Sangita is going back to US in couple of hours. She stayed 6 months here in India in our grand plan of moving back to India. Her stay is filled with both sweet and bitter moments. India does not quite readily provide a smooth transition for people who want to move back. But this was a very good stay. We both realized what are the most important things for both of us. A very passionate work environment definitely tops our list. We also learned all the things that we could arrange for ourselves to make our lives easy. Even though I would see her soon, I am going to miss her a lot.
Premise: Our friends – Sarah and Lisa are visiting us for 10 days and we are planning a tour of North India with them.
Disclaimer: I am donning a ‘Details hat’
Date: 29th Dec, 2007
10:30AM, Hotel Rajasthan Palace: We finished our ‘Porridge’ breakfast. I have had promised the driver that we will be ready by 9AM, but we have gotten to talk about KIPP (don’t ask) and all the other teachers who work(ed) at KIPP. That’s one topic on which all the girls can talk for long time. I bet I can do the same about Touchpoint (the place I worked). So, now we were excited about our day – we had camel & elephant rides planned.
11:30AM, somewhere in Jaipur: After some haggling, we fixed the price with the guy for both Camel & Elephant rides. Camel rides cost 100Rs/person and Elephant about 125Rs/person. This is the first time I was riding a Camel. As I sat on it, I was shit scared. Here is a confession: I am really scared of anything that disturbs the stability below my feet. Flight turbulences scare and I hold the seat like a little scared baby. Rollercoasters are my nightmares. Bungee jumping would probably kill me half way through. But I know one day I need to get over this fear. I need to plan for that.
Anyhow, we got on top of 2 Camels and the guy took us for a walk on a tar road with traffic going along for about 1000 feet. That’s it. By the time we ended our Camel trip I was feeling ok with the ‘Camel turbulence’. Now Elephant is a little tricky. We all sat on it and we had to face away from each other. Half way through our ride, the Elephant started to freak out. Not much but good enough to make me pray to my favorite ‘Elephant God’. I guess He listened to my prayers and we got back safely.
We took some pictures with ‘Jal Mahal’ in the background and happen to eat some Indian Masala. I was not sure whether it was a good idea, but our friends had some of it too.
1:00PM, some cloth store in Jaipur: Our smart driver took us to a very nice place where we can buy some clothes, bags etc. I bought some book marks and Sarah & Lisa bought some bangles. The guy at the store showed us how they hand block print the cloth with pretty colors. The colors are actually made of vegetables so it’s all organic.
3:00PM, some pottery store in Jaipur: As we told our driver that we like to see some pottery store he took us to a very nice one. The owner of the store came out and gave us a demo of how they make those amazing pots. It was very cool to watch him show how glass, sand etc are mixed and how they take shape of beautiful pottery. He said, that only about 60% of the whole batch will be successful, the remaining faulty ones are either sold at cheap price or re-cycled. I do remember that at this moment I saw Sarah and she didn’t look comfortable. I thought may be the guy is wasting our time explaining the science behind the pottery, so I asked him to take us in to the store.
Once inside, we were give some pretty gifts each for free(from the 40% discarded batch though). We started looking around and me and Sangita were planning on to buy some. Then suddenly out of no where we had a situation which later got called as “Man down in Pottery barn“. Sarah said, she is not feeling well and ‘Plonk’ – she just sat down where she was standing. She didn’t look good at all. We didn’t know what was happening to her. She said, she felt weak and her head is spinning. She might throw up etc. I was like – ‘OMG, SARAH please don’t die in India’ Of course I was saying that to myself, no one heard me. If she did, that would have set a bad record for us among our friends. I would have never been able to show my face to Josh! Yes, in that moment it was all about me.
Ok, now coming back to the man down situation. India is a very friendly place. Everyone in the store came to us with an advice and a solution. Everyone in the store was concerned.
