Monday, February 23, 2009

...and the goings on were quite mystical.

So we all decided to take a week off school and head up to the sand-blasted and lore-soaked "North," from where I am writing this blog. How do I now find myself writing a blog the night after Shiva's birthday celebration in the blue city of Jodhpur? These are the tales you will soon hear.

Now before we begin on this MYSTICAL odyssey through the ancient land of kings (राजस्थान 'rajasthan' in hindi means the land of kings), I would like you to remember that what happens in the desert stays in the desert, I am alive, and was at no point in any immediate or long-term danger. Moving on.

So we get off the plane in Delhi around 1AM, and after witnessing some mystical guru get off the plane to a shower of flower petals, we make our way to our hotel in the Paharganj area of Delhi (note: Lonely Planet describes this area as having a "reputation for drug-dealers and assorted touts"), my friend Jamie and I alone (the other girls stayed with their host-brother of sorts somewhere else in Delhi) in what looks like a neon-lighted Blade Runner remix of an Indian Las Vegas. After the night man told us that there was 24 hour check out (a detail that later came back to bite us seeing as we had no choice but to pay for an extra night's stay or be handed over to some Paharganj Mafia) and we get a good night's sleep, we do some cool things, such as:
1) Go to the National Museum and see the preserved remains of some of the Buddha's bones, along with the sculpture of that chick with her hand on her hips from ancient Harrapan Mohenjo Daro.
2) See India Gate and central New Delhi and realize that it is so much more cosmopolitan than we could have ever imagined, evoking pieces of LA, London, and Paris.
3) Go to the National Crafts Museum and get...crafty.
4) Have some sketchy drunken rickshaw drivers almost get us killed, but hey, we made it, and for under $2!
5) Go to a South Asian Rock Festival at night in Purana Qila, a.k.a. the Old Fort, where we proceeded to go tomb-raiding and climb up one of the fort complexes in the middle of the night, with people singing yogic prayers set to the music of a late 80's Pantera cover band, with a rip roaring crowd of about 125 of Delhi's happenin' youth in tow.
6) Get awesome dinner with my friend Michael from Columbia (always nice to see a familiar face) and his rad friend Nell, who then, the next morning took us to the Old City and Chandni Chowk Bazaar, where we ate so much food at this famous restaurant called Haldiram's that we almost, ALMOST fell over dead at the end.
7) Go to a Kama Sutra-themed dance club and drink Masala Martinis.
8) See Lal Qila (Red Fort) and take cycle rickshaws home (think: two-person chairlift seats to Hell on wheels being pulled by a small man who should, in all reason, not be able to cart our fat American asses around Delhi by bicycle).

And there's Delhi for you. It was really great, definitely not the death-trap people told us it would be. We really found it (or, most of it) to be incredibly clean, safe, without too much "touting," and quite simply, impressive. But everything was to change, and get much more MYSTICAL, after a 14 hour bus ride. The fact that I was vomiting uncontrollably (probably from a bad Sweet Lime Soda), closely mirroring the after-effects of some nomadic and shaman MYSTICAL traditions, should have warned me of the MYSTICAL things that were to happen the next day, but we, all six of us, were still in the dark regarding the MYSTICAL powers of Rajasthan.

We get off the bus and arrive in Jodhpur, a city in Western Rajasthan on the Thar Desert and about six hours away from Pakistan. This city is so cool partially because it sits right below Mehranghar Fort, a gigantic fort cut out of a rock face. But what's even cooler is that the entire city is painted blue and surrounded on all sides by desert, hence the nickname "The Blue City." So I unfortunately missed the first day of Jodhpur because I was sick in my hotel room dying on the floor from Sweet Lime poisoning, and didn't get to see the Fort (don't worry, I'm theoretically going in the morning when I wake up), but today may have been one of the craziest, most MYSTICAL days of my life.

Note: my friend here, the lovely Brenda Arloa McNary, adores all things MYSTICAL. We make it a point to collect MYSTICAL objects wherever we go. At the end of the day, when asked how her day was, she replied: "That was mystical as F***!" Now, excuse the language and what would appear to be near-Orientalizing oversight of cultural and social nuances found running deep through this statement, but I feel as if there are no words more appropriate with which to describe my day than "MYSTICAL" accompanied by an "F-bomb."

