Saturday, July 16, 2005

Lectures, Lectures, Lectures...and the Imambara (Day 12)

This morning, I woke up incredibly tired. I headed downstairs to the first lecture, and proceeded to play the dot game and word scrambles with Tony. After the lecture, we had another great lunch. After lunch, we had another sweet lecture. This time I played word scramble with Mary and Brent. I think the lecture was on Islam in the Lucknow area.

Finally, we were released to see the Shah Najaf imambara. An imambara is basically a storage for processional materials, such as tazias. This area is a shia stronghold, and the tazia is a shia tradition (though it is practiced differently around the world).

Upon our return from the hotel, we had some dinner. I watched a movie and played "get to know each other better" with Mary and Johanna. I read a little. Basically, today was very boring.

In Lucknow

We are in Lucknow, Internet access here is kinda sketch, but hopefully it will get better. This is one of the most conservative places we have been in India so far. There are very few women on the streets, many of the girls in our group feel uncomfortable because of the intense stares they get. Still, I do not feel unsafe. Lee, Jon and I got mildly lost in some isolated backstreets the other day towards dusk. With the exception of the raw sewage and grazing cattle in the streets (I have lost my fear of the motorized vehicles) I felt very safe. We have been getting a lot of lectures while here on culture, poetry and history. Yesterday we went to SEWA, an association designed to market the artisan skills of women and prevent explotation of their labor. I heard the founder of this organization has been nominated for the peace prize. Not only does it give the women their livelihood, but it also requires that they can read and write by providing education. The motto was "learn and earn." The girls in our group almost teared up as we were greeted by a large crowd of women singing songs of equality and prayer (a daily tradition that the SEWA group performs.) Last night Jon, Lee, and I were walking back to our hotel and we came across an Indian wedding. There were tons of people, a marching band, fireworks, guns fired, confetti, dancing, and a groom who was escorted to his horse. I don't want to say that we crashed a wedding, but Lee was totally getting his dance on. Besides, we blend in completely, I am sure nobody even noticed that we were not part of the family. Shout out to Mom, Sia, The Fam, the group, the office, CWU, and LW. Poke, no poke back.


Friday, July 15, 2005

P.C. Little's lecture, SEWA, Huzarat Ganj shopping, A beer and Bhang Lassi (Day 11)

This morning, we headed down to the basement of our Inn to listen to one of the worst lectures I heard in a long time. Actually, it might have been good had we been informed of anything about Awadh prior to attending. Ah well. During the break, I went with two of the grad student girls and we talked about our trip and members, their studies and members, Indian, and etc. They gave me some manaqqa, which gave me a sort of light, relaxed high through which I remained very aware and conscious. From there, we went to a delicious lunch. After lunch, we went to SEWA, the Self Employed Woman's Association. UNICEF gave money to a group of women working in textiles to help raise their quality of life. The home, which is only for women, develops markets for Chikani products, and schooling and purpose for children and some adults. The whole story was very touching. The cultural contact, devoid of language, made for a lot of emotion and staring. In one room, two very attractive girls my age were looking at me, and I looked back, and the group continued to get semi-flirtatious in our eye contact. It was a memorable experience, anyway.

From there, we headed back home, then after a brief relaxing period, out to the Huzarat Ganj (for my first time). I bought a wallet, a flask, and about 25 manaqqa (more later, when I actually know what this is). Tony, Lee and I got a little rearranged, and ended up having to find our way home very quickly. We made one guy ride all 570 lbs of us down the main street to our hotel (for only Rs 30). When we got back, we were whisked away to dinner. The food was good, but our waiters were terrible...One kept asking if we wanted any more to eat, even up to the point as Lee left the room. At one point, as he was reading the dessert list to Lee and Lee was repeatedly responding he didn't want any, I turned to him and said "how about you take this bowl." He left pretty quickly after that.

After dinner, we stopped by the bar we had rented out for the private party. It was very narrow, and lined with mirrors on both sides. I had half a beer, then, feeling a little uncomfortable, headed back.