“Make her sleep flat on her back”
“Ask her to keep her feet on a wall” (good thing she was wearing a capri)
“She should drink some tea”
“Ah, it’s nothing. She is a white girl and hence a weak girl. In 1 hour she will be ok”
“These foreigners can’t take Indian heat”
So, we were offered a bed in the back of the store where poor Sarah relaxed. Now, it’s hard to read what Sarah is going through. After hanging out with her I realized it’s usually hard to guess what is she usually thinking. Now in this situation where she is down with something, it was very hard to guess what was actually happening. She had a scared look. Both Sangita and Lisa were sitting next to her. One thing we did totally wrong was that we just told Sarah all the stories of our friends who went through worse. This did not go well with Sarah and I think she was secretly hating on us.
So finally we decided that she need some energy drink. I rushed out to get some ‘Electrolytes water’ which is very well known in US as Gatorade. After an hour or so, she was able to get up and walk. We decided that no more shopping for us and we should go to our rooms.
5:00PM, Our hotel room: As Sarah lied in her bed, we had nothing better to do. We sat around her and talked. Somehow, the discussion went into discussions of ‘Big stores Vs. Mom & Pop stores’. Now I should admit – me and Sang had a long discussion about this 1 year back and we already know the plus and minus of this topic. And I realized that Lisa is such a sweet girl that she cannot live with disagreement and conflict. She reminds me of ‘Charlotte’ from Sex and the city. So, there was a big discussion between Sang and Lisa. This continued through out the trip and kinda grew into a mean topic towards Lisa – so we had to institute a ‘Love Lisa Day’ when we were in Delhi.
So anyhow, we rambled on and then gave Sarah some time to relax. I made some calls etc. I also thanked our driver and let him go. We promised that we will recommend him to all our friends who are traveling to Delhi
9:00PM, Our hotel room: As we have decided not to go anywhere for the evening – we kinda relaxed in our place. After we had dinner at our hotel, I got some drinks for us and we sat down to have some discussions. As Sarah sat in the middle we all sat around her and raised our hands like kids to take turns and talk. This was the best discussion ever we had. By now, as I have realized that one of friends can just fall flat anywhere and another one can feel bad if I disagree with her I was no longer intimidated by their whiteness! :-). Seriously though, we talked a lot about religion, God, spirituality, questions, solutions, life, kipp, conversations with god, Thich Nhat Hahn, JK, Swami, Jesus, Christianity etc. We all enjoyed our talk and spent till late mid night just discussing about all these things. As for me, this was the first time ever I could actively participate in the girls’ discussion as it was a topic which was not all about KIPP and which is close to my heart.
We all went back to sleep getting excited about our next day’s all day meditation camp. The talk about spirituality was a great precursor for the next day.
I have heard sometime back – “How you do anything, is how you do everything”
Today I realized how true it is. With million things going on around me right now, I realized how I handle my money is exactly how I handle my work, my relations, my conversations, my contacts and in general my whole fucking life. It’s a very shocking experience to have and right now I am really pissed off at myself for being the person I am. I am hating the roles I play in life and the fears, hesitations, shit load of emotions I carry around. Crap.
I wanna tattoo those words on me to remember them forever.
As I was stuck in the traffic while on my way home – I was tired and when I looked up, there it was – a very beautiful moon. It’s been a long time I even cared to look at moon. I have been a long fan of looking at moon since I was a kid – I am not really sure why, but I guess a bit of meditation and journaling will reveal that. As I was enjoying the moon among the million honks and shouts – my thoughts wandered off to how I was feeling 8 months back.
In the month of July 2007, as we were planning to move to India, I was excited. We had a future we didn’t know. It was kinda bold to leave everything behind and move. But both me and Sang took it in a positive spirit. Only difference was that sometimes, Sangita was disturbed by the idea of moving to India and expressed it openly and I did not. I knew for sure, that it would be good but was not sure what I would be missing out.
In these past 8 months of my stay here in India I have come to realize that a part of me has been completely eroded. I have totally ignored a very active part of me. As I inquired on what triggered these thoughts in me – I should be thankful to our friends who came and visited us. Sarah & Lisa’s visit is a turning point in our stay in India. After hanging out with them, I happen to notice exactly what I am missing out.
