Thought [en]

To try to pass on one’s religious beliefs as rationally proven is the first step to forcing them upon an other.

Similar Posts:

Dress Code [en]

I am always amazed that foreign women of my age group dare walk around in India wearing strappy tops or shorts. I usually go by the rule that I will avoid wearing anything that an Indian women of my age and “status” would not wear – in terms of “sexiness”.

The most revealing dress that young Indian women in the city will commonly wear are a pair of tight jeans and a fitting t-shirt or blouse. I daresay strappy tops and naked legs are out of bounds – and so they are for me too, even if I am happy to wear such clothing at home.

I think it is important to follow this line of conduct for two main reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to shock people. How would we feel if people who are used to living naked came and walked our streets with no clothes on? This is what I call “intercultural awareness”.

The second reason has to do with the image that a lot of Indian men (sadly) have of western women: sexual objects. I would rather avoid clothing (or attitudes, for that matter) which would seem to encourage this way of thinking: things are bad enough as they are.

There is also a third reason for being careful about one’s clothing: foreigners who neglect the “dress code” tend to be either “freshly arrived”, hence full of illusions, gullible, and with no sense of what things are worth, or “hippies” – people who come to India because it is “cool”, has “real spirituality”, or is a great place for drugs.

These rough categories are of course just what they are—a tool for thought—but they are close enough to the representations many Indians (especially those dealing with “tourists”) have of foreigners. And personally, I try to avoid classification in either of these categories as much as possible.

I would rather be stared at because I am wearing a pretty sari or salwaar kameez suit than because I am showing too much of my body. In my experience, wearing a sari can only have a positive influence on my interaction with people: I am bothered less, complimented more (by women), and it opens the door to genuine interest about my position as a (“non-standard”) foreigner in India.

Last but not least, saris and salwaar kameez are pretty and feminine. During my first months in India, I wore exclusively the pants & t-shirt uniform, and got really sick of it. It was nice to be able to feel like a woman again. All that in a dress considered modest and respectable by everyone – in a country where this is important.

Similar Posts:

Plan! [en]

Madhav called this morning with a great idea: as I am not doing the trek with the others (I feel fine, but I’d rather be on the safe side as far as my brain is concerned), why don’t I get a homebound flight from Bombay instead of Delhi, and come and spend a few more days in Pune?

I’m working on it…

Similar Posts:

Hindi News [en]

Anne-Marie reads small articles in the Hindi newspaper for our reading class. Her choices are always very interesting.

In the last one she brought up, a young woman who is being sexually harrassed in her in-laws family confides in a young man who gives her hopes of finding a solution. He rents a room for her in another village, but sells her for 20’000 Rs. The in-laws find her and bring her back to their home.

The guy who sold her is found. The pancayat shave his head, colour his face black and drive him out of the village on a donkey. Then they sell his house.

Similar Posts:

Transport [en]

Un des problèmes majeurs auquel se heurte l’étranger en Inde est celui des transports. Comment se rendre d’un endroit à  un autre, en étant sûr de bien arriver à  destination, et sans payer un prix exhorbitant? Pour les grandes distances, je recommande en général soit le train, soit les bus de l’Etat.

Le train doit être réservé en avance – si possible, même bien en avance. Si l’on désire voyager relativement tranquille, il vaut la peine de choisir une classe climatisée (ce n’est pas juste une question de chaleur…) Je prefère les couchettes supérieures, parce qu’elles sont disponibles à  toute heure du jour et de la nuit et qu’il est facile de s’y réfugier loin des regards et des mendiants. Prendre la banquette du bas signifie qu’elle ne sera pas disponible durant la journée, puisque c’est sur elle que les voyageurs s’asseyent.

Les bus gouvernementaux ont des avantages de taille sur les bus des nombreuses compagnies privées sévissant à  proximité des agences de voyages: ils partent en général raisonnablement à  l’heure, qu’ils soient pleins ou non, et vous emmènent là  où ils sont sensés le faire. Disons qu’après la mésaventure dont Nicola et moi avons souffert il y a deux ans, je fuis les bus privés – sauf si j’ai de vraiment bonnes raisons de leur faire confiance (me faire rabattre vers une agence de voyages à  la sortie d’un bus ou d’un hôtel n’en étant clairement pas une).

