A Very Bharatiya Birthday

Hey all! So it’s been a while since I’ve updated. I started out with the lofty goal of posting on this blog 2-3 times a week, but that’s clearly…dwindling down. 1x/week sounds like a more plausible goal, and it’s not so frequent as to bore y’all, but enough to (hopefully) keep you enticed and continue reading.

I should backtrack to two weeks ago when we started our first week of regular classes. We have classes everyday from 11:15-4:15 (with frequent and much-needed chai breaks in between!). We have different hour long sections each day, with each focusing on a different subject, such as grammar, dictation, newspaper articles, listening comprehension, one-on-one personal tutorials, etc.  Each section is taught by a different teacher, each with their own ‘unique’ personalities.

I think there are three general categories of teachers at AIIS: 1) The teachers who students enjoy talking to outside of class but don’t know how to teach students 2) The teachers who are confusing to talk to both inside class and outside and 3)The teachers who know how to instruct students very well and who are fun outside of class as well. One thing I’ve universally noticed amongst all the teachers, with the exception of three or four, is that they disdain teaching Hindi grammar and thus aren’t as comfortable answering grammar questions. I think it’s because most of them have Masters or PhDs in Hindi literature, so they’re not used to teaching Hindi grammar, which I can understand, I’m more interested whether my use of compound verbs is correct, not how the Bhagavad Gita relates to the literature we just read.

Speaking of unique personalities, why don’t I go ahead and describe some of the teachers at AIIS? In the last category that I mentioned above, there’s Prem-ji and Swami-ji. Prem-ji is very on-spot about correcting grammar. Swami-ji is just helpful and friendly overall.l I also just met Sai-ji, who I would also classify in this category. This guy has been everywhere, from Mumbai to Kolkata, and worked for both the History Channel and CNN-IBN. As a fellow-lover of non-veg, he also gave me some good restaurant recommendations like a place called Chawla Chick-In. In the first category is Santosh-ji, who seems to have a good heart, but man, can this guy lecture on and on and ON. There’s also Vishnu-ji, who has to be one of the funniest little men I’ve ever seen. He always corrects me in a voice that is both simultaneously irritating and ridiculously hilarious, so I just end up laughing. I had a half-hour long debate with him about the merits of Indian astrology (with me arguing against them, and him arguing for them).

The highlight of the past week though was hands down my birthday. It’s funny–I don’t think I make a big deal of birthdays back home, nor do my parents, as I haven’t had a legitimate birthday party since middle school; usually I just hang out with 2 or 3 friends and have dinner with my family.  My parents kept asking me “What are you planning on doing for your birthday? You should do X, Y, Z etc etc etc…” and making , which I thought was really sweet and I appreciated it, even if I found it slightly grating, because I didn’t yet know what I was going to do to celebrate.

I ended up gathering up a large group of friends from the AIIS classes and heading over to City Palace, a historical monument in the Old City of Jaipur. It’s just a palace-type complex with gorgeous old architecture, and armory, cars, clothes, etc that the previous Maharajas of Jaipur used to own. As fellow history nerds, Cherish and I definitely enjoyed touring this palace. And I also somehow obtained the ticket price for native Indians as opposed to foreigners, so I guess I accomplished the one goal I made before starting out on this trip to India. It doesn’t really feel like that much of a victory though, considering all I did was ask “Eyk ticket’ in Hindi. I’ll consider it more of a victory when I actually carry on an hour-long conversation with a native speaker.

Afterwards, we took pictures of a lovely water palace in Jaipur, and then headed over to a yummy non-veg restaurant called Hondis for a birthday dinner, with my host family included. The daughters in my host family and one of my friends made some great cards, and my Aunty-ji bought me a kurta. Definitely a great way to celebrate turning the big 20. I no longer can officially call myself a ‘teen.’ Sad times, I guess, but I’m not too bothered, because I think I’ll always have the childlike heart of a 10-year-old even when I’m 80, wrinkled and lying on my deathbed, so no worries there.

