Friday, July 24, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

our busy little bodies

I'm back at the Ganatra's, which is truly is a different experience. The lack of familial interaction makes for a highly internal condition, sometimes sickeningly so. This sweet, solitary family displays their affection through offering prasat and rose water, and is a stark comparison to the Chatwani's, whose emotionally charged character creates intense interactions, which include, but are not limited to massive family giggle fests and teary passion-filled arguments that sometimes continue for days without ceasing. That being said, I appreciate both houses for what they are, and this semi-emotional quarantine and occasional waves of fear it brings about is more than beneficial for me.

I spend evenings here in Barkatpura as I have spent most my evenings in India, sitting high up on the terrace, accompanying the sun as she sets. For some unconscious, surely instinctive reason, I've always preferred to be seated at the pillar at the SE portion of the building, and between the hours of 8 and 10 am Texas time, that is where you will find me, sitting atop a concrete column, looking out at the seemingly endless expanse of temple tops and occasional green blurs, thinking that a day is just beginning somewhere else and wondering about what all questions are circulating through all the alert and snoozing minds across the globe. Incidentally, does anyone know why one can't sneeze with their eyes open?

Sitting above the city, I go through my seemingly uneventful day to make sure that it was not a wasted one. Like every other day here, this day has its own treasures. Out of ideas, I found myself standing for an hour outside Koti Garden on the busy street's intersection leading into Sultan Bazaar, vowing to leave when my water supply was used up. I watched a group of fifteen police officers dressed in their khaki uniforms and berets, stopping cars and two wheelers to do their no nonsense duty. I stood in front of the piles of books circling the perimeter of the park and stared at the backs of boys waiting for the bus, their long fingers intertwined and their bodies leaning on each other in natural, affectionate form. When a bus would pass, a mass of beautiful lanky bodies would run for the doors, jumping on as it sped around the curve of the street. A boy's feet missed and he hung onto the railing with one hand as his feet violently scraped the pavement before he was pulled aboard, though the bus was so packed that three bodies were sticking out of the door, barely hanging on.

I soaked in the chaotic scene of the street's noisy ongoings and the aggressive bartering taking place behind me. I spotted a monkey on top of a building across the way, and with its bare pink bottom shining in all its ancestral glory, it was mooning us, distracted, rushing creatures. There was a delightful absurdity to it all.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Soften Our Hearts

I have somehow kept my heart partially guarded from many of the difficult realities here in India. I've seen a new born baby, dressed in a dirty, pink, canvas rag lying on the pavement next to her burkah covered mother who was sitting on the ground in the middle of a sweaty crowd of exhibition goers, with her hands cupped together, begging for a few rupees. One night recently when I was reading by the window, I heard the terrible, bloodcurdling sounds of a goat getting mauled by a pack of wild dogs. I've been approached by a starving, bloody little boy with a wounded ear, and thick, sad bags under his eyes. Though I knew there was a chance he was hurt because it made the money come easier, I gave him some rupees. He stood staring at me for some time with a smile on his face as I was waiting in an auto, I touched his cheek lovingly, my eyes filling with tears as the reality of this boy's fate pierced though me, and forced me to asked myself just what the hell am I doing here, sitting in an auto with the handcrafts I just purchased like a selfish queen. This boy needs a home, needs a mother, not ten bloody rupees.

I don't introduce these experiences to sound like a bad ass or to announce all high-and-mighty, "look what a terrible world I've witnessed. Isn't it cool?". I say these things because I have to. I say these things because I am seeking to portray my trip honestly. I say these things because it feels absolutely profane not to.

The event that really tore through my guard, impaling my selfish shield was the day I saw the already one-armed man, covered in a bit of his blood, blubbering after being hit by a car. His body would be fine, but the realization of our vulnerability was shaking that man's core as he sat hunched over, crying on the curb. I could hardly breathe I hurt so bad for the man as he was being patted with a rag by a paramedic. What good was my breathing at that moment anyway? He needed the soft cooings and soothings of a mother, and more than anything I wish I would have had the courage to ask Goldy to stop the car so I could have held the man's hand and let the powerful force of love lead him quietly away from his fear. I was taken at my sensitivity since I have been so resentful towards the men here. But as a mentor of mine recently pointed out to me, these men are products of their narrow exposure, not bad people. And this man was not a stranger; on some ancient, inmost level, he was a brother.

Indians get very upset that India is known for its slums and extreme poverty. Of course India has their affluent families and middle class, fancy new technological devices and finely educated doctors and lawyers, but I cannot deny the fact that on my two-block walk to the coffee shop to write this, I passed several beggars and starving, sleeping bodies curled up in the nooks of the city structures. This is a reality that we simply cannot deny, and this isn't India's problem, but is a human problem. The lines dividing countries are invisible, and serve as illusions creating blind nationalism that corrupts the solidarity of the human heart. We are people, citizens of a world, not of a country. We must protect each other from the harsh rays of hatred and greed, and do more than pity the deprived.

Please advise.


It had been a busy day, spent squeezed tightly into the small family van, touring all of Hyderabad's swanky sari boutiques where I looked at the most beautiful hand-painted fabrics that even in Indian currency were far out of my price range. It was a sleepy evening, but a certain cheer filled the air. It being my last night with the Chatwani's for the time being, I was soaking in the emotionally intense vibes that the family so naturally and shamelessly exudes. Goldy was out in the street in his white undershirt and red bath towel tied around his waist, buying ice cream from the ice cream man who was pushing his cart through the neighborhood on this sultry evening. Wanting to embrace the breeze and make sure that I didn't end up with any artificially flavored fruit filled ice-cream, I went out to join him.

I was leaning against the cart looking into the freezer when a twelve year old girl from the tents down the street came for her own evening treat. Her dark black hair was half down, the loose locks falling onto her shoulders in their tangles. She had a pink traditional outfit on with simple silver colored embroidery, dirty from her outdoor living. Her bright smile illuminated her dark complexion. We stood smiling at each other with gentle curiosity and adoration, knowing the impossibility of our communicating. I heard her two year old brother's soft cry and the "patpatpatpat" sound of his quick steps, resembling a little duckling quacking and scampering after his mother. Then I heard the grating, intrusive sound of an accelerating motorcycle with a tampered muffler. In a matter of seconds, and without any recollection of having processed any thoughts, but purely out of instinct, I found myself down the street with this babe in my arms, safe from the unlit lane's oncoming traffic. Everyone remained unmoved just as they seemed last week when another little boy nearly lost his life at the hands of a truck tire twice his size, the only testament of any arousal being the horrific screeching of breaks and the instantaneous cooling of my blood.

Not minding his soiled pants, I held this sweet, young dear in my left arm for the next many minutes. With his left hand holding my right index finger, the little boy smiled gleefully as I rapidly bent my knees and bounced back up straight. A hand reached around to pinch the jovial boy's cheek and offer me a smile. I swayed and smiled and stared at this precious boy before handing him over to the young girl and returning inside where I was consumed with an unshakable longing to hold a baby.

Sweety and Our First 'I love you'

"Casey! Casey!" Sweety called in an urgent whisper as I was clunking down the stairs. "Get 40 rupees! hurry!" I made my way back up the stairs and got the rupees and then snuck outside to pay the ice cream man so that Sweety and I could have our secret evening treat that we would have to consume by the light of "Radika", our favorite Hindi soap opera. We sat side-by-side on the roomy couch, pretending to be Marvadi's with our scarfs hanging over our heads to hide our munching mouths, while our impossibly cute girly giggles filled the mosquito cluttered air.

Sweety and I have become quite close, spending evenings bonding over kneaded roti dough or days passionately stewing over how mad crazy we make each other. After one particularly harsh day we fell asleep holding hands, forgiving each other for the days petty hostility drawn about by no more than the sweltering heat and creepy newspaper articles.

After one public run-in that began with Sweety saying, "I know your mad at me because your face has become small", we shared our first 'I love you". I was sitting in the homeopathy clinic waiting room, staring straight with my small facial expression, trying to figures out a way to appreciate Sweety's uncompromising nature, not able to realize in the moment that I am equally as head strong. Sweety was discussing me with a woman sitting next to us, telling her how I learn a few Hindi words a day. I knew from previous waiting room experience that this was my cue to show off my minimal knowledge of this complex language. Frustrated with my having to socialize, I said in a certain, particularly unenthusiastic tone, the first word that popped into my head, which happened to be my favorite Indian sweet dish. Totally taken at my sarcastic demeanor, Sweety threw her hands in the air, and while laughing at her frustration out escaped the most favored, cherished phrase, "I loveeeeeeee you!" that seemed to have shaken the walls of the clinic, and having entered into all hearts present into the waiting room it caused a certain dignity to fill the air.

