Tag Archives: india

India, Women, Men

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur l'Inde, les hommes, les femmes. Même si la situation est clairement différente d'ici, il est tout à fait possible de voyager en Inde en tant que femme sans que ce soit l'enfer.

I lived in India for nearly a year, and upon my subsequent visits there have tacked on another 7 months in the country over the last 13 years.

Traveler Candace shares her notes on travelling alone as a woman in India. Her article, a reaction to this very dark picture of Indian men written by an exchange student (do also read the counter-piece), made me want to share my experience as a woman in India too. And also because since the highly publicised 2012 rape in Delhi, people ask me: is it really that bad? what is it really like?

Well, honestly, I haven’t had any particularly bad experiences in India. Sure, people stare more in India. And when it’s men or teenage boys, it can be a bit unsettling. But look around — women and children stare too. We’re staring material. People are often genuinely curious about foreigners. Get over it.

I had one guy I didn’t know e-mail me for a “sex date”. A fellow traveller leaning in a little too close on a bus (I swapped places with my male companion). A furtive breast grope at a crowded new year’s party. A friend of mine had somebody mumble “are you interested in a fuck?” while she was hanging out in front of a shop — she had to make him repeat it three times before she understood, I think the guy was more mortified than she was. In one of the hotels I stayed at, the manager came to chat with me during dinner a little too often for my comfort. But maybe he was just honestly curious (I really don’t know).

Let’s put this in context, though: like most women, I get unwanted attention in the West too. See #shoutingback. So this is not limited to India. Now, true, despite all the kamasutra and tantra idealisations, India is more sexually repressed than Switzerland. And more male-dominated. And it’s big. So yes, there are creepy guys, and there are definitely issues that need to be addressed. And there is risk, too. The Delhi rape didn’t just come out of nowhere. Years ago I read Bitter Chocolate, a book on child sexual abuse in India, which is quite chilling.

All this doesn’t mean that each woman’s trip to India will necessarily turn into a horror story. It’s quite possible to spend time in India without feeling like a sexual object at every turn of street. Being “sensible” is a part of it, just like it is in the West.

I’m careful how I dress, knowing that as a white woman I’m likely to start off with higher “sex capital”, so in doubt I might dress a little more conservatively than my Indian peers. I use the ladies’ compartment in the Delhi metro, the ladies’ side of the bus when there is one, the ladies’ queue — specially if I’m unaccompanied. I don’t feel like I’m driven by fear: one part is “do as Romans do”, and the other is that it just makes things more relaxed and avoids potentially annoying situations.

In her article, Candace points out one piece of “advice” that was given out to students going to India: “don’t smile at people”. I spent most of my time in India glaring at people, to be honest. A few years ago, I realized I spent most of my time in Switzerland glaring at people. I started smiling more to people I didn’t know, and trying to approach strangers in a more friendly mode rather than defensive. It changes things.

Sure, a smile is an invitation to some kind of interaction. If you have huge boundary issues you might prefer to lock yourself up in a scowl to prevent anybody from approaching. Interaction can indeed lead to unwanted attention, but it can also lead to friendly interaction. My life in India was (and is) filled with friendly men, and yes, having friends is something that will increase your safety — and your feeling of safety. For example, I travelled all the way to Chennai in sleeper class with my friend Shinde, something I would not have done on my own.

So, here’s a quick selection of some Indian men I met along the way.

Shinde and his wife Nisha, whom I stay with when I go back to Pune:

20040201_eating_out8_2

Madhav, who helped me find hotels to stay at when I kicked myself out of my pay-guest place, and remained a close friend for many years:

20040201_tennis13_2

Mithun and his family, who helped me out when I arrived in India, hosted me and helped me find a flat so many years ago:

Pune 125 me and Mithun's family

The “Delhi Boys” plus my host Sunesh’s family in Kerala:

Goodbye Family Pics Karivellur 14.jpg

Satisha, one of the helpful staff at Hillview Farms:

People of Hillview Farms 42.jpg

Thanks to Claude for sharing the article that got me started on The Life Nomadic.

Similar Posts:

Posted in India | Tagged friendship, india, men, rape, safety, sexism, travel, women | Leave a comment

Off to India

[fr] Départ pour l'Inde. Programme.