I’m starting to get accustomed to navigating my way around Jaipur (well at least the important routes, like from school to my homestay). I hate walking on and jaywalking through/crossing heavy Indian traffic on main roads like JLN Margh (where Rajasthan University is located) because dodging a constant flurry of motorcycles, cars, rickshaws, trucks, and worst of all, stares, is no fun business.  At first, I was really bothered by the number of stares I would receive (though it’s not nearly as bad as the stares that the white foreigners receive). I still get bothered by the stares from time to time, but I just hold my head high and keep on walking forward. I think I’m also getting fewer stares as I figure out how to blend into the crowd more, which I take as a good sign though.  Anyway, main roads aside, walking down some of the residential smaller lanes/streets on which there are fewer people aren’t so bad, so I usually try to take these backroads when I head back home to get some peace of mind.

I’m starting to have fun conversations with my Aunty-ji and my teachers, though I still find the language barrier a problem at times. If I can understand what someone is saying, I usually have enough knowledge of Hindi vocabulary and grammar to respond in a way they understand–the problem is that native speakers talk so quickly that their words seems blurred together, and I’m sometimes left with a blank look of confusion on my face, and once native speakers see that, their words are replaced with a look of pity. Or sometimes, they’ll say one word and I’ll hear another one entirely (like hearing them say ‘Veteran’s Day’ when they actually said ‘Wednesday’) The last difficulty is that I’ll understand literally what they’re saying, but I don’t understand the meaning of their words in the context of the situation, so I’m still unsure of how to respond. It’s starting to get better though, day by day. धीरे – धीरे

Pics in the next blog post! 🙂

 

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Kurtas, Friends and Chai

Hello! I haven’t updated in a few days so I thought I’d check back in.

On to the first bit of exciting news: I finally reunited with my friend Cherish after a year, halfway around the world. We studied Hindi at UC Berkeley last summer and have been keeping in touch frequently via Facebook, but there’s nothing like our in-person discussions about Michael Fassbender, movies and men (and of course India), so I’m glad she’s here with me. She lives with a host family and her roommate Alicia in Adarsh Nagar, and I live in Tilak Nagar, which isn’t too far away, so we could walk to each other’s places.

The weather’s finally starting to let up and cool down (sweet sweet relief from the desert heat), which means the rains are coming soon. Time to invest in an umbrella! Should’ve listened to good ole mom when she told me to bring one.

I’m really getting used to living with my host family and the other AIIS students. Right now, my host sister Thanushka is listening to ‘Theri Meri Prem Kehani’ (You are my love story) on repeat while surfing on FB in the little bit of spare time before her classes, and I’m killing time before my class by writing on this blog. At first, it was hard to adjust to the daily meals of chai (tea), roti (Indian style of flatbread) and subzee (vegetable), but now it’s not so bad. And plus, our Aunty-ji knows we grow tired of eating the same thing everyday and tries to vary it up, like when we fumbled around in the kitchen helping her prepare some Indian-style chow mein, adding more chili flakes and spicy sauce whenever possible. I also had a fun time watching ridiculously bad Hindi serials on TV (the typical ones with the evil mother-in-law, or the Indian girl who has been forcibly sent by her father to live in India and the miserable time she’s having with her ) with Aunty-ji and the other sister, Nanu.

I’m finally starting to get better at doing things on my own in India. For example, when we went to Bapu Bazaar the other day as a class, I managed to haggle with the shopkeeper by myself and get two quality kurtas (shirts) when the original asking price was 700 rupees. And I did it all in Hindi! Score. Although, when I mentioned I was from America, he tried to hike the price back up to 550. Whoops. We also went around and saw Rajasthan University, and went to a few bookstores, in which there were some Hindi books with ridiculously hilarious titles. I’ll post the pics of them below. And I went by myself for a short walk in the to Tilak Park, a beautiful park not very far at all from my homestay. But apparently, even though there were upper-class families playing cricket and talking in the Park, Aunty-ji tells me there are sometimes sketch folks there who drink and prey on unsuspecting younger women like myself. So for those of you Berkeley folks, Tilak Park is the equivalent of Willard Park (or maybe slightly sketchier)–a cute, small park with families and kids that also occasionally has some creepy folks wandering about whom one should be wary of.

