bangalore

I made a quick trip to Bangalore to see my dance teacher’s family, the ones I stayed with when I visited last year.This time around I really felt like I could connect with my dance teacher’s aunt more, since my Hindi is better than it was last year. We talked about lots of things and she told me about her childhood, growing up with a strong grandmother figure, getting lots of freedoms even though she was the only girl, and traveling and hiking around India with her husband when they were young.

I also got to go back to 8th Cross with Divya (my dance teacher’s niece) on my first evening there. It was so nice to see all the stores that I had visited last year, but this time with a whole new perspective, 4 more months in India under my belt. When I was taking in my first impressions of Hyderabad, it didn’t seem that different from Bangalore because it had already been months since I’d been back in the U.S. But seeing Bangalore after 4 months in Hyderabad was something else. It is so much cleaner and more spacious. Now I truly understand why Bangalore wasn’t very shocking as my first India experience. They have crosswalks too! Not to say that everything is more “modernized” than Hyderabad, but it seems like Bangalore overall prepared itself for the entrance of the IT industry, while Hyderabad is still too spread out for that industry to flourish in my opinion. It was also very green there, especially in the upper-middle class neighborhood streets of Malleshwaram – the trees formed a bridge over the road, just like in Chennai. Another similarity with Chennai were the yellow road signs shaped like temples. After Divya and I walked around and talked about her college experience and the difficulty of saving money in college, we went back to Asha Sweets and I had the famous badam milk!

The next day was spent pretty much only playing with the kids. First I went to have breakfast with Vijay uncle’s parents (my dance teacher’s in-laws), and aunty made idli-sambhar! This was the very first house I visited in my first day ever in India last year, so coming back was weird. Then the kids and I played with the toys that I bought for them. They were a lot less shy with me this time around. In the evening, Sampath uncle took me to the Sai Baba temple. On the way back, he surprised me by taking me to a restaurant that Srinivas uncle (his brother) had set up on the road just 3 days beforehand! Then we went to Divya’s house and her mom fed me the weirdest tasting “masala coke” that actually had spices and SALT in it. What. Was. That.

In the evening we spent the time on the first floor with Rekha aunty and her family, and the kids taught me the Kannada alphabet and we watched The Lion King together.

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random stuff: vijayadashami, monitor lizard, and kuchipudi

Vijayadashami

Vijayadashami is the last day of the Navrathri festival, which celebrates many forms of the goddess and the triumph of Rama over Ravana. Traditionally, students use this day as an auspicious new start to their studies, whether it be academic or an art form. I study dance here under Ananda Shankar Jayant, and her school, Shankarananda Kalakshetra, has an annual festival for Vijayadashami, during which students renew their commitment to dance. I was lucky enough to attend this and learn part of a new item (symbolic of renewing one’s focus).

I also got the chance to visit the house of one of the students I learn dance with, because her mom had set up a nice display of dolls and figurines for Vijayadashami. This practice is commonly done within homes in South India, and traditionally, a new figurine is added to the display each year. You can find these dolls everywhere in India, from posh stores to streetsides. I wasn’t able to get a picture of the display we visited, but here’s an example of a similar one I saw in Chennai.

Gollu doll display

Gollu doll display

Monitor Lizard!

I am 99 percent certain that we saw a monitor lizard – a shy relative of the Komodo Dragon – here on campus. There’s supposedly a lot of wildlife here, but besides buffaloes and (regular-sized) lizards and birds, I haven’t seen much because the animals have lots of space to roam so they don’t come close to the students very often. We were riding in an auto and the driver himself gasped and pulled over, trying to spot it. We only saw it for a split second before it dipped into a body of water. Obviously I didn’t get a picture, but here’s an idea of what monitor lizards in Andhra Pradesh look like.