We decide to do Mr. Joshi's Rural Village Jeep Safari. This is an adventure which runs from 9am-4pm and is almost nauseatingly MYSTICAL. After boarding the Jeep, which is driven by one Mr. Shiva and goes down desert "roads" at speeds no less than 50km/hr, we went to a Bishnoi village and saw the trees which the Bishnoi people defended with their lives, with over 300 of them being decapitated. Equally as important, the site was filled with peacocks (which shed their MYSTICAL feathers all over the ground) and what my friend Katie and I like to call "Hovines" and what Lonely Planet calls "half cow half horse." They are actually called something like "Boobaloos." What's more MYSTICAL than a liger, you ask? Try boobaloos.

Next, we head to a small dung hut (one of many, pictures coming I swear) where we all attend a traditional Opium Tea Ceremony, performed in a very nice man's home, with his Chappati-making mother and a bag full of Opium smuggled from Pakistan. Now don't worry, this isn't as illegal and unsafe as it sounds (or is it?), considering we were being followed around by a coach bus filled with high school-aged students from a school for the mentally challenged, and they also had the tea, but it involved a whole impressive, (dare I say MYSTICAL?!) dripping process and being ground through a SIEVE (SIEVE!!! RAHULAAA!) with an antelope horn, you know the deal. End of the story: we're alive.

Next stop: 75 year old weaver who gave us beedis (purely vile, and certainly NOT MYSTICAL Indian cigarettes made from some kind of very dry leaf that isn't anything to ingest under normal circumstances) and thought my friend Jamie was a girl, a comment that foreshadowed the discussion of yonis and linga to come.

Next: I made a bowl out of clay on a wheel propelled only by a stick and the MYSTICAL will to create mediocre pottery and sell it in bazaars for inflated prices.

Soon after that: we ate lunch in another cow dung hut, which was just delicious, and was immediately followed by a guilt-trip ploy to get us to purchase Rs. 3000 hand-woven double-sided Rajasthani rugs.

Then, upon returning to Jodhpur, we realize it is a holiday...the Lord Shiva's Birthday! This not only involves many flowers, decorations, and nonstop Bollywood tunes being blasted throughout the city, but also some fun, super-MYSTICAL Hindu rituals. For instance, surrounded by people who were obviously "bhang-ed out" (bhang lassi: (n) a milkshake-like beverage made from yogurt, sugar, and bhang, a semi-hallucinogenic, marijuana-based substance sold for use during the winter festivals by the Central Government of Rajasthan), the six of us conspicuous Americans wander into a Shiva temple, where small tin pots with holes in the bottom filled with, and leaking, holy water (which was about 3" deep on the floor of the basement room of a temple where we were all walking barefoot) were thrust into our hands. With these, our motley crew was to bathe a devotional statue covered in offerings of flowers, fruit, and money, representing the lingus (gigantic erect penis) of the Lord Shiva, who was known, among other things, to be constantly aroused but never impregnate any of his multiferous lovers. So, to repeat the image, six of us, looking ridiculous, bathing Shiva barefoot in the flooded basement of a temple in central Jodhpur. What is the last thing we need? You guessed it: a photographer for The Rajasthani Times. So I'll watch the front page, but tomorrow, this exact image, ridiculous (yet MYSTICAL) as all get-out, might be circulated to the multi-million person population of the state of Rajasthan. Ha. But before this took a turn for the exploitative, the sacred bath was a perfectly insightful, exclusive, and powerfully spiritual (not to inappropriately and a little blasphemously mention HEINOUSLY MYSTICAL) nightcap we needed to finish off our day's adventure throughout MYSTICAL Jodhpur.

Tomorrow we're all off, on another bus, to Jaipur, from where we'll be seeing the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Holy City of Varanasi on the Ganges before returning to school. I just thought I should write this now in the hotel's Internet Cafe since so many things have happened in the last few days, and it would be a shame to turn some of the most amazing things I've ever done into the chore of writing an encyclopedia-length blog three weeks later.


