Friday, October 06, 2006

Maybe Yes, Maybe No

Are they mistranslations or is truth-fudging an art perfected, like red-hot lime pickle, in India?

Naturally, shops in poor countries lie to white people shopping there. In fact, I was forewarned that Maharani, the 100 year-old four-floor emporium of textiles embedded in Jodhpur's old city market, is prone to exaggeration. "Our factory is 90 kilometers away from Jodhpur, and we have the women working in their homes, hand-sewing and all," said the rep at Maharani Art Emporium. "But I heard you don't have a factory," I countered, "that you buy from wholesalers." The rep flat-out denied this and threw in a few more details about the whereabouts of the factor(ies), then told us about their "exclusive" contract with Hermes selling the same peacock-emblazoned cashmere shawls that Joan, my shopping buddy, had seen at another market in town earlier (the rep there also mentioned Hermes).

Then there is the fun of conducting interviews in villages where birthdays are described as being "the Diwali festival before the good monsoon". But I thought I could trust the Veerni Project's doctor at least to prod a bit harder for the real story. "This girl is engaged, she has completed 16 years and won't go to live with her husband until she reaches 18" she told me in Sewala yesterday, nodding approvingly (the girl's classmates had just happily shouted in unison that "18 is the age for marriage" and that they further more wouldn't observe purdah, wear veils, after they wed). How empowered were these girls!, I thought, nodding, thinking to tell the project's founder how much success we'd found already in this "very backward" village we'd taken on a few years back. Ten minutes later, the girl relates the details of her marriage at the age of six, and the doctor nods, showing no sign of surprise as the story completely reversed itself...

"My brother is in hospital, he is having malaria, bleeding from the nose and all," said my guest house host Neeta. But it turns out that her brother actually has dengue, the fever that is sweeping India like the latest Priyanka Chopra song. The diagnosis is much more alarming given that as recently as Wednesday there were "60 cases" on a campus in Delhi and now there are upwards of 700. Following our doctor's briefing yesterday, Veerni's social and medical team lectured at villages and at the girls' hostel on the peril that red mosquitos pose in full daylight: Internal bleeding, following fever, body ache and vomiting. "Cover water," they advised, "look out for the red ones". Neeta's brother, who lives in nearby Jaipur, was bleeding out everything they were transfusing him through the nostrils, but seems to be ok today.

These are random incidents of miscommunication, or white lies, in the first case. But they lead me to wonder: should I toss my notes in the trash heap on the roadside?


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