Enthralled with the brazen, capricious natured of our emotional states, I cracked a smile and pinched her cheek, which is the ultimate Indian display of affection. I sat leaning into Sweety's side with my right hand in her lap, for her acupressure practicing purposes. There we waited for fifteen more minutes, Sweety pressing firmly on the center of my palm to alleviate any potential kidney damage.


If it weren't for my blessed 35-day menstrual cycle, I would have been sent away from home on this Telugu New Year that marks the first day of Navrati, which is for many Hindus, a nine day worship of the goddess Randamal. It is a very special day. Thankfully, Sweety stopped her menstruating just days before. Last year she had to miss out on her sacred holiday, cursed by her timing of the fascinating process that bonds women and makes human life on this earth possible.

At four a.m. my musical cell phone alarm filled the room to awake Sweety for the task that she's been looking forward to for weeks. Like a little kid on Christmas morning, she sprung from her restless sleep, not to open gifts or eat candy, but to clean durgamaa's temple and change his outfits. In addition to eating roasted corn on the cob and visiting the homeopathy clinic every fifteen days, changing god's outfits is one os Sweety's most favorite activities, a celebration in itself.

I woke at 9:15 in my leisurely manner, selfishly trying to persuade the forces of the universe to do me a solid and turn back time to grant me a couple more hours of sleep. Unsuccessful in my attempts, I lazily made my way downstairs, my pajama's hanging sloppily from my shoulders, my wild morning hair shamelessly poking every which way, and eye buggers sticking crusty to my face. There were branches of a plant scattered on the dining table.

"Jai shri krishna. Good morning. Happy Ugadi," Goldy greeted.

"Jai shri krishna. Good morning. Happy Ugadi. What's with the branches?" I replied beginning to yawn.

"It's a neem plant", Goldy answered. "We eat five leaves from the plant on Ugadi."

I froze mid yawn. Then, coming to, I resumed proper mouth positioning and took a step back. I could hardy believe it. I was star struck. I stood completely disheveled staring at the holy plant who seemed to have developed a halo around its beautiful, slender leaves. I tamed my hair, wiped my eyes clean, straightened my posture, and after taking a deep, soulful breath, replied in a quiet whisper, "really?"

Neem is sort of my medicinal plant idol. It was one of the plants that initially sprung my interest in natural medicine, and I am continually amazed with its ability to assist in healing various ailments. It is still fairly under the radar in the west, and many natural doctors have yet to hear about the mystical plant. Oh, how beautiful it was seeing such a sacred herb so easily accessible, just pulled from a plant out front, and now lying with all her powers and wisdom on our cluttered kitchen table, the cups and spoons and our yellow-striped placemats unaware of what majesty lay before them.

I gently picked five leaves off the plant and making a bowl out of my hands, I soaked neem with her tiny white flowers in cooled boiled water. After the liquid slowly leaked through my fingers, I fanned the leaves dry over our white wash basin. I arranged them neatly on a small poreclein dish, and sprinkled the arrangement with a pinch of salt to cover the sharp, bitter flavor. I sat down on the couch, and setting the dish on my lap, I humbly partook in nature's offering.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

we were made to love

"Kay-seeee! Kay-sEEE!" I walked out to the balcony and looked down at the street below where there were seven adorable kids calling my name. "Kay-see! It's going to RAIN! oh, please come dance with us, please Kay-see, please!"

My heart was swelling, swelling, pop.

Of course I went down to have a rain dance with these high-spirited, bright-smiling, care-free child friends of mine. I grabbed my light green scarf and was down the steps and out the door in no time. We went to the corner and took each others hands, and with our giggles and in our sacred joy, we welcomed the few drops that fell on our path. After a couple minutes of our spinning and hand-in-hand swaying, we sat on the curb, painted in black and white stripes, and enjoyed salted mango sprinkled in chili powder, when this story took a spirit crushing turn.

Recently Sweety made me read terrifying stories about violent attacks against women, and it had been many miserable days since I'd let go of my fear of dangerous men and acid pourings and just lived. Two boys my age approached me, the kids, and green eyes enjoying our snack on the curb. They told me, "you are on a street. this is not your house, and you shouldn't dance in public because people will think that you are a joker", which is the Indian equivalent of a slut. I was completely taken aback. I realize that these boys probably had my best interest at heart, but they were harsh words to hear and felt completely condescending. I felt frustrated and was on the verge of tears when Raja, my thirteen year old homeboy, argued with the intruders of our happiness. Then he did his friend duty and told me that I could never look like a joker.

Despite Raja's sweet consolation, I was back on guard. When I walked home and out-and-about the following days, it was not with a spring in my step, but with the heavy burden of being a woman in this man's world. With a hardened, hollow expression on my face, I walked, pleading with the law's of our universe to make me invisible, seeking no admiration or adversary, but just truly to be left alone. Defeated, I walked with my head down, looking at my feet pretending not to notice the high school boys doing tricks on their two wheelers. With my peripheral vision, I spotted cars sitting idly or men standing around, and I migrated to the opposite side of the road. If men called out to me I acknowledged them so to not damage their pride, but I did not fully smile or make any eye contact. Burdened by my fear, I trudged, and plodded, and dragged my body down the streets leading further into the depths of fear's internal darkness.

I was almost home, thank god, when I heard "Mam, excuse me, Mam". A teenage boy had stopped on his scooter and was calling me. I turned his direction with an unwelcoming expression, looking like I'd never had a happy feeling in my life.

"Where are you from, Mam?"

"Canada", I lied, scared since the U.S. bombed Pakistan just a few days before and not knowing whether this boy was Muslim or Hindu. I hated that it mattered. I hated to lie.

"I saw you the other day" he said. I was bracing myself for what insensitive words were sure to follow, certain that I was about to be scolded for having a spirit and loving dancing children and earth's sweet rain. "You were feeding a hungry cow", he began. "I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for loving India, at the bottom of my heart, thank you".

I looked at his face for the first time, my eyes welling up, "thank you", I replied, completely stunned. He gestured his respectful namaste and road away.

I wish I could have conveyed to him how much his blessing meant to me and the alleviation of my useless, heavy fear that followed. I walked home feeling so much love for the universe that I held my hands to my heart and cried, convinced that we were made to love.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I always wear a single ring on my right hand. Throughout my life I have had a few ring that have stayed glued to my finger during the various phases and stages of my life, the different embarrassing and impossibly hearth-wrenching crushes, and the several even more embarrassing ego-driven life crises (as most life crises have been ego-driven). All rings stand for their time and fit their period on my finger well. In times of boredom or strife or just by chance, I look down at my right hand and stare at my ring, thinking about how it relates to whatever particular stage in my life I currently reside. I share a special connection with my rings, each resembling the secret thoughts and stages of my life's progression. I never buy them or go searching for a new appendage companion, but after years of wearing the same band a ring will just sort of pop up and say "hello, my dear! ready for your next direction?". "Fine", I think, wondering what strange experiences and mental states this next ring will join me in.

Last night I believe I may have met my next partner. I was at a tiny silver shop near Charminar with Auntie and Sweety where we spent hours sorting through and weighing silver trinkets for an upcoming pooja. I was going through a box of rings looking at all their different colors and shapes, and thinking about the different personalities to fit them when I saw a sweet, simple ring with a peach colored jewel whose pigment was not far from the light tint of my skin. Out of boredom and possible subconscious longing to be someone of a different, more genteel and polished personality, I took off my wide, hazel colored, bohemian ring of six years and slipped of this classy treasure.

"WoOOoOOoo! How refined", I thought looking down at the sweet jewel on my hand, wobbling my head side to side in true Indian fashion, and wondering if I'd ever have the calm, classy mien that such a piece of jewelry would compliment. Ha! Most likely not.

"Madame, excuse me, Madame". I turned around thinking "is someone calling me madame?". The shop owner was smiling sweetly, touched by my whimsical look resembling a dreamy little girl trying on her mothers fancy, oversized accessories. "Keep the ring on", he said warmly, "it is a gift. Welcome to India."

"Oh, nonono!", I couldn't possibly accept. I tried hard to pull the ring over my knuckle, but it wouldn't budge. When I was a little girl, my dear grandfather told me as a joke that the secret to slender hands was to pop your knuckles excessively, and it was through following this grave advice that I will forever be cursed with my gloriously misshapen fingers. Definitely not the fingers for such a classy gem, but I couldn't get the ring off. In my nervous frenzy, I tugged and tugged, but to no avail. I had no choice but to accept the gift..

