Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 21 and 23

Day 21
I met Kiran Martin yesterday, who is Papa’s old friend from college, who heads the Asha foundation. She was very kind and jovial. She hadn’t talked to my dad for 25 years, but he called her up for a favor just for me. Nana and Nani came with me to the meeting and sat there all ominously, watching over the goings-on. There were about 10 white people who had come also to volunteer, a fact that Nana/Nani would later admit had impressed them, and we were having a meeting about various activities that Asha has been a part of. Kiran was telling about how the slums in Delhi had been positively affected by Asha’s teachings about finance, how to open a loan, how to pay it back on time, because of the great difficulty and confusion attached to getting a loan and presenting yourself well in the slum community. But with the help of Chidambaram, banks would come to the slums and offer them loans. I think it’s so wonderful (I’m wonderfully lucky) that everyone I know has such great connections with these NGOs.
So I will start working in a school from tomorrow. In the meantime, I have moved to Reenu Bhua’s house, which is far different from living with Nana and Nani. There is a lot of activity, and I’ve already met like 10 people, who are friends of Abhishek and Abhinav, and Vidush and Priyanka came to see me before they left Delhi. To be honest, I don’t have much to say for today.
Leaving Nana and Nani’s house was quite sad though. I realize that their lives get so exciting when they have someone to fuss over, particularly Nani. She is so happy to do things for me and ask me how I am and make sure that I’m taking medicine. She said, “I know you’re happy to leave me, but I will be missing you so much.”
Day 23
I just watched Joker-- I mean Batman: The Dark Knight (sorry Christian Bale)-- and it was incredible. I thought that Abhinav was just, you know, being Abhinav when he said he’d already seen it twice, but he spent his money well. It was just such a mind-trip the whole time, wonderfully gripping and scary enough for me to love. Kind of like a higher tech, less jaded Sweeney Todd for our time. Just when you thought you were over Heath Ledger’s death, it comes and hits you right where it hurts.
But New Delhi with Bhua isn’t all fun and games… except that it sort of is. I’ve started working in this school at Jeevanagar near the slums and I constantly play games with the kids, who are much more disciplined than the Bangalore kids, maybe because we have translation and they all go to school besides this one. Bhua decided that it would be good for Abhinav to volunteer as well, so we are together, teaching a bunch of kids English: boys in the morning and girls in the afternoon, for the most part. When we got to the school yesterday for the first time, the children (who had waited for us for a whole hour to come because we got terribly lost trying to get to Asha and terribly stuck in traffic on the way there) ran up to us and threw flowers and rice in our faces, as a welcome greeting that Abhinav would later recall to be the most embarrassing moment of his life. Abhinav and I, who had just woken up from a sleepy car ride, groggily accepted their happy handshakes and very awake “Good Morning Sir/Madam”s. So we came in and the lady who met us at Asha, Sweeti, introduced us to the kids, telling them I was from America and Abhinav was from Delhi. The children seemed so excited about these facts and jumped up one by one to introduce themselves with the few English sentences they knew. “Hi, my name is__________. I live in _____________. My hobby is _____.” So Abhinav and I taught them adjectives by having them describe themselves. Today we made a big list of adjectives, and then started teaching them about the subject of the sentence. The boys seemed to really like that.
We’ve had only one class with the girls. Unlike the boys, the girls either really know English or really don’t, and there is not a ton of in between, which makes teaching them a little harder. Also, today, we didn’t have anyone in the class because classes cut off early for a school wide seminar on education and its importance, so instead of teaching a lesson, I tried to teach them a song and I have to say, the children need a music class. None of them can stay in the same key, and I don’t think it’s because they don’t have it in them. It’s just that they haven’t listened to enough music or had any instruction. Some people can match, but few can stay in key. So maybe I will teach them some music in the spare moments in lunch and between class.
I must say my body image has sucked lately. Somehow being around very skinny people just gets to me, even if they’re impoverished or Abhinav. Our internet keeps failing, and this is why you haven’t heard from me enough and also why these entries are late. Sorry. We thought it had started working again, but then it stopped again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 19

Day 19
Today is Day 18. I know, I’m ridiculous. Sometimes, in my mind, when I say the word “ridiculous” it comes out “ridicule-us” in a strange British accent. So I am in New Delhi at my Nana & Nani’s house. Complicated reasons for why I had to cut the trip short, but basically there was no more space in Bangalore. It annoyed me at first, but nothing can annoy me more than the cough/stomach trouble I’m having, so I’m quite okay with it.
So far, about Delhi. It’s unbearably hot. Well, no, it’s bearable. It’s just that you don’t much want to bear it. Coming here was refreshing as Nana and Nani are so attentive to my needs. In the last 7 hours they have cooked for me twice, taken me to an internet cafĂ©, given me medicine, made a bed for me, made me sleep, and bought me medicine. I really love them and all their sincerity and care for my well-being.
Now it is Day 19, I am telling you this because I am consolidating and it would be weird if I told you how tomorrow was. But now that I’m thinking it… nothing ever gets written in future tense. So tomorrow, we will go to Gymkhana Club to eat with Dadi, and I will wake up late and miss the breakfast Nani spent time preparing for me. Nani and Dadi will discuss what I look like in front of me, like they always do, and Dadi will say I’m first class, and Nani will say, yes I’m first class, but I’ll be even more first class if I lose 2 stone. I will smile because this happens every time while Nana sits there and looks mildly uncomfortable or perhaps, can’t hear us.
I will discover that ominously enough, this house has only 2 pictures of me in it on display as compared to the 750, 000 of Meghana and Akshay (including Prom pictures) and the 10 of Ishita. But at least I beat Chet (because there is only one of him , although it is on greater display…). After coming home from the club, I will give Nani her gifts and she will be pleased with the hanging plates and the shirt, but not the pajama tops, because they are not sleeveless and she doesn’t wear anything but sleeveless things to bed in the Delhi heat. I will teach her how to use the cell phone as she is very good at lady things, but does not have great knowledge of early generation Nokia phones. This of course, will change after I teach her. I will talk to my mother and she will tell me about going to Maharaja without me. Chet will call me and tell me about his dream about the president who is not George Bush who runs on a battery that leaks oatmeal causing him to lose his memory, and then Chet has to be a secret agent on the case.
There are beautiful pictures of my mother here and a lot of cute naked baby pictures of my sister and cousin. But mostly beautiful pictures of my mother. She looks like one of those models that pouts, except they don’t wear simple wedding saris. Sometimes I wish I could just skip the next 12 years of my life and be happy and married instead of having to do anything in between (the hard parts). Not that marriage isn’t hard… but whatever.
Music is touching. Number #7 redundancy for the day. (I say more obvious things around my grandparents.) But no, it’s true. And you know how it works? You’re just sitting there and you’re just bopping around to the beat, maybe it’s pleasant, and your head is moving from side to side and then all of a sudden, something happens-- maybe it’s a lyric or just the most pure melody--and it’s so completely true, and it strikes you in the heart with its blatant honesty and for a while you just can’t keep yourself from tearing up or stopping just to take a few deep breaths. Nothing makes you cry like the truth. It’s when something is so sincere, like music, that you just can’t stand it anymore and you have to do something like cry.
I am sneezing suddenly as well. I think I’ll turn off the fan. It must be circulating dust or something. I am becoming annoyed that my tissue is running out of surface area that has not been used. And also that my throat is getting these stabbing pains in it that come only from sneezing too much. I like Devotchka.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day 17

