Sunday, February 17, 2013

Beautiful Bangalore

Bangalore is the capital of Karnataka state (fast fact: India has 27 states), which is located in the south west of India. Bangalore is known for being an IT hub, as well as for its cosmopolitan lifestyle and horrific traffic. I experienced all three.

I was in Bangalore for a maternal sister (Indian culture treats cousins as siblings) reunion (2nd Feb-9th Feb). My mom has an older sister and a younger sister. I have been living with my mom’s younger sister and her family since October. So then, one of my sisters from New Jersey (and her adorable 11 month old son), the sister I live with, and I, traveled to Bangalore to spend time with our other sister who lives there with her husband and son. Her husband works in IT- it was familiar to be in a household with early morning and late night calls with offshore colleagues. There was a lot of family bonding while we stayed there, as well as some exploration of Mysore (insert link here) and Bangalore.

Bangalore Palace was built in 1887 by Chamaraja Wodeyar and used by the Wodeyars while they were Maharajas (kings) of the state. Most notable was the Tudor (medieval) architecture and photographs from the time of British rule. I had never seen photographs from that time and seeing a woman in a flapper-like dress casually sitting with an Indian man dressed in a suit was a new sight for me. The palace is now used for social events and concerts (examples: Metallica, No Doubt, Ludacris, Elton John, Backstreet Boys).

We also visited Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath (an art gallery), Tipu Sultan’s Palace, the remains of Kempegowda’s fort, and Lalbagh Gardens. My favorite of all these was the art gallery. Not for the art normally on display, but for the exhibitions showing when we went.

Outside the gallery was a huge crafts market and inside there were three rooms hosted by local artists. My favorite was from a man named A. K. Govindan. He had this amazing piece of a tree trunk flowing out into beautiful green leaves and in the peaceful feel of the painting was centered a figure meditating. There was so much harmony between the elements of the painting. I loved it. Honestly lost myself for a few minutes just admiring the work. He is a friendly fellow who is not very well known, but is truly blessed with creative talent.

Other noteworthy items:
  • If you’re looking for typical south indian food (idli, dosa), remember it is a breakfast entrée. You won’t find it at lunch so dine accordingly.
  • Be weary of silk and sandalwood shopping; best bet is to go to Cauvery Arts & Crafts Emporium as it’s government certified and prices are good (less expensive than Mysore)
  • Use OLA cabs if you are staying further away from the city and need reliable transportation. Amazing concept Bangalore has mastered: cabs on call. Call for a cab and get text updates as to where they are, prices are reasonable and cars are respectable.
  • Traffic is bad. Don’t doubt the reputation Bangalore has.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Majestic Mysore

Mysore is about a 3 hour drive (200 km) southwest of Bangalore. We left Bangalore early in the morning for a daytrip to Mysore. During the trip we were able to see Mysore Palace, Chamundi Hill, and a silk factory.

A brief background on Mysore: The name comes from a place called Mahisasura where a demon (Mahisuara) was slain by a goddess (Chamundi). Mysore was founded by the Wodeyar dynasty in 1399, but remained in the power of the Vijayanagar empire until mid 1500s.

Mysore Palace was where the Wodeyar maharajas lived. In 1897, during the eldest daughter’s wedding, there was a devastating fire and the entire palace needed to be rebuilt. English architect Edward Irvin rebuilt the palace by 1912. The most interested things we learned was that the last day of Navratri, Dussehra, is a huge event in Mysore. [The 9 day long festival of Navratri represents the triumph of good (Hindu deity Ram) over evil (Hindu deity Ravan).] The king would sit on a howdah made from 300 lbs of gold during the festival to thank all the good fortune in his life. 

Chamundi Hill was also a beautiful view and the Sri Chamundeswari Temple was interesting to see. Most noteable, though, are the monkeys. A hilarious memory: being attacked by monkeys and throwing our cold drink at them while tripping on a light pole behind us and falling to the ground. Plenty of people around to view and laugh at our experience.

