Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Monday, January 16, 2012

India, My Love

“How long do we want to stay in India?” We didn’t know. Two weeks to visit the Golden Triangle seemed too little, but could we last five weeks?

Qutub Minar, Delhi
  The signals from different people that we know, who visited India, were mixed. My gut was telling me to choose the latter.

“Why are you helping me?” Mihai asked a taxi driver who was offering us a free call to our hotel in Agra. 
“You are a guest in my country, it is my duty to help you have a positive experience!” came the answer, like the one from the book “Enjoying India” by J.D. Viharini. At the time I didn’t believe him. A man in his 50’s, slim, wrinkled skin, black short hair, brown sweater over a brick colored shirt, black pants. His name is Juned and he is a Muslim. For two days he will tell us our options, which way is the best way, what else is to see in Agra. And in the end he will ask us what do we want to do. I didn’t feel pressured into any scam, I really had a good experience.
Mr. Juned.

My eyes opened, I am a guest in this country, I chose to come here and see the wonderful things.
Fathepur Sikri, Agra
 Therefore, I should not judge! As I read from that book, I understand many things.

Marble jail with the justice balance. The Shah would have looked at it while judging his subjects' problems.
Red Fort, Delhi.
In India there is a hierarchical society, stemmed from the caste system. I can see it in the disdainful look of a woman who steps next to a not so well dressed girl, or in the fact that the servants (the ones cleaning the apartment that we rent in Delhi) are not looking you in the eye, and they are very careful not to cross your path. Each person has a role in this society, that’s what they know, what their ancestors knew, and they repeat the pattern, trying to adapt in a new order. Everybody works hard, the son following his father’s steps. I can see different ways to do things, but that would eliminate someone’s job, who doesn’t know to do anything else, and doesn’t have the money to learn something new. So the man who tears his ticket in eight little pieces and throws it on the sidewalk takes care of the sweeper and his family, gives him a job. Maybe he wants to do more, but if he is caught, the society will lower his rank, the old ties that helped him get a job, could have him fired and then his family is going to suffer. There are too many subtle rules that govern this society, and to change any of it, requires will from the inside, and that takes education and time.
We see the world through our eyes and translate it to the terms that we know. Downtown should be a high-rise or beautiful buildings. Here are none. Maybe they were beautiful when they were new, but now, with their paint peeled and molded...But how do I know what is here in the monsoon time?
House in Old Goa.

People should live in houses. Here they sleep outside, on the street, in the temple’s courtyard, inside the ricksha that helps them earn a living, over the cart that holds their merchandise.

One should sleep in a bed. Here they use mattress, stringed cot, cardboard, reed-mat, dirt. 
Garbage belongs in the garbage pail. Here garbage is everywhere. In this way the cows, goats and monkeys will eat all the banana peals, and leaves, watermelon rinds, the birds, and dogs will eat the rice and the crumbs, whatever is left the rats will have it, and the roaches. The crows and hawks will help with animal flesh, so if you look carefully you’ll see that are many who live because of this garbage. Here it’s good karma. 
If one needs to relieve itself, one uses the restroom. Here walls are a good start. There are many free toilets, relatively clean, but sometimes they are not available, and even an open field will have to do. This is true for men and children.
But after a while I get used to it, I don’t see them as improper anymore. I start seeing the people. Here is a barber. He doesn’t need much: his tools, a chair and the shade of the tree. Happily he chats while he is doing his job. Two boys are passing us carrying in between them a plastic bag with 3 gallons of milk. They are of different heights and it is obvious it is heavy for them, but they change places and continue. At some point just one of them carries it on his back. Later a young man will take the bag, and the boys will follow him without losing a beat.
The boys are returning from the temple, Hampi.
 I could tell you about the man who repairs pots and pans next to the fence, sitting in the dirt, or about the girl, dressed in a green saree who welcomes any tourist on the beach and tries to lure them to her shop.  

Or in Goa, at the entrance of the market, a man repairs sandals. With a needle and a strong thread he sews the parts back together, then puts a drop of instant glue and the little girl gets back her sandal.

Hampi girls.

The children....are loved. Intensely. As infants, all of them, even the poor ones, wear anklets, the kind that makes noise, so you know where they are. And make-up, so their eyes look bigger and the demons will not harm them.
India Gate, Delhi.

If they start crying, the adult will start making faces, and tickle them, and try to make them happy and forget the bad things. They are hugged, kissed, carried, played with and spanked. And after crying and calming, on both sides, everything is all love again. 

While in school they wear uniforms.
School trip to the Archeological Museum, Hampi.