It is Day 16 and I am writing. Yes, I have broken the law of odds, but you know what, I’m going to pretend I wrote this tomorrow, seeing as it kind of is tomorrow... Just because. The thing is I had to tell you about a predicament I have. I live in a room situated next to our balcony which serves as the place where our clean clothes dry. There is a door that goes directly from my room to the balcony. This is a pretty good setup as I don’t have to walk through Samrat’s room in the middle of the night, if I want to wash and dry my underwear. Although sometimes it rains, the complementary hot, dry climate does much to soak up the water that may impact the underwear. But the problem is that Samrat and Akshay think that a burglar will come onto the balcony because it happened to the people in the flat below. So they have advised me to keep the door firmly locked from the top and from the lock . To further protect themselves, they have kept a motion sensor next to the door so that if anyone tries to enter from the outside, the sensor will sound. But this isn’t just any sensor. It looks exactly like a bird and makes pixel-y bird noises. It is very very sensitive. I have recently developed one of those hacking cough deals. Without fail, every time I cough, the bird makes odd chirpy noises, adding to my discomfort. It has happened about 16 times since I started this post. Wait, no, 17. I’m not even close to it. It is ACROSS the room. It probably goes off when there are burglars on our neighbors’ roof. But it is not saving anyone. I want to break that bird. I want to make it cry. I want it to feel the discomfort that I’ve had to deal with--having to memorize its strange call that sounds enough like a bird to know that it’s supposed to be a chirp, but not enough to actually be one-- being just sensitive enough to pick up my coughs, but not sensitive enough to be loud enough to alert for an actual burglar-- it’s pathetic. The sad thing is that I know that the moment I put it underneath all of my stuff, or put it under Akshay’s pillow… that is when I’ll need her. That is when the burglar will break in and take my semi-valuable laptop and my green card for no reason at all. So I’m cursed to live with this little fiend for another two weeks!
I don’t want to tell you about the rest of my day, not because it wasn’t good or whatever but because I spent most of it feeling grotesquely ill, and do not want to re-live it another time. But on the upside, I met Kauschik today, and he was really nice, quite charismatic, and quite a joker. I began to get the obvious soft-spot that Samrat and Akshay and Sonu Mami all have for him. He told me all about the poor, about how I should think of them, how I shouldn’t pity them, because there is life in poverty, although it seems like we can’t live a day without dinner at night. We may think that they are so sad and depressed, but just because someone is poverty doesn’t equal depression. A poor kid is the same as a rich kid, families that are poor, are still rich with life, perhaps more so. He told me to come back to India every time I can to be with the people who are not blinded by their affluence.
In other news, Samrat said I could write something for the paper which leaves me with the dilemma of, “What?” I am still in the process of solidifying an idea in my mind. I’m not going to let this opportunity go to waste. I bet mummy will be happy about this post. Night all, I’m sleepy and I have to use my inhaler.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day 15 or the day after Aarushi makes friends her own age

