Thursday, December 22, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
I spent three weeks in different villages in Rajasthan, and have wanted to write about that time for the three weeks that I’ve been back. However, a combination of laziness and other work led to this post being composed only now. Another reason why I’ve been hesitant to write about my observations, and why I now have five Word documents named “Rajasthan” on my laptop, each only a paragraph or two long, is that it’s fiendishly difficult to compose anything resembling a coherent article about the villages. The best I’ve been able to come up with a list, sort of, of unrelated thoughts and observations.
- Rajasthan is definitely one of the hottest places I’ve been to. Or maybe it just seemed that way to me because I was actually outdoors all day in the scorching June heat, going from house to house in the villages, whereas the same time in Delhi would have been spend indoors in a comfortably air-conditioned room. But whether or not Rajasthan was hotter than Delhi during that time, the heat was enough to leave us panting and gratefully gulping down matkas of waters at every house we visited. And, as I’ve become fond of telling friends, though we drank water all day long, neither I nor my friends felt the need to pee at all during the day. I would pee just twice – once in the morning after waking up, and once at night before falling asleep when the ridiculous consumption of water would finally catch up with my bladder instead of being sweated out in litres and litres.
- Since I’m on the subject of peeing– us “going to the bathroom” was a constant source of amusement and much discussion in the villages. Lacking running water or built-in bathrooms, all villages evolve their own fairly efficient systems for doing their business. And we city-kids just didn’t cut it. Our behaviour regarding toilet functions were weird and laughable – “sham ko khet jaa raha hai!” (“he’s going to the field in the evening!”) was always said with awe every time one of us needed to use the fields at anytime other than 5am in the morning. And it amused them that we had no idea where to pee during the day (if we ever needed to), since though the shit-locations were well-defined, pee-locations were not. We tried hiding the fact that we were going to pee, but our newly developed concept of “ninja pees” never seemed to work very well – everyone in the village was always aware of our exact whereabouts, and any deviation from the plan would incite numerous questions.
- Each trip to the “bathroom” was a source of great stories for us city-kids too. A quick pee under the comforting cover of darkness in a clearing outside our host’s house led to a funny story about out hostess graciously switching on the outside light to enable us to see our way, but succeeding only in putting us in the bright spotlight for everyone in the house to see. And in every village, there was always at least one creepy black dog which would stand at a distance and freak me out by just staring at us while we peed, behaving as if he were just waiting for a signal of some kind before attacking.
- Village life was, of course, very very different from city life, but there were constantly some pockets of familiarity which would always take me by surprise. For example, after hours of talking to villagers about the ration shops and their entitlements, NREGA, the corruption of the Sachiv, and bias of the Sarpanch, we spent an hour at a widow’s house who had invited us for dinner. We ate the roti with the Rajasthani pyaaz ki subzi, and while we talked to her sister-in-law and her, I was constantly aware of a feeling of surprise at how normal the conversation was. We oohed and aahed over the two toddlers in the house and encouraged the proud mother to tell us tales of their naughtiness. The sister-in-law joked and complained about her husband (not present during the dinner), and poked fun at him when he arrived later. I’d overheard the same small talk and dinner conversation countless times between my parents and their dinner guests, but only this time, my friend and I were the “adults”, participating in the conversation to the best of our ability, instead of just listening in curiously to see what it is that grown-ups talk about.
- I also came across the weirdest squirrels I’ve ever seen. They were normal grey-and-white squirrels, scampering and chasing each other around in the trees, but as soon as they got onto the ground, they would lie flat on their bellies. Completely flat. I’ve never before seen a squirrel actually lie down – they always crouch, poised for flight, every movement sudden and quick. These squirrels appeared defeated by the heat, and would lie flat, all four tiny legs splayed out on their sides. When I saw the first such squirrel, I actually thought it was dead, and was rudely shocked when it promptly scurried away at my approach. I didn’t manage to click a good enough picture, since they would always scurry away as I got within photo-taking distance, but this one that I pulled off a Google search is pretty much what I’m trying to describe.
More disjointed thoughts later.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
He was a good teacher in many ways. He used to boast that he could play all the musical instruments except the violin. He was well-trained and knowledgeable, and managed to impress even my dad, who has always been hard to impress.
But despite his musical prowess, what I remember when I think back to my years of learning music with him were the whispers that followed him. Murmurs that he was perhaps a little too fond of his young female students. Whispers that he had roving hands that didn't always just touch to teach a particular skill on the harmonium. And also mutterings that he had a temper that would flare up if a student did something wrong or said something out of place - a temper that could get out of hand.