So, here are couple of things that I miss most from not living in USA.
1. Meaningful Conversations: Yep, I have got Sang and we talk a lot. We talk about life, India, love, creativity, God, did I mention India? Everything under the sun. Sangita is the only person with whom I can have a very meaningful conversation. When we lived with Lynn and Allison it was more than just 1 person. Both of our room-mates were equally interested in the topics that we are interested in – spirituality, individuality, life, passion, love. It was very easy to start a very deep meaning conversations. The threshold was very low.
In India, very rarely have I come across people who would connect to me at that level. They are already spooked by my accent and the fact that I have a very flexible notion of life scares them off (now a goatee!). There were some flashes in pan now and then, but I haven’t met anyone with whom I want to talk about the topics I am most passionate about.
2. Chilling Out, Unwinding: When I used to come back home after work (it would just take me 30 mins to come home) we had a whole set of relaxing ‘tools’ at our disposal in US. I would grab a drink, slouch on cozy sofa and watch TV or chat with our room mates. It’s kinda weird that in India, I usually have lost my urge to drink. I mean I do have a ability to swing between extremities of my addictions but the thought of just grabbing a beer and relaxing never occurs to me. Yeah, my family not quite liking the fact that I am capable of drinking weighs in a lot though.
So, the way I would unwind is totally missing. I have my own meditation rituals in the night time and sometimes, I wonder may be those are the things that are keeping me sane. I miss how I could relax in the evening and unwind.
3. Silence: You know when you come from US to India, the first thing you observe is how noisy the whole environment is. In 8 months, I have gotten used to it but when we were in Jaipur we attended 1 day Vipassana meditation workshop (more stories on this in next post) and there I happen to witness what silence feels like. I was able to feel slight vibrations in my body and could hear out my own heart beat -consciously. I realized that it is how it feels in US. It is so quiet and it helps a lot to keep our senses low and peaceful.
4. Nature, Greenery: This is something I miss a lot. Even though we were not hardcore nature lovers back in US, we were at least living in a place where there is a lot of greenery and we would sometimes take a hike in nearby hills. It was doable and it was fun. Here we live in a area which is a concrete jungle. I saw the last tree on our street being cut down last week for some real estate property. Planning a hike in nature is near to impossible as you would be the only person who does that and God knows what would happen. I miss the greenery around me.
5. Friends: In addition to having meaningful talks – it’s also helpful to have good friends. We thought we would make some by starting a local Expat group here. It was terrible. Sangita got harassed and I was bored of the people. Except for few of them I met, no one was good friend material. Yes, I have couple of colleagues who qualify for being friends but they are leaving the company or they can’t have good conversations. So, we both and I know Sangita a lot than me – miss our friends a lot.
As me and Sangita like to live life on a really, really sharp edge (this happens to be true only when we are in India) – we decided on Thursday that we will go visit Swami for 1 day. So, we left for Parthi on Friday night. I have visited Parthi about 10 times so far. Every time I go with Sang, there is some new insight which I realize.
This time it was a different trip from the previous ones too. I had only 2 small darshans’ of Swami but I was very content. I didn’t fight with other devotees to grab a place in first line! I was not really irritated by people falling on top of me. I just moved away from them. I stayed in my own little world and enjoyed the few moments of Swami I had. I think as time goes on we are reaching a stage where we see and admire Swami for His teachings rather than his form. Which is nothing new, as Swami himself has been advising this from years. It took me a while to come to this point.
I also happen to attend Prof. Anil Kumar’s talk. He is funny and insightful as usual. But one thing stuck with me from his talk. There was someone who asked a question to him that – when we have so many books, literature, missions about peace how come the world is still in trouble. His answer was – yes, we do have a lot of literature, books, organizations on reaching peace – but individually we are not practicing the things we are learning.
I pondered on it. It sounded very true to me. I can only speak for myself. I read, listen, think and plan a lot of things. On an average, I practice only 20% of what I read. What would happen if I implement, practice 100% of what I read or preach. What if I walk the talk 100%? I think that was the take home lesson I got from our quick Parthi trip. I intend to practice 100% of what I read, think & plan.