I will always remember the story of finding this ring on my finger, and then being escorted through an unruly political rally to an auto that drove me passed a line of men defecating on the sidewalks of an Indian avenue. A promising start to a new era.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Twelve Drops

I downed a glass of buttermilk to cool my insides since the day's power disappeared with the "poppop!" of the transmission box at the foot of our block. Giant sweat circles lined the armpits of my gold and beige embroidered, saffron-colored dress, serving as a testament to the days heat, which was far too unworldly to describe here with mere words. We were all nearly crowned victims of the devilish heat when the first of the clouds came, immediately rousing life within me. I walked out to our front porch and standing on the marble steps, I looked up at the darkening, normally cloudless sky, and smelt the dusty perfumes of the earth.

The wind began to stir. Dogs, pairing up, were walking excitedly down the street, enjoying the novelty of the moment. A rooster began running nervously in circles, picking up speed as the wind grew stronger. Dust stung my skin with the powerful gusts the wind threw my way. I held my eyes closed tight and felt the light pain biting at my exposed arms and face. A blue tarp tied tightly to the wood and rope structure from the construction site across the street was being viciously sucked in by the brick building before being forcefully blow out; it's sharp plastic sounds filling the street and once entering my ear canal, sent a trickling sensation
down my spine that lunged my body forward. Sparrows were flying from their trees, and the trash was shooting through the air. The doors of all the houses on the block were slamming shut, their echoes filling the street.

Then suddenly, as if some mystical creature flicked a switch and the heavens vacuumed up all movement in the universe, a gush of absolute stillness filled the air. Afraid to breathe I stood perfectly still, the aunt below me even pausing in their wonder. The steady thump-thump-thumping of my heart was the only motional rebel known to my senses. Then mother earth's little helper flicked the switch on again, and as suddenly as it left, the winds came blasting through the Indian terrain as the sky's thunder roared in its regal manner.

I ran up to the balcony to get a better view. Everyone paused to watch the day. The construction workers in their rolled up pants and rags tied around their heads stood with their young babes in their arms, their tools forgotten at their feet. Women left their dish washing and walked to the street's black and white striped curb. Young school boys resembling little men in their tidy uniforms with their white shirts tucked neatly into their khaki shorts and their tie hanging proudly from their neck stared wide eyed. Everyone stood in their wonder, embracing the sanctity of the earth's powerful motions.

Twelve of the most cherished rain drops fell on my arms before the clouds passed and the people, one-by-one, returned to their day's doings. I sat down in the door way, hidden from the street so that I could let my hair hang down. I combed my fingers through my golden locks while I listened to the rumblings of the sky.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I know this much is true

I've emerged from a funky past few days, and though it is nearly impossible to do in the moment, I truly appreciate those chunks of downer days that this experience has occasionally bestowed upon me. I know this much is true, when I am unhappy it is because I am looking for life outside myself, and in turn living in a state of miserable longing.

One evening completely fed up with my self-induced misery, I made a list of things I could do to relieve myself of this slumpish state. My list did not include calling up any friends with my fancy new phone card or escaping to the internet shop to write desperate emails to my Mom. I want to find peace within myself. I owe myself that.

After sorting out my list, I went down stairs and asked Sweety if I could help her, and to my surprise she said yes. I spent the next two hours shredding garlic cloves for preserving, and feeling more and more at peace from the repetitious work as my hands slowly peeled away the layers of skin surrounding the fresh clove while the potent juices stung my delicate fingers. I came upstairs and did yoga for an hour stretching every possible muscle in my body there is to stretch. Then sitting on my little rag woven mat, I turned a prayer my 2 1/2 year old niece created into a mantra, and I wished peace upon everything I both love and despise.

Fully stretched and with a clear head, I opened up my journal and found an entry that I wrote just three weeks after being here:

"Some days, overwhelmed with isolation and lack of normalcy, I wake up cursing the male chauvinism that dominates this culture, their filthy streets, and the minor discourtesies. Allowing contempt and intolerance to settle at the base of my heart, I begrudgingly trudge through those days with little enthusiasm, mimicking the abrasive disposition that in those moments I despise. Other days, when acknowledging my isolation and recognizing its potential, I arise with life in my eyes, and a clear heart with a knack for understanding."

Our path is a lonely path in all worldly terms, perfect as it is, and until we can learn to walk our path alone, we are incapable of truly living with others in all our glory and magnificence. This is a lesson I am having to learn again and again. Everything I need resides within myself and my spiritual understanding, and I most certainly will not be happy if I am consumed with my finding happiness. My handicap is my self-absorption.

Let us learn who we are and fully embrace those discoveries. Then we can sincerely contribute. Then we can share.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Morning Prayer

"Casey! Your cow is here!" yelled Uncle from down stairs.

"Whaaaaaat?! Louanne is here?" I call back sprinting down the stairs forgetting to turn off the fan in the room I was resting in. I peak out the front door. She is waiting with her massive cow body in front of the gate that protects our property.

I feed Louanne every day. Most days she finds her way to my door step, but I seek her out on the days when the hot sun confines her to her shadowy patch around the corner. I slip on my shoes and go out to her. Squatting down in front of her big bony body, I open my grocery bag where there are five carrots, two beets, and a hunk of green cabbage waiting. She begins sniffing, seeking out my offering. I don't make her wait long. While she munches away I dust the flies away from her face, then stroke her giant snout and scratch between her dark feeling eyes.

When she is done eating she rests her giant head in my lap, and with her chipped yellow horns level with my eyes she completely covers me in her sticky slobber. I rub her cheeks and pet her face lovingly while she burps aways from her feast. This is my morning prayer. A distant moo catches her attention. I leave her be and wander back upstairs to look out over my balcony where I see her licking a younger cow whose horns are but little stubs.


The day I am writing this is one of those how-am-I-going-to-make-it-until-june days, and I do have those days. The frustrating thing about the heavy presence of these days is the fear that it will last forever. But I found a place to think. Its my own private terrace. I pleaded with the door and it finally budged, granting my access. I sit on the ladder leading up to the water tank. No one can see me here. I feel safe in my secret spot. I sit with the tops of trees whose fruit is ripening. I love it here. Everyday leads to new understandings, and I am always completely mesmerized, but oh! how I long to be invisible. I'm facing east on accident. I turn around to look out at the pink horizon, balanced by coconut trees and the beautiful Indian architecture. My load is lightening. At this moment I find myself most content sitting atop my neighborhood, the pink sky and fruit trees my company. I could sit here forever.

Parade of Cows

Everyday around 2:30 a pack of cows comes from the slum neighborhood near by and then passes by our bright green house. I hear the commotion from the dogs on the street below. I watch from the balcony. A cow stops to scratch his head on an electrical wire. Three dogs lead the way, being stirred from their special spots under cars and in comfy sand patches in the slums, they come announcing the arrival of these strange beasts, and like a bunch of adolescent girls seeing Taylor Hanson, the dogs go absolutely wild. The cows take their time, and the dogs can hardly handle the intensity. As the cows trudge forward, the dog's barks grow faint in the distance. A woman follows from behind barefoot, collecting all the cow dung, using her arms as a basket. It is the event of the day everyday at 2:30.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Evening Walk

The last hour of sunlight was far too beautiful to spend sitting still. Sweety was falling asleep on the couch, and the rest of the family was resigned to their sleeping spots. I smothered myself in mosquito repellent, slipped on my shoes, and set out on foot to explore my pleasantly quaint neighborhood.

Any time I read or practice my flute, Sweety makes me face East. She says it "maximizes the experience", thus my rationale for heading east on my evening excursion. Immediately after heading out I laid eyes on Louanne who was getting caught trying to snag a Watermelon from the Watermelon Man's cart. Since she was unsuccessful, I bought her 5 rupees worth of melon to appease her hunger. While Louanne was chowing down, I decided to strike up conversation with those at the stand, which involved few words, and lots of head wobbling and hand gestures. There was the Watermelon Man, the Watermelon Man's wife, Louanne's peasant "owner", and a two year old boy standing on the steep side walk wearing nothing but a splotchy brown button down shirt, his feet still dyed pink from Holi.

A fella strolled down the street to join in on the silent head wobbling. He was a lanky twenty something with the brightest smile and the greenest eyes in all of India. I was completely captivated by his dashing appearance and began slowly melting into a puddle of ridiculous girlish fantasies right next to Louanne's pile of spit on the street's dirty pavement. He has to be the most heartbreakingly beautiful boy on this side of the globe. He turned his entrancing eyes my way and with his enrapturing smile said to me "our eyes are so similar, but our skin is so different." Oh me oh my! How I withheld my urge to say "but baby that don't matter" is beyond me. Returning from my delightful fantasy wonderland to the watermelon stand in India in 2009, I regained the use of my legs and bidding my farewell I headed west, unable to handle any more of that eastern intensity.

