An ABCD’s Alphabet Guide to India (Part 1)
It seems that all of my emails recently have begun with the same line:
“Sorry for the long delay!”
To spare you the same fate, I didn’t exactly begin the post with it this time. But you get the idea.
Seriously, India has entered my every pore and orifice, and I’ve been so saturated with thoughts and experiences that I’m finding it difficult to wring myself out and drip some of those stories into this blog. A few days back, though, as I luxuriously lounged in a leather armchair and allowed a friendly masseuse to slather unknown creams onto my face, I developed an itch that I couldn’t quite scratch. Luckily, it wasn’t related to the aromatic oils used in the Balinese massage, nor the exfoliating beads in the subsequent body wrap. It was rather a mental reminder that if I didn’t keep up to date now, I would begin to forget these remarkable events and would kick myself later for having sacrificed a very valuable tool for the sake of sleeping twelve hours a day (the excuse of jetlag is far gone, but I still try to use it as often as possible).
So with that said, here’s a sample platter of things I might write about soon. If you’re interested in learning more about any one of these topics, please let me know – I am a child of the Facebook generation, and I need constant notifications of “likes” to be incentivized to do anything.
I’ve been trying to convince my cousins to visit me in America. Just as I experience a degree of culture shock when coming to India, I imagine they’d feel something similar when arriving in what my grandparents describe as a “ghost town.” The lack of traffic and people milling about in the streets at all times of the day would cause boredom, as my grandmother explained, but it would be an interesting experiment for me to see how they deal with the overwhelming order and incredibly lower population density.
It’s interesting to note this, as Western arrogance would assume that everyone who could would move to the States. Though I say now that I could never live in India (the chaos, traffic, crowds, and relative messiness would drive my already fragile psyche completely insane), it’s mostly because I never tried. My relatives aptly note that one gets used to this type of life, just as anyone adapts to any circumstance – if I were relocated here, for whatever reason, I would probably get over my neurotic tendencies or at least learn new coping mechanisms that would make life a lot more manageable. Also, as my boss observed, the overwhelming assault on the senses that foreigners experience is something to which Indians have become desensitized. The noises of honking at all hours of the day are merely drowned out by the pleasant sounds of idle chatter, Bollywood music, and old bhajans, depending on how old the inhabitants are.
My cousins call each other brothers, and my father calls my uncle’s daughters my sisters. But we are not all brothers and sisters, due to a completely arbitrary naming system that still makes no sense to me. According to Indian relationships, you are a sibling to the children of the uncle or aunt who shares the same gender as the parent that connects you. So for example, my father’s brother’s children are my sisters, just as my mother’s sisters’ children are my brothers and sisters. However, the opposite gender’s children are just cousins, explaining why the cousins I’ve visited so far (the sisters of my father) refer to each other as brothers but to me as some rando. (…kidding!)
In other news, I wish my brother were here. Brother! I miss you! It’s been about a decade since my brother visited the Motherland, but jobs or school always prevented him from joining me on my past trips. My relatives are probably getting sick of me and wishing my Telugu-speaking brethren would join the pack so that he could mediate my insanely quick speaking. (Of course, my cousins understand what I’m saying, but I’ve become accustomed to hearing my aunts and grandparents saying, after a long story: “naku artham kalehdu,” or “I didn’t understand.”)
Chana Masala –
All throughout my time in Berkeley, I hated on North Indian food (except for naan) for no reason other than the fact that no one realized that South Indian food was completely different. This, as you obviously will note, was a pretty stupid reason to dislike North Indian food, particularly as I’m spice-averse and South Indian cuisine (especially Andhra food, also known as my people’s aharam) is known for making grown men cry. However, for whatever reason, recently I began eating chana masala and other chana (chickpea) based dishes, and I found them to be extremely delicious! This has opened the floodgates in terms of being more receptive to different types of Indian food, though I still have a major problem with certain textures and consistencies (ruling out majiga (buttermilk), pappu (mushy lentils…?), and all types of curds and yogurts). Though this has caused a certain degree of confusion and anxiety for my relatives, they haven’t shown it, and I still feast like a queen on delicious home-cooked meals and incredibly cheap but high quality restaurant (or “hotel”) food.
Oh, and when I say cheap, I mean it – though I tend to eat less than the average person, my bill doesn’t necessarily differ drastically from my eating companions due to my chai obsession. A full stomach (and bladder) will usually cost between 100 – 200 rupees, which is about $2 – 4. Unfortunately, my aunt’s wishes are coming true, and I’m growing quite a stomach… I’ve already increased two kilograms since arriving in India less than a month ago, and the phrase that once was so funny – “na potta perigindi” or “my paunch has grown” – is now causing me quite a bit of concern. Not that I have exercised or anything; even this “winter” heat is more than I’m used to, but I haven’t gotten into the habit of drinking more water to compensate, so I’m constantly dehydrated and a host to miserable migraines.
Being in India has made me believe in the existence of God. It’s not because of the decorative temples that dot every street corner, nor is it because of the hundreds of religious posters and altars within each Indian household. It’s not even because it must be a miracle that the subcontinent hasn’t sunk into the ocean with the weight of its 1.2 billion residents.
No, it’s because I haven’t died yet in Indian traffic.
I thought traffic in Russia was insane, but that was German efficiency compared to India. For one, many roads are poorly maintained and rash driving can often lead to tire (“tyre”) blowouts or skidding. Moreover, the sheer diversity of vehicles on the roads create a need for constant 360* surveillance, so irresponsible, inattentive, or – a problem I didn’t realize was so prevalent – drunk driving can all cause for calamitous consequences. Add to that the fact that everyone drives manual transmission – excluding the animals, of course, but even they have their own sense of traffic rules – and you have a petri dish of potential accidents waiting to happen.
As a result, however, Indians are incredible drivers. They wouldn’t survive in America – or rather, they’d be the road demons that orderly Americans despise – but every single one of them could easily beat a NASCAR hotshot in an impromptu race. I recently experienced what 170 km/h felt like, and afterwards, even 80 km/h felt like 40. It’s because the open road is actually open, and people exercise common sense more than an adherence to rules they don’t see as fitting the circumstances. That being said, I’ve witnessed more accidents in Hyderabad than in the past three weeks combined (Everywhere else: 0; Hyderabad: 4, including two fallen motorcycles and one hit and run in which my uncle’s bumper came off and we stopped in the middle of traffic to get out and put it back on).
Luckily, as I mentioned before, and as you might notice now, I haven’t died. Which is awesome, because this pretty incredible trip would be kind of a bummer if I did.
A – D seemed comprehensive enough, but there are another 22 letters to come! Stay tuned for E – Z, which should be rolling out in the next few days in three or four more installments. And again, if you liked this post, please click the “like” button below; if you have any questions, leave them in the comments; and if you have any comments, follow the previous instructions. I probably should keep up with this blog more regularly, so help me out by sharing it with your friends and coercing me through peer pressure. Thank you to those who already have! Oh! And a huge thank you to my family, who have graciously hosted me and have provided much of the material for this post. Nothing’s better than Indian hospitality. 🙂