Day 15
I’m feeling kind of bad that I don’t post every day. I think maybe I’ll write every day, and post every other day because sometimes I have emotions that I just can’t do justice too the next day. Yesterday, I was very happy. I went to the school at 10:30 after having woken up ridiculously early about twelve times, and successfully traveled there by myself by rickshaw. I walked into a classroom filled with small children with uniforms and little notebooks, with diagrams on the board of a clock, and watched as a large British fellow became very frustrated asking them what time it was on the board. I noticed a skinny boy sitting to the side, who was watching the classroom activity. I later found out that these people were 18 and going to be my fellow teachers. The large, frustrated one was William, and the skinny, side-sitter was Lorcan. I would later meet Lucy and Saurabh. Lucy is strawberry-blond, cheerful and slim. Saurabh is Iranian, lanky and quiet. It was interesting to meet people who were my own age.
The children, themselves, were very rowdy and had little command of the English language. We get a few classes every day and yesterday we got Classes 3 and 1. The frustrating thing is the fact that some of the children are really intelligent and understand everything, and some don’t get it at all and copy from their friend’s papers. As we check their work, we give them stars, but they forever ask for us to write our name, to draw pictures of an ice cream cone. It’s so endearing that it’s so difficult to tell them to sit down and be quiet.
I decided to stay with the school, because I thought they could use my help. The children were rowdy, and didn’t seem to understand everything. Sometimes I felt like the people teaching would hesitate and not know what they’re doing. I thought that my creativity could help. At lunch time, we went out and I got to know the people in our group. I found that they we shared a lot of musical tastes, in fact more than I share with a random sampling of my peers from school. Because I didn’t have the keys to the apartment, I caught a rickshaw to the office.
To my sleepy dismay, Akshay didn’t have the keys, and sent me away with vague instructions to go to MG Road. So I went and sat in JavaCity, this coffee house, and I got some weird burnt brownie with ice cream. The walls at JavaCity are covered with pictures of Ray Charles and framed comics. I could see a window to the upstairs that displayed some board games sitting on tables. Because I was uncomfortable and just wanted to go to sleep, I went upstairs. I failed to use the bathroom which was disgusting, and then settled on a beanbag and watched as some people played Halo. I heard some vague American accents from across the room, and looked to see a boy and a girl, sitting with a small group. I talked to them and their names were Dayorsha and Arjun. They invited me to join their Halo game, and I said okay. They invited me over to their apartment to eat with their group, and it was really nice. We went to their friend Devak’s house who lived above them and their friend Rajiv played guitar while I sung, and then Arjun rapped to the piano’s beat boxing. They were really knowledgeable about Bangalore because they come once every year, and got me a pre-paid rickshaw back to the office. Unfortunately, when I got there about 30 minutes late, Akshay had left, and gone to look for me at MG Road. I hung out in the office with Tinny who asked to see some of my writing, because I showed Malvika my incomplete college app essay and she was impressed with it and apparently had told people about it, so I emailed her some articles I had written.
When Akshay came, he wasn’t particularly happy, but we went to McDonald’s where for once, he got food and I got nothing, except for a badly packaged coke that was supposed to have been a Fanta. He gave me my own set of keys, though, so that’s good, and I think he’s going to activate my SIM card.
This morning was even worse than yesterday morning; I had fragmented dreams about little girls and rickshaws and little girls driving rickshaws and I kept waking up and coughing and checking my iPod clock and trying to go back to sleep until I couldn’t anymore. I hate that feeling. You’re awake but you don’t want to be, but you can’t stay asleep. You’re too tired to get ready, but too awake to stay asleep. So I’d been told to be there at 10:40, so I got there ten minutes early, and saw Hema, who told me that I should come at 10 o’clock everyday from then onwards. After everyone shuffled in (minus William who had become ill the night before), they had a discussion with us about how to teach the children, and what to teach the children; they told us that we should make a notebook of what the children have learned everyday, and that we should strive to be kind and less disciplinarian. The problem is that we don’t know Tamil, so it’s hard to communicate with them on a basic level, even to tell them what we’re learning. We have to make gestures and use very simple language. Apparently, before I had come, people had complained about the children in the volunteer classes being too loud.
So today, with a renewed energy, we began to plan. We decided numbers for Class 2, and days of the week for Class 3. We decided to divide them into groups in order to get more one-on-one attention to each student. When Lorcan and I went to teach half the class numbers, we had found that Class 2 already knew their numbers. So we started on colors, which they caught onto very fast. That was fun, though, as I think at first they didn’t understand completely, but very quickly caught on as I related one blue thing to another blue thing. The problem was that they understood things quite well and then became bored. When we tried to play a game with them, the boys ran around the schoolyard and wouldn’t listen to us. Other than that, the children seemed to enjoy the games we played, and I asked them their names and told them our names. I think that helped too, because no one has known any of their names before.
The next class we did was days of the week; Lorcan and I were with the boys. Unsurprisingly, the kids already knew their days and months, but didn’t recognize them in English, and didn’t know them out of order. The problem, I think, is that the kids only know them through rote memorization, but don’t understand their importance. So I got out a calendar and tried to get them to associate days of the month, making them say, “First of January”, “Second of January”. Few children understood it, some of them thinking I wanted them to count, but one did, so I pulled him up to the front and had the children listen to him. He seemed to really like that, and the students seemed to want attention too, so they copied what he was doing. Then we progressed to February. Then class was over and the kids became wild again, shaking our hands, and telling us “Good Day, Madam/Sir”, which is pretty much the extent of their English vocabulary, which is much better than I thought. I asked the boy who understood the months what his name was, and he said, “Madam, my name is Rajkumar, madam!” and he became so happy, and thanked me about fifteen times before leaving.
I became depressed at lunchtime because I was sad about the kids, and worried that they wouldn’t learn anything. Saurabh told me that they were learning, just very slowly, and I should give it time and patience. I've also begun to realize the difficulties of working with others, who have somewhat different ideas sometimes about how to go about teaching kids. I became even more depressed when I realized I didn’t have my keys, so I left right away to go home, just in case Samrat or the maid were still at home to let me in. When they weren’t, I went to Indian Express and got them from Akshay. Then I went home and slept for about 8 hours, which was very refreshing, although I don’t know how I’ll wake up tomorrow to leave at 9:30.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 13