My bags are packed, all is set, the plane takes off at 8.50am tomorrow morning.

The Painter of Signs

Why India? The short answer is that I have lived there, have friends there, enjoy the food and the place. And like a sunny warm break in winter. And a good break in my working year — no e-mails for me during my trip.

What’s the plan?

  • Pune (25.12-02.01)
  • Madgaon (Goa) where I’ll be going back to Arco Iris (03.01-06.01)
  • Kannur (Kerala, 06.01-09.01)
  • Mysore, back to Hillview Farms of course (09.01-15.01)
  • Bangalore for a couple of days with Anita (15.01-18.01)
  • Kolkata (18.01-01.02)

Off I go!

Similar Posts:

Posted in India, Travels | Tagged india, india 2012-2013 | Leave a comment

Vacances annuelles de Noël à mi-février

[en] Annual vacation coming up, from Christmas to mid-February.

Ceux d’entre vous qui me connaissent le savent: je prends depuis quelques années un “gros break” en hiver. Ça me permet de me ressourcer pour être plus productive et créative le reste de l’année. Et ça m’évite aussi de passer un mois de janvier en Suisse à déprimer dans la grisaille.

Concrètement, cela signifie que je ferme boutique entre Noël et mi-février — je reprends après la conférence Lift, qui a lieu du 6 au 8 février.

Je vais consacrer les deux semaines qui restent avant Noël à mettre de l’ordre dans les divers dossiers en cours. Certains d’entre vous attendent des réponses à des e-mails, et vous devriez les avoir d’ici là. Pour tout ce qui peut attendre mon retour, on verra ça dans deux mois!

Similar Posts:

Posted in Being the boss, Personal | Tagged announcement, holiday, india, vacances | 2 Comments

Here We Go Again

[fr] Des nouvelles du front.

Here we go again. My last post dates back to November 19th. This would seem to say the after-effects of the Back to Blogging challenge were short-lived! Not quite, though, because I’m writing today, and nearly wrote Tuesday, and am still focused on writing shorter.

The week before last was module 2 of the course on social media and online communities that I direct at SAWI. That means 4 days in the classroom, although I’m not teaching all the time (about two-thirds of the time I’m watching somebody else teach, and learning stuff!), with a conference and networking event by Rezonance on the Thursday night. (Needless to say I had other stuff going on the other evenings.)

The module went great, I was very happy — and from what I heard the students were too — but it was utterly exhausting.

Early this week I finally managed to extract myself from the nightmare of dealing with IRCTC Customer “care”. This is the blog post I started writing, and might finish at some point. Endless to-and-fro e-mails, disastrous user experience, crappy website, ridiculous security rules… I’ll spare you the details for the moment. Weeks of frustration were suddenly solved when I accepted I would get nowhere through official channels. An Indian phone number from a friend in Delhi and a few confirmation codes by IM later, I was finally booking train tickets for my January holiday.

I’m heading to Paris tomorrow for LeWeb, like each year. I’m looking forward to it! Maybe tomorrow or later today I’ll write a post on how to pitch me (or how not to pitch me). Short version? Do your homework. Know that I’m not interested in breaking news. I like cool new toys but what is cool for you is not necessarily cool for me. The main thing that interest me? People. What I’ll do for a friend, I won’t for a stranger. My contact page is harsh, but still stands.

Other than that I’m having some drama with the cats and the concierge. Three cats in my building go out. Tounsi, Quintus, and my neighbour’s Salem. (All the others are indoor cats.) One or more cats are spraying in the corridor. We don’t know who it is. All three cats know how to sneak into the building in between somebody’s feet when they walk in. So there are regularly cats hanging out in the corridor. I clean any markings I find with water, but unfortunately they leave stains (attack the flooring?). So my concierge is asking me to “make an effort” but won’t tell me exactly which effort I’m supposed to make (yeah, prevent my cats from being in the corridor; I’m already doing that).

 

Similar Posts:

Posted in Animals, Conferences, India, Personal | Tagged india, irctc, leweb, quintus, salem, tounsi, travel, ux | Leave a comment

Amit Gupta Needs You, and Other South Asians Too (Join the Marrow Registry!)

