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.