Hyderabad #3

Some cultural snippets:

On traffic:
For any of you who have ever spent time in a large Asian city, you know how congested and polluted they are. I hereby nominate Hyderabad for first prize in traffic congestion (my comparison cities are New Delhi, Bombay, Agra, Port-au-prince). Imagine Boston at its very worst rush hour. that is what the NON-RUSH hour times are like. now imagine four rush hours each day (yes, morning, noon, school release, and evening) where the congestion doubles and you cannot breathe from the pollution. that is Hyderabad!

On crossing the street:
Truly the most dangerous endeavor here is crossing a street. no streetlights, no crosswalks, and no right of way of the pedestrian. the pedestrian is forced to wander out in the traffic and dodge and weave until arriving on the other side. I do not have the stomach for this, so the solution I’ve developed is to look for a competent looking Indian human who is preparing to cross. I rush over and sidle right up next to him or her and stick like a burdock until safely across.

In the news lately:
The big flap in the Indian papers just now is that there was a huge confidence/no confidence vote in parliament on monday, the left leaning towards no confidence, spurred on by the looming Indo-American nuclear deal. The right won handily with a vote of confidence, so the pm is victorious amidst howls of rage all around about foul and corruption. many mp’s were bribed to vote against the whip, and a number of these were caught and thrown out of their party. the indians I have spoken with said politics like this are very common, so this is business as usual here, but indians are disgusted with the corruption.

On pan:
I tried pan – ladies’ pan is sweet – I wanted to like it, truly I did, but the jolt of rose perfume was so unexpected it caught me by surprise, and you have to bundle the whole leaf around the whole wad and stuff it all in your mouth at once, and really, all opinions to the contrary notwithstanding, I don’t really have a big enough mouth to accomplish this!

Here is a custom I have really warmed up to: drinking hot tea when it is 90+ degrees outside. The tea is milky and sweet, and curiously refreshing, even when you are standing outside in the sweltering heat.

On Gandhi:
I am reading a biography of Gandhi (actually not badly written, by Louis Fischer in 1951) and thought this an interesting fact:

Gandhi went to South Africa to practice law and said to his wife ‘I am just coming,’ meaning to return to India in one year’s time. after his year was up, he bought his ticket home and the day before he was supposed to leave he read in the newspaper that the South African government was proposing to take away many rights of indians in s.a. gandhi said to his friends, you have to fight against this, and they said, we’re not as forceful as you are, we need you, so Gandhi stayed 20 years. Wonder what his wife thought…

I have had two Indians in the last two days tell me that I am too polite. Indians see it as a weakness and take advantage of it. come to think of it, so have americans, on many occasions.

In the spirit of self-improvement, I have resolved to start being rude every chance I get. It’s very refreshing – y’all who have my same problem should try it out some time. I barked at a bunch of people today, and it was not only miraculously effective, it really cleared my sinuses. I highly recommend it.

Hyderabad #1

I am staying in charmless but clean digs with lots of stray cats around. I ignored all medical advice and petted one and tried to make friends with the others by buying buttermilk and putting it out for them. the chief feature to recommend this hotel besides the kitties is that the staff is really nice! There is a clean, bustling veg restaurant just a step away. it has dawned on me rather late that the south indians scrupulously use only their right hands to eat, saving the left hand for hygienic activities. Although I have felt myself exempt from this, I realize that eating with both hands would be akin to an african tribal woman walking barebreasted on our streets – perfectly acceptable in her society, and just shocking to our sensibilities, even if we understand the reasons behind it. So I have adjusted, as I do not want to be thought a barbarian.

Although prices have risen since I was here last, things are still very cheap. most times less than a dollar (42 rupees) can get me home in an autorickshaw from wherever I am in the city. A breakfast of idli and coffee runs to 20 rupees (50 cents). idli, you say? yes, I am sad to say that I have been rendered paratha-less by south indian cuisine – they just don’t offer it! those of you who know me well know that stuffed paratha and coffee is my favorite breakfast. I have warmed up to idlis, and also today I met a new breakfast item, vada, which can only be described as a savory doughnut. Never met a doughnut I didn’t like. They also serve dosas as big as your head.