Upon our arrival back at the hotel, we found a large wedding celebration beginning. There was confetti, bright lights, a horse, a guy dressed like a king, and a lot of spectators. We started dancing around, and were actually invited to the wedding. Unfortunately, we had to ditch, because...

When we got back, a few of us mixed up bhang (marijuana derivative) into lassi (yogurt like sweet drink), and drank it. It was great.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Train to Lucknow, meeting the grad students, and a visit to Ultraviolet (Day 10)

This morning, I was awoken at 4:55 to be informed that our wake-up call did not come through. Luckily I was already packed, but I rushed to grab some toast on my way to the bus that would take us to our train. I manage to down the toast, but I am NOT a morning person (especially after only 2 1/2 hours of sleep), and especially not someone who can eat in the morning, so I spent most of the drive with the windows open, focusing on the cool breeze as I tried not to throw up. When we got to the train station, Cathy hired a coolie (baggage handler) to carry her bag on his head to the spot on the platform we'd need to be to catch our particular bogi (train cab). We would be riding a shatbdara (sp?) bus, which means a chair-filled day bus. On the way to the train, I left a peanut butter banana sandwich on a sleeping homeless guy's leg. I hope he enjoyed it more than did I.

Our train was sort of new, air conditioned, and had sealed windows, so it wasn't like the Indian train experience I thought I would have. I stayed awake the whole time, planning our post-workshop trip and accomplishing a few other tasks. I used the squat restroom on the moving train, which I feel I should be commended for. I ate some below-par food, as well.

When we arrived in Lucknow, Sandeep-ji met us and directed us to cars that would take us to our hotel. We arrived at Park Inn, unloaded our stuff, then pretty much headed right out to meet the grad students studying Urdu in Lucknow. We went to the AIIS house, and after introducing each other, I chatted with a few of them...Jaffar, Bart, Suzanna...then I headed over to lay across four chairs and pass out, because I was in much need of sleep. In fact, even when we went back to the hotel, I slept for another 2 1/2 hours. I slept through Brent yelling, Nikki calling, and almost Sandeep calling, but I finally headed down to stare at a plate of food.

After dinner, we had convinced Sandeep to drive us to Ultraviolet. UV is a hookah bar in Lucknow, which is cool and low-lit. We had mango sheesha, which I found fitting. Tony, Megan, Donna, Christy, Maria, Lee and I all tried it, Brent came but opted out. Sheesha is a tobacco smothered in molasses, and produces a light, fruity smoke. We all left very relaxed. In fact, after watching some TV briefly, we all headed to our rooms to pass out.

Coolest CAT in town

Listen up Chris and Alex. Today after a few lectures we had a bunch of free time in Delhi. I was able to get a cab, with Purnima's help, and go to a tailor. While there Jon and I picked out fabric for a new suit. I am pretty stoked about it. It will be 150 knit cashmere suit. It is a dark blue color with a really nice sheen; the inner linning is crimson. I will go back in for a refitting after we get back from Lucknow, then pick it up for good before I leave. Be jealous; Be very jealous. I also got a piece of cloth sewed at another tailor. That specific man thought I was Sikh, from America. By the end of our converstation he also thought I was very good friends with a few of his other valued Sikh customers. Eventually he was very willing to make my adjustments at that very moment while I stood there. Donna and I were commenting on how our role has changed while being here. At home we are college students - not very high on the social ladder and always blamed for social discontent. However, here we are treated like traveling scholars and ambassadors with the highest form of social respect. I will definately miss more than the 3 wonderfully cooked meals a day when I go back to the states. But don't worry, all of you are worth it. Shout out to Mom, Sia, The Fam, the gang, Crimson, black, the home valley, Eugene, and Annie.