[fr] Amit Gupta, celui qui a démarré Jelly et Photojojo (entre autres), court le risque de mourir de leucémie aiguë s'il ne trouve pas un donneur de cellules souches du sang. La chance de trouver un donneur pour quelqu'un d'Asie du Sud est très faible -- c'est pourquoi l'entourage d'Amit (et tout internet s'y met) remue ciel et terre pour encourager un maximum de personnes du même groupe ethnique de s'enregistrer comme donneurs.

I should have blogged about this weeks ago. I’ve been anxiously watching the countdown of the time that was left to find a bone marrow donor for Amit Gupta.

I’ve been checking Facebook and Twitter in the hope that I would see good news announced.

The countdown now says 0.

Amit Gupta Needs You!

It doesn’t mean it’s too late, but it means that if there is no good enough donor amongst the people currently in the registry, Amit will have to take his chances with extra rounds of chemo (with possibly lasting damage) to survive the acute leukemia he was diagnosed with only mid-September.

If caucasians have a roughly 90% chance of finding a matching donor should they need one, chances are much slimmer if you’re South Asian (1 chance in 20’000 of finding an exact match). The reasons, it seems:

  • the huge variety of HLA profiles (a set of genes) amongst South Asians
  • a general reluctance to register and if matched, to donate (50% or more of South Asians back out once matched).

Heck, if the Ugly Indian can keep a street clean in Bangalore, can he not join a marrow registry and possibly save a life?

I have to say that when I first heard that Amit needed a marrow donation, I imagined the procedure was something like a spinal tap. It isn’t. The donor’s stem cells are usually taken from the blood stream directly, or if needed from the hip or pelvis, not the spine. All in all, the procedure is close to giving blood. Not a huge deal, to be honest.

Team Gupta’s next move, Clark tells Wired.com, is to make sure people are aware of how simple and painless the donation process is. Marrow is extracted from the arm and generally takes six hours or so. The procedure is about as invasive as donating blood — it just takes longer.

And to join the registry, all you need to do is send back a cheek swab. It’s really easy.

Here’s how to help if you live in India.

Even if you’re not a match for Amit, you might be a match for somebody else whose life depends upon a bone marrow donation.

As for me, well, there’s little chance I may be a match for Amit (obviously). I looked up the Swiss Marrow Registry to sign up, and was quite disappointed to see that my heart operation seemed to rule me out. I checked with them, though, and it’s on a case-by-case basis. In my case, there’s happily no reason to rule me out on the basis of the operation I had over 30 years ago.

So, who is this Amit? I don’t really know him, though I had a couple of e-mail exchanges with him when I started the eclau Jelly. Yup, he’s behind that. And he also started Photojojo, which you should definitely join if you’re into photography.

But this goes beyond Amit: it’s an issue for the whole South Asian community. If you are South Asian, in India or elsewhere, please do see what you can do to help.

Similar Posts:

Posted in Health, India, News and Politics, Social Media and the Web | Tagged amitguptaneedsyou, bone marrow, donate, india, registry, south asia, swabforamit | Leave a comment

10 Years Ago

[fr] Il y a dix ans, le 9 septembre 2011.

10 years ago I was in Rishikesh with other Hindi students. The internet connection was really bad, and I saw a post on Dave Linabury’s blog about the attacks. I didn’t know whether to believe it or not.

I went down to the hotel rooms, a bit shaken, to see if the woman from our party with a radio could tell me anything. She was thinking it was a horrible hoax when I arrived, and it took us less than 10 words between the two of us to realize it was for real.

It was the evening in India. We huddled in a hotel room with a TV to follow the news. I remember thinking very hard (it would have been praying if I prayed) “I hope Bush doesn’t do something really stupid like invade Afghanistan”.

Similar Posts:

Posted in News and Politics, Personal | Tagged 10years, 9/11, india | Leave a comment

Eat, Pray, Love: Damn You, Elizabeth Gilbert

[fr] J'ai aimé Eat, Pray, Love plus que ce à quoi je m'attendais. Le trip "spiritualité indienne sauce occidentale", je m'en passerais, mais il y a plein de bonnes choses -- outre l'écriture, que j'aime beaucoup. Pour plus de détails... lire l'article complet en anglais!

