Thursday, May 1, 2008


*Lists I Made in English Instead of the One I Was Supposed to Make in Hindi

Things People Walk Up to Me and Say Out of the Blue

  1. You are from which country?
  2. Hello goodbye chocolate?
  3. London!
  4. You look like Shakira! (I don’t, not even remotely)
  5. Madam please come?
  6. Why you are not married?
  7. Backstreet Boys?
  8. “He is eating fish” (Local man, when asked where the nearest town was.)
  9. You have sex!
  10. Visa?
  11. Are all American women addicted to alcohol?

Ways I am Becoming a Local

  1. I stare at white people.
  2. I am prone to outlandish metaphors, like a field of drooping sunflowers reminding me of the written script of the Telugu language
  3. I can spend large amounts of time squatting.
  4. My day is a romp through contrasts. Sometimes I think I have nothing to do with my feelings or reactions and am simply being pelted with emotional holi (the colored powder Hindus throw at you on festivals or Tuesdays) by the subcontinental equivalent of leprechauns.
  5. I have the uncontrollable urge to welcome people to my home and overfeed them…even when I’m not home.
  6. I can’t get through a day without at least 3 cups of chai
  7. I bobble my head like a mad thing when I’m agreeing…or smiling…or listening…or breathing.
  8. I eat the street food and drink the water and somehow manage not to erupt with intestinal parasites…except for that one time.
  9. I have started to misspell English words, such as "automobile" and "Carolyn."

Things That Have Recently Made Me Cry

  1. China—really must stop reading about resistance movements.
  2. Going to visit a local temple and being dragged outside by a mother who wanted me to pray over her dying baby. She looked at me with such hope, expecting me to be able to stop what would inevitably happen. I will never recover from this…and neither will her baby.
  3. People lying face down in the bakedpissstreetdust, with spines like question marks—questions that will never be answered.

Indian Smells

  1. Coffee that smells like burnt popcorn.
  2. Trains that inexplicably smell like Christmas trees…right before they smell like urine.
  3. Urine.
  4. Food in all manner and magic of olfactory goodness.
  5. Burning garbage, which is actually not as bad as it sounds.
  6. Garbage, which is as bad as it sounds.
  7. Incense in thematically inconsistent places, including computer labs, temples, department stores, kitchens, and security outposts.
  8. Jungle, which smells like green.

Indian Sounds

  1. Car/bike/cycle/rickshaw/lorry/moped horns. Passing lanes, turn signals, right of way, and one-way signs are pretty much non-existent, all replaced by the use of horn. HONK I’m coming up behind you HONK I’m on your left HONK I almost killed you but you wisely jumped behind a sacred cow and were therefore spared HONK that was really just for fun. Honestly, it kind of makes more sense than the American system—why count on others paying attention when you can just warn them?
  2. The sound of Muslim prayers cutting through evening fog and Friday boulders as you overlook the city.
  3. The rhythmic sounds of vendors (wallahs) as they walk through the trains, sell-singing tea, snacks, and meals, all in resounding, repeating, melodic monotones weaving in and out of the train wheels clacking down the line. There is a great hip-hop back beat in there somewhere.
  4. Dog fights, early in the morning. Right outside my window.