But wait! The adventure does not end there! I started out heading east, and that eastern energy was determined to stay with me. I walked westward admiring the thick foliage that created a canopy over my path. A patch of light shown sweetly no a two puppies wrestling in the sand. I sat down with them on the outskirts of a slum neighborhood to get some old school puppy loving. Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by fifteen little kids, all with giant pearly white smiles. Normally, I would be concerned for potential muggings, but seeing as how I only had the clothes on my back and a second hand phone in my pocket, I felt little reason to be alarmed. The kids were interested in me and kept asking me questions in Hindi. One ten year old boy wearing a blue jodhpuri was able to speak in English. He asked me if I wanted to take the puppies, and with a smile I said, "I wish." For many minutes I stood surrounded by this delightful little crowd of children, when three women in sari's approached us.

I stood surrounded by beaming faces and questions that I couldn't understand. One of the women was dusting puppy hair off my bosom, a brief contact that I savored since human contact is so few and far between here . Giving up on conversation, the women decided that we didn't need words, and proceeded to teach me a traditional Hindi dance. Next thing I know, I am in a crowd of twenty women and children, we're facing east with one hand up in the air while the other is rotating in a circular motion out by our side, our feet tapping about smoothly.

Are there cameras? Am I on a stage? Are my friends back home watching me tap around on the big screen at Rasoi? No, no, no... I must be dreaming. Could it be? Have I just busted out in random dance with a bunch of my new neighbors? I have?! Now I know I'm in India!

I keep on. Right hand in the air, then left, spin, touch heels together, spin opposite way, all the while our faces gleaming with delight, the eastern air elevating our experience. Then suddenly, I look up mid spin and Heavenly Eyes is strutting down the street, his long legs carrying his beautiful bright smile my way. Plants perk up as he passes. The sewage smell vanishes, and God blesses the slum neighborhood with a sweet lavender scent. It was too much. I had to stop before I danced my way to the marriage hall, with all of Hyderabad dancing alongside Heavenly Eyes who would be riding Louanne to take those most sacred vows. I wouldn't put it passed this eastern energy. I waved goodbye to my new friends and scurried past my green eyed prince, and walked quickly home where I slipped inside to find Sweety was still sleeping, lost in her evening dreams.

Jai Shri Krishna/Good Morning

It's 6:38 am. Another power cut. While the blades of the fan slow down, coming to a halt, the room quickly fills with the hot stillness that makes sleeping impossible. I feel nauseous from the heat. I lay on my back sweating in our bed. Loaded down autorickshaws and high school boys on motorcycles fly passed my window outside. The roosters from the slum next door are making their morning known. The vegetable cart man is trudging along, beginning his morning rounds.

As I brush my teeth with my boiled water, the man next door ferociously hawks up his loogies rousing my nausea. I can feel him struggle with the force of his throat to gather the clinging mucus with repeated "hhawkkk.hawwwkkkkk" swishing of spit, then finally I hear "SPLAT" on the pavement below. Squatting under the faucet, I wash the sweat off my body from the hot night before. I slip my clothes on over my wet skin and tiptoe down the marble laid staircase to have my first morning cup of chai. My loogie hawking specialist starts up again for round two.

Goldy passes me on his way to God's room to give his morning prayers dressed in an undershirt and a towel around his waste. A cat sneaks in through a vent in the kitchen to steal some buttermilk. I keep her secret. I'm sitting on the couch feeling peaceful and listening to the noises from the streets, the clanking of dishes from the kitchen, the ringing of the bell from God's room, the sound of running water from the outside, the everlasting hawks, until my laughter stirs me from my gentle trance, and I am absolutely delighted to be here with myself embracing this solitude, sipping on my chai, and feeling true wholeness waltzing about inside my chest cavity.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Holi: Festival of Colors

I ride though the city to meet Sona and her friends. The day is Holi, the Festival of Colors. Blue, green, yellow, purple, and bright pink all decorate the city streets and people's bodies. I ride in Goldy's van with the window up to avoid being sprayed with a permanent dye. Little kids with a pink tint wander around with carefree expressions on their faces. Four lanky boys coated in various colors squeezed tight on a motorcycle fly passed the car, one holding a cricket bat in his hand. Three stops later I find myself sitting around in a circle of established female architects and interior designers. All of us are colored with powdered dyes and eating delicious food.

Sona turns to me in her pink sparkly salwar kurta with her face splotched with thick pink and purple powder. "Now Casey", she begins in her most proper Indian manner, "we tend to get a little intoxicated on Holi," she says as she passes me a delicious milky drink flavored with almonds and Saffron. "Alright", I thought, "I'll have the Indian equivalent of a glass of wine".

Next thing I know, I'm laying down on the floor, surrounded by the women sitting upright in their chairs, my body is covered in colors and I'm watching the fan blades circulating trying to keep them separate in their quick motion, and I'm going on and on about the weird sensation in my eye balls and how they feel like they are fish bait bobbing in an infinite sea of human consciousness, and about how I wish I could play my teeth like a piano. Then I'm suddenly thinking about how to write this experience before coming to this explosive realization of what writing really is and what it truly means and why it is so necessary, and then I am overcome with the urge to read everything I've ever read all over again, starting with those stapled paper books in Mrs. Nutt's first grade class. Oh! What a truly great understanding I've come to! I wanted to share.

Unable to speak I decided that I would telepathically communicate my new found understanding of the ancient practice of writing that we so mindlessly take for granted to the woman sitting across from me. After some time of my "communicating" an endless list of psychedelic thoughts, the woman catches me sitting "indian style", my body covered in colors, and staring at her wide eyed with intense concentration. She didn't understand my motives to say the least.

All the women gathered around the table to eat ourselves into a deeper trance. Too tired to use words we all invented a language of grunts. We ate and ate and ate. The suddenly, I was in a Wes Anderson film with all these established Hyderabadi professionals, and a whole other world of observations presented themselves. By the end of the afternoon we were all laden with exhaustion, practically drooling on ourselves in our slumber before realizing that we had to get up at that very moment or else we would melt into the cushions of the couch where our colorful particles would remain for all of eternity.

I went home to wash away my colors and sleep. Late into the evening I came down stairs and watched a Hindi soap operah with Sweety, so moved by a scene where a woman gives a man a glass of water, I cried into the thick night air. I then listened to Antony and the Johnson's "Fistful of Love", and teary eyed, sang "yeah, man! yeah. sing it, brother!" at the soulful tune, before reading some philosophy books and going to bed.


I first found her eating pieces of a watermelon that were left rotting in a small black plastic bag. She was snorting, digging at the bag with her giant mouth, getting every last bit of nutrients from the street's pathetic offering. She looked up at me standing two feet from her, my body plastered against the bright green wall of our cement fence, my heart watching sullenly. Her big hollow black eyes pierced into me saying, "I know you know how sad this is". I did know. Her black skin clung tight to her bones. Her face was sunken in. I could count her ribs and could have curled up inside one the the deep cavities of her bony rear. She was nothing, but utters, yellow painted horns, and bones. She has a limp and an open wound on her back left leg that the flies swarmed to . I gave her a loaf of bread and a beet, and offered her my arm, but the loyal vegetarian wouldn't partake. After inhaling the alms she placed her large moist nose close to my chest. Smelling my useless grief she turned and began scrounging the streets for more food. Feeling completely helpless, I watched her limp away, each step taking tremendous effort and painfully numbering her days. I went and climbed the marble staircase to my room where I cried and prayed for a better world.

Typical Conversation

Typical Conversation with Sweety:

Sweety: Vasudha is my name. means floor.
Me: your name means floor?
Sweety: no, floor dirt.
Me: your name means floor dirt? That sucks, Sweety!
Sweety: no! hmmm, how you say.. Planet. name means.
Me: your name means planet? weird.


Me: Oh! Earth?
Sweety: Yes! Earth my name means.
Me: how beautiful!
Sweety: yes...

Typical Remark from Goldy:

"Your slippers look so small, but your feet are actually quite large."

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Chatwanis

Now that I've been fever free for a few days, I feel like I have enough sane experience in my new household to give a proper low down on my new family, the Chatwanis. We live in a beautiful two-story, four-bedroom, bright green house on a more quiet, greener side of town, which would still be considered unnecessarily busy and loud compared to my quiet suburban streets in my comfortable life back in Texas. Next door, amidst the houses and quadplexes, is a lone slum patchwork home made of cement, metal sheets, and straw. Outside our front door is a cow tied up with a feast of hay at his disposal, which is considered a luxury since most of the city cows have to resort to dumpster diving. In the living room of this comfy home there is a built-in hutch whose glass cabinets are decorated with four black and white pictures of random naked Caucasian babies as if taken from a Sears catalog. The television is tucked in a nook by the stairs, normally broadcasting either Hindi soap operas or the Indian version of Judge Judy. This oddly arranged living room is decorated with beautifully embroidered square pillows sprinkling the long sofa. The peculiar, eccentric style of decoration really reminds me of my home back in Irving.

