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DELHI: The Saga Continues

I can hardly believe that we’ve barely been in Delhi for 72 hours! Texas seems like ages ago, and I’m feeling pretty well acclimated to the culture. . . as long as I’m with someone who knows what he or she is doing! I do have to admit to experiencing a complete and total culture shock for a few hours after arriving. We didn’t make it to bed until around 5:30 a.m. and then had to be ready to leave the hotel again at 1:30 p.m. That sounds like plenty of time, but Elizabeth (who had managed to sleep some on the planes) got herself up at 8:30 to have breakfast and head out and check out the city. I stayed comatose in my fluffy white bed for a few more hours (I intended to get up at 9:30 to exercise away some of the stiffness of travel, but in my half-sleep I must have slapped the alarm until it turned off without even realizing it). I finally pulled myself from bed around 11:00, looked out over the misty, overcast Delhi skyline (we have a huge picture window with a beautifully sweeping view) and got ready to head down to lunch in the hotel restaurant. When the elevator opened, there I was, the only American person in sight and one of the only women in sight, wearing brightly colored clothes among men in blacks and whites and tightly wrapped turbans sitting lounging and chatting on plush furniture perched on beautifully ornate rugs, feeling completely self-conscious and entirely out of place. I walked over to where I thought lunch should have been and looked around for any familiar faces, but I didn’t see anyone from my group or from the math and science cohort. Normally, lunch alone at a hotel would be no big deal for me, and maybe even a relief because it would mean I could read or write without being rude or having to make small talk. However, in a totally foreign environment, I felt something I’ve never experienced before. . . . I sort of panicked. Instead of having lunch, I got back on the elevator and went back up to the room, where I sat down (trying not to cry) to write and eat an apple and a granola bar for my lunch. I was trying to calm myself down when the doorbell rang (yes, the rooms have doorbells) and a hotel employee asked me if he could clean my room. I wanted to say no, but I had to say yes, so there I was feeling panicked and out of place and needing to be alone but instead trying not to be in the way while my room was being cleaned and things were being moved around me. Finally Elizabeth walked in, and we stood there talking quietly until the room had been cleaned and reorganized. I was glad to see her and she definitely made me feel much better. I had missed everyone at lunch because I was looking in the wrong place, but the experience helped me to realize the extent of my own necessary dependence on others during this trip.
After the miniscule amount of sleep we had all had, and considering it felt to us like the middle of the night (Baltimore is 9 ½ hours behind Delhi), we were all looking like zombies as we walked into our first set of lectures at USEFI’s headquarters. We started out with a session on pre-service teacher training and teacher professional development in India. Although the content was interesting, and although I very much wanted to listen respectfully and to be alert and awake, my eyes had a mind of their own and were heavier and heavier by the moment. We had tea in the USEFI café in the mid-afternoon (apparently tea is a very solidly established remnant of British colonization), which perked us all up just a bit. Our afternoon session was about Indian culture, and included some information about ancient art that I found really fascinating. We learned a little about the Harappan civilization, which was uncovered in India and Pakistan and which dates back more than 5,000 years. We saw slides of cave painting depicting musical instruments, dance and different types of animals and saw slides of sculptures showing dances and, of all things, an ancient stone sculpture of a SQUIRREL (this one’s for you, Carlin!). I actually saw a whole set of tiny Harappan squirrel sculptures yesterday at the National Museum, and managed to snap a picture before I was told by the security guard that I wasn’t allowed to take photographs in that particular section of the museum (check out this photo of the sculptures!). 

Ancient minature Harappan squirrel sculptures. . . . Carlin will DIE when he sees this!
After a long afternoon of lectures, we attended a somewhat extravagant welcome reception, held on the USEFI lawn under a beautiful tent surrounded by a Hollywood-style red carpet and set up with tables covered in delicate white lacey tablecloths and purple accent chair covers. It looked like a wedding! We talked for a few hours with guests from a variety of backgrounds (religious leaders from several communities, Fulbrighters here in India to work on other types of projects, someone from the Library of Congress, some of the speakers we have heard from, and will hear from, while in Delhi, and etc.). We enjoyed a big buffet of Indian food, including excellent papadam (a thin, crispy flatbread that reminds me a tiny bit of Pringles chips, weirdly enough), which ranks up there as one of my favorite Indian foods. 