Les seules circonstances où je recommande le “privé” sont celles où l’on y accède par une chaîne de recommandations pas trop longue et qui débute par une personne de confiance. Cela permet en cas de problème de garantir que notre insatisfaction évitera au “privé” en question d’être recommandé à  nouveau – ce qui en général suffit à  éviter bon nombre de problèmes. Une très bonne alternative au bus consiste à  louer une Tata Sumo (grosse jeep) avec chauffeur. Normalement, le tarif devrait tourner autour de 1500 Rs. par jour, peu importe le nombre de passagers et de kilomètres. Pensez-y la prochaine fois qu’on vous propose un taxi Delhi-Rishikesh pour 75 dollars par personne (mésaventure qui est arrivée à  deux étudiants de notre groupe).

Similar Posts:

Books [en]

I’m running out of books to read. During the last couple of weeks, I have been devouring them like the bookworm I once was – and it is a very satisfying feeling.

After Pinki Virani’s book, I swallowed up Jhoompa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies – a very nice collection of short stories.

I followed with Naipaul – India: A Wounded Civilization. An astounding but somewhat depressing essay on Indian culture. A book that I will put at the top of my list of recommended reading for anyone who wants to try and understand India – from inside or out. I have a good mind to read it again and summarize its main lines of thought for you; but you’re going to read it all the same, aren’t you?

The next in line is called Ladies Coupé. Through the train journey of a woman who has never married because she has worked all her life to support her family, we are allowed into the lives of these six women who find themselves together in the ladies coupe. Six different lives, six different stories.

After quickly going through a small collection of science fiction stories my roommate had brought with her, I went begging around for something to read. I was handed the first of the Harry Potter books, which I read from cover to cover in the space of an evening and a morning. I’m not one to fall for crazes and cults, but I’ll definitely read the other ones.

I hope there is a good bookstore in Haridwar.

Similar Posts:

Monkeys [en]

Yesterday, I was watching monkeys running about in one of the hotel buildings, when I heard a nasty yowl and saw a commotion. One of the monkeys had caught the cat I had spotted roaming around the area earlier – and the cat wasn’t happy about it. It escaped. The monkeys went after it a little, and gave up.

Yesterday too, Anne-Marie was nipped and scratched on the arm by a monkey on Ram Jhoola. Superficial bleeding – but still. The day before that, a monkey had been trying to open her door (it had got in before and ate some bananas).

A few days back, a monkey on Laxman Jhoola caught Archana’s dupatta and playfully pulled on it when it realized she was afraid.

A day after our arrival in the hotel, a monkey came running in the corridor of our building. Florence set off to take a picture, and as she was approaching the animal, aiming with her camera, it bared its teeth and made a fierce jump at her. She retreated into the room pretty quickly.

I don’t remember the monkeys being so aggressive two years ago. Are they suffering from overpopulation?

Similar Posts:

AIDS Awareness [en]

Young sexually active Indians (or those about to be so) appear to be no different from their western counterparts when it comes to AIDS awareness. They know they don’t have AIDS. The also know that their girlfriend/boyfriend doesn’t have AIDs, because he/she either is a virgin or has slept only with this or that person, known to be “safe”. Prostitutes and people who inject drugs are those who might have AIDS, not normal people – unless they have had to receive blood.

This is the kind of thinking which is allowing AIDS to spread amongst the heterosexual population, particularly teenagers.

Now, let’s stop and think. If a boy has had unprotected sex with a prostitute, and fears he might have AIDS, will he feel free to talk about it to his peers? What would be the reaction if he did? If a girl or a boy has been sexually abused or raped, recently or as a child, will it be said? Remember Pinki Virani’s (prudent) numbers: four girls out of ten; one boy out of four. In the newspaper the other day, I saw much more scary numbers – probably closer to reality: six girls out of ten, and four boys out of ten.

Similar Posts:

More Backlog [en]

Thursday, 30th: I take my classes. But at the end of the last one I am out of service again. I go back to my room to lie down – I can’t even read. I have a very slight fever.

Friday, 31st: I rest. I go out 200 metres away from the hotel to buy myself some water. I take one class, and that is about all I could have handled. The afternoon is spent in “cultural discussion” with our Hindi teachers – many of the students are in India for the first time. I still haven’t managed to check my email.

Saturday, September 1st: almost all of the students have decided to go to Musoorie for the week-end. My roommate and I have decided to stay here to catch some rest – which turns out to be a great decision. We find a tailor to stitch blouses for our saris, manage to check our email, and spend the rest of our day napping and reading.

Sunday, 2nd: I walk around Rishikesh taking lots of pictures while my roommate gets an ayurvedic massage at the place we know. We have lunch at the Madras Café – the uttapam is a very nice change from the hotel food (which in itself isn’t too bad, but I’m starting to develop a gustative intolerance to it).