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Kuchipudi

I’m taking Kuchipudi here under Aruna Bhikshu. We’re learning a Jathiswaram that we’ll be performing at the cultural show in November, and we’re almost finished with it now. It has been really interesting to watch how a classical dance “crash course” has been taught, since I’ve never learned through that method before. Usually, you have to perfect all the basics before getting to dance with music, but with only one semester, you obviously can’t do that. A few weeks ago we had our bell ceremony, which is when the Guru presents us with new sets of salangai (ankle bells) and we conduct a puja for Nataraj (lord of dance).

chennai

Liz and I went to Chennai for a weekend and it was amazing how much we were able to fit in just two days! We arrived on Friday night and checked into our hotel (a very budget hotel, might I add – there was no toilet paper and I actually bargained with the owner over how much I could give him as a down payment). The location was great though, because we were staying about ten minutes from the beach and along a major road. We started walking around and found a great book sale that we spent probably two hours at because it had EVERYTHING. I had really felt like bookstores and book sales had been missing from India (or at least, my India experience). We also found some great South Indian cuisine where I got 50-cent puri!

I noticed right away that the environment in Chennai is MUCH different than in Hyderabad (and even Bangalore, where I was last year). First of all, it’s much more ”traditionally” Hindu and less religiously diverse. Not only are the vast majority of people Hindu, but they all seem to be more focused on Shiva whereas in other cities there seems to be more of a mix of “denominations.” However, something good has also come from this lack of cultural and religious diversity. There is no shortage of OLD Hindu architecture (stuff that used to exist in Hyderabad but that was later destroyed) and Southern pride (most people only speak Tamil and can converse in other South Indian languages, but very few speak in English or even Hindi). But the vintage British influence is still quite strong and it’s not disturbing at all, it’s actually charming. There are tons of those old white cars, narrow cobblestone streets and subtle architectural influences. The elevator in our hotel had doors that you had to manually slide open and closed, and we felt like we were in a 1950s sitcom.

The AMAZING Western breakfast that Liz found for us (including nutella pancakes)

The AMAZING Western breakfast that Liz found for us (including nutella pancakes)

On the first full day, we saw Mahabalipuram, which is a collection of ancient temples and structures a couple hours south of Chennai. We ended up getting a cab for the whole day and even a guide (living comfortably!) because we had read that the sights were much more meaningful if you knew the history behind them. We saw Arjuna’s Penance, Krishna’s Butterball, Pancha Rathas, Varaha Cave Temple, and Shore Temple.

This is Krishna’s Butterball – a rock that has been in this spot for 1500 years, despite British efforts to try to move it for safety reasons, its balance is so perfect that it has stayed!

This is Krishna’s Butterball – a rock that has been in this spot for 1500 years, despite British efforts to try to move it for safety reasons, its balance is so perfect that it has stayed!

This is Arjuna’s Penance – you can see Arjuna (a character from the epic poem Mahabharata) meditating near the top left, and he’s very thin because he hasn’t eaten in weeks. Near the tusk of the largest elephant is a cat, who’s also meditating. This is supposed to show that Arjuna is meditating the correct way because he’s hungry, and the cat demonstrates the wrong way to meditate because he’s full (so full he doesn’t even want the mouse next to him).

This is Arjuna’s Penance – you can see Arjuna (a character from the epic poem Mahabharata) meditating near the top left, and he’s very thin because he hasn’t eaten in weeks. Near the tusk of the largest elephant is a cat, who’s also meditating. This is supposed to show that Arjuna is meditating the correct way because he’s hungry, and the cat demonstrates the wrong way to meditate because he’s full (so full he doesn’t even want the mouse next to him).

This is an unfinished demonstration of how people would cut the rock formations to make the shapes they needed. They would make a line of holes where they wanted it cut, and fill them with hot water. This would make the rock expand from the inside and when the pressure built up enough, it would split.

This is an unfinished demonstration of how people would cut the rock formations to make the shapes they needed. They would make a line of holes where they wanted it cut, and fill them with hot water. This would make the rock expand from the inside and when the pressure built up enough, it would split.