Elizabeth Heisner with me at the opening reception

The India-Sri Lanka Group!  From the back, left to right, Joan, 
Aimee, Samantha, Daniel, Elizabeth, Ally, me, Karen, (next row), 
Mary, Kathy, Diane, Yael, Angela, (front), Jill, Julie

When we finally boarded the bus, we were feeling fairly awake, considering that, by that time, it was early evening in the U.S. and still the 4th of July. I checked out the very nice hotel gym, which I toured with another member of my group, and saw all of the massage rooms, the weights and machines, the mini-fridge of chilled mini water bottles, the complementary fruit, the sauna and Jacuzzi and pool and etc. I spent a good hour on the elliptical machine in a very comfortable, familiar state of mind – on the same brand of machine I’m used to at my home gym, plugged into the fast-paced and energizing electronic music mix on my ipod, reading my book to kill time. It felt good to really be moving, though it was strange to have so much service around me (the attendants kept coming over to ask if I needed a towel or some water or juice or the TV channel changed). One of my colleagues went for a swim and was followed around while she swam, constantly being asked if she needed a towel or was ready to get out. We were joking that the next thing she knew, she would be asked whether she wanted someone to do the swimming for her, too!
Saturday night was another short night’s sleep, as I got up early to practice my Ashtanga (I worked it out with my friend the gym attendant the night before that he would find me a private room in the gym for practice, which was GREAT!). After practicing and showering I made my first trip to the ridiculously comprehensive hotel breakfast buffet. The buffet at the Taj Mahal hotel is absolutely astounding. Every morning they have, among other things: eggs, chicken sausage, quiche, French toast, waffles, pancakes, dozens of varieties of cereal, milk, soy milk, yogurt in five different varieties (including a delicious baked yogurt in little terra cotta cups with figs cooked into the bottom. . . . mmm!), dozens of types of high quality cheeses, at least two or three dozen types of breads, muffins, coffee cakes and rolls, six or seven types of cut and uncut fresh fruit (today they had lychee fruit, which looks like a spiky red and green curly-ended koosh ball when whole), chicken in sauce, smoked salmon, various cold meats, cooked vegetables, teriyaki tofu, couscous, yogurt smoothies, several types of fresh juice (including fresh watermelon juice, which is delicious!), and then there are the traditional Indian breakfast dishes, as well. There are also very attentive waiters who come over to ask if there’s anything else they can get us (this morning I ordered a plain dosa – which is a delicious south Indian sort of crispy huge crepe that tastes a little to me like cooked cheese, although there is no cheese in the dish at all, as it’s made from pounded lentil and rice flour combined with liquid of some kind, and the dough is left to ferment overnight). Mom emailed me to say that she had a dream the other night that I was not being well-fed on this trip and was hungry all the time. I am so far from starving that I’ll likely come back having packed on a few extra pounds unless I start to be a little more careful!
After breakfast we had an insightful morning lecture at USEFI with a brilliant professor (who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. to found the School of Social Change near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on media in Indian society. I was interested to learn that, while the prominence of newspapers and other print media is declining substantially in the U.S. (think about the Tribune’s recent slashing of newsrooms all over the country, including our own Baltimore Sun, which is being redesigned to better match what they think “readers want” by including less news, shorter articles, and more pictures and graphs), newspaper circulation in India is on the rise. Part of this is due to the fact that there is nowhere for circulation numbers to go in the U.S. but down, as we’ve already reached a point of approximately 90 percent distribution in our country, while distribution in India is close to 35 percent. The whole thing is interesting, especially considering that India also has more than 30 different TV news channels, while we’re down to only a few (which are all biased, corporate puppets, as far as I’m concerned). Their society is on the rise in so many ways while ours is definitely in intellectual (not to mention economic) decline. I’m amazed at our country’s blind patriotism sometimes.
Anyway, before lunch on Monday we made a trip to the National Museum for a guided tour of ancient and religious art with Dr. Shobhita Punja, who was an amazing speaker. Frankly, I could easily have taken a whole course with her if I’d had the time. She explained some interesting theory behind Buddhist and Hindu art and also showed us a wide variety of miniature sculptures from the ancient Harappan civilization. That was especially intriguing because it is a great contrast when compared to the larger than life style of pyramids and temples in other ancient societies. One of the most interesting things at the museum, however, was the bones of the Buddha, which (much to the professor’s chagrin) were moved from there original resting place and put on display in a glass jar in the museum in India. There are only a few bones left, truth be told, and now the jar of fragments is housed in a small red and gold pagoda built as a gift by the Thai government a couple of years ago. It’s strange how we memorialize people when they’re gone (it harkens back to the dried heart that we saw in Mexico at a monastery we visited. . . . It belonged to the monk who had founded the place and was in a clear box inside a black case in the dark). 

