Posts Tagged ‘India’

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Cities and Dirt

January 20, 2010

Last year, I spent some time in India, and while there, I read a book called Invisible Cities. It’s by Italo Calvino, and was recommended to me by a friend. The book is a series of very short stories about different fictional cities. Well, sorta fictional. Hard to explain, but it’s certainly worth the read, if for no other reason than to see which of the many cities stick with you, which stories make that impression on you.

While in India, I spent 4 days in Varanasi. While there, I wrote my own story a la Calvino.

***

The first thing you will notice upon arriving in Varanasi is not the calm of the Ganges, a river of great religious significance as a place where many hope to end their life, to end the cycle of rebirth and as last find peace. You will not first notice children huddling in the shade as the midday sun visits its undeniable wrath upon the stone steps, the tin roofs, the dirt roads, the broken pavement.  You will not first notice the goat chewing on a green plastic bag, still strained pink from Holi, the festival of colour, now over one month gone.  You will not first notice the signs of three different bakeries, each claiming to be German, each painted onto walls lining the many Ghats, each crumbling with age.  You will not first notice the inner city, filled with people an dtheir wares and their children and their scooters and their cows.

What will strike you first is the air, filled with dust that bounces off your lips, stains your teeth, collects in your mouth. Your face will twist and you will notice an elderly person, dirt lining every crack and wring of his face. You will ask the people of Varanasi, “How do you handle it? The dirt, the dust, the very spirit of death is all around you. How do you cope?” The people of Varanasi will look at you and will smile. “It is true that there is dust in the air, clutter on our streets, stains on our goats, ashes in our river and dirt in our skin. But this is not a symbol of death, for it is this that ties us together. It is the dirt that gives us life.”

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Darjeeling Unlimited

July 20, 2009

Darjeeling_Limited_PosterWhen I saw this movie for the first time, I thought it was great.  It was my first Wes Anderson movie (a fact for which I receive alot of flack) and maybe because it was the first time I’d seen a movie of his, I really enjoyed this particular story.

Afterwards, I saw some other Wes Anderson films, and although I enjoyed them with varying degrees, I didn’t love any of them, and I certainly didn’t enjoy any of them as much as I enjoyed The Darjeeling Ltd.

Recently, I gave this film a second viewing.  Other than having seen more of Anderson’s filmography, the one thing that has altered my viewing of the film is my trip to India.

I still enjoyed it, but I enjoyed it differently.  With my first viewing, the thing that struck me the most was the flashback scene.  It just stood up and struck me across the face and left such an impression that my memory built it into an impenetrable fortress of a moment, the kind of thing that nothing could destroy, or even scratch.  Except for a trip to India, apparently.

When I first saw the movie, I saw a story about 3 brothers learning what family really means.  With the second movie, all I could see was India.

Not exclusively, of course, but it’s fascinating to me to consider how different the film really felt.  Whereas before I saw 3 people spending tons of money in the bazaar, I now saw  people who came from such money that no matter where they went they couldn’t truly experience anything but money.  Nothing about India was a culture shock to them.  Nothing here bothered them, got an emotional response out of them, or even motivated them other than the happenstance of their situation.  They were on a train because… well, why not?  It’s a way to pass the time.

That impenetrable moment suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me.  It was no longer the moment to illustrate when our characters all broke in the past, nor was it the moment where they finally started living again in the present.  Or rather, it was both those things, but it felt different.  The story no longer revolved around them, but rather it was about India, it was about a world that could feel.

It’s not until later that the brothers realize what family means, but it is certainly in this moment that India allows them to finally wake up, to step out of the impenetrable castle that they had created for themselves.

Not everyone likes this film, and that’s ok with me.  I wouldn’t expect anyone, too.  But, personally, it’s not every day that I’m moved enough to write this much about a movie.

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4 Final Days in India

April 17, 2009

This is it.  Last day in India.  Seems like we still have a bunch to do today, but last minute is definitely the program in this family.

The last 4 days have been pretty great.

After arriving back in Delhi from Kathmandu, I had the opportunity to meet my sister’s roommate during her stay in Delhi.  He’s a good dude and it didn’t take long to figure out why my sister would choose to team up with this guy for this adventure.  He’s been enjoying his time in India so much that he plans to stay for another 3 months.  He’s a very talented photojournalist; check his work out at http://visualjournalist.org/

I also had the opportunity to meet a larger group of friends my sister has made in her time here.  Other journalists or locals who speak english who have somehow all connected with eachother through one person or another.  My sister is the type who would only stick with the very best of people, and this crew is no different.  But what occured to me about this entourage is that they are all a network for eachother both as  colleagues, but also as a way to keep up with their english.  A weird thought, yes, but one that has occured to me several times during this excursion.

I know that I am the type of person to accomodate others when it comes to language barriers.  Not to say that I do my best to learn their language (I don’t) but rather I try and use the words the way they use them.  That said, I wonder if any or many foreign journalists battle with the possibility of losing their voice, that casual quality that allows journalists to best do their job.  I know this is a vague concept, but think of the people from North America who spend some time in England, and come back with an English accent.  That’s what I mean, only with India, it’s more than just an accent, it’s a whole lexicon of words you start to just differently, or just not use at all.