Schools here are gendered, it stems from how society works. Men are visible, sit outside, chat, smoke, drink tea.
Fort Kochi market.

They are buddies, hold each other arm over the shoulder, or hug, or hold hands, or horseplay in the pool. These are fleeting moments in a day, genuine camaraderie, and not gestures with a double meaning.

Detail of the daily life, Somnathapura Temple, Mysore.

Words and my English don’t serve me to tell you about how beautiful Indian women are with their sarees, and their make-up, with all kind of rings for nose, ear, toe and finger, with bracelets and anklets. No face is complete without the bindi, a small stick-on circle over the third eye.
Visiting the Bahai Temple.

 They walk with their head held high, alone or with their friends, elegant or carrying a bundle on their head.
 They too, have their close societies,
Bath time, Kerala.
  and their work, hard most of the times: cooking over an open fire, washing laundry in the river. 
Maria was surprised to hold this woman’s hand and find it rough and calloused. She looked so princess-like on the outside.
Qutub Minar

The French waiter will pride himself being able to serve your lunch in exactly one hour. In States you will be happy with any waiter that brings quickly what you ordered. In presently coming. I could get upset, but I choose to get up and take myself the salt, or the menu, they don’t mind. And as long the food is hot, it doesn’t matter it took 30 min to arrive. 
Indian food is wonderful if you like spicy dishes. My problem is that after the first bite, when I can feel different aromas, my mouth goes numb, and if it’s chicken or another meat, I can’t discern, everything is hot. My eyes start watering, my nose starts running. It doesn’t matter if is curry, or something else, they have lots of spices but they are balanced by those breads: naan, chappatti, porota. The last one I was introduced to in Kerala, in a small restaurant  where we were the only clients at the time. The maitre and the cook would come and see if we liked everything, bring me yogurt and taking care that the next meal will not have even one chili. Have you ever heard of ginger-lime lassi? It is wonderful. Or banana fritters with ice cream?

Greenix Village Restaurant.

At the end of the meal, when they bring you the bill, in a silver-looking box they also bring somb, cumin seeds coated with sugar, that leaves a taste of freshness in your mouth.

If you choose to make your own meals you have to go to market. You’ll find all the bananas in one place,
Mysore market.

the rest of the fruits in a different one, spices, dried or fresh, to the left, rice and lentil to the right, vegetables next to bananas. 

If you are a meat eater, you could become vegetarian after visiting Indian markets. The beef, the pork are hanging in the shade with flies around them. You want chicken? Choose one from the cage. A live one is around 200 rupees ($4). In less then five minutes it’s skinned and gutted. Do you want it whole or chopped up in small pieces?
If you want to buy oil, or flour, or something else, you have to renounce at the idea of finding everything in one place. There are plenty of small stores, all selling approximately the same things, but at slightly different prices. And if they don’t have it here, you’ll find it somewhere else.
If you happen to go on a Friday, there is a section only for flowers: coils of marigolds, 

 wreaths with roses and ranunculus,
The old man wanted to be in the picture!

small veil-like wreath to wear on your head made from acacia flowers of from tuberoses (they make your head spin with the smell). But the book warns me not to smell the flowers. If you smell them, you blemish them, like they are not whole anymore. I would say rubbish, but there is something else that makes me believe: a woman sitting on the sidewalk, was eating, but her food was protected from looks by an umbrella and also a man, who was grilling corn, didn’t give me permission to take photos.
India is so diverse, so different from one place to another. And despite different languages, and customs, and religions, it is the same.
On the jali there are countless red strings, prayers to a Sufi saint, to have children.
Fathepur Sikri, Agra.

There are so many things that I enjoyed 
Jantar Mantal, astronomic center, Delhi.

My kind of beach! Cherai, Vypeen Island.

and things that I want to know more about...

Mohiniyattam, meaning dance of a beautiful girl.
Greenix Village, Fort Cochi, Kerala.

But for now I have to say “Goodbye!”. The Indian customs officer asks us a lot of questions, one after another, Indian style: where we were, how long did we stay in India, what did we visit, where are we going, marveling at how long vacation, and why aren’t the children in school, and what do we do for a living. In the meantime he would do his job, checking the visa, our faces, stamping the passport. Mine is the last one. He kind of does a double take and says: 
“You look Indian.” 
“Dhanyavad, thank you!”
Namaste India! I hope to visit you again!

1 comment:

  1. India is indeed a very complex country--sounds like you really enjoyed your taste though! beware--it usually leaves you wanting more!


Comment form message here