July 14-18

This period was spent in Lucknow, a city associated with a rich Muslim culture during the 18th and 19th centuries. Several talks were given by notables of Lucknow providing important background to Lucknow’s artistic, literary and religious traditions. This was followed by visits to Lucknow’s mosques, temples, imambaras, the British Residency (the site of the so-called Mutiny of 1857-58) and even houses built by the Europeans who provided Lucknow’s Muslim rulers with European goods. The workshop also went to a Hindi movie, giving students insight into popular Indian culture. Some of us visited a popular Muslim shrine where once again we heard qawwali performed. Highlights of this tour included dinner at the home of Dr. Salim Kidwai, one of our contacts in Lucknow, who provided the students with home-made delicacies of Lucknow’s famous cuisine. Another inspiring highlight was the visit to SEWA, a cooperative of women workers who are involved in the Chikan tradition of Lucknow. Chikan is a type of embroidery particular to this city. Here under the guidance of Rana Banerjee, poor Muslim women are able to improve their status in society by earning a decent wage and learning to read and write as well as educate their children. The spirit of these women, who are taught to respect all the religious and cultural traditions of India, was truly inspiring.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A Journalist, Southern Indian food, Narayaniji, suit shopping, Swagath and a day to relax (Day 9)

After breakfast this morning, we were visited by Ms. Seema Mustafa of the Asian Age. She is a female editor, which is much less of a rarity in this day and age, but wasn't common when she got started. As a journalist, she covers Indian politics. She kept her discussion open for the most part, and it was very informative. I was told yesterday that the majority of rural villagers are well-informed, even if they can't read. Ms. Mustafa said this was true. She explained the various political parties, and gave us some backgrounds on each. She also explained the difference between private and common law. The conversation was lively and liberal (my questions led it there). We talked about women's rights, secularism, privatization, poverty, political corruption, and much more.

After this, we headed to Sagar, a southern indian restaurant. We had dosas and upathams. I had the rava masala dosa and a mango milkshake (good!). We had to rush back, however, as Narayani-ji was coming to give us a lecture on the Indian educational system.

Ms. Gupta is a cute fun older woman. She told us about the difference between government and public (which is actually private) schools. She then answered a barrage of questions ranging all over the educational spectrum, from comparison with american students to the history of the Indian educational system. She is such an extremely positive and intelligent woman. I'm glad we'll get to see her again before we leave.

After this, Tony and I headed to the local tailor. With my help, Tony picked fabrics for a new suit. He got measured, and we'll pick it up next week. Suits here are relatively cheap, and I fully intend to get one, but now is not the time. I was actually amazed to see 180-thread count material. If and when I return to Dehli, I will definitely nab a custom-tailored suit of that thread count for roughly $550...craziness. We then looked at wallets, and Lee met up with us so we looked at suitcases. We then headed back to the guest house, so I could pack and catch up on a massive amount of blogging!

We'll head to Swagath in a short while, which we ate at before heading to Jaipur. I'm sure it will be great. Tomorrow, we head out to Lucknow on a train at the case that I don't write for a while, best wishes to all until I see you again, and may each of your days be productive yet relaxing.

Back in Delhi

We left Jaipur and drove to Delhi today. I have a crimson turban and I got mistaken for a Northern Indian 5 times (Pat I am truly becoming your leige brother.) Today we were supposed to go to an animal reserve, but high alert for poachers prevented us. I saw the Indian Bonham tonight, ok, not quite but he was damn good. We went to the program headquarters in Gurgaon and watched some Qawalli singers. I don't know if it is appropriate to call a Sufi "pimp" but this guy was. The drummer went to town on his hand drums for well over 2 hours; it was very impressive. It was followed by a very nice reception. There was another AIIS group there; those individuals were high school teachers that were getting an "update" in their curriculum. Hope everything is going well at home - don't be afraid to shoot me an email. It is nice to have a connect with E-burg. Shout out to Mom, Sia, The Fam, Ester, the church family, the office, CWU, those without internet capacity, roomates, primates, and Mr. Singh.


July 13

Two excellent presentations by Narayani Gupta on the Indian educational system and by Seema Mustafa on the Indian political system were the focus of the first part of the day. Both scholars gave short talks and then allowed us to ask many questions. The afternoon gave the students free time for shopping and errands. Dinner was held at one of Defence Colony’s excellent restaurants.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Qawwali at the new AIIS center in Gurgaon (Day 8)

Today was supposed to include a trip to the Sariska wildlife preserve, but do to a recent increase in poaching, our passes were revoked. Damn poachers...