When we moved to India, we had so much stuff to pack – I decided that I would just take 3 of my jeans and rest I can always buy them here in India. I usually get my jeans from Gap because they fit me so well. So, after I got here one of the jeans started to develop a hole in the back pocket area. May be it’s the wash here that caused it so I decided it’s time to buy a new pair of jeans.
There is no Gap in India(yet). So, I went to one of the fancy store here which carries all the major brand names. I got a bunch of them I like and wanted to try them on. So, here is the thing. My jeans size is 32. I take pride(sometimes) that it has been 32 in the past 7 years or so. Anyhow, I was trying this fancy Levi’s jeans of size 32 and I couldn’t pull it up above my knees! I was surprised and checked the size – it was 32. So, I asked the sales guy that if he had given me a ladies jeans. Nope. So, he asked me to try the next size – 34. Now, this I couldn’t get it past my hips! Whoa, did I put on so much weight in India already? So, after thinking a lot about it I reluctantly asked for next size – 36. Now, I was really embarrassed. I couldn’t get this past my hips too. I almost cried in the changing room. I kinda got pissed off at the sales guy, may be he is playing a trick on me. Finally after swallowing a lot of pride I chose size 38 and dang, they fit me. But fit me in a sense, that it got past my hips, but the waist was so loose that I had to hold it with my hands.
Now, I have a theory about this. Please bear with me:
1. Indians somehow like the jeans which fit them tight. I mean really tight. I am not just talking about girls, even guys too. All the Indian jeans are kinda …. ummm….how do I say this without getting in trouble? Anyhow, all the Indian jeans are kinda tight in crotch area! That’s very true. Here we like it to keep our ‘stuff’ kinda warm and sweaty by wearing ostensibly tight jeans where the center of focus is ‘package area’. I don’t know why? Seriously. I hate to wear those jeans, neither here nor in US. It’s already so hot here and sweaty and itchy. Aw. Let’s not go there.
So, one of my conclusion is that those ‘clutch my crotch’ jeans don’t suit me well. So in order to get some air in there, I had to buy 38 size jeans. Well, you wouldn’t know that if you look at that jeans because out of utter shame I tore apart the label on the back of the jeans!
2. I believe, we Indians have wide hips and wide feet. I blame it on all the squatting, sitting, shitting we do. Everywhere people squat or just plain old sit on the floor. Not many Indians wear shoes unless they are going to an Interview. We wear a lot of chappals growing up and our feet can get out of limits. Also we do sit down or squat a lot. Chairs & furniture were luxury items pre-1990 era when the Indian markets opened up for Globalisation. So we all sit down and are happy about it. We are so happy about it that we invented our whole Yoga, Meditation system which wholly supports the sitting on the ground thing.
So, anyhow that was not the story. As I was having trouble to wear 38 size jeans, I decided to get the old torn Gap jeans fixed. I asked my sister and she told me there is a tailor nearby who can fix it. One day I went to “Hanuman Alterzations” to get my jeans fixed. There was a old man sitting a pile of clothes mostly jeans with his hand run sewing machine. Even before I explained to him the problem, he took a sharp knife and slit open the torn gap in my Gap jeans! This is a very smart trick which most Indian business people employ – making sure that you won’t go to other tailors, now that you see the work has already started here even before you spoke a word.
So, this guy told me that he will get it fixed in 3 days. I got busy with my work and I didn’t get a chance to go to him for next 2 weeks to collect my jeans. Finally one day I went to him. The conversation went like this:
Me: Hi, I gave my jeans couple of days back for alteration.
Tailor: Huh? Who are you?
Me: I gave my jeans to get a patch on my pocket place where it was torn?
Tailor: What color is the jeans?
Me: Blue, kinda faded blue.
He looks around, you won’t believe me – his room is filled with blue jeans and theres jeans stuck in every closet, corner. He is actually walking on top of some of them.
Tailor: When did you exactly give me the jeans?
Me: Ummm, about 2 weeks back(?)