Shore Temple – Was halfway covered in sand until the British excavated it

Shore Temple – Was halfway covered in sand until the British excavated it

After Mahabalipuram, we went to the crocodile park, where there were various species of reptiles from all over the world.

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After that we saw the Cholamandal Artists’ Village. This was a place where artists live and exchange ideas, and modern art is displayed in the indoor museum and outdoor courtyard. It was formed as a reaction to the rise of modernism in Western art, at a time when Indian artists did not know how best to respond to this trend – to emphasize their own artistic traditions, or to adopt the Western styles? In much of the artwork, you could easily see signs of both.

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That night, we were lucky enough to find a performance at Kalakshetra, which is the flagship Bharatanatyam school. We just walked in and didn’t even get questioned! To see the campus had been one of my lifelong dreams, so it was magical for me, and even though it’s in the middle of a huge city, it’s incredibly peaceful and green. It has one major road that looks newly paved. After the program, we even got to see the famous banyan tree under which Rukmini Devi Arundale taught her classes!

The famous banyan tree!

The famous banyan tree!

On the second day, we had a tour of the Mylapore region with a guide. It quickly became clear that this agency was meant for people who were just beginning to get accustomed to India, so there were a lot of things that Liz and I rolled our eyes at, but there were still several new background stories that were interesting to hear. We visited Kapaleeswar, one of Chennai’s most famous Hindu temples, wheret here was a tree where people who want to get married or get pregnant hang threads or bassinets for good luck – and if their wish comes true, they remove it. We also went to St. Thomas Basilica, a Catholic church, both of which are in the same part of town. It was really interesting to be a group of white people (usually assumed to be Christian), among Indians who were probably aware that they were more Christian than the majority of our group.

Kapaleeswar Temple

Kapaleeswar Temple

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There was an unassuming little window on a quiet street that was apparently one of the best-known “restaurants” (although the owner refuses to call it that) in Chennai – it’s just one man who cooks out of his personal kitchen and hands food to people through his window! We also got the opportunity to visit a priest’s house. It was an old-style house, meaning that it had a large outdoor porch area for socializing, and an open courtyard. There were clothes hanging in the courtyard to dry, and we learned that the priest’s clothes hang separately from his family’s, because no one is allowed to touch them but him (and even he can’t touch them until the last possible minute, when he’s about to put them on, so he carries them above his head with a long metal stick).

The priest's courtyard

The priest’s courtyard

The next day, we went to Elliot’s Beach in the morning to appreciate the waves and lack of crowds. The night before when we’d gone to check out the beach, a drunk guy had tumbled over Liz’s feet and into the waves while his friend nonchalantly watched. It was a nice beach, but unfortunately didn’t have any shells.

Adorable miniature ferris wheel on the beach

Adorable miniature ferris wheel on the beach

All in all a successful trip!

august happened!?!

August went by SO quickly. Since I’ve been awful at keeping up with the blog this month, I’ll have to give a broad overview of what has happened. 

Places visited: We finally went to see Charminar, the most famous monument of Hyderabad. It was built as a mosque in 1591 and its name translates to “Four Pillars.” It was extremely crowded, but I felt comfortable there because the haggling was kept at a reasonable level. Charminar is in the Muslim quarter of Hyderabad and it’s also the Old Town – so it’s a much different feeling than where I live. The markets surrounding Charminar are known for bangles, and I got plenty. We meant to stay longer, but the monsoon rains came early that day at 3pm, and we were wading through the market streets – even then, vendors would lift their tarps and beckon to us! 

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On another day, Raj and I were able to see the downtown area. This was my first time trying the intra-city train, and it was fine except the mini heart attack I would get every time a kid jumped on or off the moving vehicle. We first saw the 60-foot-tall Ganesh in Khaitarabad, the largest Ganesh idol in India, which was on display for the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. The crowds were ridiculous but for good reason. This experience was like the stereotype of India (crowded, loud, etc.) that is actually very unlike my average day living here. There were children painted silver who stood in the middle of the road to beg, which was a strange sight.