So instead we headed back to Dehli by way of Gurgaon. When we arrived, we took a tour of the relatively new AIIS Center, which is architecturally appealing from both an appearance and energy conservation standpoint. It features open courtyards, rooftop verandas, photovoltaic panels, plant life, a fountain, a humidity and temperature controlled room, a library, and much, much more. I ended up having a lengthy conversation with the employees in the Digitization area, where we talked about photoshop, then their work, then the internet, then India, then America, then everything else. In due time I was retrieved and taken to the cafeteria on the top floor, which had been transformed to serve as the music hall. A popular ten-person qawwali band played a long set list. The drums and vocals were absolutely incredible. Chilling, even. After the program, they served dinner outside on the verandah. In attendance also was a group of teachers from the Philadelphia area who were visitng on a Fulbright. Their coordinator, Sunila, was someone I wish I had found more time to talk to. On the drive back to Delhi, Lee, Christy, Maria and I broke out the tablas and clapping and had our own sort of concert on the back of the bus. Delhi never sleeps, which was easily noticed in the large number of people out wandering around. I love it.

Shout out to Dave from Chomsky - your girlfriend misses you much. =P

Monday, July 11, 2005

Birla temple, Charles Koriya Cultural Center, Sangi Mandir Jain temple, Salim's paper shop (Day 7)

I woke up at 5:30 am today and headed out with Christy B, Maria and Mani-ji to the Surya temple. We went by rickshaw, which was quite an interesting experience. Upon our arrival, we headed up the hills along a narrow path shared by cows, monkeys, goats, squirrels, and Hindus. I had brought along a trail mix I didn't particularly enjoy, so we started feeding the hundreds of monkeys that surrounded us. On the way back down, we handfed the cows. The people in the temple let us take pictures of the shrine, gave us flowers and a talik, and even took pictures with us. From this height, you could see all of Jaipur laid out between the hills, and it was impressively expansive.

We headed back to the hotel for a quick bite to eat, then headed off to the Lakshmi Narayan Birla temple, built in only 1985. The Birlas are a rich Indian family who supports universal tolerance. Side note, Gandhi was shot at the Birla house, and that home is now home to the Gandhi museum. The Beatles are said to have visited the Birla temple we went to. Made of white marble, the perimenter of this temple was etched with depictions of Guru Nanak, Saraswati, Mother India, Umar Devi, Vishnu, Gatri Devi, Savatri, Indra, Yaruda, Socrates, Moses with the ten commandments, Zarathustra, St. Peter, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Madonna with Christ, Mahavir, and Surya, among others. The inside was very austere. It had stained glass and thin marble on the walls. After making an offering and circumambulating the deity, I was given some Prasad, which this time was in the shape of small sugar lumps. An Indian family approached me to chat, then asked me to take a picture with them. Donna ended up joining in on the fun. Woo hoo!

From here, we headed out to the Charles Koriya Cultural Center. Koriya, a University of Michigan grad, is one of the world's best architects. The center was designed to be modern, yet still embrace the past. It succeeded on both counts. We didn't have much time to explore, though...=(

From there we headed to the Sangi Mandir Jain temple in Sangener. This temple was very intricately carved, but I've been told it pales in comparison to the ones down South. There is so much to say about the Jain faith...It started as an offbreak of the Hindu church, with a push for total ahimsa (non-violence). My brother's friend Rishi would probably really like the temple more, as he is Jain. Jainism is a very radical and impressive lifestyle that I know I could never keep up with.

From here, we headed to Salim's paper shop. Salim is a business mogul in Jaipur, having traveled to China and other such places to learn from them. When he returned to set up a shop, his ideas about organization and compartmentalization allowed him to set up such a factory. We ended up spending quite a bit of time and money in the gift shop, which was chock-full of great, hand-made, cheap stationary.

When we got back to the hotel,we had a small break before we headed back out shopping with a Lucknow student. She took us to the better stores and did the negotiating, so I got Kortas, a silver ring, and a silver necklace for CHEAP. I think others fared equally well. When we made it back to the bus (late), I found that Lee had negotiated a two-sided drum for me for only Rs 500. DEAL! Mane-ji informed me that this type of drum is known in south India as a mrithangam. I hit it all the way home.

