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.