The crowd to see the Ganesh

The crowd to see the Ganesh

 

We also went to NTR Gardens, which is a garden/amusement park combination. The view was amazing and it occurred to me that in the U.S., if we wanted to build an amusement park, we would see it as having one usage: amusing people. In India, they can have something be an amusement park but also have gardens there. In other words, something can be beautiful AND have a purpose. Near NTR Gardens is Necklace Road, which is a tourist attraction that borders Hussain Sagar Lake (the large lake in the middle of the city). It was dark already, so eating on the bank of the lake was really nice. It gets cool at night here which is great! I had the most AMAZING chole bhature (fried puri bread that you dip in a magical chickpea concoction). Here comes the best part: all day, including transportation, food, admission to the sights, and a few souvenirs, I spent less than 500 rupees (about $8.50). YAY INDIA. 

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Besides that, I have been taking lots of trips to Lingampalli and Indiranagar, which are two parts of the city surrounding Gachibowli, where I live. Lingampalli is great for getting the true Indian market street experience, not at all tailored towards tourists or even Indians from other parts of the country. You really have to know how to navigate the place, and I feel like I’ve learned well. I’ve greatly improved at taking shared autos or shared “taxis” (mini buses), which entails: finding one that’s going in your direction and already has people in it, hopping on, tapping the driver when you want to get off, and giving him 10 rupees (17 cents) no matter the distance. Lingampalli has a temple and food market adjacent to where I get dropped off, and once you walk through a residential area, you get to a street that has tons of clothing and jewelry stores. Not just those, though – I’ve seen very specific businesses that specialize in things like live chickens, rubber stamps, sewing machine repair, and padlocks. This prompted me to think about how these places stay in business, and the answer is that not all of India relies on the convenience of malls like the west does. Instead of demanding to find everything you need in one place, you simply know which shop to get each thing you need, and you’ve probably known and trusted the owner for many years. I like this system a lot better.

indiranagar

Early in August we got to see an Indian wedding! It was really fun to get dressed up and see the ceremony, but the traffic was bad since it was an auspicious day for weddings (so there was one on every corner). We met a lot of our study abroad director’s friends and family there. 

wedding group

Classes: Exams (“internals”) have started, but my classes are going all right. I’ve been focusing on my class called Community Engagement, for which I’ll be doing research with Kriti Social Initiatives, a local organization working with the urban poor. So I’ve been working on my research proposal, which is working with a Kriti employee to investigate female home-based work in Hyderabad. 

I’ll write more as I remember it and try to be better about writing in September! 🙂

thoughts on ganesh chaturthi – what are obstacles?

These past ten days have been Ganesh Chaturthi, a celebration of the elephant-headed god Ganesh – son of Shiva and Parvathi and remover of obstacles. I was talking with my friend Radhika about the meaning of “removing obstacles” as it applies to Ganesh. What does it mean for someone to remove your obstacles? We have to understand what an obstacle actually is. It’s a misunderstanding of the world around you; it’s a way that you feel sadness as a reaction to what happens in your material world. Therefore to remove obstacle is actually to instill wisdom that can help you see past the obstacles on earth and understand why they happen, so that you no longer are negatively affected by them. Ganesh, then, is the remover of obstacles because ultimately he is the implanter of wisdom. 

India's largest Ganesh idol, in Hyderabad, will be immersed in Hussain Sagar Lake today for the final day of Ganesh Chaturthi.

India’s largest Ganesh idol, in Hyderabad, will be immersed in Hussain Sagar Lake today for the final day of Ganesh Chaturthi.

ONE MONTH IN INDIA!

“You all must understand that India and the U.S. are opposite in one major way. Where you are strict, we are not, and where we are strict, you are not.”