That night, I ate with Tony, Lee, Megan and Donna, met a new friend named Myanmar, and goofed around and relaxed for the first time in a while. It was great!

Elephants, Camels and Monkeys, oh my!

I really like Jaipur. First because some of my favorite animals can be found in the street either domesticated or wild. The people here are very nice. I went walking in the streets last night by myself, and really did not feel in any danger. The local population is very curious and stares a lot, but not out of malice. Many of the individuals in our group are frequently asked to be in pictures with Indians - keep in mind that we go to monuments, so they are using a picture of an American over whatever landmark we are at. The streets are filled with rickshaws, these little motorized or unmotorized three-wheeled bikes used as a taxi. While walking last night I realized that the rickshaw is generally the only possession the driver has; at night they park their rickshaw and stretch across the handlebars and seat and sleep. When I was passing these homeless people last night they were curious but friendly. People are excited when I say I am an American. Many people are particually interested in my long hair; I recently found out that it is congruent with the popular perception of a moviestar. Another point of cultural confussion is my Bison pin. It is perceived as a cow, something very sacred to about 85% of the population. Some venders even thought the Bison pin was my way of publically declaring my overwhelming masculinity and fertility to the ladies - there was a language barrier so I just kept smiling and let them imagine the full capacity of my manliness. Today we went to a paper mill. We were allowed to see the process that takes shreds of discarded cotton through to high-end packaged stationary. You really don't visualize in your head that "made in India" means there is a factory here somewhere where human labor is cheaper than mechanized work. Often times that "factory" is in a nook on a flooding street with a foot-powered sewing machine. This paper mill was actually very nice, although small for an American perception of "factory." The owner (Salim) was considered to be one of the most important members of the Jaipur community. Yet the workers appeared to be paid better than average with good working conditions. I assume that this factory would have been one of the better jobs in the region. I have been able to pick up a few gifts; I got some anklets for Faith and some bendi's for Yari and Ashli. Tomorrow we travel back to Delhi. Shout out to Mom, Sia, The Fam, the gang, the office, Wellington, LW, France, EMC, and Joe.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

Still Here

We took a 6 hour round trip bus ride today to visit one of the most conservative Mosques and Hindi Temples in India. I am really struggling to keep details of all the holy sites we are visiting separate - if I don't stay on top of it they will become one big religious site. Our hotel in Jaipur is really nice, they serve semi-American food here, which is heavensent for parts of the group with upset stomachs. However, I have been taking a daily dose of Pepto and not had a single problem yet. The food is so good. I will be taking a serious degrade in the quality of my diet when I have to go home and cook for myself again. Hope everything is going well at home. Shout out to Mom, Sia, the group, and planet Earth.


Ajmer, Pushkar, and the Govinda Deva temple (Day 6)

We awoke earlier en route to Ajmer and Pushkar. These cities, which are pilgrimage grounds for Muslims and Hindus, respectively, are located outside of Jaipur. Both cities have tremendous religious significance.

At Ajmer, we first attended the Anasagar Baradari, which is basically a shoreline along a manmade lake where there are five medium-sized marble tembles. The trees in this area were draped with large bats commonly referred to as firefoxes. The breeze here was very nice. The pavilions were erected by Shah Jahan in 1637.

From there, we headed to Adhai Din-ka Jhonpra. This temple was red sandstone with a white marble prayer shrine, and is said to be one of the oldest in India, dating back to 1199. It had a large, intricately carved screen (basically a big wall carved with arabic script) and vaulted ceilings with 5 corbelled domes. We left this area and walked through the center of the small town. On our walk, we saw people chopping pieces of meat covered in flies, among other discomforting things. While I have enjoyed the previous market environments, this one was a little on the dirty side, and the people here seemed much less happy for us to be there. When we reached the end of the market, we appeared at the Shah Jahani masjid, which is a famous Islamic temple. We had pre-arranged to meet with one of the Sufis there, who was a descendant of the Chishti line. Coincidentally enough, our appointment with him was arranged by the head brahman at the Hindu temple in Pushkar, thus disproving the notion that Hindu and Islam stand in any sort of opposition at a leadership level. I think the mosque we were attending is the final burial place of one of the Chishti saints, but I can't quite remember. Nonetheless, after purchasing bandanas to cover the heads of those of us without hats, we headed into the mosques. It was small and crowded, and teeming with action. I put my head under a sheet to pray, then continued walking around the tomb. A women who was breastfeeding right next to the prayer area turned and rubbed her breast on me, which was sort of an interesting experience to have in such a place.