I also had the opportunity to do a bit more sightseeing in Delhi.  My sister, myself and her 17-year-old neighbour went to the Red Fort (it’s a fort.  guess which colour the walls are…) and then to a Spice Market, which is litterally a street where both sides is filled with small shops which hawk spices, dried fruits, nuts, dried pasta and other non-perishables of the sort.  The air in the spice market is filled with spice.  You breathe, and you feel something spicy or tangy or flavourful get caught in your throat.  You cough.  If you go into the alleyways where people are unloading 20kg bags of spices, you can’t breathe.  People wear hospital masks, cover their mouths with cloth, shirt sleeves or even just their hand if that’s all they’ve got.  For the first time in my life I wish I could take a picture of a smell because I truly don’t believe I’ll ever be able to explain what the experience was like.  It was, doubtless, a very memorable part of the trip, and one that I’m glad we were able to work into our final days here.

India has been a ride.  Up.  Down.

Exhausting.

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Bollywood Film Plot

April 11, 2009

Ok.  Let’s see how brief I can make this.

Naina is a girl.  Her dad is dead (suicide).  Her mom has debt.  Her grandma is a bitch.  Her little bro is crippled.  Her little sis is adopted.  Her pal Rohit is a nice guy.  They’re just friends.

Aman comes to town.  Thinks Naina is pretty, but she never smiles.  He sings a song about it.

Aman, Naina and Rohit go to a club.  Naina and Rohit get hammered.  Not Aman, though.  Everyone sings a song.  Maybe Rohit has a crush on Naina?  Naina misses her dead dad.

Next morning, Rohit and Aman wake up at Rohit’s posh flat.  Rohit maybe has a crush on Naina.

At Aman’s house, he and his mom talk ambiguously about some girl and whether or not Aman is afraid to talk to her.  There’s a picture of some girl wearing wedding garb next to Aman.  Oooooo!  Who is she?

Aman leads everyone to help fix Naina’s mom financial problems.  They turn her normal diner into an Indian restaurant.  Another awesome song.  Also, they put those darn business stealing Chinese out of business.  Good.

Grandma is still a bitch.  Slaps adobted daughter.  Grandma and mom fight.

Naina smiles!

Naina and Rohit talk about how friendships sometimes change.  Then they go off and sing a song about being in love.  After the song we find out that Rohit loves Naina, but Naina loves Aman.

Rohit calls Aman to tell Aman about his love.  Aman coaches him through some shit.  Tells him to have dinner with Naina, and tell her.  So Naina goes to dinner, oblivious to the nice restaurant, the bouquet or roses, the dudes with violins and the love in Rohit’s eyes.  While Rohit builds up the courage to speak, Naina spills the beans about her love for Aman.  Rohit is crushed, but nice guy that he is, tells her to go tell Aman.  Naina says thanks and leaves.

At Aman’s house, Naina is about to tell him about her love, when she sees the pic of Aman and some other chick.  Aman says it’s his wife, and he’s in America to work things out with her.  Naina is crushed.  She leaves in tears.  Aman’s mother asks when Aman lied about that, especially is he loves Naina.  He lied because he’s dying!  Song where everyone is sad.

(It is important to note that this bomb about Aman dying is dropped about 2 hours into the movie…)

INTERMISSION.

So.  Rohit meets some total babe of a girl who we eventually find out is only after Rohit’s money.  Aman gets rid of her.  Then Aman coaches Rohit on how to get Naina to love him.  6 days later, Naina loves him.

Then Naina finds out about this gets mad.  She storms out of Rohit’s flat and into the train station.  Rohit and Aman catch her there.  She’s pissed.  Rohit loves her.  She’s pissed.  Aman convinces Naina that Rohit loves her by reading all this shit from Rohit’s diary about how much he loves Naina.  BUT THEN WE FIND OUT THAT THE DIARY IS BLANK, and Rohit finally realizes that Aman loves Naina.  But they all think that Aman is married to some other girl (which he’s not!)

After some other shit with the crazy grandma trying to get Naina to marry some random guy with a turban falls through, Rohit still loves Naina.

There’s some songs in there that I missed, I think.  Moving on.

Rohit, still with help from Aman, convinces Naina to marry him.  The engagement party happens, and there’s some fun songs and dancing and whatever.

Then Aman’s heart gives out, and he goes to the hospital, but somehow Naina and Rohit don’t notice.  The next day, when Naina and Rohit are at the mall, they meet the girl they think is Aman’s wife, but find out the she’s his doctor!  And that Aman is dying!!!  This leads Naina to realize that Aman loved her all along!  She wails about ‘why does Aman love me so much that he wanted me to be happy so he made me love someone who wasn’t going to die??! Why oh why?’

Not to forget the bitch of a grandma, it’s raining and she’s being mean to the adopted daughter.  Then mother and grandma fight, but adopted daughter is crying and runs to get Aman.  Aman shows up and tells grandma to stop being a bitch, but the adopted daughter is, in fact, Naina’s father’s daughter, from when he was cheating on the mom!  The mom had a good enough heart to take in the adopted daughter, and it was the fact that the mom was so good about things that led to the father feeling guilty, and thus, commiting suicide!  What?!