Tailor: Was this before holidays?
Me: Yes ( I was horrified by now, because I was worried may be his son/he used it for the holidays?)
Tailor: Long time back. Let me see.
So, he starts his search and after 10 mins of search he finds it lying in a corner with some million jeans on top of it. I made a mental note to wash is before I wear these jeans.
I take the jeans and open it up to see the horrifying thing on the back of my jeans.
Me (completely disturbed by now): What? What is this patch you have here?
Tailor: It’s not a patch. It’s a label.
Me: But I asked you to patch it up with some blue & white thread.
Tailor: I did that, on top of that zig-zag I put in a label so that it looks good.
This guy had put a piece of cloth on the back of my jeans which says ‘Golden Star’. I was shocked and pissed.
Me: Why did you do that? I didn’t ask you to do it?
Tailor: It looks good with a label.
Me: I DON’T LIKE IT!
He was taken aback. I am guessing no one said anything like that to him before. He is kinda very popular ‘jeans alterzation’ guy in our area.
He looks squarely at my T-shirt and says –
Tailor: Well, I don’t like your T-shirt!
Tailor: You don’t like this label, then I don’t like your T-shirt
Me: That doesn’t make sense, both T-shirt and Jeans belong to me
He was very upset by now, he took that long, sharp knife which he used in the past and reached for my jeans. I knew that he is going to do something more bad this time and I hate pulling my jeans up every 30 secs in those 38 size jeans. So, I stopped him and decided to just take the jeans away from him.
Me: Ok, Ok. How much for this?
Tailor: (mutters something)..35Rs…(mutters again)
Now, that’s how I ended up with a jeans which has a patch on my bum which says ‘Golden Star’. Sangita calls me by that name whenever I wear it. When our friends Sarah, Lisa were here – they pretty much pulled my leg for it all those 10 days and called me Golden Star. They referred to it, whenever any sentence they uttered had a word ‘Gold’ or ‘Star’ in it. As for Sangita – she just calls me Golden star now. I am kinda used to it and sort of like it now. Here is a visual of my Golden Star.
Premise: Our friends – Sarah and Lisa are visiting us for 10 days and we are planning a tour of North India with them.
Disclaimer: I am donning a ‘Nostalgic hat’
Date: 28th Dec, 2007
8:00AM, Hotel Narain Niwas: We all got up and got ready. We were supposed to checkout at 10 and the guy just offered us complimentary breakfast for only 2 people. So, we sent out our white troops to go fetch some free breakfast for us. Both Sarah and Lisa were good sport. They went for the complimentary breakfast (where they had a great breakfast and also saw some slutty dressed woman) and stole us some toasts and butter! Me and Sagita had those stolen toasts in our room. Yes, we did steal those toasts because we wanted to save 500Rs for some simple breakfast.
10:00AM, Checkout: As we checked out, our driver ‘Hansraj’ came to me and told me that he went around looking for place to stay in the morning. He found couple of them for us. He is such a nice guy. So, we tagged along with him and yes, once again Sarah’s big ass suitcase went on top of the car.
By now we discussed and sort of decided that we cannot make it to Dharamshala. I should commend both Sarah & Lisa for being so flexible in their thinking. Even though I sort of feel bad for not being able to take them to Dharamshala, the way they took everything was amazing. I was expecting them to be grumpy about it. But both of them were so nice, they just wanted to have some good time. This helped me a lot as I was already feeling so bad about missing out Dharamshala.
10:30AM, Hotel Rajasthan Palace, Jaipur: We went to check a hotel which was kinda pricey (2400Rs/night) and also didn’t allow 4 people to be in 1 room. Yes, after 4 days of traveling we got so cozy and felt like we are in college and can stay in 1 room decently. So, it didn’t work out. But the hotel next to it was not a problem. This guy offered us a room @ 1000Rs/night, but we wanted the price to go down. Finally we got a 2 rooms right next to each other for 800Rs/night. It was a good deal as we planned to stay there for couple of days.