This line that one of the study abroad directors said during orientation keeps proving itself more and more true. It’s hard to explain in writing – you have to be here and digest.

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On the way to dance class

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In what seems like the least efficient place in the world, I was watching YouTube and suddenly realized I needed to go to the tailor, got on my bike and went to the little dusty neighborhood some yards away from my hostel, found a tailor, paid 35 cents to get my kurti altered, and was back in my room within a few minutes. Yet when some of us went to see a movie in the neighboring area of the city, it became a 6-hour ordeal. This country never fails to baffle me.

Shopping Complex (shopcom)

Shopping Complex (shopcom)

So a group of us went to see the movie Humpty Sharma. Besides the fact that the main character’s name is Humpty, it was OK. On the way back though, we got an auto driver to agree to take all five of us in one vehicle, which is technically not allowed. He got pulled over and had to pay 100 rupees out of what he was getting from us, and when we were less than a mile from UOH, his tire popped! He was so nice though, because instead of using that as a reason to massage us for a higher fare, he let us out and told us we didn’t have to pay. Of course we paid him, and kept standing around trying to help him figure out what to do. Eventually we found another driver who was willing to lend him a spare tire, and as we were walking back to campus, he picked us up again and took us the rest of the way!

Dinner! Liz, Alexa, Raj, Bettina, and Bug Fryer

Dinner! Liz, Alexa, Raj, Bettina, and Bug Fryer

It seems like in India people are OK with being blunt with you if they know they’ll never see you again, since there are SO many freaking people here. But they get much more polite if it becomes clear that you actually need their help with something (opposite to the U.S., where people are artificially nice if you ask them one question, but the more you request, the more tentative they become).

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The Kuchipudi class I registered for has been really fun so far. For those who don’t know, Kuchipudi is a style of Indian classical dance that is similar in many ways to the one I learn (Bharatanatyam) but there are also a lot of aspects that make them unique from one another. Since Kuchipudi is native to this area, I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn it here. In a class of only four people, it’s been great and brings be back to my days learning the basics of Bharatanatyam and struggling through it alongside my classmates.

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Alexa, Bettina and I went to a Kuchipudi dance program downtown that was held by our teacher for the SIP class. It took a really long time to get there because this city is enormous, but it was nice to see. It’s been really great being able to practice on the balcony of Tagore at night when it’s in the 70s F outside. I also had my first two classes at the Kalakshetra Bharatanatyam school nearby (well, that’s relative) and they were very intense. It felt good to be back in that environment, and the students are extremely dedicated, as I expected. Students in India (whether they are learning dance, music, academics, or whatever) have a much different attitude towards their work, and seem much more goal-oriented and less concerned with supplementary or extraneous information than students in the U.S. are.

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Ravindra Bharathi, where the dance program was held

Airing out my armpits after practicing outside during the daytime. NEVER AGAIN, TOO HUMID.

Airing out my armpits after practicing outside during the daytime. NEVER AGAIN, TOO HUMID.

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The road I take to class every day

 

My only other class that has fully begun is Sociology of Gender, which is awesome but the professor is SO intimidating. She doesn’t take crap from anyone and, unlike in most American universities, you actually have to pay attention (rather than having the choice and paying the individual consequences of not paying attention, she expects everyone to be FULLY 200% THERE for the entire two hours, which is hard for me even though I love the topic). We have already had a group project, so I met some girls outside of class time to work on it. It feels so weird to already be back in the academic mindset. WHAT IS THIS STUDYING?!

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I had a hospital visit that I don’t want to dwell too much on. Everyone in my hostel has been dropping like flies and most have visited the doctor or hospital for some condition or another. Mine wasn’t contracted from anyone else though; I pretty much just passed out with no warning. They did a bunch of tests and didn’t really conclude anything besides that I really suck at peeing into a bed pan (but come on, who wouldn’t?!?).