Day 13
I rode in a rickshaw by myself for the very first time today. It was an experience, and after I found out I could do it, it made me feel so free as I assume I will feel when I am able to drive. I went to visit a lady named Hema today who is the volunteer coordinator in Bangalore of an organization called GapGuru that is an NGO that helps white people come abroad and volunteer. Samrat knew her and I called her and scheduled a meeting (Independence points: +1). I was frightened to call her and was pleased when she was very kind and open to me. So today, I got up at the relatively reasonable hour of noon (because yesterday I got up at 5 in the afternoon), and tomorrow I will have to wake up at 9, with the help of an alarm clock that makes horse sounds (+1). I went in a rickshaw by myself to see her (+1) and got a little lost (-1) because I didn’t know where to stop the rickshaw (I ended up stopping it too late). But I went to Infotech where I knew people could speak English and got directions from them to get directions to the bank that they gave me directions to (+1). The bank didn’t give me very clear directions so I ended up wandering around until a rickshaw driver who was fixing his engine said, “Madam, what do you need help with?” He didn’t know how to help me so I went to a store where a man gave me very detailed instructions in clear English. Ah, the kindness of strangers. I finally came upon Hema’s house, which was big and beautiful, unlike any house I’ve been to in India so far. She had tea with me in the garden and talked to me about what I wanted to do like I was a real person. Everyone in India thinks I am a real person! (+1)
She talked to me about two different schools that I can go to. One that is very nearby but a little bit chaotic and one that is very far away but very structured. She was unsure that I could handle the rickshaw drive everyday to the structured one at Parikrma and I told her that I would try to go there today, and that I wouldn’t know until I went there. (+1) Luckily I found the nicest rickshaw driver in the world who took me to Jayanagar, which is a good 10 kilometers away, and he personally made sure I was in the right place, and waited forty minutes for me, and didn’t chare me for his having to wait. The school was nice and the children were… well, I don’t really have to tell you what it’s like to see happy yet impoverished children. I could, but I’m not feeling like putting my very complex emotion into words right now. But they smiled at me, like I was some really interesting, pretty person.
The combined energy of having gone on a rickshaw by myself and having decided to do something to change the world and having seen a bunch of amazing little kids, I decided to give myself even more freedom and go to Koshy’s and have fun by myself, eating food and listening to my iPod. I felt so good not having to answer to anyone! Then I went to the office and everyone was just delighted to see me and I shared a rickshaw with Malvika on the way home. So yeah, I’d call today a triumph. I know everyone could feel my happy energy (I was smiling, so why not?). I feel so free and unstoppable.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 11

Day 11
Yesterday Akshay told me not to go to the office with the intention of making me discover the city. He took me to the apartment he is going to move into where I met his friend Chez. She has a very fun, distinctively thoughtful way of speaking. Akshay did this thing called the “Rickshaw Run” where he traveled all across the country in a rickshaw; this comes up in conversation about twice a day. Chez was one of the members of his group.
Akshay’s new apartment is in a white building with blue lining in a middle class neighborhood. It has a naked staircase, which, truth be told, is quite intimidating to the more neurotic elements of my brain. I was taking photographs. I don’t know what it is about me but whenever a little kid comes by, I must take a photograph. But I’ve never successful, because they are always too far away, or there is not enough light, or they’re zooming past in an auto rickshaw. Which is a shame. Because I firmly believe that Indian babies are some of the cutest babies in existence. Maybe it’s the outfits that they wear, or the fact that they’re on motorcycles with their parents.
Akshay had made a list of places for me to go; numbers I could call if I was lost; and things I should tell the rickshaw driver. So he left me on Church Street and I went into a bookstore called Blossoms. Within 10 minutes, Akshay was back. “I freaked out,” he said, “I’ll take the afternoon off.” We went to the bookstore, where we walked around and Akshay suggested books to me, and shamed my lack of literary prowess. The fact is, I just don’t get to reading all the books that people “should” read. Things like Salman Rushidie and all of these Indian writers I’ve never heard of because I haven’t lived here and no one writes about them in India. I wanted to buy this book called Quirkology but Akshay said “one book at a time” and proceeded to buy me 2 books.
We sat in Koshy’s for a few hours, discussing life and what I want to do with it. I think Akshay gave me the soundest admissions advice of any; that is to know what I want to do and pursue it with sincerity, while ignoring things that don’t matter like GPAs and test scores. If my aim is true, he thinks, I will get where I need to go without the need for over-stressing.
After a few hours of discussion, Divya joined us. We went to the park and sat for a bit, before deciding to go out to meet one of Akshay’s friends, Deepika, at this restaurant no one in our party had been to before called the Ugly Duckling. We discussed our perspectives of the name in the rickshaw.
The Ugly Duckling is on the fifth floor of an office building and was completely empty when we entered it. After walking of 5 flights of wide marble stairs, we were not surprised at its vacancy. It was a swanky restaurant, with a kind of new-age feel, it reminded me of Noodles & Company. Deepika is a journalist with a nose ring. I wouldn’t mind having a nose ring. Over dinner, the music that was playing changed three times. The first music was pathetically disco with remixes of songs that were popular last year. Next, it was pathetically 80s with Video Killed the Radiostar and Madonna and that “Wake me up before you go-go” song and the Bangles. After that it was 90s, with Lou Bega’s “Mambo #5”. While I enjoyed singing to all the songs, the rest of the dinner party gagged and tried desperately to plug their ears. Only when we were eating dessert (Chocolate Mousse), did they play something palatable by most, which was some kind of alt mix featuring Michael Buble (bubble?) and Josh Groban. I felt happy the whole time, because I knew all of the words to most of the songs.
That night I went to bed really late. I started to type up a resume and write an admissions essay, which I’m now done with. I woke up ridiculously late the today, which was interesting but rather uneventful as I went to AirTel twice, and unsuccessfully activated my phone (because I hadn’t paid for it). In the evening, we went to Koshy’s and had dinner with a crew of eight people, which eventually became six. A lot of interesting characters were there, many of whom had never met; Scott, Chez, Chez’s friend Selena, Akshay, Me, Samrat, Samrat’s friend whose name I don’t remember now (I actually do, but I wasn’t clear on it, so I don’t want to make a stupid mistake) , and this guy Abhijit who translates to Kannada for the story for WIRED. At first, the table was ridiculously crowded, and discussion was mildly sparse. After Chez and Selena left, the discussions were shared over the table about numerous topics as Indian politics, American politics, drugs, childhood experiences, fake news stories, freelancing and what is considered fat. It was a diverse group, making way for oddly frank discussions.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 9

So I've decided to keep up this every other day posting regiment, mainly because I can't bear to see my entries lined up as Day 1, Day 3, Day 5, Day 7, Day 8 or even worse "Day 10". There shall never be an even numbered day! Unless it's my last.