I’m getting better at haggling with the auto-rickshawallas, giving them directions and figuring out what is an appropriate price for a ride and when I’m getting ripped off. Autorickshawallas have a meter that measures out the amount of money you should pay them for fare based on the number of kilometers, but rarely do they ever actually follow them. Instead, they bargain with you so they can receive higher prices than the meter would give. That’s not what bothers me most about rickshwallas. Considering that 50ish rupees is only $1, so I don’t mind 40 rupees instead of 20 rupees. What bothers me more is that so many of them don’t where the streets are, and expect me to give them directions to get to places. I wouldn’t mind doing that, but I just got to Jaipur a week ago, and I’m still in the process of memorizing the route from my homestay to the school, much less around the city. I’m pretty sure most New York cabbies know the streets of the enormous city, so why can’t the same be said of rickshawallas in Jaipur?

We also had our first day of classes yesterday, and it honestly wasn’t too bad. We had a bit of diary writing and correction in Hindi, some easy listening comprehension that consisted of a guy describing his living room, and some newspaper reading. All the teachers at the institute have been friendly, though some have an easier time of helping out the students than others. Today should be a fairly easy day, as I’m just watching a Hindi film called Maasum in class, so it should be a relaxing day. Not looking forward to handwashing and doing laundry later today though…

Just going to finish up with some pictures below:

The department in which I would be studying if I were at Rajasthan University. Woot Poli Sci!

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Spongebob book in Hindi (Rough translation: “First Mistake, Last Mistake)

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The subtitle on this one is so funny. No explanation needed.

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From Fat to Fit:

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Statue in Tilak Park

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My room!

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Jaipur-Second Impressions

As I was typing in the title of this blog post, I was about to I’ve been to Jaipur once before, but only for a day seeing 1-2 touristy sites, so I rewrote it as “Second Impressions.” My second impressions, while somewhat similar to my first ones, are quite different, and I have mixed feelings about them. More on those later.

I arrived in Jaipur a few days ago and settled in with my host family, in addition to looking around the city just a little bit and taking placement tests at the language institute with my fellow students. My host family is great. There’s the resourceful and king Aunty-ji, who speaks only a bit of English and mostly Hindi, so we can practice our Hindi with her. As I found out last night, she’s also a fierce carom player (carom is a type of Indian board game). She’s a great resource and has been telling us about the places to see in the city; also, being a native of Jaipur, she can tell me whether or not I’m getting ripped-off on the prices of my purchases, and was able to reassure me that the salwar set (a type of Indian clothes) I bought were a fair price.  Uncle-ji was an executive chef at a bunch of restaurants in top-notch hotels, but recently switched jobs to work in the Indian government’s RTDC. Uncle-ji tells long stories, including one of how he’s been in a battle with the Indian court system for 26 years, and another one on the first night, when he regaled us with a tale of his love for his home country and why it’s important for us to preserve our Indian culture. (I knew I would get one of these speeches before my time in Jaipur was up). They have two girls, a younger one named Sidditha (or her pet name Nanu) who likes to play pranks on people (she once threw someone’s expensive slippers into the Rajasthani deserts) disdains studying and likes playing sports, and an older one named Thanuska who intends to become a neurosurgeon some day, also plays a fierce game of carom, and makes funny faces when she’s amused or pleased or flabbergasted. They speak English perfectly fine, and therefore we’re able to have many relaxing and fun conversations about random things. The banter between the two sisters is honestly hilariously entertaining. Just a lot of good-hearted teasing. Oh, and before I forget, they have a Doberman named Bravo who sometimes just won’t stop barking.I love most dogs, but Dobermans are a wee bit intimidating. I’m also staying here with another girl and two boys from the language program, and it’s great to have their company as well and someone to walk with to school.

There are some less-than-pleasant things to report upon. I guess I just realized now how fortunate (aka spoiled) whenever I’ve gone to India. I’ve never had to arrange transportation for myself by bargaining with an autorickshaw when I’m not too familiar with the proper prices (my relatives would always arrange a driver or they would do the bargaining for me), or had to handwash my own undergarments ( we always had a dhobi/washing woman who would take care of that), or converse with shopkeepers on the streetside in my broken Hindi and avoid giving away my confused expression when I’m totally clueless as to what they’re saying.  I thought I at least had some experience with living in India, seeing as I’ve been there several times before, but I really don’t know anything at all. It’s a completely different experience living with a homestay and figuring things out on my own than living with my grandparents. My bumbling experience shopping in Raja Park (a bustling busy bazaar in Jaipur) was indicative of that. Although, I did meet a nice clothing store owner  who spoke English well and was kindly trying to help me understand Hindi, and we had an interesting conversation in Hindi about how Chinese is more useful to learn than Hindi, because English is widely spoken in India, whereas it is not in China.