In other news, I saw (within the span of 5 minutes) a squished dead chameleon thing on the road and then a HUGE squished frog. Took pictures of both of them, naturally.

first week at tagore

SOMEBODY FOUND A FOOT-LONG SCORPION.

But since I’m not that somebody, I’m just trying to pretend it never happened. *removes clothes from floor*

So I haven’t written much about where I’m staying, classes, etc. My dorm is called Tagore International House and is on the south part of campus. Since this campus is so spread out, we have bikes to get around. It was great being that weird white girl, but now that I’m biking everywhere, I’m that weird white out-of-breath girl.

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My room before I had time to “make it my own” (be messy)

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My view

The process for choosing courses in India is something I’ll never understand. It’s a little TOO laid-back – in that no one knows if, when, and where classes are being offered. So you just kind of have to go to the building and mosey around. On the other hand, it’s kind of cool just being able to go to whatever random class I want and not have to worry about it. I’m sure in a couple weeks we’ll be registered and have an actual schedule, but this in-between period is just really strange for someone accustomed to a western university system. On my first day of classes, I asked about 89 people how to get places (so nothing new there), only in India, no one actually knows. When I finally found my class, I was half an hour late and the door was in the front of the room :O People were nice in that class though. They sensed the confusion bubbling out of my very being and offered me help before I could even ask for it!

Another class I tried, which I know I’m keeping because it was so awesome, was called Sociology of Gender and is taught by a really strict, intimidating, but freaking awesome woman who actually did her doctorate work at Pitt! Small world 🙂

The next day we had the opportunity to go to a dinner at the Henry Martyn Institute, which is an interfaith organization in Hyderabad, for Iftaar (breaking of the Ramadan fast for Muslims). It was a really cool experience except that at the beginning, when one of the girls in our group asked why the males and females were going on opposite sides of the building, the woman showing us around said it was because there wasn’t enough space in either of the rooms. I thought that was weird because it seemed to be a very open organization that wouldn’t shy away from explaining religious traditions to others. Anyway, after a while of listening to prayers over the loudspeaker, we were aloud to break our nonexistent fast with a plate of fruit. Later we went to a larger room to have the dinner, and I was able to talk to some people from the organization about what work they do throughout India.

Yesterday, we went to Inorbit Mall, one of the three major malls in Hyderabad. All 7 of us crammed into one auto (rickshaw) which majorly struggled at every hill we encountered. Everything there was overpriced but it was a nice place with four stories. Afterwards, four of us went to Shilparamam, a popular outdoor bazaar. There was live Hindustani music playing and lots of good clothes in my price range. Definitely going back there soon in the daylight!

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Raj and Trevor bro-mancing it like true Indians

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Shilparamam in the evening

Today was the day for the campus hike with our student guide, Sayantan. When we woke up this morning, there was some talk of a rabid dog on campus. We didn’t really think much of it, but as we were walking to get an auto to the main gate of campus, we saw a dog spazzing out and limping all weirdly and approaching people in ways a dog shouldn’t. Soooo we took the long way. The hike was hot but it was worth it because we finally made it to Buffalo Lake, a popular hangout place for UoH students. (Sounds like a bar, doesn’t it? Well, it’s a lake. An actual lake. But according to Sayantan, students “do a lot of boozing” there.) The next stop was Mushroom Rock. That sounds even more like a popular college meeting place (well, maybe more in the 70s) but is actually a rock, standing on top of a bigger rock. There’s a ladder for climbing up and you can easily sit in between the two huge rocks and just hang out. The wind is intense up there and since you’re in between two stones, it’s nice and cold. Afterwards we got lunch and it occurred to me that spending only a couple weeks in India has made me SO cheap. It all makes sense now….

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Mushroom Rock

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Yep, this is campus

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Getting “ice creams”

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Got this all for about 10 bucks. But my Indian side whispered “you could do better.”

That’s all for now! Miss you all!