An email I got from my darling mother:

"Hi Rushi, it is 5:15 am, I have read your blog for the upteenth time. hungry for news. Have you got a phone? how is your cold? are u getting enough exercise? the dates for SAT and ACT are Sept 13th and Oct 4th. Do you need to do any subject tests in SAT?. I like to know where u went and what u did, regardless, if it seems like a laundry list. e.g., what is your apartment like? what is the neighbourhood like? Is it residential or commercial? Can you walk to the shops? What have u done at work the first three days, what have you learned? When u get home after a rest u shld take some time to sort your clothes out, make sure they are getting washed etc, may be make a trip to the bazaar to buy some food items and groceries. A cake of Rin soap (blue detergent soap for hand washing) may be a good idea. You can buy some bread and eggs for bfast. Have u got a sim card? It shouldnt be so difficult to get. They usually sell it in the lowliest of stores and it is pretty ubiquitous. You just need to take your phone and they charge it for a payment. Are you getting enough rest at night or if not resting during the day? Do you have a scype connection or a camera in your computer? We miss you a lot.Love,Mom"

To answer your questions..
Have you got a phone?: Well, I have one.. but it doesn't have a SIM card, I'm sorryyyy, it's very much out of my control because you have to use some sort of Indian ID to get one. I'll try to get one ASAP.

How is your cold?: I've got to say, my cold sucks. It has progressed to a cough, and under the polluted air conditions, it makes me very uncomfortable. I have been forgetting to keep hydrated, but last night I bought some tissues and food, so hopefully I can combat it. I am going to bring my water bottle to work from now on.

Are you getting enough exercise?: In all honesty, probably not. I'll be more disciplined about this I guess. But I've also been hacking and stuff, so it's a little hard to go outside onto the street where there is dust and stuff everywhere. According to Malvika, Bangalore is the allergy capital of India. I took a Claritin today, I don't know how much it helped.

Subject tests?: Yes, I think so. Biology and... something else. Something I can score really high on easily without studying too much.

What I did today: I woke up, I was at Mallika's house. I stayed their last night, because Akshay didn't come home until late, so I just stayed with her. We watched an existentialist movie called I <3 Huckabees, which is about this guy who works for a coalition for saving open spaces in the community, but he's slowly losing his power to a business exec for a store called "Huckabees" who wants to make an alliance with his coalition who is a stunning Jude Law with an American accent. But the dude sees this African guy three times in a row and feels like it's the key to the deeper meaning of life, so he goes to these "existentialist detectives" to track the case. It's a mind trip, Mom, you should watch it. After the movie, Mallika played guitar and we sang until we were tired. So this morning we got up, had breakfast, showered, and then I went to the apartment to change, and then we left for the office.
The office today was admittedly more boring than usual because I didn't have a lot to do. But near the end of the day, Samrat let me help to sub a story, which was pretty much the highlight. It was a really interesting story taken from the Washington Post that I had to cut down about martinis. After work, I went to Malvika's and we ate dinner and watched this movie Transamerica about a transsexual lady, who is played by a real woman, so I think it must be tough to play a guy who becomes a woman if you are actually a woman... Then I came home, and wrote this blog. That's an admittedly unsaturated telling of my day.

What is my apartment like?: Not too small, not too dirty, not too clean. It's just nice here and very much a bachelor pad. Last night, I bought some groceries for it: milk, noodles, bread, butter, etc . There are two bathrooms. My room is a study with light blue walls that leads onto the balcony where the maid hangs clean clothes to dry. But the people under us had a problem with someone climbing up, so I have to lock the door all the time as a security measure. They have a weird chirpy bird that also acts as a motion sensor/burglar alarm, but it is too soft, so it just ends up annoying the hell out of me.
Next to my room is a bathroom but its lights don't work and it doesn't get a lot of hot water. Across from my room is Akshay and Kaushik's room, except I've never met Kaushik because he's visiting Delhi and he was supposed to have come back, but he hasn't and it's making Samrat really mad.
If you walk out of my room and turn right, there is the kitchen/living area and Samrat's room. That leads to the door that has a broken lock, so you have to use the upper latch, which works just as well.
There's a lot of sand lining the staircases and stuff.

Neighborhood: It's mostly apartment buildings and small businesses. There's a few stores, and as you walk further down there's that Shanghai Junction restaurant I mentioned before.

What I have learned: I've basically learned how fast inspiration has to come and how fast it has to be good. People literally sit down, churn out an article, read someone else's articles, put them on a page, re-edit, and give them to the printers, in about a day. I don't do much, admittedly, I watch people, I talk to people about their jobs and today, I got to help by cutting down an article from an outside source. Yesterday, I did some research for Malvika. I sit behind people and make suggestions about what they should say, I made up a headline yesterday ("Hepatitis C strikes singer"). I think I've also learned that the people on the newspaper aren't like, the smartest people ever. Not that they're not smart, just that they're not so scary. And I feel like I could do the same things as them... and it makes the whole journalism idea seem far more attainable to me. (At least in the world of Features- news reporting still seems really hard and scary because of all of the history you have to know and all the big words you use that eventually become really boring, serious stories [at least those about the war], unless you're on CNN and you get access to better information...) Also, that many different types of people can be good at the same thing. I don't know, it's just so interesting to see the dynamics of a real daily. Also, I've been using my downtime to research colleges, and I found out today that UChicago doesn't have an undergrad journalism major, so I think not.

Clothes situation: Periodically, I clean my clothes, leaving the bigger items to the maid. Tomorrow morning I'm going to refold all of the clothes in my suitcase.

