Category Archives: Stay in India

Travels and Tribulations: Part 4

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Our last stop – Chennai. The sleeper train brought us into the centre of the city at early morning, where we quickly found a hotel to dump our stuff. After an hour’s kip, we caught a local bus to Cholamandal Art Village. The Art Village began and still functions as a cooperative of autonomous and self-funded artists, painting in the style of the Madras School. Turns out this style of painting is meant to focus on the use of line, but from the gallery paintings and industrial bronze conglomerate sculptures, its use varied so widely, I could only see resemblances of cubism and Matisse – not any obvious philosophy linking them together.

Artistic minutia aside, most of the village was closed due to it being off-season, so we flopped on a bench in the cafe area (also closed) to sleep off the heat of the day. Chennai felt so hot after Kerala! With some lunch eaten, and Roy hobbled by oozing blisters (nice) we retreated back to the city, passing expanses of pristine yellow beach and even designated car parks, with benches and proper footpaths and everything you’d not expect to see at the Indian seaside! It made me wish we’d had more time to spend in Chennai.

To the cinema for World War Z in the evening. Then, eating dinner in a little fast food place, one mosque (lit up on front with a picture of another mosque) had started playing music in celebration of the start of Ramzan/Ramadan. It was so loud that the bass was actually shaking the cafe floor. Outside, even the pavement was thrumming under the beat. Thank god our hotel wasn’t nearby.

At 7:30am however, I found out that there was a mosque near the hotel, and they were playing the entire prayers through loudspeakers for over ninety minutes. Topping it off, a little worm wiggled its way out of the shower head, sending Roy into an angry frenzy. Checking out, we spent nearly an hour arguing with the idiot of a desk-jockey manning the night reception. After repeating our complaint too many times to remember, and explaining to him how to use a phone after he pretended not to be able to contact the real manager, Roy’s belligerence finally paid off. The manager pulled in on his scooter, and went with Roy back up to the room, where another worm obligingly plopped out when the shower was switched on. Thanks to my entomologist boyfriend feigning a profession in water quality testing, the manager scurried to return our 1000 rupees for the night. “Madam, please write [on the receipt], ‘No things in water’.” We’d just been bribed!

The happy zoologist

The happy zoologist

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“Om nom nom humans”

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Only the sexiest crocodiles have a blob on their nose

Crocodile Bank, Chennai

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The plan was to head a little down the east coast from Chennai to Mahaballipuram, via the Crocodile Bank. Thanks to google maps (and the geographer misreading them) I accidentally took us to a bus stop latitudinally level with our intended destination, but actually 10km in reverse and across by road. Damn those parallel road systems! I avoided being murdered by Roy for making him miss the crocodiles thanks to a good bus service (phew) and spent a happy afternoon wandering around the centre. It was surprisingly well-designed and had little pictograms for each crocodile’s information board. Under food, one of them had a cartoon of a person. Oh dear.

I went to sit by the giant tortoises whilst he wandered around a bit more, and the biggest – which for some reason I automatically assumed was the only male – headed for a bath and promptly got stuck. It was half cute, half pitiful to watch him get more and more panicked as he kept failing to mount the concrete lip round the pool. His [female] companions had no problems, which just embarassed him further. He eventually escaped though, and needed some female attention to nurture his ego back to health.

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The moment of final escape from the pool

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Pretending nothing happened

After watching feeding time for the smaller crocs, where a Caiman Lizard ignored the morsels being thrown to him and went for the whole bucket instead, we made it to Mahaballipuram. The guest house we chose to stay in had been hit by the 2004 tsunami, and it’s top floor was still missing. Our host recounted how he saw the wall of water coming, and simply ran. I can’t imagine the terror he must have felt. He said he was crying the whole time, but they were lucky that the row of hotels, built right on the beach, had slowed most of its progress before hitting the town.

Walking round the sites the next day, it also emerged that the water withdrawn 150m from the shoreline by the tsunami also revealed an entire historic town drowned by the sea. What remained of the site on land was a couple of temples heavily eroded by the salt air, and a small area of rock-carved temples over-run by tango-stealing langurs.

Leaving Roy to woo a goat down at the bottom, I unknowingly took the hard route up some slippery rocks towards the temples, and emerged on top of a huge boulder to find a proper path laid out round the corner. As I came out from behind a boulder teetering near the edge of the face I’d climbed, an Indian guy who thought he was being adventurous nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw me!

