India has the most beautiful women in the world. ANd the ugliest sweaters. I know, I am culturally insensitive and first world, but I am floored by the uniformly hideous sweaters. It is Bill Cosby meets colorblind missionary. Sometimes gorgeous punjabis and saris wil be masked by a perfectly awful cardigan. You know the song "warm leatherette?" I have taken to singing "brown..sweatervest."
Things to observe, file away, and let go:
Woman serving hot nuts on blanket with consumptive child coughing black phlegm all over the nuts.
Men destroying ricksahw outside the hostel (there is a rickshaw strike).
3 men beating one man on the side of the road.
Last night I was tired of India. I have taken to doing two things I never do at home: watch tv and drink pop. At the end of the day I turn on a dumb movie at the Y and order pop to my room. and pass out. Last night I had the help of duty-free glenfiddich. Except the movie was Scream 2. It was not the best way to unwind.
At the BGVS office yesterday, we had a long lunch and a longer meeting, trying to organize our trip to Kashmir (tomorrow!). K.K. is this phenomenally energetic man from Kerala who smoked all my cigarettes and told me and Sasha about the history of the org. It was a long, truly interesting story that made my head spin. Most striking to me right now is the story he told us about the women who were transformed in their new roles as voluntary teachers in their village and their heightened sense of power and purpose.
But in a lashing out that was a mixture of gender and caste prejudice, the village leaders took each woman volunteer and cut off their hair. Some of the women said: "we don't care if you shave our heads, we are still going to teach." Now some of these women are political leaders in their regions.
Vinod took us to the International house for tea. It is beautiful, sanitized, sixties architecture. The tea room was a time piece from that era, too. Right down to the outfits and the too-big haristyles. Indian memebers of parliament, wth combovers, Russian scientist glasses, and pursed-lip smiles came up to hug Vinod (who is, I am learning, a well-known man for his work).
"That was the housing minister" said Vinod. "He has a lot of work to do" said chad. "maybe he could find us an apartment," I offered.
Which brings me to housing. In Saket (South Delhi) the office is in the basement of a YWA. One of the girls from the office lives upstairs. She came with a big smile and told us there was room for us to stay there during our work in Delhi, for only1000rs ($30 CAN) a month. Sasha and I went up with her to look. We met the surly landlady who looked us up and down, and then let us take a peek at the rooms. It was harrowing! My god, it was awful. No natural light, prison-like bathrooms and flickering neon. Cement walls and floors. We would have had to share a bed (3 singles pushed together) with 2 strangers. Now I have had a lux life. With the exception of Hebrew U's Shikunei ha'eleph (aka: ha-kelev) campus, I have had pretty sanitary living conditions. I know I must think differently about living conditions, but I am, right now, trying to figure out where to draw the line.
Everyone I have told about Kashmir says the same thing: "Are you sure?" No one goes there, it seems. But they rave about the place (esp Srinagar where I will be staying) and its beauty. I have not heard anyone wax poetic about a place like that since Jerusalem. I imagine then, that like J'lem, it will be equal parts stunning and opppressive.
What will happen to Kashmir? Pipe dream for moderates is to see it as an international capital for Pakistan and India. Apparently there are only Brahmin Kashmiris. Vinod is one of them. He said Kashmir was given a choice whether to join Pakistan or India at thetime of partiion. The pop was majority Muslim, but the leader was Hindu. He waffled for long enough for pakistan to invade, setting off a series of armed conflicts between the nations that has brought them to the brink of nuclear war.
Everywhere there are blankets of marigolds, beggars with missing limbs, something being fried in ghee, paper lanterns shaped like stars, someone in a brown sweatervest,midi-music of Christmas carols, onions and chilis being sliced and put into bags of dried, spicy peas. My jaw is on the ground for most of it.
I am taking all these homeopathic and ayurvedic medicines to avoid stomach ails, and so far, so good.
But my head hurts. it is bursting with stimulation and ideas. Right now, large parts of Delhi are being unearthed for the new Metro. Layers and centuries of ideas are being unearthed with it, and perhaps they are mingling with my own thoughts, crowding my head, making it feel on the verge of bursting.