The Government Silk Factory was an amazing experience! Definitely a go-to if you go to Mysore. The factory is not very traveled, but the entire silk making process (omitting the cocoon to thread step) is done there and viewable to the public. To top it off, it was entirely free. The silk making process as I remember it being explained:
  1. Winding thread to a bigger roll
  2. Doubling two pieces of thread
  3. Twisting the two pieces of thread together
  4. Rewinding thread 
  5. Warping: 85 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes
  6. Threading onto 900 meter roll
  7. Weaving 14,800 strings (width) into a 6.3 meter long sari. This step takes 4 hours.
  8. Bleaching fabric- gold thread isn’t affected
  9. Dying fabric
  10. Ironing fabric
  11. Final analysis to ensure quality is up to standard. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Things I Miss...

During the NRI (non-resident Indian) season there are lots of families from abroad that come to India and visit family and friends, as well as travel. It’s evident from all the stores (specifically jewelry and clothing) posting large “NRI SALES!!” signs. In any case, I digress.

The point of my post is to shed light on the things I miss, apart from people. I am blessed to have people traveling from the states and asking me what I want from there because I may miss it here. Luckily though, I've adjusted well to the products available here: beauty, hygiene, clothes, etc. In reality the things I miss have more to do with lifestyle.

I miss independence the most. The single woman traveling creates a lot of angst for family members and moving around is cushioned by messages ensuring my safety and comfort. I knew in my heart it comes from love, but I struggled with this when I went to Delhi. I understood the worry since the terrible Delhi rape incident had happened only a few days prior, but in all honesty, I missed the freedom to roam about and discover things for myself. I am slowly understanding the different way of life for a girl versus boy in India, but it still seems foreign and I find it hard to not question.

I miss clarity. The ever-present “Indian standard time” (a term used to describe the regular tardiness of Indians) is on steroids here. This has been crazy hard for me to deal with professionally, as well as personally. I have always been fond of planning and having a schedule (sometimes even in the form of Excel spreadsheets) and the ability to create a schedule in India and stick to it is dreadful. Even for classroom settings it is hard- festivals and celebrations constantly trample through plans and dance around them until they’re fully disheveled.

I miss luxuries. I’ve gotten quite used to bucket baths, but I miss standing showers and dry spaces to change into clothes. Indian bathrooms are all one level- for the most part. The shower head is generally not working (hard water creates calcium blockages) so you shower from two buckets, a bucket of water and a small bucket to pour on yourself. In either case, I enjoy the reduction of water consumption, but I still get soap in my eyes when I wash my hair.

So those are some of the things I miss. I’ve acclimated to life in India fairly well, but there are definitely things I’m looking forward to when I come back to the states.

PS - I also miss Mexican food, Thai food, In-n-out, a sturdy internet connection and driving my car with the windows down.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Summing Up Seva

I closed the Seva chapter of my trip a week ago. It was similar to when I quit work- lots of emotions and feeling a little threadbare after having left everyone. My relationship with India has formed through the lens of service, and my time was spent with Indians who live without the luxury of things I took for granted. I am excited to see family but to some degree I feel like it’s a persona changing experience. The luxuries we claim, as NRIs, are so harshly different from the lives of the people I have interacted with for the past 5 months. I’m not ashamed of the experiences I've been privileged to have in my 25 years of life, rather, I’m struggling with how to let my heart feel comfortable having see the other side of things. Some may say ignorance would have been bliss.

On a positive note (I do still dub myself a realistic optimist), I have loved the experiences of the last five months. I have met so many amazing children and inspiring people. My time has really planted a seed in my heart to return in some capacity and be part of India again.

A few of my most special experiences were eating pani puri roadside with some of the kids and talking to one of the girls about resolving a quarrel with her friends. The friendships built through the Dosti Project have been so incredibly amazing to see and hearing the children scream “Ami-didi” when they saw me are memories that will remain close to my heart. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have spent these five months here. It sounds so cliché but I am pretty sure I gained more from this experience than I was able to give.

All and all one of my biggest lessons learned has been the importance of clarity of heart. My heart and mind were focused on service when I left the states in August. Unfortunately, my first go wasn't as smooth as I would've hoped. The fallout left me in a week-long haze of confusion, but then I found a new organization and miraculously was able to focus back on my original intent. Opportunities presented themselves organically and I was able to persevere through daily obstacles because I had clarity of heart.