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Only remaining temple on the mainland
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Mahabharata (?) carved in stone

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Travelling in style…

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A temple carved out of the solid rock

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Violent stone murals inside

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Another rock-cut temple

Then we got caught by a friendly stone-mason, who of course took us to his shop ‘nearby’. Whether it was the sea air or because we were nearing the end of our trip, I was happy to go along, and ended up buying a carved marble chess board. After an indulgent full body relaxation massage where I was semi-groped by a young Indian girl lying topless on a slab, we sat out on our room’s balcony over the sea. The tide was in, and the spray was actually getting us wet, so we retreated indoors, as a lightning storm flickered off towards the horizon and stole our electricity.

Next morning, we left for our train back to Bangalore, and spent an entire train journey with a TV screen blaring out Tamil and Hindu music videos and serials full of screaming women. Arriving back into Bangalore East Railway Station, the sinking feeling in my stomach was palpable. Walking out of the station gates, the hugest cow I ever saw seemed somehow like an omen – of what I still don’t know.

Roy and I spent the next two days spending all our time together; ordering Chinese, watching films at the flat, and hanging out with my flatmates. On the day of his flight, we joined my flatmates for a disgustingly expensive but fantastic brunch at a fancy restaurant, where oysters sat opposite bagels and macaroons, and where my stomach became disappointingly small. 2 hours of gorging later, and with Maria carrying a different coloured Macaroon between each finger, we hurried back to pack, and leave.

Horrifyingly soon we were in the airport, and I realised it was too soon. I wasn’t ready to let him go. He had to go through the doors eventually though, and the army guards weren’t going to allow me past security. So I watched Roy walk along through the glass doors, and stood there for a little while wondering when I could also go home. Then I got a bus back into Bangalore, to continue where I left off.

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Travels and Tribulations: Part 3

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Waking up to the steady rain of Kochi on the morning of Tuesday 18th June, we caught a ferry across to the old fort for 2.50 rupees. Who ever actually has a 50 paise coin on them? It didn’t matter anyhow seeing as there was two of us.

With ambitious plans in our heads to discover the man-made island in a day, we didn’t arrive at the jetty until lunchtime. As we stood near the eager auto-drivers, I felt a sharp sting on my right shoulder, and turned around to see a huge ant shaped like a spider scuttling away. It was like having a bee sting!

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Feeling sorry for myself, we headed to the Dutch Palace, which turned out to be a hidden gem. Lonely Planet didn’t get it wrong for once! Inside the professionally presented artefacts and information boards covered everything from the rajas outfits and weaponry, to crumbling murals of the Ramayana in the other rooms – including one of a demon having her breasts and nose cut off. Charming.

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Then in a bid to reach a synagogue (I don’t know why it was meant to be special) in ‘Jew Town’, we became distracted by a myriad of emporiums selling leather bags, brass deities, lotus-shaped incense holders, chess boards, and dressing stands. There was even one hoarding a 30m long, 10 year-old Snake Boat – from the still annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race, where each colossal canoe is powered by 100 men – that dominated the entire shop.

Calling it quits, we grabbed some overpriced tea and cake from a shop-cum-art gallery before heading off to see the Chinese fishing nets. Exhausted, we jumped back on the ferry, and Roy reached new levels of zoologist ecstasy at the giant fruit bats circling round the landing jetty.

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To finish where we left off, the next day saw us back on the ferry to reach the Dutch Cemetery (a let down) and the Maritime Museum (it was closed). Taking shelter from the rain inside a convenient ice-cream parlour, we were treated to an eclectic mix of paintings on the walls. Several Hindu deities were painted in a style that I can only say reminded me of the Disney ‘Hercules’ film – but it worked.

To fulfil our tourist obligation of appreciating the local culture, we ventured to the cultural centre. One and a half hours of Kathakalli Dance later, and we were suitably enlightened, if not very bored. Whilst the fantastical costumes were good to look at, the dance itself revolved entirely around facial gestures, eye movements, and hand positioning. A surprise ending helped wake us up again though, as the female character whipped around screaming and holding her hair on her lip like a moustache. More of that would have been made the whole thing far more interesting!

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We made it to Alleppey the next day, and after some running around managed to secure a houseboat to take us round the slow backwaters that Kerala is so famous for. Converted from old rice barges, these boats ranged from (our) cheap and cheerful single-kitchen-and-bedroom option, to floating palaces with A/C and separate sunbathing areas, not forgetting surround sound home cinema system!

Though it was still raining our 24 hours on the backwaters took us through narrow waterways and huge open lakes; past paddy fields hovering several metres below the canals; around man-made islands where women washed dishes or laundry and men fished; and to an overnight mooring at our captain’s home.