The Fam:

Uncle- Uncle is a darling old Indian man with the sweetest personality and most glorious round rice belly in all of India. Uncle knows a few English words and phrases, and like a gem we cherish the small amount of conversation that we can muster. Uncle wears long sheer Indian shirts, with a tapestry tied around his protruding midriff like a skirt.

Auntie- Auntie is the mother of the household and a grandmother-to-be whose affection and intensity I truly cherish. The maternal vibes that radiate off of her make me wish that I was six years old and could curl up with my head in her sari covered lap while she reads me Hindi children's stories and combs her fingers through my tangled golden hair. I could sit around for years gazing into the depths of her love and never discover its limit. She has the look of a mother who has suffered unthinkable loss and heartache for the children of her heart. Her gentle love is balanced with a fierce protective instinct. This woman could defeat an army of wild, blood-crazed cannibals to get to her children, and back in the eighties I think she did.

Sweety- When I'm not mindlessly defiling temples with my uterine lining, Sweety is a loving, endearing woman that has the spirit of a child kept lovingly in the body of a middle aged woman. Sweety has had far too eventful a life for a woman who had to drop out of school at 15 to take care of her mother, who I call "Auntie". Often when Sweety is excited about something, she approaches me absolutely beaming, speaking rapidly in her broken English attempting to convey to me the source of her enthusiasm, just to let out a jumbled pile of English words that I can't understand, but with soft smiles we rummage through the pile piecing together its meaning. Sweety spends her days cooking for the family, taking care of her mother, and teaching calligraphy classes.

Goldy- Goldy is a retired model and actor gone business man, and is a total Indian babe. He has the dark sparkling eyes of his stardom aspiring days with the proud belly present in Indian men who can afford the food. At the peak of his career in Mumbai when he was offered a leading role in a hit television series, a break that most aspiring actors can only dream of, he willingly put his dream aside to come home and take care of his family when his father fell ill. Yesterday I was reading an interview with him that was in an old magazine, and when asked what mattered most to him he replied "simplicity" and "humanity".

Lately I've spent my days walking along the quaint streets passed the watermelon men pushing their carts along shouting their publicity, sweet kids dancing and waving from their front porches nearly hidden from the thick foliage blessing this neighborhood, and the dry cleaning men performing their bicycle deliveries. At our house I practice my flute during the power breaks to entertain the family. In the evening I learn Hindi with the help of Goldy and Sweety, while holding in my left hand a coconut with a straw stuck inside to drink the sour wholesome milk.

I type away at a small internet shop where I have to squeeze into a little cubicle and place the keyboard on my lap. Above the monitor is posted a sign that reads "Porn sites are strictly prohibited", but in true boyish form, someone crossed out "prohibited" and wrote "hot", and for a moment after first seeing this I felt like I was back in the states and then wondered "Was D.Z. in here?" .

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sunstroke is Srisailam

When I first arrived at my new families house with Goldy, Reena's younger brother, I had to wait out on the porch while Sweety, Reena's older sister, performed her house guest pooja that involved enveloping me in a sacred scent and putting a dot of red kumkum paste between my eye brows. Then I was greeted warmly with a hug and a kiss on the neck from Reena's mother before being escorted into their cozy home on a more quiet side of town. I'm absolutely ecstatic that Reena's mother is a hugger. The last time I had a hug was when she hugged me at the Rajasthani anniversary bash, before that i was on Texas soil at the airport with my mom. I miss hugs.

Within my first five minutes of my arrival was invited to accompany sweety, her oldest brother, and her aunt and uncle on a pilgrimage to Srisailam, which they said it was only a four hour bus ride from Hyderabad. Honestly, I was more in the mood to relax, but as a general rule I try not to decline too many pilgrimages.

"Sweety! Sweety!" The sound filled the room, echoing off the early morning walls. I groaned, waking up from an incomplete sleep to see Reena's father at the doorway of the bedroom. "Sweety! Sweety!", he called out again with his hoarse voice until Sweety rolled out of bed to do her morning pooja and make the family breakfast. I never knew the word "Sweety" could sound so harsh until being woken up at five a.m. by its sound racketing off the walls, signalling the start of our long day.

The eight hour bus ride to Srisailam was an eventful one. Unable to shut my window because of the intense heat, I had to endure being sprayed in the face with tobacco spit from the man in the row in front of me. In a small village I had to pay 2 rs. to use a "toilet" in the middle of this pasture passed cows, pigs, and goats that consisted of a cement floor with a little ditch, three walls, and a door. It was squatting on this sewage coated floor that I learn that I started my period totally unprepared. If there is one disadvantage to no toilet paper living it is the lack of warning one has in regards to their menstrual timing. I stuffed a bandanna in my undies and made my way back to the bus just in time to head further south and get tobacco spit in my eye. We passed through one of India's tiger reserves, a bare national forest, and a small village on the side of Andrah Pradesh's main water source where people were floating on their woven bamboo rafts. I was feeling weak and tired, and unaware of the illness that was slowly taking over me, I attributed my lethargy to my period.

I was unimpressed by the 600 year old temple. We waited in a crowded line to make our way through the famous temple that was violated with plastic bamboo trees, neon signs, vindictive staff, and tacky tash cans. I was so completely uninspired and my patience was growing thing. I was relieved with I was allowed to go back to the dinky hotel and have some alone time when the family wanted to go through the temple a second and third time. I tried writing, but i couldn't gather the mental concentration. I tried doing yoga but couldn't even move my feet. I couldn't move at all. I just laid there, succumbing to my exhaustion, unable to read, or move, or really even think. I drifted into a deep deep sleep.

The following morning it was difficult for me to take Sweety scolding me for going to Temple while menstruating. I tried explaining to her that I had no idea that women were not allowed in temples when menstruating, not even allowed to be touched for that matter, but there was a definite language barrier. "Think, Casey. Think about things" she told me, adding to my frustration. I know she can't choose her words because she knows such little English, but it felt condescending .I felt belittled and shamed, and with my rising temperature I was unable to remain unaffected The event pierced my already dwindling morale. I knew I was in trouble when an hour before our departure I had intense spells of diarrhea. I was in tears, incapable of communicating to anyone I was with, and Sweety was being hostile, still angry at my menstrual heedlessness.

The family seemed both confused and irritated at my outward display of emotions. Their irritation made me sadder and angrier. I boarded the bus and braved the eight hour bus ride ahead of me. I didn't have much choice. My fever rose with our mileage, and I became too weak to even shift my body. All my strength went to holding my bowels, the pressure of which did ease slightly during the trip back to Hyderabad. I vaguely remember coming to at a pit stop to an old beggar woman poking me trying to coax me into giving her money. Unable to move, I just laid in my seat on the bus, clutching my bag tight to my chest while the woman, her grey hair matted and disheveled like a mad scientist, kept poking my arm with the intensity of a beggar. By the end of our bus ride, I'd lost all color in my face, there were intense, dark marks circling my shrunken eyes, and my lips were cracked, parts of them bleeding from lack of moisture.

When in Hyderabad, we jumped off the bus at a busy intersection to signal an auto. We had to wait many minutes in the hot sun and polluted air before finding an auto and getting lost on our way home. The sun felt like a weight I had to carry around on my back. When we finally made it home, I made my way upstairs to relieve myself and pour some cold water on my skin. The water felt hot on my feverish skin. I could have melted a freezer. I crawled into bed and woke up an hour later to a doctor sitting next to me with his traveling case.

I couldn't stop crying. It was the fever. I couldn't communicate with the doctor at all, which made me cry even harder. Every time I spoke, he would laugh, and again with the tears. I longed for comfort. More than anything I wanted to feel my mother's cool soft hand on my forehead and hear her comforting words, and maybe even share a laugh over my fever caused hysteria. I was scared and lonely, and I could not stop crying. Every part of my body ached. My head was pounding, my arms felt like there were bugs crawling under the layers of my skin, my eyeballs felt like they were bursting. The heat was radiating off my skin and coming back to me at twice as much force. I was so intensely hot, but would often be controlled by short intense bouts of chills that took control of my body like an epileptic fit. I drifted into a terrified sleep, certain I would wake up blind, or paralyzed, or not at all. I was completely ridiculous.