Jodhpur 2/24

P.S.--Upholding my stereotype of Israeli backpackers as the most insane yet fun people to roam the subcontinent, yesterday we met an Israeli guy named Levin (I think...) who has plans to win a camel race from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan to the Pakistani border within the next week. Simple, no? Well, he has planned out a costume consisting of heavy red eyeliner, a nose-ring, and a Spandex suit, all of which his camel, who he intends on drugging with bhang via intra-hump injection (I still don't understand why he thought this would make the camel run faster nevertheless prevent it from eating three bags of Camel Cheetos sitting on its Camel Couch watching episodes of Gossip Girl) will wear too. Tonight, we run into him after apparently having a little too wild of a Shivarati, only to find that he had his name, his camel's name, the word "camel" in Rajasthani, spirals around his nipples, and a gigantic drawing of a camel henna-d onto his back and chest. He then went around wearing a Nacho Libre mask he obtained from the festival (don't ask) and scaring people in the hotel. Moral: FIND THE ISRAELIS.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"He said the train got lost..." -Peter L. Whitman

I have been reading my dear friend Sarah’s blog chronicling her stay in Dakar, Sénégal (, and from that, I have realized that it is possible to blog-vent without sounding like an ungrateful, negative piece of shit. Therefore, before I begin, I'd like to vent a little bit, partially as an excuse for not blogging as much as I'd like, partially because I'm a little frustrated, partially because I’m a little bored.

The internet: a bizarre series of wires and tubes that lets us access wireless. The thing about the internet that I learned here is, well, it can explode. I was about to send in my cover letter to an internship I am applying to about a week or so ago when, alas, a bunch of hardware allegedly worth 50 lakhrupiya a.k.a. 5,000,000 rupees a.k.a. $100,000 burst into flames. Needless to say, the application remains unfinished. Also, we still don't have A.C. They are mostly all installed, but the administration refuses to turn them on until every room in the ~70-room hostel, half of which are uninhabited, have air conditioners. Also, it is consistently in the middle 90s or higher during the day, and a bone-chilling 70-75 at night. And we've been told to expect the heat to climb roughly 20 or 30 degrees in the next month. Think of the difference between 50 degrees and 80 degrees. Now add that onto 90 degrees and you get the sauna I'm about to live in. With no A.C. Also, the library doesn't allow bags or outside books, including books from the library that you had previously checked out, back into the library. Apparently the library is not for books in India. Go freakin' figure.

Okay, done with that.

I've been traveling a whole lot recently. In the last three weeks or so, I have been not only all over Hyderabad, but also to Hampi, Chennai, Pondicherry, Auroville, and Mamallapuram. Let's talk about it.

The trip to Hampi was amazing. My friends Martha, Tamar, Jamie, and I decided that we should go visit Hampi for our first excursion out of Hyderabad. So we take the 12-hour sleeper train from Hyderabad to Hospet and a one hour rickshaw ride at 5:30 AM to Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the site of thousands of temple ruins, thousands of monkeys, and thousands of Israeli backpackers on their year off from Army. This was a while ago, and I don’t remember all the details, so I’ll restrain and recap it in a Letterman-style Top 10:

10) Monkeys are people; I witnessed the monkey miracle of life.
9) Get garlic curry if you see it. No matter what.
8) The chai-walla outside Virupaksha Temple may have the best chai on the subcontinent.
7) Don’t get a pedicure unless you want your feet and calves scraped off by an Indian woman with a steel brush and nothing to lose.
6) Don’t get a massage unless you are into getting your naked boobs doused in some kind of animal oil and violently felt up for about an hour.
5) How to count to 3 in Hebrew: ahkhaht, shtahyeem, shalohsh.
4) If you stick a rupee in an elephant’s trunk, it will bless you a.k.a. slap you across the face with its snot-filled hairy trunk. And you just paid for it.
3) No matter where in the world you go, Hare Krishnas just want your damn money.
2) Do NOT get in a rickshaw with the words “Funky 007” driven by a 14-year-old drug-dealing rickshaw-walla who claims to be 21 and will only answer to the name “James Bond.”
1) If you find yourself on top of a mountain in the middle of the desert surrounded by fire dancers, naked yogis, and boulders, do NOT drink from a bottle of water given to you by an Israeli backpacker named Thom. Even if his friend Moti says it’s okay. Trust me. But what happens in Hampi, stays in Hampi, and the only important thing is that I’m here to tell the tale.

Hampi: done.