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Jumping between dry patches along the paths almost totally flooded by the monsoon rains, we glimpsed a Snake Boat team drilling for the August race. Roy ‘rescued’ a fish, which turned out to be the supper of two fishermen sat not two metres away. They didn’t manage to catch another one.

Finally, after a delicious dinner cooked by the on-board chef, and a good sleep rocking on the water, we headed to the Funky Art Beach House back on solid land. Not spitting distance from the waves crashing onto the white sandy beach, we spent the next few days lazily meandering up and down the sand, trying each of the different local restaurants, and chasing crabs in the dark on the way back. One morning I woke up to the sound of a gang of scrawny old fishermen heaving their boat towards the shore, and then found a litter of shivering puppies in the sand when I went to investigate!

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Thankfully they were still alive the following morning, sunbathing under the protection of an upturned boat. We ventured into town that afternoon on two bicycles so rickety, their handlebars were both on backwards. Navigating the Indian traffic was actually less terrifying than expected, though I guess it helps when you act like you own the road.

Leaving the relaxation and sea air of Alleppey was hard, but we’d already axed so many places from our original itinerary – Munnar, Periyar Wildlife Park, Madurai, Rameswaram – that it was time to move on. Resigned to sharing a single narrow bunk on the over-booked sleeper train, we started towards Chennai that night. Luck was feeling generous however, and a couple doubled up with their children to give us one each. Not to say that it was any more comfortable though.

Trials and Tribulations: Part 2

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The start of week 2 in the tour of South India begins in Gokarna, where we left off. We set off through the small pilgrimage town towards the beach, even though it won’t stop raining. Turns out the Indian tourists were thinking the same thing – little huddles of people with umbrellas are braving the surf with their trousers rolled up, getting soaked in the horizontal rain.

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We retreat inside to our grotty hotel room, where the clothes I had washed the night before are no dryer because of the humidity. After it finally stops raining at about 3pm, we decide to risk a walk to the next bay, as there’s little else to do in the town. Over the sea cliff and into Kudle Beach, we discover that everything has closed. Just as we’ve nearly walked along the entire length of this equally grim bay, being chased by street dogs and a little black puppy (and walking past a cow carcass), an isolated resort seems to be serving food. Then some people miraculously appear from its inner depths and start playing badminton!

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The next day we escape Gokarna for Murudeshwar – site of an impressive giant Shiva statue on an isolated promontory into the Arabian Sea. All in all a very chilled day, before catching the sleeper train to Mysore, for an onward bus to Bandipur National Park the next morning. Well that was the plan. Roy is still incredibly sick from his anti-malarials, and we traipse around Mysore at 7am looking for a toilet, then an internet cafe. Somehow the day disappears in trying to decide where to stay in Bandipur, and looking after Roy. Eventually we catch a local bus to Bandipur National Park, and book into one of the expensive rooms, tagged as ‘luxury eco-lodges’ run by the Park Service. Were they hell.

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INR 2000 for a cold bucket of water, dirty floors, broken window frames, and a tepid thali dinner. Our INR 300 room in Hampi at least had a shower and towels! The evening film screening of a David Attenborough documentary almost made up for it (for Roy mostly, as he literally wants to marry the guy), and I managed to get some shots of a deer herd, and some random wild boar running around at dusk. Boar babies for some reason look like chipmunks.

At 6:30am we boarded the park minibus for their version of a safari, and given that the other 10 passengers were incapable of keeping quiet, we inevitably saw only some deer, a wild peacock, and – wait for it – a bunny hopping into a bush.

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Then we suddenly heard an elephant trumpet very loudly close by, and the rush of adrenaline came. A glimpse of grey skin through the leaves before losing it into the undergrowth, and then – we turn a corner in the track and a wild elephant is across an open stretch of small bushes, munching on some branches.

Unbelievably, the guide stops for about 1 minute, then drives on! Clearly the roads and dirt are more interesting than the fauna to him! So much for seeing tigers and snakes and stampedes of all the other big game they advertise on their website. Disappointed, I write an essay in their complaints book. Whilst waiting for the bus to our next stop at Ooty hill station, the local langurs gradually edge closer. One female has a baby so bald and wrinkled clutched to her stomach that it might actually be the primate re-incarnation of Gandhiji.

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I slept through most of the winding bus journey up to Ooty, and I’m glad I did. The hour that I was awake was filled with the sound and smell of people vomiting from the hairpin bends, and my stomach was almost joining in by the time we pulled into the bus station. After selecting a hotel for its hot water availability, and making an emergency purchase of a thick woolly jumper (Ooty was freezing!), we snuggled down into what felt like a luxury bed.