I had the unfortunate combination of what the doctor called a "sun stroke", an upper respiratory infection, and traveller's diarrhea. Most people who travel to an Indian city from abroad develop an upper respiratory infection because of the polluted air here. I've been fighting one for two weeks, but it was manageable, and I was improving. From what I gathered from the physician via Sona and Goldy is that the "sun stroke", as if that alone isn't bad enough, shot my immune system, causing the respiratory infection to thrive. I got traveller's diarrhea from consuming contaminated food.

The beautiful thing about being so sick is the overwhelming excitement I have for life now that the fever is easing, loosening its grip on my rapidly redeeming spirit. My mind is growing restless; hyper active like a skinny ten year old boy with ADHD, its running laps around my sleepy limbs. I went on a walk in my new neighborhood to buy limes and attempt to zap my body out of its stupor. Wandering around this quaint Indian neighborhood, trying to find my way back to our bright green house near the ZamZam Dairy Dealer, I got tangled up in a huge gang of cows that were freely wandering around themselves, as if to find their own green dwelling place. With complete serenity, I stood tangled with the bulls, being passionately in love with the moment and looking up to see that they had led me safely home. Farewell, my brothers! Enjoy your wandering.

Joel, Grace, and Their Mother.

Joel, Grace, and their mother are friends of mine that live across the landing from me at the Ganatra's. They are a Christian family, which is something of a rarity for Hyderabad. Joel and his mother do not understand my searching or my more Unitarian minded spiritual perspective. That's okay. I should seek to understand, not to be understood. Despite their lack of broadmindedness in regard to religious matters, they are quite pleasant to be around. Realizing that their persistence is rooted in a genuine concern for my life's well-being makes it easier to accept Joel's continuous hassling and the mother's squeezing of my cheeks together while telling me how important it is for me to read the Bible, before commenting on how I need to eat my ice cream faster. Grace and I can talk more freely with each other.

Joel is an outspoken demanding fourteen year old socialite who is a blast to play cricket with. Joel's mother is a generous, loving, protective woman who seems to have every ones best interest at heart. Grace is a more timid and soft spoken sixteen year old who for me is such a treat to be around. Her gentle curiosity and he humbling spirit allows us to have more authentic encounters that are a familiar trace of some of my most profound attachments back home.

I've gone to church with the family once. They attend The Baptist Church of Hyderabad, which is similar to Baptist churches in the South and for me, just as desolating.

I just don't feel the possible supreme being of the universe in a church the way I do watching the sun set in the smoggy sky while sitting on the cement blocks on the terrace, or like I do when I look at Sophie crunching on her dinner, or like I do when I see little Noelle making up songs, or like I do when I cry hard into what seems an endless pit of despair, or like I do when the few times I've been fortunate enough the glimpse the depth of the human heart. For me, church is the dwelling grounds for stagnance. It just simply isn't my way. Today I honor God, by honoring Life, beautiful, heart wrenching, glorious, raw Life, and believing, as Emerson said, that "if we live truly, we shall see truly." Live and love and seek to understand.. That is my religion.

Ami and My First Natural Hindi Word

Ami is a totally trendy 26 year old bachelor who is always wearing tight shirts outling his slendor torso with sleeves that are short enough to give a hint of the tattoos on each of his arms. When Ami was in the 7th grade he was kicked out of his house for two years and left to fend for himself because he failed a couple of classes. "You are no son of mine!" his father exclaimed in his hot rage. Ami lives at home now with his family and is a contributing member of the household. His relationship with his family will certainly be threatened if his mother finds out that he eats K.F.C. and other meat products behind their back.

"Whats is your favorite aspect of Indian culture, Ami?" I asked one evening as we were standing around on the terrace looking out at the city haze and bright temple lights.

"My favorite thing about India", Ami began in his relaxed, self-assured manner leaning his long body against the railing, "is Boozing, Fagging, and Hitting. You can booze where ever you please. You can fag where ever you please. and you can hit whoever you please".

We absorbed the silence for a moment.

"what's fagging?"
"smoking, casey. fagging means smoking."
"oh... acha."

India: The Ultimate Body Image Challenge

"Are you unwell? Should we call a doctor? Your eyes are so little today", Mona asked as she closed the metal gate so the lift could begin its ascent to the 5th floor. " No, No. I'm fine, just got some little eyes today", I replied. I've had to start wearing mascara here to outline the green in my eyes making them look more lively to ease her growing concern for my 'little eyes'.

India has sort of done its number on my appearance so far and is really becoming the ultimate body image challenge. It is hard to get a good look in a mirror since no one has any privacy. There is a smudgy small mirror attached to a cabinet in the bathroom, but all of the long body mirrors are in the rooms where people are usually present. Embarrassed by my vanity, I've just done without mirrors these past few weeks.

It was not until Mona and I venture out to the crowded Sultan Bazaar to get some Indian friendly clothing that I noticed just how bedraggled and scruffy I've already become. Standing in the harsh lighting of the small dressing room, I saw the nasty pimples and blemishes decorating my once spotless back. The insensitive lighting illuminated the new dark color of my elbows and even hinted at a dimple on my pasty left thigh. As I stood studying myself in this mirror in my undershorts and sweat stained sports bra, viewing my freckled nose, my newly acquired tummy pudge, and all these other odd impurities, I knew I had met my match. India is the ultimate body image challenge. Getting a bloody scratch across my seemingly expanding forehead from a sequins on my dress added to the difficulty. I must accept myself as I am, however unmanageable.

That night, with three new Indian outfits at the picking, I prepared for the wedding ceremony we were attending. Though I planned on wearing my new tops with jeans, Mona made me wear the more ridiculous traditional bottoms for the occasion. after I dressed myself in my golden turmeric colored garb, I noticed each member of the family finding an excuse to make their was passed my room, sneaking a peak, before scurrying away to the next room. Hearing all sorts of unnecessary brouhaha from the living room, I decided to go investigating. Standing in my ridiculous get up with my forehead enhancing scratch held high, I walked into the next room to find the whole family huddled together trying to stifle their laughter. Despite Mona's protestations that I was the object of their amusement, Mom was a dead give away. No one could look at each other the whole night with out giggling.

The wedding ceremony was a treat. I got to eat delicious food , grin at my same holy man, who was of course present, and I got to see all my friends from my building. Sandeep was intrigued to see my new ensemble, but not too shy to voice his opinion of my poor choice of color, and of course commented on the red scratch cutting diagonally across my forehead. The next day, however, he paid me a compliment as I was making my way up the stairs, ignoring the lift in attempts to rectify the whole dimple thigh situation. "Hello, Casey! You look good today, MUCH better than yesterday", he said as I hiked my way passed his floor. These, stinging compliments are the only type that Sandeep knows how to give. It's okay! I made my way to our apartment where there was some fried food and a cup of chai waiting.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Montessori School

The montessori school is just a block away from where I am staying. When I head over there I take a main road so to avoid the isolated neighboring street that lies near the slums. I have to clutch my bag tight. It is not uncommon to have your possessions snatched away by people zooming past or a slick monkey smelling something promising, though I haven't had that sort of exciting misfortune just yet. When I arrive at the school I knock on the door and Amica, the eleven year old "servant" at the school, opens the wooden window door behind the bars protecting from intrusion. When I am greeted with her cheerful smile and she opens the door I enter into a thick aroma of either cleaning detergent or sewage.

The school is just a little bit big than my last duplex apartment was, but there are ninety kids and seven employees. There are five small rooms total that weave themselves around the apartment complex that they are attached to. The rooms serve as hallways also. The walls are pink with murals full of lotus flowers, dolphins, and cows rowing boats. There are English motivational posters on the walls and tacky posters of white babies on clouds or next to flowers. In the rooms the children either sit in small unstable plastic chairs or on the floor.

The teachers at the school are often very harsh to the small children, grabbing them abruptly by the arms and throwing them on a pallet or dragging them across the room, slapping their faces with their hands or hitting their heads with sticks of bamboo. Yet, you will also find the teachers hugging the kids and talking in Telugu baby talk. I've even seen a teacher lovingly cradle a child in one arm and while yelling, hit a child with the hand of another. This has taken me some getting used to. It is difficult for me not to judge the slapping, screaming, bamboo misusing teachers. It is just a different way. But just for the record, Mona is always only loving to the kids.

The cleanliness of the school is considered very high standards for India, but would be considered unacceptable in the United States. As far as I can tell, diapers do not exist in India. Puddles of pee lie scattered throughout the school deceiving me for the splotchy floor pattern. Frequently, I end up with a carefree, relaxed two year old and urine soaked jeans. When I sit to cradle a child to sleep or to simply rest my legs, I avoid the walls and cracks in the floor where roaches freely emerge, undisturbed by anyone except maybe a curious two year old. Last week I had to swat a scorpion type creature off a little boys neck.