But hey, I guess this is the process of learning how to get by in a city in a different country in which you know only a little bit of the language. It’ just a bit frustrating, because I look Indian at first glance, so people become confused or irritated once they hear my poor Hindi and they realized I’m a foreigner. Hopefully that’ll become less of a problem as the summer goes on though. It made my sympathize a lot with the Spanish-speaking immigrants that I assist back home in the U.S. And they’re in a country where the majority of the population doesn’t even speak Spanish, unlike in India, where quite a few people speak English, so it’s 10x more difficult for them to manage in the U.S

I’ll end this post for now, and finish off with some pics of Jaipur:

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^Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace)

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Leadup to the Amber Fort

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Shops at night

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Random shops

Qutb Minar

Qutb Minar

Here’s the Qutb Minar, the main minaret built in Delhi by Muslim rulers upon the remains of Hindu and Jain and temples back during the 12th and 13th centuries. There are shrines of Sufi saints in the surrounding area. Amazing architecture.

As a sidenote: This was the first time I’d traveled to a tourist site in India with a large group of largely-white foreigners, and I felt like I was on display in an exhibit at the local zoo. I’m pretty sure the Indians around us were taking more pictures of the foreigners than of the minaret itself. There’s a lot that I can complain about regarding being an Indian-American in India (stares when I’m dressed in very obviously Western clothes, surprise and some annoyance when they hear my poor Hindi, often receiving ruder treatment than Caucasian foreigners do), but I’m very glad that I can generally walk about the streets of India without being gawked at as if I were walking the streets of Jaipur in a pink pinstripe suit and a fedora.

Chalo Dilli!

I arrived in Delhi last night with a couple of other great girls who will also be studying in the AIIS (American Institute of Indian Studies) Hindi program.

About the plane ride: I landed in Newark and met up with my aunt and uncle, eating a Boston Kreme donut as we chatted. As a West Coaster, even I will admit that Dunkin Donuts is infinitely better than Krispy Kreme. As a sidenote, I cannot believe there is a Dunkin Donuts in New Delhi, but I have yet to see one grace the face of the West Coast of the USA. What gives? Delhi really is a cosmopolitan city though, at least when it comes to fast food joints and American food. I’ve never been to a TGI Friday’s in America, let alone India, but I saw one as we were driving through Delhi last night. We also drove by a McDonalds and a KFC. The difference in perception of fast food restaurants between India and America really is hilarious though. In America, McDonalds is the place you go to when you’re on a road trip with friends and looking to score some cheap, edible food at the first place after the highway exit. In India, it’s relatively more expensive (compared to most other Indian food places) place, so it’s seen as a restaurant a middle class family might go out to when they’re looking to splurge on dinner. I will say for the record, that the only KFC I’ve ever been to in India was on-par with, and maybe even better than any KFC I’ve been to in America. And spicier. 

The second leg of the journey from Newark to Delhi was 14 hours.My initial reaction was “Bleh…” but it wasn’t all that bad. There were so many in-flight movies  to choose from, ranging from Delhi Belly to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which, as I discovered as I was watching it for the first time yesterday, is kind-of overrated). When I wasn’t sleeping or watching TV, I was chatting with the Christian missionary and Sikh woman in the seats next to me. I feel this is the beginning of a really bad airplane joke “A Christian missionary, a Sikh neurosurgeon, and an agnostic Hindu are sitting on a plane…” I spent most of that time listening to the bubbly missionary talk about Christ. It’s a smart move on her part–proselytizing on plane–because then the victims (ahem, I mean audience) have no means of escape. But she was really sweet, so I didn’t feel like getting into a debate with her, and she gave me a cross as a parting memento, telling me that if I ask God, I too can find faith. Hmmmm.