Saturday was a day of world bests. A visit to the Botanical Gardens turned out to be half-decent, with different smaller gardens and of course a fossilised tree. Climbing up one of the little paths to reach the bonsai garden, I started feeling inexplicably exhausted and dizzy. Roy didn’t look too good either. That was when I read in my guidebook that Ooty is 2000m above sea level – we had altitude sickness! 😀

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It wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t go to the ‘World’s Best Rose Garden’ though, or the ‘World’s Miracle Thread Garden’ – which turned out to be a hidden gem. Every ‘plant’ in this little museum by the lake was made from hand-wound thread, to such precision of form and colour that I honestly thought they were real. Such a dedicated, pointless success! A quick trip down to the neighbouring creepy wax museum with Gandhi, Christ, and a drunk driver with his arm ripped off (who planned this place!?), then we had a fantastic evening at a little arcade by the boat jetty. It was just like being back home in Cleethorpes, but in a nostalgic way. There were dodgems, air hockey, a bucking broncho, and we even terrified ourselves in the haunted house, which had so many mutilated people and a man hanging upside down in a sack screaming that I fully anticipated terrible nightmares.

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After trying to leave Ooty via the over-booked steam train, we conceded to taking the bus again, and overnighted at Coimbatore, where the temperature became tangibly warmer and dryer the more we descended. A lazy complimentary breakfast and copy of The Hindu slipped under the door later, our onward bus to Fort Kochi took far longer than expected, not arriving until it was dark. Disembarking at Ernakaulam’s bus station, a good thirty people fighting to board the bus nearly pushed me to the floor as I stepped down. The press wouldn’t even move when I tried to shove individuals out of the way, and Roy was helpless following behind me. Eventually we emerged from the press and found a hotel.

To end the week, I finally got traveller’s diarrhoea!

Leaving India

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OK I think it’s time to accept that my blogging is not going to happen on a regular weekly basis – so skipping ahead of Parts 2-4 of my trip around South India, I wanted to officially announce that I’ll be leaving India early.

This is something I’ve been wrestling with ever since I arrived in India actually – the combination of homesickness, the longing for some sort of clean street environment, and needing to have a better placement than what SICHREM could offer me. I’ve been mulling and mulling it over for so long, that I’m surprised I managed to stay this long in actuality. Let me expand a bit.

So my problems with SICHREM have been manifold, and mostly I thought that I would be able to work them through as the result of cultural differences. The reality however has been that SICHREM hasn’t been able to offer me the research and career-building opportunities that I wanted. I intended to work explicitly on gender-related projects, and be involved in lots of advocacy, as this is my area of interest. Despite this being communicated throughout my placement and before it, I never got the chance to do any of this. Whilst I’ve been working on two fairly sizeable research projects, the absence of ANY gender-related work has been gradually grinding down my motivation. After the six months mark, I had to hold up my hands and accept that no such opportunities were going to arise, even with my repeated discussions with Mathews (the Executive Director of SICHREM).

The working environment at SICHREM has also been deteriorating in general since my arrival in January, for whatever issues I am not entirely sure. Whilst I’ve been volunteering, four members of staff resigned and moved on, for various reasons. A further two are now on their way out, leaving only two non-admin staff within the entire organisation, to run all of SICHREM’s different programmes and emergency cases. It’s totally unfeasible.

Whilst I am loathe to make this into one epic rant, the continued problems I faced at SICHREM are a huge part of why I want to leave. Never once being thanked for my any of my volunteered time, or efforts – particularly not for the more significant successes which took up so much time – never treated like a professional equal, and always dismissed when I raise suggestions or ideas for improvements. It’s been an incredibly frustrating and de-motivating environment to work in, but I’ve been fighting through it to the best of my ability, discussing things with staff, trying to communicate issues – to no avail. There’s only so much negativity a person can take.

Outside of SICHREM, life has had both high and low points. I still love India, I just can’t love Bangalore. I definitely will be returning, but to a place where the people speak Hindi, where you can see the horizon, where a clean breeze clears the air, and where the people celebrate life…not drudge heads down through rubbish heaps and grey air. I am physically and psychologically suffocated here.