After exiting, the sufi took us to a dargah (prayer/study room) and spoke with us above the interplay between the muslim faith and America. He had some important things to say. He does not feel that Islam and America are inimical on religious grounds, but rather on political grounds, and particularly he placed blame on "petrol." He also delineated between sufis and other muslims, saying that sufis, who are mystics, absolutely do not condone of terrorism. He argued that no muslims do, but that it would behoove Americans to realize this significant difference between two orders of the muslim faith. I find much merit in all that he had to say.

From there we headed to Pushkar. We first stopped to eat lunch, and while we were eating the head brahma actually came to meet us (I was surprised and impressed). He was a small older man, and very polite. He accompanied us on the bus ride to Govind Devji, his Brahma temple, which we couldn't tour as it was not open. (Religious customs demands that the temple not be opened even for visitors outside of the approved time to worship - not even by the brahman!) He showed us a fabulous collection of books, ranging from archeaological chemical cleansing to the effects of multinational corporations on religious institutions. He also gave us two kinds of rice. The first was sweet and sort of odd-tasting, the second made me almost throw up in my mouth. A local journalist was present, and asked us to line up to take a picture in front of the temple for the local paper. We then went to a side area and viewed the processional carriages, which kind of looked like merry-go-round animals. He then showed us the impressive front gate to the temple, which had been 30% chemically cleaned. He explained that he was consulting a number of major players to refurbish the old temple to make it something special again. He seemed like a wealth of knowledge, and I was glad to have shared his company if only for a while.

From there, we headed to a waterfront area. We walked in, up some stairs, and down some more. There, at the waterfront, men dressed in religious garb sat us down and had us put our feet in the water. With fish nibbling at our toes the whole time, he had us repeat different hindi words such a "brahmaputra, shivaputra, ganeshaputra, a bunch of familynames-putra, lake and sky-putra..." you get the idea. He handed us flowers and spices to throw in, then a coconut (which we didn't throw in). Then he asked us to repeat "donation," then "500 rupees," then "promise." When I gave him only 100, which I felt was being overly generous already, he said I owed him four more. So I got up and left. He didn't harass me much, but the one who serviced Donna followed her up and yelled at her. Its sad that these men are making a scam of religion. I suppose it is better than those who just flat out ask for it by putting their hand by their mouth. Tough call though.

In order to give us some sleep time the next morning, we squeezed in the Govinda Deva temple back in Jaipur before calling it a day. We reached the temple just in time for its closing ceremony (darshan). Though this temple was not as keen on exuberant displays of worship, it was still very loud and exciting. Gongs were banging, fire was being burnt, Hindus were throwing their hands in the air...the image they were worshipping, which was of Radha and Krishna, was the one that Raja Man Singh spent 15 years transporting from the Red Sandstone temple in Vrindavan. Christy, Nikki and I were invited into the gated area to approach the image and make an offering. It was hecka thrilling. After doing so, and as I started to walk away, one of the orange-clad brahmans called out to me, and threw a big, thick floral necklace to me! I wore it with pride as I headed back to our bus.

When we got to our bus, we had to wait on the other half of our group. Christy and I went to take pictures of cows, and when doing so were aproached by some Indian boys who spoke English well. We talked to them about Jaipur, and America, which they very much wanted to visit. So many Indian people have expressed admiration for and a longing to visit America that is deserves mentioning. They gave us their email addresses (I was amazed that these kids had email addresses), and we gave them ours. I then gave my pen to one of the children in the area (they LOVE "schooly-pens"), and got on the bus.