In the evening, we finally find the place we had been looking for the whole week-end: the Amrita Library Restaurant. The Lonely Planet map actually places it on the wrong bank of the Ganga! If you are in Rishikesh and crave some non-Indian food, I can definitely recommend their pizzas. We also had a tomato soup and a poiled potato with butter – there are times in life when one has to eat something without any spices! We’ll be going back to check out their imported Italian macaroni.

Similar Posts:

Boring Backlog [en]

Rishikesh, 29 August 01

24th, day before departure: spent in a stress, as expected. Half-way through the evening meal at Shabri’s, my stomach yells “Stop! I won’t take a mouthful more!”. I insist on swallowing up the three gulab jamun served for desert, though.

2 a.m.: out come the gulab jamun. Temperature: 38.3°C. Three hours of sleep at the most.

25th, day of departure: doctor in the morning. Lots of pills, including a five-day course of antibiotics, to keep me up and running during the journey. I go to Vama to collect my (overdue) ghagra choli. Two hours and four trials later, after having sent Nisha back home, I am arguing about the price with the manager over the phone when I gracefully pass out and crumple to the floor, right in front of the main reception.

I leave the shop with Nisha an hour later (she came back to fetch me), after having nearly fainted two or three more times; I have obtained a meagre 5% discount – very unsatisfying, but it is difficult to argue with conviction when one keeps on passing out. I reach home thirty minutes before the bus to Bombay is due to pick me up.

Travel to Delhi goes very smoothly. The scenery from the Pune-Mumbai Expressway is beautiful in the monsoon sunshine. I get an hour of sleep on the plane. The man in charge of the prepaid taxi counter at Delhi Airport tells me that the New Delhi Railway Station is “15-20 minutes away only. You come, I take you on my scooter anytime, no problem m’am. You can stay at my place, also, yes!” I smile my way out of the situation, as I have learnt to do so very well, and explain that the airport waiting room is a beautiful place to stay in for the night.

I meet a young couple there. They are waiting to pick up a friend. We chat a little, and they very kindly invite me to grab a few hours sleep at their place before driving me to the station on time. They seem very nice people, I am very tempted, I accept. It was a good decision.

26th, uneventful journey to Rishikesh: we have to walk at moments, my luggage is heavy, I have fever, my sari is catching on my legs – but it is all still bearable.

I leave table early that evening: 38.7°C.

27th, first day: I wake up, feeling pretty good. 37.2°C. I sit up in my bed and a sharp pain flashes through my head. I lie down again. A stuffy nose and a sore throat the previous night make me take some cold medicine.

Morning class goes fine, as does lunch. During the second class, I pester against my unsteady hand which makes more and more “typos” as time trickles by. In the middle of the third class, I have to ask the teacher to excuse me and retreat to my room. The now throbbing headache, fever and vague nausea are too much for me to stay functional. Temperature in the evening: 38.8°C.

After hours of pulling the covers off and on, I start dozing off around 2 a.m. – but I really get some sleep only at 4 a.m., when a power cut mercifully shuts down the fan (therefore depriving my poor roommate of any further sleep).

28th, 36.5°C: I still feel a little feverish, but the number on the thermometer looks really good. My head hurts like hell – but not quite as much as during the night, when I wished I could prevent my heart from beating, since every beat was the signal for a flash of pain. I spend the whole day in bed and sleep a lot. Reading isn’t really within the realm of my possibilities.

I definitely suspect a concussion, which must have gone by unnoticed because of the anti-fever medicine I was taking at the start. I may be wrong, but it seems the most likely explanation I have come up with up till now.

In the evening, I feel courageous enough to walk down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. It seems to me I haven’t checked my email for at least a week (a little under that, in fact) – but due to the heavy rainfalls, the lines are down. I head for bed and sleep a good night’s sleep.

29th, I feel “great”.

The nausea which was so bad last night has left me, and so has the headache, as long as I keep nice and still. 35.3°C. Thinking that looks a little low, I take my temperature again, but in my mouth this time, instead of underarm as I usually do: 36.8°C. Is there always so much of a difference between the two? Should I add 1.5°C to each of the readings for the last days to get the “real” temperature? That would take us pretty high.

Anyway. Things are under control, and the days ahead look brighter than the days behind. I will start classes again tomorrow, but will stay inside the hotel for the next three or four days. I will take my time to decide if I will join the trek to Gangotri or not during the last week, depending on how I feel. I must say that for the moment I doubt I will be fit enough, unless some really spectacular remission takes place (not to say that I won’t be fit in absolute – but it does take some time to get back into peak condition, doesn’t it?)

Similar Posts: