Monday, 23 May 2011

Haven't reached the plateau yet

I was driven to such extremes of thumb twindling as I waited for these surveys to trickle in that I even started revising my NSF graduate fellowship application (which isn’t due until November). I decided it was time to raid Bhawani’s secret book stash! She pulled out an Archie comic book, several spiritual pieces, A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (it had the picture of an Indian girl on the cover which took me by surprise) and the Heart of India which I selected.  It’s a fictional piece written by a retired BBC correspondent who worked in India for over thirty years, fell in love with the country and didn’t even consider moving back to England after his retirement. 
In the introduction, he writes about how he fell in love with the beauty of the country and the friendliness of the people.  One line struck me in particular how his stories, (which include some pretty dark aspects of village life) “may seem a poor way to repay that affection.  They do not paint an idyllic picture.  But Indians do not expect uncritical acclaim.  They do not deny reality.  So I hope the stories will be accepted as they are intended to be- a tribute to the Indian villager”.   Initially, I felt a little hesitant to write about the beggars and the dirt because that’s not what people talk about when they describe their vacations.  But I’m not on vacation and I shared the same feeling as this author voiced.  In general, I feel like this country unapologetically and openly displays the good, bad and the ugly in a refreshingly honest way.  And I think that’s admirable and it makes me feel more attached to this place.
After dinner, I was talking to Bhawani who was telling me about her thirty-two years of diabetes and how eight of her nine siblings are similarly affected.  She said how celebrates the anniversary of her diagnosis and I thought I misunderstood- I’ve never heard of anyone commemorating the day they found out they had a life long disease.  But then she continued with details about the annual large luncheon with lots of friends and lots of sweets.  When Mercy and Bhawani saw the surprised look on my face, she continued by listing some of the things that should be honored with festivity.  Mercy added “every day should be treated as a birthday because we receive the gift of new life”.  Although it sounds cheesy when I repeat it, I see Indians live that sentiment every day- never before have I met such playful and fun-loving people, with endless generosity and optimism.
            Besides that, I’m still learning more and more- Mondays are the Hindu day of fasting, which explains why a lot of the historic sites are closed.  The red sindoor in the hairline and toe rings usually indicates that a woman is married.  (Since India has a much older culture, I can’t help but wonder who decided to move wedding rings from the feet to the hands- it certainly makes it a little more visible for countries there’s no mark in the hairline). 
            And my neighbor, Aayushi, stopped by to visit.  She showed me some pictures from Holi, the festival of color (I would love to be in India for this!), and the flower show that happens every February at the University of Delhi.  I got her to help (bachao) me with my pronunciation, which needs a lot of work. She says she likes my accent and when I told her that I got some kurtas at the market, she said “Oh, you probably look so beautiful in the kurtas.  Foreigners always look better in our clothes”.  And here I’m constantly thinking “Oh they have such wonderful accents” and “their clothes are so pretty- I could never pull that off!”. 
            Time for bed.  Shukriya (thank you) for reading and sharing this experience with me- there were over 180 page visits in the first six days!