Damn you, Liz Gilbert. I didn’t want to like your book, but I did. I even like you (well, the narrator you). Yeah, of course I can relate: 30-something heartbroken woman finds peace and love. Which single woman in her mid-thirties wouldn’t?

It annoys me, though, that you found them through faith, because I can’t do that.

I don’t doubt that you had a life-changing experience. I’m not either against religious or spiritual paths journeys per se, as long as they actually serve to grow us as human beings. But like the friends you mention near the end of your India book, I cannot believe anymore — believing there is a God or some other power, personal or not, is too incompatible with my worldview. A part of me would like to believe, so that I could find the peace you found. But I’d be faking it, right? Because another part of me is certain that there is nothing up there — or in there, aside from ourselves.

Bangalore 016 Gandhi Bazaar.jpgTo your credit, you do not proselytize, nor try to tell us that your way is The Only Way, and that we should all be doing it too. You bear witness of your own personal path, which involved a spiritual adventure in an ashram in India. I can appreciate that. But I have trouble relating to that aspect of your journey. (There is the Siddha Yoga issue too, which bothers me, but that I won’t delve into here.)

Also, whether you want it or not, your spiritual journey is coloured by a very specific — and modern — Indian school of thought (and by that, I don’t just mean Siddha Yoga). You acknowledge that, but in some respects you are blind to it, for example when you serve us truths about Indian spirituality or religions in general — you are talking from the inside of a specific religious tradition, not giving us access some kind of general truth. It’s a mistake many make, and I guess I can forgive you for it.

I personally believe that our conversations with God are conversations with ourselves. I believe we are much bigger than we think, and probably much bigger than we can ever know. And I say this not in a “mystical” or “magical” or “supernatural” sense, but in a psychological one. So for me, any religious or spiritual path is no more than a path within and with ourselves, using an exterior force or entity (“God”, “energy”) as a metaphorical proxy for parts or aspects of ourselves which are not readily available to our consciousness. Yes, it’s sometimes a bit complicated to follow for me too.

So what I can relate to, clearly, are your conversations with yourself in your notebook. I know I am a good friend. I’m loyal. I can love to bits. If I open the floodgates, I can love more than is possibly imaginable — just like you say of yourself. But I do not let myself be the beneficiary of so much love and care. “To love oneself,” not in a narcissistic way, but as a good friend or a good parent would. I know this is something I need to work on, I knew it before reading Eat, Pray, Love, but your journey serves as a reminder to me. It’s also reminding me that meditation (even when it’s not a search for God or done as religious practice) has benefits — and that I could use them.

So, thank you, Liz Gilbert. We may differ in our spiritual and life aspirations, but your journey has touched me, and inspired me. I didn’t expect it to. Thank you for the nice surprise. And damn you, because now I can’t look down quite so smugly anymore on those who rave about your book.

Similar Posts:

Posted in Books, India, Personal, Understanding life and the world | Tagged atheism, belief, eat pray love, elizabeth gilbert, god, india, love, psychology, religion, siddha yoga, spirituality | 2 Comments

Shit, I’m Reading “Eat, Pray, Love”

[fr] Malgré moult réticenses, en train de lire Eat, Pray, Love d'Elizabeth Gilbert, si ce n'est pour pouvoir critiquer en connaissance de cause. Misère: j'ai bien du plaisir à le lire, ce livre. Elle écrit très bien, pour commencer -- un genre de style que j'adore, et qui me fait penser à celui d'Anne Lamott. Je me reconnais dans certaines de ses facettes. Par contre, j'appréhende l'épisode indien, comme vous pouvez imaginer, et la dimension "quête spirituelle" me fatigue franchement. Encore 248 pages à lire!

I’ve just turned page 100 of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, and I’m afraid to say I’m enjoying it.

I’d managed to stay away from it so far. Just like Harry Potter many years ago, the amount of hype surrounding the book put me off. But there was more: I have a big problem (and still do) with the whole “spiritual quest to India” trip. Warning: I haven’t reached the “India” part of Gilbert’s book yet, so I may still end up cringing uncomfortably at that point.