Next, about two weeks later, we took a Wednesday off school and gave ourselves a 5-day vacation through Tamil Nadu. Disregarding the e-mail Kavitha, our program director, sent regarding “a bandh (city-wide shut down) enacted as a result of orange threat-level insurgency in the city of Chennai, the province of Tamil Nadu, and Sri Lanka by the Tamil Tigers (read: anti-Indian establishment, anti-Hindustani “freedom-fighters”)” we set off on a great trip. After the 17 hour sleeper train ride spent next to the cast and luggage (21 bags) of My Big Fat Indian Wedding (the groom was from Birmingham), we get off in Chennai, which is beautiful but smells like fish. After our hubcap-sized dosa, we get on a bus from the train station to another bus station to another bus station where we are asked by a man with two lazy eyes “nsjfal,kejfhrln mamallapuram hjlfabdbjnakds?” This is how we decided to go to Mamallapuram.
Mamallapuram is a cool, sort-of touristy Indian fishing village halfway between Chennai and Pondicherry where you can do cool things like eat whole fish covered in onions, peppers, and masala with your hands, buy sandalwood necklaces and erotic sculpture on the beach, GO SWIMMING!!!, see “Krishna’s Butterball,” a boulder on a hill that should have rolled down and crushed the town about three millennia ago, brush up on your Kama Sutra with the help of street-vendors selling erotic flip calendars, &c. Bottom line: fun was had by all.

After Mamallapuram, we get on a three-hour bus ride from hell, sitting in the aisles a.k.a. canal for a mysterious liquid that we thought was chai but turned out to be, you guessed it, VOMIT! Off the bus, off with the clothes and into Pondicherry! After we found board at “French Guest House” a.k.a. 2 double beds in one room on the ground floor for nine people, we set out to stroll through the stunning parks, see the French Colonial architecture, relax on the promenade near the vaguely Maine-ish beach, and drink vin rouge and feast on coq au vin, poulet cordon bleu, and soupe à l’oignon gratinée like there was no tomorrow. And there wasn’t, since we were off to Auroville.

I’ll let Auroville do the talking about Auroville:

1) Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
2) Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
3) Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
4) Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.

There are five main attractions at Auroville (another list, here it comes!):

1) An awesome Tibetan restaurant above some guy’s garage where you are served delicious momo by an illiterate 12-year-old, his friend, and another friend.
2) Auroville was started by Sri Aurobindo and an unnamed woman refered to only as “The Mother.” It is meant to be a transcendent, religion-less, self-sustaining communal living peace experiment. A fun feature of the commune is the kushy shopping complex where things like incense, essential oils, soaps, and postcards of The Mother’s eyes are sold. Goodbye Rs. 450, but at least now I can smell like cedarwood and opium flowers EVERY DAY!!!
3) A really cool tree, a neem tree to be precise, where vines grow down from the tree’s huge canopy and grow back into the ground.
4) A bizarre, sort of inappropriately-shaped hollow sculpture of a lotus bud that contains dirt from something like 27 countries who sent representatives to the opening of Auroville.
5) The main attraction: the matrimandir. Think Epcot ball, but gold and in a 7 square kilometer garden where you are not even allowed to think about going. Inside the ball, however, there is not a ride sponsored by AT&T, like one would expect, but a room with a white ceiling, white walls and white floor. The room is dark inside. In the middle of the room, there is a crystal ball. Into the crystal ball, a concentrated beam of sunlight is projected. This light refracts, and apparently if you stare into it for long enough, you either go blind or see your soul. Only permanent residents of Auroville are allowed in, but they were nice enough to play us a movie about it.

But the real fun began only after I drank the Jim Jones Juice and left Auroville behind: the trip, no, Odyssey back to Hyderabad. All 28 hours of it.

We get onto a bus in Pondicherry, which is about a half an hour north of Auroville via really cool Ambassador coupe. This bus takes us the 4-ish hours from Pondicherry past Mamallapuram again and into Chennai. Three people to a seat and not enough leg room for Bubba from Forrest Gump (reminder!: Bubba has no legs). This busride ends, and we get on another bus to take us to another bus station where we catch another bus to the train station, where we basically beg to get off the wait-list for seats on the train home. At this time, we eat dinner in a shack. Two hours later, we get on the train, which is great, until we wake up in the morning. Pause.

Many of you know this already, but I love Wes Anderson, specifically his movie The Darjeeling Limited with Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, the whole gang. Despite my quick realization that Indian trains have neither private compartments nor “Sweet Lime” women waiting for you naked with cigarettes in the bathroom, and the realization that it portrays more a funky Wes Anderson alternate reality that looks a lot like India more so than India itself, there is a grain of truth in the thing: trains are unreliable. We wake up on the Charminar Express around 8AM to find that the train stopped. When we ask around and figure out what’s going on, a line from Darjeeling pops to mind:

Brendan: The train, well…the train is lost.
Jack: What did he say?
Peter: He said the train is lost.
Jack: How can a train be lost? It's on rails.
Peter: I don’t know…

After receiving this along with other ridiculous answers in Hinglish, we find out that the train in front of us has derailed, and we cannot continue. Also, we learn we are about 150km outside of Hyderabad, on the outskirts of a town on the outskirts of Warangal, a small city in the desert of Andhra Pradesh. So, we unload from the train and walk across the tracks and into the great sandy expanses of Mother India until we find a road, where the busses we’ve been promised are supposed to come. The busses don’t come. So we basically convince a man with a TATA Commander, like a Jeep Wrangler but a little bigger, to squeeze the nine of us in plus luggage plus 3 other people and two drivers into a car meant for no more than seven and drive us, limbs flailing out of the door-less doors, about 2 and a half hours to Secunderabad, Hyderabad’s sister city, and about an hour by commuter rail from our hostel. In the car, we met this Indian guy who is an Assistant Director in Tollywood (Telugu Bollywood), who asked us our favorite movies so he could propose them for Ramoji Studios to rip off. We also learned of his ability to sing the words to Britney Spears’ “Lucky,” his penchant for quoting every Will Smith movie with disturbing accuracy, and his undying love for the Backstreet Boys. Surprise! Welcome to India. Anyway, in Secunderabad, we wait with him until the train to Lingampally comes, what should have been 10 minutes but what actually turned out to be 2 and a half hours. Then, we get on the train, get to Lingampally an hour later, and decide to get rickshaws back to campus. When we get back, we find that all the gates are closed and they are not letting anyone inside because of protests regarding a University of Hyderabad Ph.D. student’s suicide which was attested to the fact that a professor didn’t give him a grant extension. Not to sound insensitive, but I honestly have no idea what the deal with this was, besides feeling mild offense and extreme confusion regarding students protesting professors who were blamed by friends of the student who killed himself for causing the suicide by not reforming grant referral and renewal bureaucracy. Anyway, we ditch the rickshaws so we can squeeze by the reporters and cameras crowding the main gate, and just as we do, they resume traffic flow through the gate, and our rickshaws go speeding past. Now, we get to walk a kilometer or two to get our bikes and ride another two or three kilometers through the freakin’ desert back to the hostel. And 28 hours later, we thankfully got to eat a (cold) lunch that was saved for us, go to our respective rooms, and sleep. But THEN we find out that classes were not all cancelled due to the protesting, and I had to get myself back to North Campus, a few kilometers on the bike again, for Hindi, which I needed to do just as much as I wanted to shoot myself in the head. My friend Martha put it best when she screamed “Punch me in the stomach while I’m drowning JESUS!”

So, that’s my novel for tonight, I have to go tend to the four thousand mosquito bites covering every inch of my body. Oh, and I ran out of anti-itch cream. If you want, please send anti-itch cream, or anything else like a letter or deodorant, to:

Tagore International House
South Campus
University of Hyderabad
Gachibowli, Hyderabad 500046

धन्यावाद और फिर मिलेंगे !
Hyderabad 2/12

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I have a phone...AND NOW YOU CAN CALL IT!!

If you are in America and want to talk to me (and don't have GChat, Google Video Chat, Facebook or Skype) get on your international phone or grab an international calling card and call this number:

+011 91 965 2009 362

If you call me, it's free. If I call you, it's rupees out the ass.

NB: The time difference is 10 1/2 hours ahead of Eastern Standard. This means that if it is 7PM your time (New York, Connecticut, Vermont), it's 5:30 AM the next day here. This means that the best times to call me are between 9PM-10:30AM your time. Thank God most of you never sleep.


Hyderabad 1/22

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Classes, Monkeys, Monkeys, and OBAMA!!

नमस्कार हैदराबाद से!
Sorry it's been a long time, things have begun to get stressful here. First of all, I've learned that universities not in the States are not run like, well, universities in the States. Classes "started" on "5 Jan" (as they say...India--NOT NYC--is the land of abbrevs), but I'm still working to figure things out. Right now, it looks like these are my classes (if you want to call them that):
  1. Intermediate Hindi: Taught by this lovely lady named Bhavani--Sophie and Jordan: pictures of the baby are coming after we go to her house for lunch next week, she wanted me to let you guys know. I got a 9.25 out of 15 on the first test...and it was one of the higher grades in the class...rock it.
  2. Guided Readings in Linguistics and Comp Lit: Poststructuralism and Postcolonialism. Say the words "Thesis Research" and you get what you want.
  3. Current Issues in Contemporary World Theatre: Hasn't started yet. Don't know why.
  4. Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Indian Poetry: taught by Hoshang Merchant, the craziest man I've ever met (who self-references with female pronouns in Hindi, is a cool 275lbs with a footlong beard and even longer white ponytail (think Dumbledore meets Nathan Lane), and may or may not have had a career in drag somewhere in California or Ohio during the late '70s). He enjoys the words "c**t," "f**k," "c**k," and "fairy." He held us 20 minutes after class to tell us that his herpes (which he got from wild, nonconsensual sex in Purdue, Indiana) only breaks out under stress or around his sister. He called me a witch. A WITCH! I felt so Abigail Williams, and I didn't even tell him about the yellow bird I saw in the rafters.
Speaking of classes, our whole group took a trip to a different kind of school, the M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation in West Marredpally, where their motto is: "Abolish Child Labour: Gurarantee Right to Education." You've probably all seen pictures of me and a bunch of other "honkeys" (yes...a 6 year old orphan called me a honkey) surrounded by throngs of Indian former child laborers and wondered "What the hell is he doing?" Well, this place works to find ill-treated child laborers without the opportunity for education, take them in, and provide them with education up through the equivalent of the end of high school. Many of them, however, are 17 or 18 and still in the 6th or 7th grade, since some ran away from home in their teens to find this place--some kids really chase entrepreneurism with more determination than I've ever felt in my life. So we bring them all sorts of cool stuff, like notebooks, pens and pencils, volleyballs, everything. But what do they want? Cameras. So these kids take all our cameras, run away with them, and return them with memory cards full. The thing is, they were all pictures of us. When we tried to get pictures with them, they would immediately stop smiling and throw some mad shade, making us look like kidnappers or pederasts. How nice. Also, I took a ball to the face. Surprise.

Speaking of monkeys, a monkey fell through the roof at Domino's Pizza. I repeat: a monkey fell through the roof at Domino's Pizza...and everyone acted as if it was normal. There was drywall everywhere.

Anyway...OBAMA!! At Mocha, this hookah bar that we LOVE (they have hookas prepared with milk, ice, champagne, lime's really just great), some plastered Indian guy comes up to us and says "Sorry about eavesdropping, but are you Americans? Yeah? I could tell from your accents. Anyway, my girlfriend Martha is the chair of the Democrats Abroad Ex-Pat Society, and we're throwing an Inaugural Ball at The Grill Room (a really nice lounge in Banjara Hills a.k.a. the Beverly Hills of Hyderabad). Here she is!" So we all paid our Rs. 800 (about $16) for a "Black-tie" night including a CNN live stream, dinner, open bar and "dancing." So what do we do? Buy "super expensive" (Rs. 3000, or about $60), handmade, incredibly ornate साडियाँ (saris, for the girls) and शेरवाणी (sherwanis, for the boys), so we can party in style. But when we get there, we get the "Oh, the college students are here!" look from about 30 45+ embassy workers/adventurous expat divorcées in jeans, some even rocking the (gasp!) MOM JEANS. I know...everywhere you go, right? So we watch the inauguration (which was great) and then surprised the crowd with an intense dance party when a Techno remix of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" came on. I mean, open bar, Obama-shots, Obama-tinis, Obamagranate Margaritas...they were asking for it. I have no regrets--but I'm sure the bus company that took us there and back does.

On a related note, never try to smoke an Indian cigarette, no matter who tells you to. Just trust me. Not. Fun.

Now, I could go into stories about how my friend Jamie woke up with a rat on his face, how we all receive text-message love notes from our new Indian friends, how our friend Tamar was thought to have been kidnapped by Saudi terrorists and ransomed for $1,000,000, how a rickshaw driver got so mad at me that he may or may not have tried to kill me, how I was almost sold into white slavery, &c. &c., but I like to keep it positive, since, after all, we're all perfectly safe (90% of the time) and it's a total blast here. Plus, in about an hour, I'm leaving for the weekend to go to Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage site on a cool river with tons and tons (like hundreds) of ancient temples. If I survive the 12 hour non-air-conditioned, overnight coachclass train ride there and the 13 hour (AIR CONDITIONED!) overnight bus home, I'll have more great stories to blog about. "How Darjeeling Limited," you say? I mean, I'd be thrilled to find out my mother got surgery to look like Anjelica Huston, moved to India, became a nun and chopped off all her haid, but that's just not in the cards now, is it?