Then there’s the marriage.  Aman is there.  Rohit and Naina are married.

Then Aman is on his deathbed.  Everyone is there and super sad.  But not Aman.  He’s always so full of life… Then Aman dies.

Cut to 20 years later.  Rohit and Naina are 20 years older.  They still remember how great Aman was, how he was Naina’s first love, and they owe their love to him.  Rohit still loves Naina.

The End.

When we told a 16 year old local boy at the train station that we had watched that movie, he told us that it was a really good one.

Wow.

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Maximum Jaipur!

April 10, 2009

Lots of cool (and some annoying) stuff has happened lately. Spent a few days in Delhi, spent a few days in Jaipur. Jaipur is way calmer, but by no means calm.
We stayed in this totally radtacular and a half hostel in Jaipur, where we ate the best meal I’ve had since arriving here (home-cooked Veg food! Aloo Ghobi, rice, a bean thing that was much like chili, but more liquidly and sans ground beef, and also this absolutely fangasmic lemon mint chutney with some green chilis. I seriously need to learn how to make that chutney.

Also while Staying in this hostel, we watched a Bollywood film. Can’t remember the name of it, but holy god it was everything I imagined a bollywood film would be! So wacky and great! I seriously need another post to lay down the plot (it’s maximum complex) of this film.

Oh. And I saw a Water Palace. Yeah. Like in Zelda. Awesome.

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Poor Writing, he said…

April 7, 2009

It’s really quite fascinating being in a land that’s just so different from your own.  You thought you knew poverty.  You thought you knew busy.  You thought you knew heat.

My limited experiences with all these things (and others) have been slightly broadened this past week.  It’s interesting though to think about where my state of mind was just 7 short days ago.  I wonder how much of this I’ll retain?

The other thing is to think about how much I’m really being affected by all this.  Truth is, that it’s not always by much, and even then, it’s not always in the direction you may think.  If I’m supposed to measure myself by my reactions in foreign (no pun intended) situations, then my scorecard would show me as an uncaring and angry.  I am tempted to defend myself: how is someone supposed to react to being accosted constantly by strangers trying to sell you things?  It’s a total affront anyone’s patience.  Or to being followed around for blocks by someone who is trying to constantly start a conversation with you, even though you’re just out for a walk, not looking to take a taxi anywhere.

The problem now becomes two-fold.  One:  By defending myself, am I not just further pushing my own ignorance?  Am I not just protecting my own opinion of myself, rather than the rights of tourists?

Two: Who am I defending myself to?  Aside from the fact that no one should be reading this stuff, the only people that conceivably would read this are the kind of people who have probably never dealt with this stuff, from either side.  Almost certainly not from the side of poverty, but the number of people who have visited 3rd world countries is rather small.  Heck, I thought I’d been to poor places, but then I came here.

Anyway.  If I were spitting this mumbo jumbo at a living person, this is the part where I’d trail off and not really want to say anymore…

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4 Days in India

April 4, 2009

My first four days in India have been a bit of a ride.

On my first night in India, I met my sister at the airport.  A long cabride through Delhi’s streets quickly showed me that this is a country I will never attempt to drive in.  Straight up: other drivers would crucify me.

After dropping things off at my sister’s place, we went out for a quick bite.  We ate dinner what translates to about $3.00.  Lesson number two is that there is a major tilt between this economy and ours from home.

We caught an early bedtime because we had a train at 7am the next morning.  This train took us to Agra (aka Agravating…), which is where the Taj Mahal lives.  It didn’t take long until we figured out that in Agra, the locals will bombard you.  Taxi to the Taj?  No, we don’t want a personal driver for the whole day.  No, we’re sure.  We just want to go to the Taj.  No, we don’t want a tour guide.  Yes, we’re sure.  Just the Taj please.  So we got to the Taj.  No, we don’t want to buy a key chain.  We’re sure.  Yes, we’re sure.  Yes, we’re still sure.  No, we really don’t want it.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No… fuck.  The Taj was nice, but the locals really do ruin the experience for you.  Lesson three: Patience ain’t worth a thing.  Blerg.

12 hours later we were on a train to Varanasi.  We sleep in bunks, but the first 6 hours are filled with the music that is an Indian man’s snoring.  Here I learned that this stuff is bound to happen.  I slept for minutes at a time by wadding paper and stuffing it in my ears, then by squeezing my hands around my ears to drown out the music.  My sister just decided to blast her ipod to drown him out.  Anyway, he eventually gets off the train, and we find some peace.  6 more hours on the train finds us at our destination.

Varanasi is right by the Ganges river.  My informative sister tells me that burial rituals (the kind with pyres, or ashes, or sometimes just dead bodies) take place here.  This is a cool place, but the part that shocked me the most when I got here was how people would actually take no for an answer.  Saying no only once is seriously something to blog home about.

And here we are.

Day 4.  India is ablaze with the fire from an angry sun.  It’s the kind of solar rage that forces tourists indoors, and even the locals into the shade, or just straight up into the water.  Survive any way you can.