Two things made me cave in and buy the book. The first, which had been nagging at me for a while, is that in order to be properly critical of it when facing the masses of fans, I need to know what I’m talking about, and hence, read it. All to easy to criticize a book you haven’t read. The second reason is that I heard Elizabeth Gilbert in Radiolab’s episode “Help!”. I didn’t know it was her at first, but I thought she had a lovely voice, and I liked what she said. Shit.

So, I bought the book at Heathrow Airport, and started reading it yesterday. One thing is certain: Gilbert writes really well. I love her writing like I love Anne Lamott‘s. She does things with her words that make me envious — she lets them run off and play on wild forest paths as I sometimes try to let mine, but with infinitely more grace.

As for the story, well, the jury is still out. I love life stories. Some aspects of Elizabeth’s story hit very close to home — close enough that I actually started crying a couple of times while I was reading. For me, not for her. I recognize myself in her, just like I imagine many readers do, and I guess that’s part of her success. Eat, Pray, Love is more than just her story — it’s ours, us women in their 30s, not quite where they imagined they’d be in life. (God, I can’t believe I just wrote this.)

In other ways, though, her story is not my cup of tea: I’ll skip lightly over the whole Indian guru thing (another day, maybe, but remember: a degree in Indian religions and culture, and a year in the country, and being pretty much as atheist as can be). And the predictions of the Indonesian medicine-man. And the spiritual journey thing (knowing, though, that I have yet to see where it will lead — I may be pleasantly surprised, who knows). And have we not already read too many stories of women who figure out they maybe do not want the whole “house, husband, kids” thing and struggle with walking away from it all and living “free”? (I’m waiting for the books about the women who want it all but are failing at getting anywhere near it.)

In the details have lain some treasures, though. Elizabeth Gilbert’s comments on the kind of traveller she is resonate with my own self-interrogations on the question these last few days. And her written conversations with God-who-might-be-herself have helped remind me that I need to spend more energy using on myself those qualities that make me a good friend. I think I am a good friend, or at least, I try my best to be. And I try to be the kind of friend I would want to have… I think. No reason I cannot be friends with myself.

And with that, I’m off to read the next 248 pages of Eat, Pray, Love — in hope that I make it through the Indian episode safe and sound.

Similar Posts:

Posted in Books | Tagged book, eat pray love, elizabeth gilbert, india, radiolab | 2 Comments

Time-Melt in Pune

[fr] Encore des nouvelles de Pune, où tout se passe bien. Mes photos sont en ligne (en vrac).

I’m losing track of time. When did I get here? A week ago already? It has flown by so fast, but it feels like I’ve been living here (almost) all my life.

We just got home from a wonderful meal at Shabree, a restaurant that does Maharashtrian thalis. We ate till we (almost) burst!

Finding a rickshaw home tonight was easier than last night, when I watched a bunch of guys my jeweler had asked stop at least a dozen rickshaws before finding one who would take us back from MG Road.

Pune 191 Laxmi Road Shopping.jpg

I think I definitely like Laxmi Road way better than MG Road. It’s more alive, more “real”, less “trying to be upmarket”. There are nice shops in and around MG Road though, but if it’s just for pleasure, I’ll take Laxmi Road. Our trip today was successful: goda masala (I still need to write up some Nisha recipes for you, I can’t keep up!) and a few other spices, Nisha’s brand of tea, an oil-lamp for my dad, lots of cheap fresh coriander, nail polish, and a few other things I forget. Oh yes, we found a shop which probably has the cable or card reader we’re looking for.

In other news, I dump-uploaded my photos, so they’re now visible online in my Pune 2010-2011 set. Clearly some of them need a little work (whether I’ll ever get around to doing it is another story) and I need to break them up into smaller, more manageable sets. Feel free to add tags to the photos and to point out which ones you think are particularly good — it really helps me after when I try to turn them into something presentable.

I’m exhausted again (because the day was long and nice!) so I’m going to leave things here — aren’t holidays supposed to be restful? ;-)

Similar Posts:

Posted in India, Personal | Tagged inde, india, India 2010-2011, photos, pune | Leave a comment