For the potty-trained children at the school, there is a closet sized wet room with a drain and an Indian style toilet that no one uses. Before entering the child drops their breeches outside the room. The the child enters the room and simply squats on the floor. Every half hour Amica comes to dump water on the floor and spray away any droppings.

Amica is an amazing young girl whose positive energy is always radiating through the building. From her giant teethy grin to her constant admiration of the youngsters, Amica seems to be embracing each moment with great passion and confidence.Though most people might be frustrated with that lot in life, having to work twelve hour days six days a week at such a young age, missing out on school and friends, her spirit remains unshakable. Days when I do not go to the school I find myself missing her presence that ineluctably alleviates any frustration or sadness just by my witnessing such true spiritual beauty. If there is a god, I believe it may be shining through her in every instant, scattering its light upon on the little faces. I think she is one of the most admirable people I have ever met. Her life will be great because she is great.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


We zoom though the city streets in a rickshaw passing noisy bazaars and main streets of the city, our legs pressed tight against the vibrating bar supporting the drivers seat. We turn off onto an alley way and zip through the narrow back lanes of the city. Turning a corner, the driver forgets to honk and Mona lets out a gasp as we nearly run head-on into a motorcyclist. Tucked away in the maze of alleys in the city, invisible amidst the crowded slums, noisy bazaars and tightly packed apartment buildings, is the small peaceful temple of their Lord Krishna.

We purchase flower pedals from a man whose offerings are spread out neatly on a tapestry in front of the entrance. We walk up three steps, though the yellow painted brick marking the entrance to the temple, then touch our face and chest with the same hand. We remove our shoes and let our bare feet touch the cool white marble floor. We complete one parikarama, which is a clockwise walk through the temple where we leave offerings in various places and touch trees, flowers, and rocks with out hands or forehead as a symbol of veneration. There are stray cats crouching in the nooks of the temple walls. I am standing under thick foliage in a part of the small temple that is roofless, despite the still existing rusted metal bars that once served as a supporting roof structure.

We make our way to where Lord Krishna is covered by beautifully carved wooden doors surrounded by an even more graceful, elaborate wooden trim. On either side of the wide beautifully carved wooden panel doors is a painting of a woman in a red sari sprinkled with jewels and looking towards the opening where the doors still remain closed, concealing Krishna.

We sit on the floor with the other men and women who are chanting and clapping and singing to awake their Lord Krishna. Women clothed in their exotic saris some yellow or red or blue are in front, while the men are sitting in the back. Many of the women have scarfs draped gently over their head. As the followers continue to sing and chant and clap I marvel at my surroundings- men laying with their bellies flat against the smooth floor with their arms outstretched, foliage peaking through the arched glassless window opening, a closed giant green arched elf-like door with a smaller arched entry in the lower left hand side. All the while I am hearing the entrancing sounds of the singing and chanting and praying that once fill up the room with their rhythm and unity, begin again.

A man in a white robe opens the panel doors, exposing a simple white sheet serving as a curtain, which Krishna resides behind. The sounds intensify with the eagerness of the singers clapping harder and straining their voices making themselves speak louder and faster, louder and faster. Women are scooting forward struggling to feel closer to the deity while the sounds continue to rise.

The man in white, unaffected by the harsh, eager atmosphere, opens to curtain with a most delicate manner.

A sudden hush sweeps through the room. The thick silence steeps only for an instant before a large bellied old man whose greying hair resembles a blonde color kneeling beside their awakened Lord Krishna begins reciting the prayers, sprinkling the god with red powdery kumkum, pink powdery gulala, and white powdery abli. Then the man sprinkles Krishna with a light orange liquid that is made from soaking kesuda flowers.

Women drape scarfs over their heads before the man kneeling besides Krishna whose prayers are echoing off the temple walls turns to us to scatter those same blessings. I feel the soft sensations of the red, white and pink powder landing abruptly on my skin, and the cold feeling of the kesuda dyed water being shot from a gun to my arms, feet, and face, hearing the prayers continue without pause or disturbance. I listen and feel.

All senses working at once. Seeing the intense black from my closed eyes or the soft red stained material of my jeans. Hearing the prayers, the breathing, the passing of gas, the squirt of the water shots, motorcycles mindlessly zooming past the temple. Tasting my salty thirst. Feeling the kesuda liquid slowly drying on my arm. Enveloped in a thick stench of pheromones and gas, I wonder whether or not we are merely animals kneeling before granite, hoping all throughout our lives to be organs working within something greater, but never being really sure.

The scattering of blessings slows down. The verbal prayers cease. We stand, performing one more parikarama before slipping on our shoes, and touching the floor with our hand, then our hand to our face and chest. We pass the giant green arched door on our walk down to the noisy streets to signal a rickshaw.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Our Very Own Rajasthani Wonderland

I've gone to a few Gujarati ceremonies as of late, with various families. For the latest ceremony, I got the invitation a few hours before our departure. The family, who I know only through photographs and Reena's stories, picked me up at my current residence where I was waiting outside with the warm Indian breeze soothing my skin when the old car trucked down the street. I piled into the small van where I was greeted warmly by Reena's parents whose 50 years of marriage we were celebrating, Goldy, who is Reena's youngest brother, and Reena's aunt from Mumbai. In the stuffy car we drove and drove and drove into what I was beginning to recognize as a 'bad plan', as I was already falling asleep and we had stopped for directions four times.

The location that we finally arrived at was a Rajasthani paradise complete with fine miniature temples, elaborate carriages and camels decorating the lawn, and a dwarf Rajasthani man strolling around. When we arrived we were greeted with the Rajasthani equivalent of a mariachi band that followed Reena's parents around for the remainder of the night. The get away was very alice-in-wonderlandesqe with giant mushroom umbrella tables, decorative pastry boats lingering in the sweet rivulet, and signs beholding the words "laughing house this way!". This odd, nearly empty and hardly lit Rajasthani themed park was ours for the next several uneventful hours to come.

First we had puja. Now, Hyderabad is a large city, population around seven million. Every puja that I've attended, thus far, each with a completely different set of people and in different locations, has been conducted by the same leader. Each time as he is elegantly singing his prayers he naturally scans the room to see all the loyal, faithful Gujarati's with their dark hair and dark skin, dressed in their colorful, elegant saris, then he catches a glimpse of an unnaturally light colored individual wearing simple jeans and a t-shirt, making brief and amusing eye contact with the girl that keeps popping up at his pujas, standing out like a giraffe in the crowd , he offers a little smile and pauses probably saying to himself "well, that's odd" before he continues his scan of the small gathering.

It would be like the same giraffe attending a small wedding, a funeral, and a bible study all taking place in different churches in different cities. This minister scans the room seeing all the familiar faces and styles and suddenly comes across a displaced giraffe among such normalcy, pauses and smirks as if to say "ah! you again!" and "well, that's odd".

So this night, the the giraffe posed in a family photo and was a flower girl at a remake of the old couples wedding. Followed of course by the Rajasthani musical group, I lead the way to the uneventful celebration where the guests sat around looking terribly unenthused under their mushroom umbrellas with their small plates of cake. Then I sat between the couple all evening receiving all their gifts as the guests came to touch each their ankles and provide their blessings.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Let Me Tell You About Radhika and Sandeep

Radhika and Sandeep are a curious pair. Both are neighbors on the second floor of our building. Radhika is 17 and Sandeep is 23. Radhika is a girl. Sandeep is a dude. Both are Marvadis. They are inseparable, despite their strict mores that maintain that members of the opposite sex should not be friends, especially when there is such a drastic age different. Nonetheless, when Radhika's mother goes out a few evenings a week, the two spend all their time together laughing, walking, and befriending strange American girls reading on the terrace. They are what we call "best friends".

Both are such characters.

Radhika, despite her young age, has a strong sense of self-assurance that combined with her bubbly personality causes her to emit a glorious light that makes you need to know her. She is a joyful, practical girl who is loyal to her Marvadi faith.

Sandeep is a sweet, soppy, some cynics and fellow graduates of Jr. high would say unrealistic boy whose overthetop sentimentality makes me want to protect him from the harsh, yet beautiful reality that experience will most likely reveal for him. The only movies Sandeep has watched since he was thirteen years old were potentially tragic romances that have a happy ending. The first three questions that Sandeep ever asked me, in order, were "Do you believe in love at first sight?", "What is your favorite color?", and "Are you In love?" My dear friend, Sandeep, who I will always remember for his Backstreet Boys ring tone, loves nothing more than to hear about people being in love and talking about his belief of romantic loves potential to complete one's life. He spends his days working, sending his friends heartfelt text messages, and standing around on the terrace starry-eyed, looking out at the city below dreaming of finding his perfect Marvadi bride.

