Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Qutb Minar, Dali Haat, The International Center (Day 1)

Our first day in India could not have served better to expose us to its history and culture. We began with a solid Indian breakfast consisting of mangoes, cereal with hot milk, toast, preserves, and tea. We then had an orientation session, and met Rick and Cathy Asher, Purnima Meta, Narayani Gupta, Nikki Singh, Pandeep, and a few others (my spelling may be horrible, but suffice it to say these people are absolutely wonderful). We then packed into the vehicles with Cathy and Nikki to head to the Qutb Minar.

The Qutb Minar is a spectacular muslim shrine. It was built in three phases, and the architecture of each was very distinct. At the time of its construction, the Qutb Minar was the tallest building of its kind. The spolia screens that surrounded the prayer chamber were intricately carved with arabic script and flowers, some pointed in to the chamber (where the light of God would be). Because the capability of dome-building was not known during the first construction, many of the ceilings had corbelled domes (much like when you build an arch out of legos.) The site was fascinating and impressive.

An interesting side note: We were at one point approached by Hindras requesting rupees. Hindras are hermaphrodites, and often dress as women though they pretty obviously are not. Unlike in our country, where difference is shunned and hermaphrodites are "fixed" at birth, hindras are viewed as almost holy. The can come and take away hermaphrodite children from parents and raise them on their own. They can actually do almost anything they want with fear of harm. Some people fear them, thinking they will be cursed for crossing them. Other people do not fear them at all. Anyway, it was an interesting experience, to say the least.

Upon our return, we had a traditional Indian lunch at the guest house. I love Indian food, particularly because the spices open up my nasal cavities and I can breathe so much easier. This was a very mild meal, but some of the students had trouble with it...they're really in for some fun! After lunch, we were graced with the presence of T.N. Madan, a world-leading sociologist. He spoke with us about Indian religion and its rich and varied history. During the presentation, the building's power went out, which is not uncommon in India even at as nice a place as the AIIS guest house (though the presence of 12 students, likely all running AC units, probably played a significant role). After Madan-ji's presentation, we had tea. Then Narayani Gupta gave us a lesson about language and regions in India. When India claimed independence in 1947, the states had been pre-conceived by many of the congress party leaders while they were in prison (plenty of time to write and think.) The states are roughly divided by language spoken in the region, minus the "cow belt" of central India in which mutually intelligible versions of Hindi are spoken.

After this, we headed out to Dali Haat, a market in Dehli. It cost Rs 10 to enter, and I spent Rs 1100 to buy two pairs of shoes, a korta (sp?), and a chained bell. I think everyone did pretty well. The most valuable thing in the market, in my opinion, was free of charge: the conversation with the sellers. I chatted with a Rajasthani who makes brushes out of squirrel hair, and paints silks. I met a small boy who spoke English well enough to discuss his school day with me, and he then introduced me to his family, who ran several of the shops. I also did a considerable amount of people watching. Indians are a pretty people.

Afterward, we returned home, then headed to the International Center for dinner. The invitation-only club is attended by intellectuals and the arts crowd, as well as liberal political people (my type of crowd!). I had a fresh lime soda to drink, and a thali, which is basically a sample platter. All nine options were delicious. I had naan (a puffy bread) as well. For desert, I had honey and fig ice cream (a-freaking-mazing). My fellow travelers had mango and honeydew ice cream. All of it was just delicious.

Tomorrow, we're up at 6 am to head to Agra and see the Taj Mahal. On Thursday, we will visit Fatehpur Siri and the Agra Fort. I likely will not be able to write about these until our return on Friday, so until then...namaste (the inner light in me bows to the inner light in you!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Will you all get to see the Ganges?

Are all the students from MU?

~christy's friend