11:30AM, In our car, Jaipur: We were planning to do a walking tour of the city from the Lonely Planet book. But our driver advised us that we should cover all the long distance tourist points as we have access to car for 2 days only. We agreed, and also our driver was smart enough to think of that.
12:00PM, Jaigad Fort, jaipur: We drove to the top of the mountain arriving at Jaigad Fort. This was a backup fort for King in those old days to keep all his artillery. As usual, our American friends had to shell out more money in entrance fee than us.
One thing to note is that – all the time, there is some topic going on under discussion. It could be life, marriage, love, US, India, travel, Oakland, Weddings, Cleveland, Indian tops, ‘Golden Star’ (I promise I will explain all about this in my next post). So, just imagine a car filled with laughter, talk and making fun of each other.
So once we got inside the fort, we went around to some 2 temples inside. Saw some artillery, old guns etc. Then a guy volunteered himself to take us around. We warned him that we are not looking for a guide, but he insisted that he works there and he is not a guide. So we followed him. He showed us the water tank and how Elephants were used to get the water from down below the valley to the fort. The fort had a fountain back then. A frigging huge one! Those guys some 300 years back cared to have a fountain and make it work without any water pumping systems in place. So cool.
We saw the royal kitchen, dining hall and puppet show. As we were looking down the mountain, we learned that Amber palace is down the hill and we can walk up there. We can walk to AMber palace from Jaigad fort just like the queen used to go on her Elephant. Awesome. So, we took the cobblestone path down there. We informed our driver to come and pick us up at Amber palace.
Once we got to Amber palace – it was packed. There were so many people(where are they NOT?) So we decided that it’s not worth to go inside the palace.
3:00PM, Rajasthan Tourism Dept store, Jaipur: We stopped by in a Govt. recognized store. The girls bought some stuff. But as usual it takes couple of hours. This is where both Sarah and Lisa started their hunt for perfect wall hangings. I took a break by having some tea and after 2 hours and some purchases we were ready to roll.
6:30PM, Choki Dhani, Jaipur: Choki Dhani is an amazing place. It’s a huge place which is like a planned village. It has all the stuff from Rajasthan culture, cuisine, dance, traditions etc. I loved the idea and I think every state should have something like that. For the first time we paid equal amount for tickets – 450Rs.(which includes a traditional Rajasthani dinner)
We wandered around – watching people having fun. Lisa shook a leg with a guy disguised as a woman. Sarah was always doing her dance as we walked. It was like something/someone got into her! Sangita got louder and louder. It was all fun. We were starving. So, we went to a place to eat, and I think it was not yet time to serve food – so a bunch of guys just came to us and stood in circle around us. I knew that they were NOT checking out my goatee.
As it got too freakish there we moved to a different dinner place. It was a traditional Rajasthani food. Little did we knew about the food then. We sat down to eat our food. It was kinda dark and we got served in leaf plates. There is one thing I learned about Rajsthani food that night. They eat hell a lot of sweet. Damn. So, we got served a lot of sweets and then some maize rotis. The bread tasted like cardboard. The curries varied in taste. Added to this all we couldn’t see our food.
Sangita didn’t knew what she was chewing on to and accidentally chewed a cup made of mud which was holding butter. Sarah just amused herself by how she can’t eat anything. I think she ate a granola bar she had in stock(Good work Josh) Lisa made weird face and said that did not go well with her. One thing about Indian serving is: when you say enough, I don’t want any – they do the exact opposite. Poor Sarah, she didn’t knew this – by the end of our dinner, she had so much food in her plate, oh my.
As we got out of that place, we knew we hate Rajasthani food now. No more traditional, local food. After food, we wandered around in Choki Dhani – I got a head massage, all the girls got Henna on their hands. They looked really good when they were dancing with Henna. 🙂
10:30PM, Rajasthan Palace Hotel, Jaipur: Tired as hell and feeling weird about the food we ate we crouched back in our beds. The rooms were cold. Rajasthan would be hot during day and get very cold during nights. We decided that we will go for our Elephant & Camel rides next day.
Read Day # 5