No one knew where the murmurs began, and I'm not sure they ever reached my parents. The closest I came to hearing a first-hand account of his roving hands was from a friend who'd heard it from her friend who talked about too much "accidental" brushing of her breasts. No one ever called it molestation or even sexual harassment. But all the children knew about it and talked about it. We were all around the age of nine, we were just realising that his touching a student's breasts was wrong, though we weren't really sure why.
I don't know whether anyone told their parents about the whispers; I know that I didn't. There was always the hesitation of saying anything "bad" about a much-respected and very elderly music teacher. I remember thinking that even if I did tell my parents, they might not even believe me. After all, the first question would be "Who did you hear this from? Who said that he touched their breasts?" and I, of course, would have no answer. They were just rumours, unconfirmed and unverified, passing from one student to another. And the reports of his uncontrollable temper which had (as rumour said) led him to physically hit a student made all his students afraid of ever saying anything against him.
We didn't make a big deal of it then. I was mildly concerned when my parents hired him to teach me music, but I confidently stated that if he "tried" anything with me, I would go to my parents. And maybe I would have. But throughout the time he was my teacher, he never did anything overt that I could complain about. But I was always uncomfortable when he touched me in any way. I didn't see why he needed to touch my hand while teaching me, and while there was never anything blatant, there was always the sense of inappropriateness whenever he came physically close. But I did see first-hand that he definitely had a temper - it would flare up when I did something wrong, or dared to disagree with him. He never hit me, but I was always scared of his acid tongue and raised voice.
But to think back over it, maybe my parents had heard the rumours too. I remember being told (again and again) to never go anywhere alone with him. Either my mom or my dad would always remain in the room while I had my lessons with him, and if by chance neither of them were around, the live-in maid had instructions never to leave me alone with him. But still, week after week, for several years, he was allowed to come to my house to teach me music.
All the children knew about the reports, but no one ever said anything. If the parents (mine or others') knew about the rumours, they didn't do anything either. He was always hired and got good reviews from parents, he remained a respected member of the "outsiders" group in our campus, and as far as I know, was never told off by anyone for anything he did. And while I can't be sure that the rumours were true, no one really doubted them at the time. Yet, no one raised a voice, no one said anything. People moved away, the music teacher retired, and the rumours were forgotten.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
The story is about three teenagers in Melbourne who were "having a bit of a party" and decided to go skinny dipping. Interestingly enough, all three of the teenagers (including the boy) were naked, despite what the title of the story and the first few sentences ("Australian policemen were startled on learning that a car carrying a teenage boy along with two naked girls plunged into canal..") would lead one to believe.
Now, why would the nakedness of the two girls be clearly mentioned in the title and the first sentence, while the nakedness of the boy be revealed only towards the end, in a direct quote from a police officer?
On another topic: suggestions for new (and better) websites to follow Indian news are welcome. The NDTV website doesn't appear to be doing a very good job at objective reporting.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Then, in Singapore, I met more charming people. Flirtatious, smooth talking guys; bubbly, smiling girls. They got along with everyone. When I ran into one of them at the library, the conversation would encompass everything from current classes to upcoming parties, possible internships and future plans. I formed a stereotype of a "charming" person in my head: flirtatious, smooth-talking, but mostly importantly, fake. The interest they show in our conversations, in what I said, it all seemed so fake.
Then I met another type of charming. A genuine, occasionally rude, always funny, easy to talk to, interesting guy who is now one of my best friends. He didn't carry on conversations he wasn't interested in, but he got along with everyone, could talk to anyone, and was always fun to be around. The stereotype in my head was contradicted and abandoned. There's more than just one type of charming, I decided.
But still, I underestimated the power and importance of that charm. Until I came to Florida for one semester abroad. And last night, while having dinner with a massive group of people, the power of charm hit me. I'm not very good at social situations with people I don't know, so I was sticking to my table with a couple of friends, and just observing the other students there. And charming people are just so good at socialising! Witty comments, funny jokes and a slow smile will get you really far with people! The girl sitting across the table from me has been in Florida as long as I have, but she's friends with at least double the number of people I know here. A guy with a nice smile and very funny jokes was constantly surrounded by people, all laughing and talking. A group of people next to me randomly planned a post-dinner party and invited people, all of whom said yes.
In general, I prefer to hang out with a small group of friends. But the point of this semester abroad was to meet more people, learn to make new friends and party. None of which are made easier by my social awkwardness, physical clumsiness and lack of ideas for good conversation or funny jokes. Once in a while, it would nice to be able to be charming, even if I choose not to exercise that ability all the time.
I spent the dinner forming this blog post out in my head. By the end of two hours, I was exhausted. My cheeks hurt with all the smiling, I was tired of talking and hugging and asking people what they were studying, and I was ready to go home, get under my blanket and type this blog post out. I left, but the charming people stayed and probably went on to their impromptu party.