Monday, February 23, 2009

mona and the know-how of modest indian dining

I spend much of my time here with Mona. I go to her Montessori school often, help her prepare meals when she is willing to put up with my inexperienced hands, and run errands with her. Also, we found a little kid toy piano with 22 keys and a makeshift power chord. Now, for fifteen minutes a day during the children's nap time at the Montessori school, I teach Mona the basics of piano.Slowly we are becoming more natural and comfortable with one another, losing the stiffness that usually accompanies new acquaintances and new friends. She speaks only basic English, but we still joke with each other and laugh with each other despite our lack of understanding. I think she might even enjoy having me here.

More than any other member of the Ganatra family, Mona loves to make me eat. We even had our first argument when I was attempting to decline a 3rd piece of naan at lunch:
Me: No, thank you.
Mona: but you're not EATING!
Me: what?! I'm ALWAYS eating!
Mona: You're NOT! Eat NAAN!
Me: nooooooooooooooo
Mona: eat NAAN!

Realizing that sewing elastic on my pants will do little good since I gain weight in all of the glorious places, and not wanting to sacrifice my favorite pair of jeans, I knew that I needed to take action. I've developed a somewhat fallible technique to avoiding multiple servings of food.

Your see, Mona cooks naan while Mom and I are eating so that Mom, who has no teeth, can eat hot naan, which she is able to chew. So, she is away in the kitchen while I am eating, but she is frequently binging me more naan if I have less than one a half pieces left. So, for the first five minutes of the meal, I eat very little so that there is no room on my plate for additions food. Then, when she is in the kitchen cooking naan, I gorge my food and try to finish everything on my plate before she comes back with more naan. If I am not completely done with my dishes stacked by the time she returns, she smacks a couple more pieces of naan down on my plate, which means that I also have to take more of the dish being served.

Another key to minimizing food intake is to always balance the entree with the naan. If you have extra naan and little serving left, than she will dish you up some more of whatever Gujarati dish is being served. Having more serving than you do naan to eat it with calls for two more additional pieces of naan. But then you have to be served more of the dish, and so the cycle continues. Thus, the naan entree ratio is very important to balance. You must always clear your plate.

Friday, February 20, 2009

How To

I have received a few emails regarding the tradition and methodology of no toilet paper living, which is not merely adequate, but now preferable to the irritating, unpleasant use of the paper product. I will explain my technique here in hopes that some of you may be inspired by this primordial and efficient method of excretory management.

water access
balls (metaphorical)

For #2:
1. Enter the wet room/bathroom.
2. Choose between sitting or squatting. With our western style toilet in Hyderabad, I, as my fellow American readers, have the choice between sitting on the commode, or here, lifting the seat and squatting on the sturdy wide rim of the toilet. If squatting in the United States, don't lift the seat since it is usually fairly disgusting. If squatting, one must remove pants and underwear. Squatting is said to be healthier because it aligns the colon, causing it less pressure and more efficient release of your bowels.
3. Conduct "business" as usual.
4. Assume sitting position. No matter whether you choose to sit or squat during Step 3, I would recommend assuming the sitting position for the pouring of the water and cleansing of the buttocks.
5. For cleansing, scoot your body forward slightly towards the front of the toilet. Take the pitcher filled with water in your right hand, and lean your body slightly forward. Pour the water from the end of your back. Place your left hand slightly under your rump, and splash the pouring water back up, making brief contact with your skin on the surrounding area. Repeat pouring and splashing until clean, filling up the pitcher if necessary. The splashing water cleans your hindquarters, leaving your bottom feeling fresh and clean.
6. Shake to dry and pull up trousers.

For # 1 (ladies):
1. Repeat #2 steps 1-4.
2. Scoot body backward near the back side of the toilet. Take pitcher filled with water in your right had, lean back slightly, and pour over necessary areas, splashing water up with your left hand making brief contact with skin.
3. Shake to dry, pull up your big girl britches, and continue on with your day.

Monday, February 16, 2009

it's alright, i guess

Just kidding. It's amazing. One the terrace at the top of the apartment building is a water tank. I climbed the ladder and am sitting on the ledge pre-writing my first post for my blog. Down below me on the terrace is a nineteen year old girl, Digisha, making potato chips by sundrying oil soaked potato slices on a tapestry. I'm looking out at the neighborhood slums that lie between the different apartment commuities like a sort of labyrinth. I see moneys jumping from rooftops teasing dogs and a muslim man praying with his two sons. I've been coming out to the terrace every morning to feed pigeons, read Emerson, and recite the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. I love being here.

Right now I am staying in the middle of the city in an apartment, which is on the top floor (5th). It is a simple two bedroom with a decorative front door, marble floors, and bars over the windows. I wish I knew how to adequately describe the architecture of the complex. The building forms a square shape, but with a hollow center. All the balconies face each other in the hollow center. I sit on the balcony and watch women hanging their saris to dry or playing with their children.There are lots of plants on people balconies and all are decorated differently, mostly with different hindu gods. There are, including myself, six people residing here. "mom" (grandmother), Nilesh (husband and father), Mona (wife and mother), Nishit (oldest son, 21), and Ankit (youngest son, 17).

Mom- Mom is beautiful. She has to be the most precious, endearing creature on the Earth. We don't speak the same language at all, but are sort of creating our own method of communication, which involves lots of hand gestures, giggles, and headbobs (side to side, not forward to backward like we do- an adorable difference worth noting). The first half of everyday she prepares meals and desserts for her god. The second half of the day she tries giving me her god's leftovers. I share a bed with her. Before she wakes up in the morning she sleep talks in hindi.
Nilesh- Nilesh is a jolly man. He is very friendly and loves watching Indian mysic videos and likes ketchup.
Mona- Mona is lovely. She runs two montessori schools in the city. She is also an excellent cook and spends much of her time in the kitchen. My first day here she gave me the book "7 Habits of Highsly Effective People". weird. She is very close to Nishit. They have a sweet relationship and joke around alot. Her sons make her whole being light up. Its really beautiful.
Nishit- Nishit is really hip. He studies Pharmacology and plays both real cricket and virtual cricket. When he is bored he plays cards with me.
Ankit- Ankit is totally shy and sweet. He is about to go to engineering school and is studying basic sciences right now. He plays virtual cricket too. He also tries to give me food all the time.

They all keep feeding me food! I think I've been eating like 7 full meals a day. I really don't know hot to avois it. I tried going up to the terrace, but they just wait for me. I've tried sleeping, but they come and wake me up. I've tried blocking my plate with my hands, but they move my hands and smack down another serving of a delicious indian delicacy on my plate. Declining food is really insulting. So... I eat. and eat. and then when I'm done eating and I wash my hands and sit on the couch in a comatose state I eat some more. Ah, so is life. I'm just going to sew some elastic on my pants and embrace this gluttonous time. I see little choice in the matter.

Mom just came and signaled to me to come take a nap with her. I'll continue this later...


Okay... so the roads here are so fascinating! I guess traffic laws might exist, but if so no one is aware of it. The family has one motorcycle, which Nishit drives around. To go places we signal an "auto", which is a three wheeler. Going on walks is also a blast, but the family is really protective of me and seriously freaks out whenever I leave alone. I get a cell phone tomorrow. I think that will help them feel better about my wandering.

Oh, time for a meal... I'll continue this after I eat.

[23 servings later...]

I've gone to Mona's montessori school a few times Their way with kids is very different than what I am used to. They probably think I'm silly for always letting the kids sit in my lap, but the kids seem to like me. They give me kisses on my cheek and smile when I show up, which makes my heart explode. The kids are SO CUTE. I taught a few of them "itsy bitsy spider". I can't even talk about it...

I found the most amazing dust pan the other day.

There is so much to say, but I am tired of writing and I think they want me to eat some more. I hope everyone is doing great! Thanks for reading. love youuuu

Also, I'm never using toilet paper again.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I leave for India today. I want to make it clear to myself that I am not going to India to look for answers. I think the kind of answers that are worth traveling across the world to find only really exist within the depths of our hearts, or souls, or that part of ourselves that is near impossible to define. and if we are not careful, the search for those answers becomes the search for something artificial and painfully glued to our self-image.

I'm excited. I'm so excited. I can't wait to see how I am somewhere so different. I'm excited to participate in the world in a place so unfamiliar. I'm excited to be lame old me in India. I'm so excited. I just wanted to share. My heart is bursting with excitement. Being alive is such a true treasure. I'm so grateful for the opportunity. I love you all and will try to post while I am gone.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

i love my friends so much.