I have decided to go to Chennai and pursue the library cataloging project. Somehow I will feel more productive if I work on something concrete, where I can see a clear before and after picture. I think volunteering in a school or tribal village project would be more effective on a long-term basis – at least three months, say. Just not ready to give up my day job.

Mumbai #1

So I was on the plane getting ready to eat my lunch (dinner? snack? who knows, as the time got really skewed and they put food under our noses at least three times). I took out my hand antibacterial cleanser and it exploded all over my tray and lap. I thought it missed my food so I took a nice bite out of my roll. Nope, got a good mouthful of it. Nasty wretched feelings took over as I spat and rinsed. After eating the untainted parts of my lunch, having nothing better to do, I started wondering – what’s in there anyway? and so casually read the label on the hand cleaner: “if swallowed contact poison center immediately.” This did not give me a warm fuzzy feeling. Let’s see, we’re only one hour into a 15 hour flight, and even if I could call the poison center, I don’t think my Hindi is up to this, so I did what any other sane person would do in this situation: pretended it didn’t happen.
OK, so now I am in Mumbai and my CS hosts (that’s slang for couchsurfing) are brilliant. I went to the train station – I have this down, I thought. “This” being the Byzantine system by which a person acquires a train ticket in India. I confidently approach the Women only window. I want a ticket to Hyderabad, 2 tier AC for two days away. Nope, waitlisted for every one. I know my cue: is there a tourist quota? yes, there is one ticket left and go down to the tourist window number 28 to buy it. I pull out my credit card to pay for it – no no, we don’t take credit cards. But, I protest weakly, the women’s window advertises Visa and Mastercard. Well, the tourist window (just 2 windows down) doesn’t take them, so what kind of currency do you want to pay with ma’am? OK, how about rupees. Yes, we accept rupees, but you must give the receipt that came with them when you exchanged them. They didn’t give me a receipt in New York (I lie). Well, we won’t do it without it. But you could pay in American dollars, and that would be 27 dollars. OK, I say, with a bad feeling, as I study the two twenties I am about to hand her, because I already know what is coming. Exact change ma’am – she is now looking at me with an evil eye. That’s all I have, I tell her. But (now is my moment) I could give you one twenty, and then (I add brilliantly) I could give you some rupees!! The dragon lady finally takes pity on me and prints out a ticket.
 Leaving for Hyderabad on Saturday.

India in progress


Hallo all – leaving for India for 5 weeks on Tuesday – early train to NYC, visit with cuz in Brooklyn, get a ride to JFK, night flight directly to Mumbai on air India – will my arms get tired from flapping? I’ve heard stories…
Trying to decide among three service projects:
1) a  K-5 school for dalits in Jaisalmer – students ages 4 -12; not sure what I could do there, but the weather is good now (the desert) and I could support teachers in the classroom around math/English, or offer music classes (which they don’t have in their curriculum), and maybe sit in on their Hindi classes so I can learn some (just now I only know acha OK and cello LET’S GO). Their curriculum is simply “math’s” English history Hindi. They don’t have a library. I think the kids probably speak a tribal language as their first language, so maybe the Hindi classes will be easy enough for me to get going! I’ve been to Jaisalmer, and it is great! If you don’t know, or don’t feel like googling, the dalits are the untouchables, the lowest caste, with no opportunity for education.
2) a tribal village project in Yercaud, a hill station in Tamil Nadu where one aspect is creating a community reading room/library. I am still waiting to hear back some details on this. Monsoon, but cooler.

3) BALM, an affiliate of Banyan, is running a project in Chennai for homeless, mentally ill women – they have a small library which needs cataloging. The weather will be monsoon.

Also have the opportunity to go stay in Patty’s Himalayan retreat in Almora – far away and no Patty boo hoo. but tremendously beautiful countryside; challenging to get to, and challenging to live from day to day.  monsoon. but maybe cooler…

Finally, does it make more sense to send group emails like this, or post on my blog (which might be too public, dunno, and I’ll have to start using capitals…)

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Feel free to weigh in on any and all dilemmas…