Things I Hate About India

  1. A certain kind of staring. Most people who stare just do it because I stand out like a Carolyn in India. White people are rare here, and a white woman alone is an oddity. Plus, staring is not really considered rude in India. Add that to the national obsession with fair skin, and I would make millions if I started charging money to gawk at me. But for most people, it is simple curiosity and that is totally fair…and even endearing in an odd way. But I am genuinely concerned for some people (oh, I don't know, almost ALL MEN ages 14-87) that their eyes will fall out of their heads, expelled by the dirtydirtydirty thoughts that are crowding their brains. I am not a whore, Mr. Motorcycle Driver, get your eyes back on the road. You just hit a goat.
  2. Soul-killing poverty. Poverty is everywhere in the world. This is obviously not news. But the sheer breadth and depth of it here makes my soul bleed out my eyes. Scads of old women wandering around in traffic, putting their hands into rickshaws and open car window. Children stumbling around holding dried-up babies, putting their hands to their mouths in a plea, probably at the behest of the disreputable man watching from across the way. People sleeping on sidewalks, holy monuments, roadblocks, under trucks, and in the middle of a divided highway. Like everything I love here, this too is a part of India. And this too I will always carry with me.
  3. Deeply institutionalized unfairness. Again, not a new concept. Again…the widespread social acceptability of what seems to be hate and superiority complexes gone unconscionably wrong just kills me. Racism, sexism, prejudice…in certain areas and people, beliefs I cannot help but find deeply abhorrent are entrenched to an extent that people would have an easier time changing into fish than changing their minds. This is definitely not everyone…but it is also not rare.
  4. Men peeing on the side of…everything. As a backcountry girl, this particular practice has never bothered me (indeed, it has afforded opportunities for some one-sidedly hilarious practical jokes). But here, I take issue. They can whip out their dangle in public and I'm considered a whore if I show my SHOULDER?
  5. Bureaucracy. Really? You need a copy of my passport, visa, certificate of residence, dorm room number, 5 photos exactly passport-sized that show my ears, a form filled out and signed in triplicate…sent in on three separate occasions JUST SO I CAN MAKE A DAMN PHONE CALL? Really?

Things I Love About India

  1. The food. Oh Gods. The food. Dosa, idli, paneer, masala, chai, ladoo…oh Gods. The original version of this list consisted of roughly 57 different types of food and a vague mention of pretty colors.
  2. Running around barefoot is socially acceptable.
  3. The willingness of men to wear hot pink.
  4. Driving motorcycles.
  5. Eating rice (and everything else) with my fingers. Finally, I get to play with my food.
  6. Mango juice. I would marry it if had a better sense of humor.
  7. When the children at the orphanage call me "didi."
  8. The children at the orphanage
  9. Pretty much all children.
  10. Things lost in translation. At a recent Rotary Club meeting, the president exhorted us to help out with "Breast Awareness Month." I wasn't aware breasts needed a publicity campaign.
  11. Families of six on one motorcycle, complete with at least one baby melted into its mother, who is riding sidesaddle in a sari.
  12. Colors crashing into my eyeballs the minute I wake up. Attending university here is like going to school with confetti. People wear lime green with fuchsia, cheddar orange with cornflower blue, checkered pants with wallpaper-pattern shirts and striped scarves…and flowers with everything. Movie posters have actual gold garlands strung across the jewelry of stars, there are beautiful pictures chalked on the sidewalks of most Hindu homes, and temples look like someone painted them with the 34 colors in a leftover box of Easter egg dye. Even piles of worms dress themselves in raisin colors.
  13. Sliced ice cream.
  14. Playing guitar on the roof.
  15. Men holding hands everywhere.
  16. Three men on a motorcycle, with the last holding hands with another man on a bicycle as they towed him down the road at 40 miles an hour. Sometimes, I even see motorcycles in rickshaws or goats on motorcycles.
  17. Trains.
  18. The fact that everywhere I go, I wish my eyeballs were cameras. India is relentlessly photogenic, and every time I walk out my door, I think to myself that National Geographic magazine was invented for a country like this.
  19. The fact toothpicks here have fancily carved heads.
  20. The rate at which adventure happens.

Things I Don't Miss About the US

  1. Reality TV.
  2. The lack of international news.
  3. Stupid disclaimers on everything so that people won't get sued. Indians just assume that if you don't know not to bite the tires of a moving motorcycle, you deserve to die.
  4. The staggering lack of public transportation.
  5. Men who are afraid to dance (seriously…it's getting them to NOT dance here that's the issue).
  6. Signs about abortion, either for or against.
  7. Cleaning my own bathroom.
  8. Prosaic headlines. In the US, the headlines read like this: "US Senator Has Affair with Staffer.” In India: “Congress Member Killed by Monkeys."

Things I Do Miss

  1. Anonymity.
  2. Car shocks.
  3. Bagels and cream cheese.
  4. Street signs.
  5. Hip hop.
  6. Seeing knees.

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