Skype: Yes. I can be online in the afternoon or late at night.

I miss you guys too. A lot. It's just weird to believe that I saw you guys everyday when I'm here.. I love you, and I'm sorry I don't have a SIM card... But I love and miss you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 7

Day 7
I don’t really feel like laundry-listing my day today. I think I’ll be a little bit more descriptive in my documentation from now on, just because it never benefited me to know exactly what happened when. I thought that coming to India would make me stop thinking so much. It has had the opposite effect. At breakneck speed I am realizing different aspects of the way I think, some kind of emotional pilgrimage is taking place with my actual pilgrimage away from home. I’ve started to distance myself from my life and started to reflect on it with more depth than ever before. I guess this comes from traveling alone, without the bubble of my every day life surrounding me.
I guess I’m stuck in the apartment today, because Akshay is off in quest of some really exciting story about the Indian Land Mafia with this guy named Scott from WIRED magazine, who I met yesterday morning. He seems like a really nice guy== white, American, not exactly clean-shaven--he writes about India in a myriad of publications and lives with his Indian wife in Chennai. Akshay is fulfilling a once in a lifetime opportunity and as a result, I am at home, but not upset, because I have been doing a lot of reading. Persepolis 2 is currently what sits next to me, but before it was Blink. We’ve been experiencing a few power outages, blessings really, that made me pick up some novels. Unfortunately I’m having a bit of a reflux issue after drinking some black coffee and eating some spicy hummus that was left over from going out with Malvika last night.
About that, last night Akshay had to meet with Scott, so Malvika took me home from the office. Akshay would have taken me home, but we couldn’t get a rickshaw at night because they it’s a pretty short distance and they don’t get as many people going out from here, so they lose money. So Malvika and I went to get dinner at some mall that had a great selection of Indian=made foods of all different varieties; Chinese, Greek, Indian, etc. It was all really exciting because of the talents Indians have for making everything taste good. I had some cold coffee and pita and hummus. It was all very yummy. For dessert, we went to this dimly lit place that was probably supposed to be romantic called Fresco where we ate cheesecake. Malvika and I had some good talks during our journeys together; she is excited and interested to know how I feel about India and Bangalore, how it’s different from home. I supply very odd answers. For example, I get a far different impression of Indians when I walk on the street than when I’m at the mall. There are far more differences and levels in India.
I really do want to go out. However, the fact that I don’t have an adequate set of keys prevents me from walking out in the cool rain swept street. Now that the power is back on (It’s gone out about 3 times today) maybe I can watch a movie. Perhaps I should go to sleep, perchance to dream. So that possibly I can make a narrative of them like Jason is doing. Nevertheless, I don’t feel as though today has been in any way useless. It has helped me think; I think that from now on I will not be self-deprecating and I will not compare myself with others. I will be self-reliant and kind, and understand that I have ability and competency. That being said, my AP scores came today and my mother emailed them to me. They were quite a pleasant surprise. I got a 4 on Microeconomics, and 5s on English Language and Composition, Psychology and Biology. Not bad, considering the fact that I thought I did much worse and stressed about them endlessly. That is another addition to my list. I shall not worry unnecessarily, or when I can do nothing about my worrying. I do it far too much and I waste so much time that I could be using to rectify the situation. I find myself being really silly even when I know that I shouldn’t be. I should apply my knowledge about how people screw things up to my life, so that I can avoid screwing up as well. Only then, will I actually be a good learner and person.

Day 5

Day 5 11:14 PM Bangalore
My toilet roll fell in the wash basin. It was a beautiful full Bounty roll. Fortunately I have two more rolls, one full and one half over, but still it’s a damned shame. Another damned shame: I left my iPod running for about a day and a half. Other news. I moved to Bangalore.
Getting to Bangalore was kind of hazardous. This is of course, a dramatic overstatement. The scary part was having my bag be overweight and having to pay about 1050 rupees (24 dollars) to appease the airline. Unfortunately, I momentarily forgot how to do math and tried to pay with my debit card before realizing I had enough cash to take care of it. I wasn’t sure how the airport was set up because it didn’t say which gate to go to on my ticket, but luckily enough I ended up in the correct location. On the flight, I was anxious about some old guy who kept on asking me how I was, first rescuing my water bottle that fell off of my table during take-off and then asking me if I was sick when I sneezed, and then asking whether I was tired or bored when I stopped reading my magazine. I’m sure he was just being friendly, but my parents have grilled me enough to make me super paranoid about any men who talk to me especially when I’m alone.
After getting off the plane, I met my driver who took me to Bangalore whose name I’ve forgotten. He was really jovial and talkative. He didn’t speak a lot of English, so our communication was very stilted. I think he said I was of the same stature and size as his wife but more beautiful, but I prefer to think he didn’t say that and blame my interpretation on the language barrier, because I don’t think that people should say things like that. . He almost got into a head on collision with another car because he was facing me while driving…. You can’t be sure about everyone all the time, unfortunately. I’m sad that my newfound mistrust makes me afraid of people, especially men, when I’m by myself, but perhaps it is better this way.
When we got to Akshay’s apartment, no one was there. We were just about finished becoming frantic and using the cell phone when Akshay appeared. Akshay has grown a lot more hairy in the years I haven’t seen him, which is mostly because he avoids shaving. He has also adopted a few more bad habits In his quasi-adulthood. After arriving, I met two of his friends from work who I saw again today: Malvika and Divya, who are both very upfront and self-sufficient, indeed having very interesting details to add to any conversation. They had lots of fun pulling my leg.
We sat on the roof of Akshay’s building. After seeing that I was frightened of them falling to what seemed like oblivion while sitting on the ledge, Malvika and Akshay acted like they were jumping off the roof when really there was a platform just underneath the one we were standing on. We made jokes that were funny, and afterwards Divya, Akshay and I went to some restaurant called Shanghai something and ate Chinjabi food as Divya calls Indian inspired Chinese food. I had hot and sour soup and Divya had some really spicy chicken. It was much better than the food at Chinese restaurants in America. But everything is tastier in India.
Akshay’s roommates are also very kind and open. One of them is the editor of the Indian Express, where I am interning, Samrat; he has this quiet sense of humor about him. Another is just visiting; a teacher in New York for half of the year in Creative Writing.
Today we went to a derby or horserace or “darrrby” as everyone here pronounces it. Basically, it was a big spectator event as Indians gambled rampantly and got really excited when they won their bets. Divya’s dad won all of the races in a jackpot situation.
Malvika and I sat together, due to the fact that she was wearing heels and basically unable to walk. We talked to this guy named Rocky, who later became the focus for Malvika’s part of the story. He was this really friendly guy who sat with us, he wore a pink t-shirt and tight jeans. He told us that his mother would whip him if she knew he was at the races, but nevertheless he had been betting on races for 10 years already; he told us very emphatically that you can leave your wife, but you can’t leave races. I myself, do not seem to share this sentiment.
After the race, Malvika and I went to McDonalds and the office while Akshay remained to take photos. We went and got McAloo Tikki and ice cream. I really enjoy hanging out with Malvika, and we took cute pictures in the rickshaw and at the office.
I became further acquainted with the office , which is full of very kind people. I met Shubham and automatically liked her. She wears glasses, like me, and always wears salwar kamises to work. She was so open to me, and she told me, “If I can make one person look at things differently than I feel I have done my job.” I find the newspaper office to be a very inspiring place, despite its lack of clean bathrooms and tissues. Everyone there is fast at work to spread knowledge and information, some of the things I prize above all else.
After work, I went home, while Akshay was out on some hang-out/date/meeting thing, and watched Penelope, a surprisingly poignant movie about a girl who is born with a pig-nose because of a family curse. I cried twice during her journey to self-acceptance that was unaided by her pushy and terrifying mother. When I told Akshay and Samrat about the movie, they laughed at me.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 3

