Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who says you can't wear white after labor day?

Labor Day weekend was spent in a manner befitting the name. I labored Saturday, and I labored again on Monday. As an American I was not that excited about the prospects of spending my weekend in this manner but it wasn’t all that bad. Saturday Sept, 5th was the birthday of Dr Radhakhrishnan the first vice president of India. He declared that his birthday should be recognized as teacher’s day across India. This is a day akin to teacher appreciation day in the States but taken seriously. Throughout the day students would approach me and say, “Namaste. Happy teacher’s day Mr. James (or sir). May we take your blessing?” Sure why not, I’ve got lots of them. So each student would then bend down and touch the mandals, stand up, and then anoint their heads with one of the blessings, pretty much just like any other day back in the states.

That evening my colleagues and I attended a Teacher’s day celebration where veteran teachers were given special recognition for completing 10 and 25 years of teaching. The event was only two hours long and filled with dance, song, and celebration; a perfect time to try out my new kurta. I think this Kurta says “look at me” and “what are you looking at” all at the same time. You may have trouble believing this but despite all my efforts to assimilate into society I still manage to stick out.

Upon arriving here I needed to register with the foreign registry office to inform them of my stay. If you go there today you will find that I have my very own manila folder. In a rather large city I am the first American not of Indian origin to register with their office. I’m kind of a big deal. For many people I expect I am the first westerner they have seen unless they stop what they are doing and physically turn around to stare at everyone as they walk by. Less gaulking and more walking, please. There was even a dog for a little while that I am sure recognized me as not from around these parts and wanted to make sure I knew I wasn’t welcome. For three consecutive mornings I would watch him let three or four locals by and then I would try and pass myself. It would bark, snap and chase me down the street, almost as fast as the crux could manage. I varied my route and my time schedule and was able to outsmart him over the course of a few days.

The majority of the times, the people I meet go out of their way to make me feel welcome. Everyday complete strangers approach me at any time with questions, when I’m shopping, when I’m eating, when I’m trying not to die on my motorcycle. Where are you from? What are you doing here? What is your good name? How do you like the food? How do you like India? The last seems to be the most popular question so far. Everyone is anxious to know how I am finding India.

Even uncomfortable situations have turned around for the best. Most recently, about 30 minutes ago, I was racially profiled by two traffic cops. Here I am driving along obeying all of traffic laws I think should exist and I am pulled over by a whistle and a bamboo pole. For an instant I thought about playing dumb and ignoring them as they were on foot and I was on the crux. Fight or flight? I pulled over. I immediately thought of the warning I had received about having to someday provide a police officer with a grease payment, and I desperately tried to remember how I had done this the last time in Mexico. He asked to see my license and I told him I didn’t have it with me. This is partially true; I did not take the time to explain to him how I never got one. I handed him a photocopy of my passport and he looked it over for a minute or two while I babbled about what I was doing here. He stuck out his hand pointing slightly upward, I took a chance and slipped my hand into his and shook it up and down a couple of times. He smiled showing me his golden front tooth, and told me I had a strong hand shake. I almost started cracking up. He handed back my “license” and I was out of there.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sometimes you've just got to dance!

Put yourself in the shoes of a high school student and ask yourself this. What are you to do when you are given a 20 minute break in the middle of the day? If you said avoid social contact by plugging into your iPod or texting a remote person instead of talking to those people right next to you than you need to visit India. Navratri is right around the corner, it literally means nine nights. It’s a festival that last for I forget how many nights and you can be sure to hear more about it in a couple of weeks. This was recorded this morning when the entire school joined together in an unprompted celebration of the traditional Navratri Garba dance. It looks like fun. Now the students don’t dance every day at this time, but there is always a celebration of some kind or another. I mean the way they do things is a celebration, a cricket match, a game of tug-o-war, a musical performance, just kids or young adults having a blast, enjoying each other’s company, not being too embarrassed to dance, and living passionately in the moment. These students do have stresses in their lives as well, huge stresses, just like anywhere, but during my stay here I have not heard a student once use these stresses as an explanation for why their life sucks so much or why nobody ‘gets’ them. I remember being in high school and loving it, I miss the energy and the enthusiasm I use to have for life, I was invincible the world was mine and nobody could tell me that something was out of reach. So what has changed in the last ten years of my life to make me feel differently? Financial responsibility? Pressure to excel professionally? Keeping up with the Jonsers? Whatever it is I felt like in some way I got a little bit of me back today. Wherever you are it is never too late to change your outlook on life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


In one of my earlier videos you can see the beginning stages of ganesh chaturthi. The observation of this holiday just ended after ten nights. I had hoped to visit the final festivities of ganesh chaturthi and capture it in pictures and video, as it turned out I was not able to do so. A series of events and circumstances delayed my journey to the reservoir where I was hoping to see people immersing their ganesh idols in Rajkot’s water supply. As I approached the reservoir on what is normally a quiet dirt road I passes many cars filled with people leaving the reservoir. When I finally got there it was dark and there were a couple of large tour busses who had brought observers from great distances to participate. I was rather annoyed at this point because it wasn’t light enough to capture this event on camera.

I would like to pause here to give you an idea of how my perception and attitude has changed in the three weeks that I have been here. A past Fulbrighter told me “There is nothing like that first walk through a new place that you will get to know well. I love the first impression of a new city and how it can never be recaptured. She was right, by now the once strange and exciting sights are becoming commonplace. If you were to graph the number of pictures of cows in the middle of the road that I have taken over time, you would see a marked decrease. Now days I won’t even take my camera out of my pocket unless there are at least 15 cows in the road. I would say I am becoming accustomed to but still not comfortable with my surroundings. When I first arrived I was amazed and even amused by the amount of horns being blown, the ever present divine bovine, and the treasure hunt that was involved in finding even the simplest items. Now, only three short weeks later these same things are beginning to wear on me. Yesterday while driving someone was beeping off of my 4 o’clock, just beeping and beeping and beeping. I finally slowed down and he pulled next to me, an older gent with his wife sitting side saddle (both of them staring at me) beeping. I yelled, “What?” like what on earth could be so important that you insist on beeping 200 times a minute. That was a stupid question; because the answer was nothing. There was nothing to beep at, just muscle memory I suppose. I’m upset with myself for getting annoyed this past week my patience has grown short several times. I still do not have internet in my apartment and I am not sure if I ever will. Things are often times more complicated than they need to be, but the problem is not India it’s me. I’m the one who needs to change my attitude, so what if I don’t have internet, neither do most people. Someone in my cohort said that an Indian Woman she works with told her “you can’t be rational in India” I liked my friend’s saying better, “India happens”.

So I witnessed the tail end of the event (pun intended) when in the waning daylight I was able to watch a group of forty or so people submerse there elephant headed idol in the reservoir. There was loud song and prayers, people covered in colorful powders, truck beds full of speakers, and of course, fireworks. It was great to witness this first hand, sorry about the lack of photos. When you get a chance Google images of ganesh chaturthi, wild!