Sorry this photo's a little jacked up. . . . 
I didn't want to take a million pictures of 
such an amazing artifact.  However, Buddha's 
bones are definitely in there!
After the museum trip and lunch back at the hotel (in the Chinese restaurant inside the hotel, which was unique because it was Indian Chinese) we had a little time for what they’re calling “individual pursuits.” A few of us went for a muddy, rainy walk to try to locate an ultimately elusive mango festival. In the end, we haggled with a confused auto-rickshaw driver to get back to our hotel, drenched and tired, to pack up for yet another excursion, this one to the Red Fort. 

My first auto-rickshaw ride (At least my driver wasn't smoking weed,
like Joan and Mary's first driver!)

The Red Fort was essentially a massive, opulent palace built by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan. 

Here's the proof that I made it!  Check out how the photographer
made it look like the building is totally one with my hairdo!

Detail of the inside of the Red Fort

Probably the most interesting part of the trip to the Red Fort was that it was in Old Delhi, which is VERY different from where we are staying, which is in New Delhi. Old Delhi is where you see the streets packed to overflowing with huge crowds of mostly lower class/ caste Indians. A little girl with knotty hair and a dirty dress waved at our bus incessantly and made repetitive practiced motions of putting food into her mouth until she convinced Daniel (our token male) to wave back. When we got off of our bus a block later, there was that same little girl (she had run after the bus), grabbing Daniel’s hand and begging him for money. Against his better judgment, he gave her 100 rupees, and for that he had her following him around for a while. She even pinpointed him in the crowd later on and begged him for more money, which left him sort of incredulous.
We took a dinner break after wandering around the Fort (where we began to realize that we are constantly stared at), and we were released in small groups to check out the older part of the city. We set out from an Indian McDonald’s, which I went into in spite of my distaste for the corporation. The McDonald’s in Delhi doesn’t serve beef, but does serve chicken sandwiches, something called “veg surprise,” which are essentially veggie burgers, and (of course) fries. There were other items that were more culturally specific, but somehow the Mickey D’s menu has slipped my mind! I went with three other Fulbrighters and one of our USEFI guides, who rushed us through the overcrowded streets and to Haldiram’s, a vegetarian restaurant that he described as an Indian fast food chain. We ordered and split a variety of dishes, including nan, dosas, paneer, rice and dal. After eating, we stopped at the sweets counter downstairs, where I ordered a small box of mixed Indian sweets, including burfi and barfi, which are mildly flavored and covered with edible silver leaf on top, which makes them really fun to look at and to eat. 

Indian sweets (LOVE the fat yellow ones!  I'm not sure what it's called
or what it's made of, but it sure is tasty!)
Walking back to the group’s meeting spot was an experience that was overwhelming for many of my colleagues, though for some reason I took it in stride. The streets were dirty, sometimes radiating the strong scent of old urine, and the buildings were dingy. They seemed piled on top of each other and squished together and were covered with a spider web of power lines. There were street vendors, of course, brewing large pots of chai tea or cooking various types of fried Indian snack foods. There were people sleeping on the sidewalks and women with children sitting begging here and there. There were occasionally skinny, unhealthy-looking, sand-colored dogs (often sleeping in the middle of the path), and one group claimed to have seen a cow. We moved fast, weaving swiftly through and around crowds of people, and made it back to the Red Fort in time to see the “sound and light show,” which was essentially a primer on 500 years of Indian history condensed into an hour. It was outside and the buildings on the palace grounds were lit up in turn, as they appeared in the stories. We didn’t make it home that night (due to weird standstill middle of the night Sunday traffic) until after 11:00, when I hit the gym and stumbled to bed. Thus far, I have only had three or four hours of sleep per night, which, when coupled with lingering jet lag, has made it tough to be as attentive as I’d like to be in our lectures. I’ve tried to make it to bed earlier, but it takes time to really process so much new knowledge, to be able to talk with Elizabeth to decompress for the day, to work out after sitting still and stiff for so much of the day, to write these blog entries. It’s much like living during the school year, when I often jettison hours of sleep here and there in order to devote time to other pursuits, however, there is no weekend to use in order to catch up. Every morning is early and every day is absolutely packed!
Monday was an extra early morning (gigantic breakfast at 6:30 this time), and then we boarded the bus to visit Humayun’s Tomb and Qutub Minar, which were both interesting historical and religious sites. 