Day 3 11:23 AM July 11th
I have done something very stupid. I spilled my coffee on the floor. I had to call Lalita to clean it up. Lalita is Sonu Mami’s housemaid who I’ve grown quite fond of. She is very quiet, but always very kind and smiling. I took some pictures of her yesterday that she wouldn’t smile in. She never showed her teeth. She is very, very cute, and very nice to me, even though she had to clean up my spill. Mummy said to weary of servants who are sometimes very poor and sometimes will take your money if you leave it lying around if you are a houseguest. But I know Lalita would never take my money because she is just too good on the inside.
Sonu Mami hates getting her picture taken. She makes all sorts of excuses when I try, “I’ve gotten old and fat now, you can’t take my picture, I’ll just get SO depressed!” and all other such nonsensical things. She flails her arms and covers her face with the dog whenever I try to take a picture and she says she’ll steal my camera and break it into a million pieces when I’m sleeping. Chi-chi. She’ll never get the chance. But she is so melodramatic sometimes, it’s very cute.
Yesterday we went to a movie called Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic. Unlike in America, you have to buy your tickets in advance somewhat, in order to get place in the movie theater. This showing was not that full, but it was a kids movie. Also unlike in America, the movie theatre snacks are NOT terribly expensive, because in India people have value for their money, and people have value for your business, so they give you value.
The movie was about this boy who grew up and was separated from his best friend, and then his mom died and then he was kind of a sad little kid, and a loner, who won lots of awards because he was so introverted and intelligent. Then one day, he answers his cell phone while driving and he hits another car and flips it over. (Gross, my coffee has skin.) According to the court, he killed two people and they had kids, and he now has to take care of the kids as his punishment. Remember that this is a movie. I don’t think Indian courts really work like that. So then he takes the kids, there are four of them plus a dog, and they’re all incredibly adorable. There are a brother and a sister, and another brother and sister that the family adopted. So they plot to have revenge on the guy who got into an accident with their parents who is now their guardian, so they pull all these tricks to make him crazy, because you know, he’s a very Type A kind of guy with a bimbo-like girlfriend, who is actually sort of a bimbo in real life based on this article I read about her in the Mumbai Mirror. So basically the guy becomes very upset with the kids, and the kids upset with him and the fact that their parents are gone. Then God sees them crying and calls upon this angel, Gita, you know, like the Bhagavad-Gita, to pretend to be their Nanny and make them learn to love each other. It was actually a really funny movie and like 3 hours long, because Indian movies are like that after you factor in the last minute plot twists and all the random songs.
Yesterday we also went to the bazaar which is fun because all of the clothes are cute and cheap. However they have these men who don’t know you selling you the clothes, pointing at ugly things and hoping that you like them, and looking at you and telling you what will fit you, which is a little disturbing sometimes, because you know that they know what they’re talking about. Some things didn’t come in my size because Indian girls don’t traditionally have really broad shoulders or big busts, so I found myself feeling kind of fat yesterday. (Right: Clothes that don't fit me)
There was drama at the bank too. Sonu Mami and I went to the ATM so she could activate Ishita’s account and so I could withdraw money, and the security guard opened up the door and told us to hurry up and that customers were waiting. Sonu Mami said she was sorry and that she had to open a new account and that I also had to get cash out. Then the guy who was waiting who rode up on a motorcycle yelled at her and said, “Why don’t you just wait for me to go and then open your account? I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes!” Sonu Mami apologized and then went and talked to the manager about the security guard who let the guy speak to us like that. She told the manager not to punish the security guard, but to make sure that he knew that you don’t treat a customer like that, especially if the customer just opened a new account with them. The manager was very understanding and said that regardless of time spent in the ATM, we had the right to use it for as long as we felt necessary. The motorcycle guy was really impolite too. He should not have gotten so upset, especially since there were definitely other ATMs available. I felt kind of bad anyway, because the security guard must’ve been dealing with some crap from the motorcycle guy for a while before he decided to say something to Sonu Mami. Sometimes people get put under pressure and they act like idiots.
When we got home, Arvind Mamu and me ate dinner while Sonu Mami made phone calls. After dinner, we ordered gelato from this place that delivers. It was kit Kat flavored and damn good. I really liked it. Arvind Mamu is so funny and jovial, and I wish he didn’t work such long hours everyday.
Nothing so far has happened today, except I have read some newspapers and spilled coffee. Sonu Mami and I are going to make pasta and flan, but the internet is giving out, and I’m worried that I won’t get to find recipes.
Day 3 again
I wouldn’t have posted again, but I got mehendi done and I wanted to show you a picture. I get so nervous when I’m around fluent Hindi speakers. They ask me simple questions and I sometimes can’t understand the terminology they’re using… well, whatever. My hands are pretty.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Day 1