The newly redone Delhi airport is ridiculously nice, probably better than pretty much any American airport. So clean and well-organized. Indian airports really have stepped it up a notch. I remember them as they were ten years ago, and suffice to say…they were nightmarish. They’re much better now though.  And for once, I didn’t have any trouble as I was going through Indian customs. Hooray!

I haven’t been speaking too much Hindi yet, only a little bit with the driver on the way to the hotel, but I’m looking forward to speaking much more Hindi in the near future. Not looking forward to the weather. Right now I’m sitting in the nicely air-conditioned hotel room, but outside, it’s already 88 degrees F (that’s on the low side) at 6 in the morning, and it’ll only get hotter.

I’ve already met so many great people from all walks of life in the program. One is studying anthropology in  L.A,  another is an aspiring actress from South Carolina, another is a grad student from Chicago who will is studying Tibetan and once spent 3 months in a nunnery in Ladakh. Will update once I meet more people!Image

That’s the view from my hotel room. It’s not exactly a great view of Delhi, but I’ll hopefully have better ones to upload later in the day.

Bye CA, be seeing ya in a few. Hello Jaipur!

Somehow, even after school is out, I still manage to find ways to put off the inevitable. It’s the tireless, never-ending work of a lifelong procrastinator. I have less than 7 hours before I need to leave for the airport (and eventually board a plane to Newark, and then to Delhi). To my credit, I am about 3/4 of the way done with packing, which is more than I expected to have finished at this point. I give all thanks to my mother for that, who never fails to ask me every 20 minutes whether I’ve packed the toothbrush or the camera or my floss. Thanks mom! 

I’ll be going to northern India–specifically the city of Jaipur–to study Hindi during the summer. I’ve got almost a year of Hindi under my belt already from studying at college in the U.S. I’m not sure how well my knowledge of intermediate Hindi grammar structures like passive or subjunctive will help me when trying to bargain with the rickshawalla on the spot or navigate around the city, but luckily, I had a pretty good (if strict) Hindi teacher this past semester who forced us to practice many a conversation in Hindi, so I feel decently prepared. I’ve been to the beautiful Pink City (Jaipur) once before, but only for a day, so I’m really looking forward to actually getting to explore the city more in-depth and understand its history, as well as that of the state, Rajasthan.

I have one challenge that I’m hoping to accomplish before this trip is over:

1. Become proficient enough in Hindi that I can get the rate for native Indians at tourist spots. India has a pretty ludicrous policy in which it charges foreigners at least four times the price it charges native Indians to enter tourist sites and historical monuments. For example, to enter the Hawa Mahal, an Indian must pay 10 rupees, but a foreigner must pay 50. The last time I went to India, my dad (who can speak Hindi far better than I can) would just get the native Indian price for us, but this time, I’ve got only myself to rely on. Let’s see how long it’ll take me to accomplish this…

And then I’ve got a couple of other must-accomplish goals such as having immense fun with the other Hindi students, retaining and absorbing enough Hindi grammar so I can engage in solid conversations with my Hindi-speaking friends and my Hindi teacher back home (or at least enough so I don’t embarrass myself miserably), seeing beautiful Jaipur architecture, and truly learning about its history and culture while meeting local Rajasthanis. This really is a once-in-a-life opportunity that I have this summer, and I won’t let myself waste a single moment of it.

I just walked outside and took a breath of crisp, clean and cold California air. I should soak it up for as long as I can, because that’s the last I’ll be getting for the next two months. Here’s to hoping I don’t keel over in the 115 degree heat that is Jaipur…

Being an Indian-American, I’ve been to India several times before to visit family, but I’ve only been to North India once before, and never by myself. I’ve never even been on a plane by myself. So this should be an interesting experience…I’m not too nervous though. Maybe it’s because I’ve been to India before, maybe it’s because I know some Hindi, but either way, I’m just taking this trip in stride. I’m glad I’m not in this alone; I have a few friends that I studied Hindi with last summer who will also be in Jaipur with me, so I’ll have  few friendly faces  and good pals with whom I can stumble confusedly around the city.

Ab main yeh post khatham karungi. Jab aap meri agli post dekthe hain, thab main bharath mai hogi  (Now I will finish this post. When you see my next post, I will be in India!)