Monday, January 31, 2005

Sarah walks by a Pushkar landfill, just after a women dumped out a wheelbarrow full of garbage. Nearby boars and cows scored half-eaten chippati and orange peel. A few hours later, the pile had diminished by at least a third, and boars still nibbled.  Posted by Hello

Cheeky Natori showing her skills off to dreadlocked western girls at a Rajasthani folk dance class. Natori, who chain-smokes filterless bidis, lives just outside Pushkar in a gypsy tent camp. She and the other teacher, Sunita--not dancing due to a bloodied toe, a common accident when you perform barefooted--sleep on woven bedframes perched atop small dirt heaps, under the stars.  Posted by Hello

Pushkar, a small holy city five hours by bus from Jodhpur. Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Push ㅑt

I just arrived in Pushkar last night, and I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon. It's jaw-droppingly beautiful, and I had a great gypsy dance lesson this afternoon. But after an early morning hike tomorrrow, I think I'll be good to go.

You have to literally tread carefully in Pushkar--the cows and wild boars sure don't stop coming because of tourists--but otherwise it's a (Brown-educated?) westerner's city. The town's biggest industries seem to be reiki, yoga, massage, and quickie guides to eastern religion--Pushkar is Hinduism's holyest place, where every practicer should come and worship once in his or her life. The city was supposed to have been created when Brahma, the creator, descended to earth on a lotus flower.

surreal, alright. While the sun set behind a couple midget mountains, we strolled around the ghats--stone steps that descend into the lake in front of each stark white temple--listening to all the prayers chanted and bells rung for puja. Bats flew overhead and stray fireworks went off later (the whole day there were random marching bands on the streets behind us, four or five, which some said were for the everpresent weddings, some said for the victorious candidates in a recent election). I was hoping to see monkeys after most people left (worshippers come in for a dip at sunset; tourists gawk). But I'll have to wait until tomorrow morning, when they come out on the roof tops overlooking the lake to sunbathe.

But besides the temples, Pushkar is a bazaar of everything tourists love to buy: film, batteries, postcards, yeah, but also Indian-crafted clothing that only western people wear--pure cotten trousers cut to fit snugly, sleeveless silk dresses, even mini skirts, which it seems no one would dream of wearing on the continent. Of course I'm saying this without seeing Goa, the Israli hippie-overrun trace party on on India's southwest coast. But Pushkar is definitely seeming weird (even without consuming "special lassi") after I've been in Jodhpur for three weeks, without being able to find a zip-up sweatshirt, for crying out loud (I've gone so far as to request my poor mother ships me one from DC). We were escatic to today come across not one but two stationary stores (the population of Jodhpur seems to have chucked the postal service for email), where I got a set of camel-embossed cards. No more excuses for not writing home! I bought three luxurious leather wrap-around journals, stitched with thick, folded white paper (Burberry sells an identical one for $95) ($2 each). Jess got silver rings with turquise for under $10, I bought pink and yellow printed silk skirts for $1 each. Christmas 2005 and 2006 are covered, pretty much.

Ahhh everyone knows the westerner religion is shopping.

ㅑ ㅊ무'ㅅ ㄴ새ㅔ ㅈ갸샤ㅜㅎ ㅑㅜ 소ㅑㄴ ㅣ무해ㅕㅁㅅㄷ...??? 내 ㅑ'ㅣㅣ ㄴ둥 소ㅑㄴ ㅗㄷㄱㄷ

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The usual sendoff after a teaching session in Barwala. A small army of kids gathers around the van as you settle in, trying to non challantly sip water. You wave goodbye and goodbye and goodbye. Posted by Hello

Veerni medical team van, which usually brings us to the villages, stopped to check on some newborns in Jhanwar. The pink saris are the ladies' uniforms.  Posted by Hello

It was a 15 minute process... Posted by Hello

Veerni medical staffers Amrita and Santosh helped me fold and tuck my new sari properly.  Posted by Hello

My Class 12 students Goury and Kalipna with their mom and brothers, on their doorstep in Barwala village. Posted by Hello

Having a bit of fun with our photo session...? Posted by Hello

Pickin' carrots. Posted by Hello

The bride, clad in traditional red and gold enters with an entourage. Posted by Hello

And here he comes... Despite appearences he's not drugged, just tired from getting the 24-7 activities involved in getting married here. This was day 5 of 6, I think. Posted by Hello

Neeta invited me to attend the wedding of a family friend (they seem to have about 10,000) last Friday. Here we are waiting for the groom to enter the reception on a horse, hearing fire crackers boom from just beyond the gate.  Posted by Hello

View of Jodhpur in the am, hiking up to the fort Posted by Hello

The casts of 15 hand prints of the widows of
Maharajah Man Singh at Lahapole (Iron Gate),
Meherangarh Fort. After making these handprints they and his 20-some concubines became 'satis' by throwing themselves on the funeral pyre of the Maharajah in 1843.
Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Farmed Out

Yesterday was India's Republic Day, which meant no school for me and Jess. So we slept in till 9, had a leisurely breakfast of curds (fresh, unskimmed plain yogurt), apples, and black tea. Then Neeta and Push pushed us into their big white tank of a car (mysteriously it's still in production) and we headed for their farmhouse.