Day 1, I guess. 3AM
Mumbai, India
July 9, 2008
Would today be Day 1? I don’t think that it is because Day 1 is probably the first whole day I spend in India, not just the remains of one. I think it’s about 3 AM over here. I’m not sure, because my laptop is still on American time.
I should probably start by detailing what an austere experience it was flying to India alone. I flew via AirIndia from O’Hare Airport, then stopped for 30 minutes in Frankfort before boarding the same plane to go to Mumbai, which is where I currently sit as my laptop is drained of its battery. This is actually quite a sticky situation, because while I am now on land and able to recharge, however, a pre-zygotic barrier makes it impossible for my charger to connect to any power outlet in India without proper protection.
But I realize now more than ever that it was not the plane which got me to India as much as it was the work of my passport. My passport went about 3 hours before we had to leave to go to O’Hare. In a fine frenzy, my parents and I tore up our entire house looking for it. And found it where it was usually kept, except underneath the box that Chet’s Wii came in. I am going to sleep, because of my battery.

Day 1 #2 10:20 PM Mumbai, India
Laptop situation figured out. Let me first tell you about my flight, because I said a lot of wishy-washy things in the last update. On the way to O’Hare, Papa gave me his 700th pep talk about how India has no law and how anyone could do anything to me and get away with it, so I must be develop a sense of mistrust. I must also learn to be very cautious and mindful of my possessions. As a result of these many pep talks, I had adopted a fanny pack or “butt pack” with which to strap my belongings around my midsection so that I didn’t have to think too much.
Coming upon the airline check-ins, I saw more Indians that I didn’t know than I think I’ve ever seen in my life, some even being my own age. There were groups of people, very different from one another, some so Indian, I was sure they had lived their whole lives in India, some so Anglicized that I couldn’t tell they were Indian until I saw their interactions with their children. In the long line to get checked in by one of the six tellers, I wondered whether the Indians would know I was Indian or not, whether they would speak in Hindi with me or not.
I had a few different experiences with this. Most people, I think, could tell I had grown up in America because I was by myself and traveling light. My fair skin tone also seems to function as a tip-off. Many people spoke to me in Hindi, to them I usually responded in English. You can usually tell where Indians are from by the language they usually speak in. Those who travel use Hindi and English interchangeably, more when speaking to older Indians, less when speaking to younger Indians. Those who speak more Hindi, speak only in Hindi unless it is necessary to speak otherwise. The American Desis, such as myself, speak in English unless it is absolutely necessary to say some words in Broken Hindi. I naturally add an Indian accent with people I don’t know in order to seem more educated than I am. I was most flattered by an experience where my English linguistics became useful to an old woman on the plane who could not write in English , who handed me her passport and some forms to fill out.
Ah, but I wanted to tell you about the German airport . We had a 30-minute stopover in Frankfurt before we boarded the same plane again. The German airport was designed like a swanky restaurant except not as clean. When I went into the duty-free store, I saw some tobacco products with gigantic labels that said “SMOKING KILLS” in huge text that covered over half of the product. I found the whole thing so funny that I almost took a picture. I couldn’t because one of the store ladies asked if she could help me with anything, so I think she found me suspicious for laughing at cigarettes.
I found myself in momentary confusion as I realized that I didn’t have the currency necessary to buy things, and I didn’t know how many dollars were in a euro. I used my debit card to buy a sandwich and a cappuccino . Note, the cappuccinos there are less sweet, so you have to get sugar by saying Excusez-moi to a couple sexy French guys at the bar counter.
Today being my first real day in India, I think I should tell you what it was like. When I got to Arvind Mamu and Sonu Mami’s apartment, I was so excited. They have a really beautiful house thanks to the talents of my aunt and cousin, Ishita. It is decorated with beautiful paintings and artifacts from all over the world. Arvind Mamu is my mom's brother, in case you were wondering. They have a crazy dog named Ivy, who perpetually tries to make out with me.
My Sonu Mami is so excited to see me and hang out with me. Today she took me to the market, and we went to the Indian McDonalds’ and had a McAloo Tikki, which is a fried potato patty with some kind of chutney in place of a burger. They have paneer wraps and all sorts of amazing things that they should have in America instead of all of the beef which stops Americans from eating creatively.
One thing I must say before I leave. Although India is amazing and very progressive, it lacks in one respect. Traffic is incredibly bad over here. There are no signs, no real speed limits, no regulations made about it. It is survival of the fittest on the roadways. The rickshaws don’t go in straight lines, they instead go where there aren’t other cars or people blocking the way. There is no such thing as following distance over here and the people just walk in the street around the cars wherever. It’s amazing that there are so few accidents, but they come very very close. I shall tell you more later.

Here starts my blog of India

I am now in India for a Journalism internship with my cousin. Here I shall document my exploits.