Hyderabad 1/22

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Photos (almost)!

नमस्ते guys.
Sorry I have been M.I.A. for so long, we've been super busy with the start of classes, going on little trips around the area, &c. I've been trying to figure out how I can best share the photos from the trip so far with all of you, since some of you don't have Facebook, where I've been posting them all. I think the best way is by direct-linking you all to the Facebook album links, and then you can see them there for now. I am trying to find a better photo hosting service, like Picasa or Flickr or Shutterfly, and will (WiFi permitting) get one in the next few days, so you can all comment on them and slideshow them and save them and stuff, but for now, here's what I've got.

Enjoy! Another blog coming soon (so much has happened, I have to edit myself down, which, hey, it's really hard).

"Champagne Wishes and Malaria Dreams"


"Children (who've never seen cameras) + Cameras (who've never seen children) = This Album"


Hyderabad 1/18

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Let's cut to the chase...

I'm glad you all enjoyed the first post and were left wanting cooch...कूछ means more in Hindi. Pervs.

So the deal with the lack of communication is as follows: we have moved from our old dilapidated yet functional hostel to a brand new hostel somewhere like 2km out in the desert called, appropriately, the Tagore International Students House. However, I ENDEARINGLY refer to it as the Indian Gulag. Here, we don't have things that Americans would really appreciate, like hot water, mirrors, toilets that flush the paper, and, alas, the Internet. It should be up in a week, according to a man who sort of bobbles his head back and forth and says "EES CAAAAHMING" (*emily, jay, that was for you), so who knows. The convolution surrounding information transmission in India deserves a closer analysis, not only because of slow speed of everything, but also because of the everpresent, always irritating, and tauntingly uninterpretible "Indian Head Wiggle." Essentially, in a hilarious Geertzy way, my ethnography tells me that it is a sort of active listening thing a la the Derek Jeter Bobble Heads found in cabs. So, pretend you were in the front seat of a cab with some Indian guy next to you driving. You are telling him a story. Both he and Derek do the same Head Bobble...are they both listening? I think so. Do they agree? Disagree? Both? Neither? Beats the hell out of me.

I have been blogging in Word for the last few days, and I'll post them as soon as I can find some wireless. Right now, I'm in the computer lounge of a library that is roughly 3km walking through a desert from my coming. Oh, and there are Lori (multiple Lorises) here too. A nice touch of home. In these blogs to come, I tell you all the sweet things I've been doing and the rad people I've met. But to make a long story short, when you're slapped together with a bunch of people and only talk about the CRAZY SHIT your bodies are doing (e.g. polluted black snot, eye pus, puking, the vivid and infamous Malaria Dreams, and, of course, every color, texture, shape, speed, and size of shit imaginable), well--you bond. James Bond.

But one thing has happened to me that I can't leave this desk without writing about: शिल्परमम बज़ार; a.k.a. Shilparamam Bazaar. This is a nightly craft fair where you can buy everything from बंगल (bangals: well, bangal bracelets) to जूते (jute: cool slipper-ish woven leather shoes) to कूरता पजामा (kurta pajama: sweet Indian shin-length linen shirts and pants with a 5' wide waist and, more importantly, a 4' wide crotch). Also, you can sell everything from old belongings to yourself into white slavery. Always fun. So anyway, two friends and I get out of an autorickshaw (if you don't know what this is, google it and see the three-wheeled yellow deathtrap for yourself) to cross the street (read: flirt with death). A nice sari-clad Indian lady who speaks perfect English and is carrying a Louis Vuitton bag (commodity fetishism is DEFINITELY an international capitalism thing more than exclusively American) grabs my friends and helps them cross safely.