Inside Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb (outside looking in - 
this was BEFORE I learned I wasn't
supposed to take pictures of the inside
of the building

Token postcard-quality shot (though
the weather really wasn't cooperating
all that well)

We spent much of the rest of the day an hour away at the Center for Cultural Research and Training, where we learned more about the economy, about art, about religious diversity and about Indian dance. All of the sessions were informative and interesting, though there was an uncomfortable moment during the religious panel when one of my colleagues decided to inquire at the last minute about how the religions view homosexuality. Of course, their responses were totally negative. The professor speaking about Hinduism was especially outspoken about how unnatural homosexuality is, and about how there are animals who practice homosexuality, “but that’s the difference between people and animals – we have the ability to control our desires.” I thought the question was altogether unnecessary, considering that it was totally unrelated to the topic at hand. I was also a little annoyed that my colleague didn’t have the forethought to consider that it doesn’t feel good to hear about how unacceptable you are in this culture if you’re sitting there listening to this conversation as a person who is gay. She is Jewish, and I wondered how she would have felt if I had asked in front of her, in a socially conservative culture, about the acceptance of Jews. The whole scenario makes me consider how we communicate about various types of diversity and how the things we say can affect others. Another interesting point in the panel discussion was when the speakers were asked about conversion. The Hindu community representative very strongly expressed that there is no reason for anyone to convert. Everyone, in his opinion, should continue the traditions they were born into. This is an interesting viewpoint, as it is both very accepting of other faiths and also very closed to outsiders all at once. I wonder what he would have said if I had asked his feelings about conversion in the case where someone was raised without a prescribed religion, or what he thought about westerners’ fascination with Hindu. 
After lunch at the CCRT, we were treated to an absolutely amazing presentation about Odissi dance by renowned Odissi dancer Mrs. Kiran Segal, her two of her teenaged students and their three musical accompanists (one on a drum and another on violin). The music and the dance were both mesmerizing – the dance costumes brightly colored and the girls made up with traditional makeup, the music of their jingling silver jewelry (covered in tiny bells), the amazing beat of Mrs. Segal’s singing (choppy and sort of clicking, like “tik-a-tik-a-tah”). I’m hoping I can find a CD of the music at some point before I come home, as I’d love to share it with all of you.

Young Odissi dancers (jumoring shutterbug teachers after 
their performance)
We returned to the hotel exhausted at 9:30, with a few of us feeling sick (they call it “Delhi belly,” and I’ve had a mild case of nausea myself on and off for the last 24 hours). I managed to make it to bed around 1:00 (another late night), and got up early this morning to practice my Ashtanga before a light breakfast and then the bus back to USEFI. We looked for the hotel’s resident monkey this time as we pulled out of the hotel driveway. Apparently the story is that he is chained to the tree in the back of the hotel in order to fend off a plague of other monkeys. There are two kinds of monkeys, we’ve been told, black faced monkeys and white faced monkeys. The white faced monkeys are apparently very even-tempered, while the black faced monkeys are nasty and mischievous (I wonder if there are racial implications here). Keeping one black faced monkey fends off all other monkeys in the vicinity. A waiter told one of my colleagues a story of a biscuit factory he used to live near, where there was a rash of monkey-related trouble. The monkeys would apparently break into the factory and steal biscuits right off the conveyor belts. To solve the problem, the factory decided to chain one black faced money behind the building (they fed him well and took care of him), and as a result, suddenly, there were no more monkeys within a two and a half mile radius! Crazy, right?!
Okay, so that’s the next installment of my novel for now (feels like that, huh?). I debated about letting this get so long, but I feel like it’s as much for me as for any of you, and you can feel free to skim when you’d like (if you make it this far!). If you’re reading this, please do comment or shoot me an email, as I’d really love to have some feedback and to “hear” a voice from home. So far I’ve only heard from my mom (thank you, mom!). I wish this thing had a counter on it, actually, so I’d know if anyone is looking. In the absence of a counter, let me know!
Tomorrow we head to Agra to see the Taj Mahal (not the hotel version this time!). I’ll write more, of course, when there’s more to tell!
Love and butterflies,
Callie/ Ms. Cook


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 10th, 2008 07:39 pm (UTC)
Unbelievable! I am enjoying reading about your adventures and I am amazed that you are able to keep going after such filled days. I can't wait to hear more.
Jan. 7th, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)
I presume you really liked the culture of Delhi. Pix are also very good, especially of Indian sweets.
Delhi has so much to offer for its tourists. I’ll recommend to you to visit the world famous “Paratnthe wali gali “of old Delhi on your next flights to Delhi. It is a must go place for paratha lovers.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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