We drove north of Jodhpur into an area that's noticeably greener. "The water is soft here, not hard like in Jodhpur," Push explained. Hard?

"Hard, not sweet, salty," he elaborated. So the water under the ground in Jodhpur is brackish, I gather, and they pipe in fresh water for the city from this area. As we barreled along on uneven one lane roads--veering widely off the road when fat buses and our favorite flamboyant Goods Carriers appeared (India's surreal reincarnations of commercial trucks)--I regretted accepting Neeta's offer to sit in the front seat. It's obvious she avoids this position whenever possible. A ride with Push is like living a video game, full of heart-stopping twists where you're sure you've used up your last life. After a while I cover my face with a shawl so I can't look forward, trying to zone out inspecting the roadside wildlife to my left (the usual boney goats, crippled donkeys, raggedly dogs).

We drove an hour to the 1500-strong village of Menai, in which Push is the Big Poppa Rajput landlord. His house is built from the same beige stone that's minded nearby, but it's a step up from the ramshackle squat stone huts where the farmers live. He lets them live on the property, providing water and electricity (er, for the four hours at night the government turns it on, to power the irrigation pumps). They farm the land, with reciprocated help from the neighbors: they turn out red chilies, wheat, millet, flaxseed, and mustard seed, currently in bright yellow flower. They recently added red carrots to this battery, which they're pulling up now, to be sold at a good profit to folks in Bombay. Of this profit, the farmers get 25%.

Unable to resist good light and gorgeous subjects, Jess and I padded around in the fields harassing the harvesters with cameras for a bit. So here is where those fat scarlet carrots at the market originate. The ladies (most of the laborers were girls and super-strong women) all seemed to like the attention, but it's ultra weird to stick a lens in peoples' faces after a brief "namaste" and "tamarra nam que" ("what is your name?") which is the extent of my Hindi at this point.

We had lunch by Bhera Ran's farm hut: millet and wheat chapatti, chilies and cabbage, and a stringy bean, also stir-fried with chilies. Their skinny, dust-covered children (everything and everyone out here is caked in dust) kept bringing us more chapatti but I wasn't hungry.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Sense and Sensibility

Yesterday I did the tourist things with some friends who were in town for a couple days, Sylvestor and Arturo. Both from Poland originally, they were working in New York until they quit their jobs in December to travel indefinitely: after India, Nepal, Mongolia, and from there...? I was thinking my three months off was a leap. We toured the Mehrangarh Fort, checking out its breathtaking views. It's situated basically in the clouds above Jodhpur, 125 metres up, an impenetrable fortress for 500 years. Steel studs stick out from the enormous entry ways to foil charging elephants, canons line the rim of the terrace. Intricately carved in sandstone, the palace inside the walls in constructed with complicated interlocking courtyards on many levels. On this day it was crowded with Indians visiting on their Sunday holiday (the work day is six days here). It was certainly a different view of the space than I got at dinner there last Friday night (for starters, the rooms weren't spinning). The Prince I met was featured on the audio tour, saying in his posh accent how much the fort's history meant to his "clan." My Polish pals took a million pictures and a few movies--there was amazing sitar music playing throughout--but my camera batteries died, naturally upon entering the fort. Then we shopped Jodhpur's maze of bazaars outside the city walls, browsing through eye-popping displays: heaps of spices, rich textiles, mysterious sweets, colorful bangles, and potent snuff (an ayervedic cure for nausea and colds). We stopped for Rs. 25 (50 cents) glasses of freshly squeezed pomogranate juice by the central clock tower. Arturo bought an orange/banana juice for the ever-present dirt-covered little girls hovering around.

Today I was taken back to the relatively progressive village of Barwala, unexpectedly (my schedule, er, suggested Mondays I would be in Khatawas). Not only are there two students in Class 12 here--the most advanced "class" Veerni's had--but the female literacy rate is a reported 40%. In Kakalev, where Jess and I were teaching Friday, it's said to be 25%, a gross exaggeration according to Veerni sociologist Nishi. He says women who can write their name, and maybe one Hindi phrase ("my name is"), are reported as literate. Barwala Class 12 was held today, as last week, in Goury and Kalpna Lohiya's home, on mats in the courtyard. Most houses are organized in the traditional havelli style around square open courtyards, where they prepare food, with small bedrooms located off this space. The girls were thrilled to see me and much more outgoing than last week. Kalpna, 18, the older but less studious sister, was speaking in sentences; last week she'd barely try, pointing to the beans lying on canvas nearby and stammering, "grow, dal, village." They sped through a Dr. Seuss book I'd brought, reading aloud with expression and emphasizing rhymes. Nice! These sisters are by far the most advanced girls among the four villages I've taught in so far. And we should be able to do a lot in two months since it's basically a bi-weekly tutoring session! But to put this in perspective, Goury speaks about as well as my adopted brother here, Manu Rathore, who is 11.

