of the Birla Temple (unfortunately hard to get a good shot of temple itself because of no camera rule to enter)

Full View of Birla Mandir Temple. What is lit up is the temple behind with a greenish tint.

Once again, thanks for reading.

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default." ~J.K. Rowling


  1. Pankaj Trivedi15 November, 2011

    Nicely put. I can understand the collection of thoughts and experiences behind the post. And about the keyboard, you surely get fonts which will let you type any language using the same keyboard even if you don't see the alphabets on the keyboard. (Some keyboards actually have these alphabets as well along with the regular english letters)

    Btw, you look pretty in the pics! Looking forward for more of such posts :)

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