But the bitch leaves me behind. All of a sudden, about 7 Indian beggar children between the ages of 4 and 10 (who look like Indian crosses between dirty Muppets and a dirtier Oliver Twist) bum rush me since, hey, I'm white and apparently look like I can show a good time. There were three children with functional importance to the story, but keep in mind that this whole time, there are children slapping my legs, hanging off my arms, screaming, crying, peeing near me, and wreaking general havoc. So, one kid takes advantage of that 4' pajama crotch of mine and decides to distract me by sticking his hand through the back of my legs and essentially (pardonnez mon Francais) attempted to give me the reacharound of a lifetime. While that kid is busy down there, another one is even lower, and literally steals the shoe off my right foot. So I shake the kid off my balls in order to body check the shoe kid, and once I get my trusty Merrel back, a third kid starts beating me over the head with a 2' tall bejewled purple stuffed llama. Then I almost get hit by a woman flying across the street with a baby who just herself got hit by a rickshaw which propelled her toward me uncontrollably. At this point, we make unfortunate eye contact, and instead of helping me, she grabs on too and starts pointing at her kid, then pointing at me and screaming "PAPA!" at the top of her lungs (If I got a dollar everytime that happened...). This is when I scream "नहीं! जाओ!"--"No! Go away! (read: Getthefuckoffofmeandleavemealone!)--and ran faster than I have in at least five years.

But hey...the market was fun.

More coming soon, I swear. And don't hesitate to call either the American phone or my new Indian one (#9652009362, but I think you need both India and Hyderabad codes before that). Just remember the 10.5 hours ahead thing. Because if you wake me up, we know this guy Kalyan. And he's connected.

Hyderabad 1/5

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The First Day

...about to pass out hard, since my first day is over.

(I've chosen to begin this thing in medias res. Getting blindly thrown into things (think Fred Armisen's David Patterson on SNL, or even silently pushing Hellen Keller down a flight of stairs) seems to be the M.O. here.)

Now, paradoxically, I'll attempt to write about wordlessness. Just call me Jacques Freakin' Derrida.

The plane rides were long, and we were appropriately welcomed (but not "hartily" or "hug-fully" [sic] --seeing as that was reserved for some cricket team with the same arrival time and a welcoming committee who made up spraypainted banner) by throngs of people. Then we got on a big ol' white kid bus and drove through slums on the way to the school, where two stereotypes were confirmed: (1) moustached men hold pinkies and sort of spoon with each other on mopeds, and (2) people actually live under blown tires, cook over burning styrofoam, and shit in the street. For real.

None of this potential fodder for culture-shock, however, was real until we got off the bus, walked inside our guest house, weren't told anything, and were quickly demoted from traveler to silent, panicky observer. At this point, I enjoyed a near-spiritual nap. For four hours. In the middle of the day. Amazing.

All we really did today was go on a tour of the campus, which is huge and filled with really fucked-up-looking rabid stray dogs. And people (some fucked up looking, some apparently stray, also potentially rabid). There is garbage everywhere all over the ground (despite the garbage cans everywhere that implore the passers-by to follow the stencils and "USE ME"), which sucks because this place COULD BE stunning. Not judgin', just sayin'.

There is a gecko on the CPU right now, and I'm trying not to type too loudly so it doesn't move.

I still have this crazy stomach ache, and I think I've pinpointed the origin as Malarone on an empty stomach. Oops. I'm just sitting here eating peanut butter and crackers I brought, seeing as I've skipped the last few meals. What I think is going on is they are trying to make us feel comfortable by giving us "American Food"--that is, "normal" food that is fifteen times sweeter than any Coke or Edy's I could even begin to think about. Also, there is carcinogenic bug-spray all up in my Tums. So...shit.

The gecko just moved onto the monitor...and despite it's impressive agility, I'll name it Loris. Represent.

Okay, she just jumped off.

The people all seem pretty cool, and we're just sitting in a circle wondering what the hell we're all doing here. I don't know if anyone has figured this out yet, seeing as we're pretty uninformed regarding what we will do, can do, have done, and are doing. I think, however, that I've isolated my unnervedness (new word?) moreso to temporality than experience. I can accept the dirt, the poverty, and Loris (with her friends the dogs, monkeys, and boars (think LOST)) in due time, but the fact that it is NOW and for A LONG TIME is the problem. We'll see about this place...

I think I'll stop bothering you guys now, since I'm getting a little garrulous with delirium (it's been a long, three-day-long day), not to mention I'm hogging the internet.

Also, Loris is back, and may have just singed herself on one of those old-school illegal fire-hazard fluorescent lights, the same one that makes me look paler and more strung out than Michael Jackson on the balcony.

I'm so done with this computer room. Lorisss you bitchhh...

Hyderabad 12/28