According to Nishi, the Lohiya family are Vaishayas, members of the business caste. They encourage girls to study because they--the girls' families--get bigger dowries for educated brides. Usually girls' families have to pay the dowries to get them married off. For Rajputs (the Rajasthani sect of the ruling caste, below the Brahmins) like Neeta Rathore, this can mean the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars, to be doled out in the form of a car, TV, computer, and a six thousand dollar wedding, for example.

So this could explain the fact that they both say they plan to go on to college before marrying. I'm not sure where, neither has ever been even to Jodhpur. I asked why and Goury replied that they're too poor to go there. But we toasted to their futures with chai tea and butter biscuits.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

After weeks of stuffing myself with a nearly all-carb diet of chapattis, rice, and lentil soup, I awoke on Saturday determind to find a yoga joint. Try to run and you choke on dust and pollution (and get even more stares and half assed cat calls). The bike machine and stairmaster from 1983 at the nearby Olympia gym is more likely to injure me than whip my flabby stomach into shape.

So Neeta and Push took me across town in their white boat of a car--as frightening an experience as it always is with him at the wheel--to an Ayervedic hospital which I was told had a yoga program. I sat helplessly while their pot bellied director/doctor/yogi told Neeta in Hindi they couldn't take me on. It's not customary, it seems, to drop in on yoga classes here. But this seemed to be the only yoga in Jodhpur. (So much for thinking India was a yoga supermarket. I think certain regions are and obviously Rajasthan is not one of them). So after pointing out that I was here for two months I was allowed to attend their 5pm class.

The other yogi/doctor/psychologist consultant, short, squat women in thick glasses, gave me a tour of the hospital first, after protesting that she knew no English and could not accommodate me in her yoga classes. A central room with narrow cots, scattered with mostly emaciated women swaddled in shawls, led off into corridors with dark, dirty rooms. In these rooms were mysterious metal implements vaguely explained to me in Hinglish. There was a giant metal sphere where patients use somehow to alleviate digestive problems like constipation-- this reminded me of AbFab Edina's meditation vessel--and a black hose that gushed steam onto the mangled limbs of an arthritis-afflicted patient. There was a massage room. The kitchen was a bit more encouraging. Two women stirred vast cauldrons of veg stews, which I tasted and can report were not half bad. It reminded me of cooking back-in-the-day at old hippie coop in College Park (where I spent the first two years of my life), The Beautiful Day Trading Company--kind of bland (the hospital doesn't use chilies), but hearty.

The yoga class... Well it started inauspiciously. Sitting cross legged we breathed in and out. Then a few more people straggled in. Yoga is prescribed to all patients at the hospital--along with a strict diet and various medieval tortures (from the looks of the instruments). So these folks were the old, sick, and the weary. I was the only one not wrapped in seven layers. We laid on the ground looking up--hmm, a different way to begin--then she began to speak in a slow, soothing voice--in Hindi. Every now and then she'd translate a word or two. "Shoulders relax... ghghghg." My toes and fingers were numb. "Close interior mind ghghg ... Pancreas soft... Large intestines... Interior mind bagaeggdssfdsdf... Toes..."

After the class I mentioned that I like the kind of yoga where you stretch. She replied that this was a class for patients’ lung and stomach ailments. I guess the idea is to visualize your lungs being healthy. She said the stretching classes are held before 7am daily. "So you come tomorrow at 6, yes?"

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Pushapender Singh Rathore, owner of Sun City. Posted by Hello

Shortu Posted by Hello

Chillin on our terrace at Sun City. Posted by Hello

Sun City owner Neeta Rathore and live-in house helper Samnade Singh. This last name is that of the royal family. Many people haveit in their name, from rikshaw drivers up to Palace staff. Posted by Hello

Olympia gym, in a nearby shopping center. The middle class steps in saris! Posted by Hello

Fellow volunteer Jessica. Posted by Hello

Veerni's Khatawas promoter. There's a promoter in every village, almost all women, in charge of carrying out Veerni's program while staff is not there. Here is was receiving sanitary napkins from the team. According to their reports they are working on "marketing" napkins in the villages.  Posted by Hello

A small temple in a wedge-shaped building, underneath the fort in Jodhpur's old city. Posted by Hello

Sharangi (one string local instrument like a sitar) player at Padam Kunwar's house. Her father sat in a chair on the stoop sipping chai while he played below him. Posted by Hello

Pouspah and little bro in Khatwas.  Posted by Hello