Psychologically suffocated in the sense that if, as a woman, I look up and at people’s faces in the street, the men will leer at you or follow you or shout disgusting insults in Kannada, as if I don’t know what they’re saying. Or sometimes it’s just the man on a bike jeering ‘hey foreigner’. Whilst your movements in public space become policed in this way, I find the confrontation with people’s ideologies in personal interaction far worse. The number of girls who are visibly horrified by the realisation that you walk alone after 7pm at night, or that you use public buses (which are clearly brimming with lascivious men who will rip off your clothes at midday) is depressing. Even worse are the guys – ‘you shouldn’t talk like that’, ‘no you don’t understand [women not having any agency] it’s not safe/moral/right for women to go out alone’. In the UK, I have taken for granted my personal freedom to think, talk, act, dress, eat, sit, and breathe in the way that I want, that it feels like I am trapped inside a moral prison. I cannot be myself in India. Even trying my best to conform, to avoid confrontation (for instance I wear salwar kameez not shorts, I use Kannada words, I follow social convention on buses, in the post office, in SICHREM), I am constantly critiqued and rebutted by idiots who simply see a white face in a kurti. I am not expected or permitted to express ideological thoughts or contrary opinions. I should nod and smile and say ‘sir’ to whatever inadequacy comes out of a man’s mouth, so that I show respect, and am meek, and thus like a good Indian girl. I refuse to hand over my self-respect, however much has already been chipped away, in my upturned hands.

I don’t hate Indian men at all. I just feel that the undue respect and privilege that society has assured them is their right makes most guys totally unaware that other people have contrasting and equally important opinions. When you internalise, and receive daily confirmation of, the idea that you will automatically get what you want and people will listen to you, it makes men arrogant and self-righteous, and sometimes totally shocked when you argue them down.

I can’t wait to be back in a place where people are valued for being the person they are, not for their marriage or earning potential; where others will give equal attention to your voice and ideas and beliefs.

But like true love, you work through the bad parts and keep returning to strengthen that bond which attracted you in the first place. India will always draw me back, I just have to work out that where that perfect balance lies. The magic formula. Maybe it should start with a tattoo?

Travels and Tribulations: Part 1

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Aah, a month off to travel. I thought it was going to be one long relaxing tour of South India, breathing in the jungles and wildlife, chilling on beaches and going to temples. Despite five months in Bangalore, it turns out I still hadn’t come to terms with the realities of India!

Week 1

Within an hour of landing in Bangalore, my boyfriend was vomiting his way across the city on the taxi journey back to the flat. Once he’d recovered (a bit) the next day, we did some shopping, some eating, and then on a last-minute whim, booked a sleeper bus to Hampi.

Arriving at something stupid like 5am, we got some geographical advice from a friendly(!) auto-driver at the chai stand, and hopped on the local bus when it decided to finally arrive. As we pulled up in Hampi Bazaar, five or six touts were poking their heads through the door before the bus even stopped. I have never before seen somebody’s face tangibly light up so much. Poor Roy was almost suffocating in the press of men shoving pamphlets in his face, promising that their hotel was the best.

Exhausted by the travelling and being ill, he crashed out and I got over-anxious, to the point where he finally agreed to venture out to the huge Virupaksha Temple dominating the tiny village of Hampi itself.

There we encountered a criminal organisation run by langurs. Male alpha langur ripped one woman’s bag away and stole her Sprite. It was amusing to watch him gnaw ineffectually at it for a while, until in one fluid move he suddenly uprights it and unscrews the lid, before using the lid like a teacup. As if to say, “Nah I was just playing ya. Of course I know how to do this.”

After circulating the ‘natural’ lingam of Shiva inside, and being stared at by various pilgrims, we saw more langurs running over the roofs. One inexplicably had a pair of pants in his hand; the other was running with a pair of scissors. Yet another by our feet grabbed a carelessly held plastic bag, stole a box of matches, and proceeded to try eating them.

The following day we started on a cycle tour of Hampi’s extensive ruins, but Roy wafted off back to our room after the second temple, looking pretty pale. I carried on happily getting my exercise fix, though the midday heat started to make each temple less exciting than the last. Turns out this now-tiny village is the only living remains of an empire that spanned the entirety of South India.

Roy was unimpressed by this news, though he rallied to go insect-hunting around some boulders. I don’t know how he manages to spot half of these creatures amidst the vegetation. We saw the biggest millipede of my life; as thick as my thumb, longer than my hand, and bright red.

Our last full day in Hampi began with an optimistic walk to the nearest main temple, with plans to go bouldering (we even packed climbing shoes!) across the river. After an epic trek through the heat down a never-ending road, we made the 10 rupee ferry crossing, then argued with the auto guys in (my) very broken Hindi for a lift to Anegundi. We stumbled upon a little cafe doing a fantastic banana leaf thali lunch, recooperated a bit, then set off to another temple complex – this one still functioning.

Roy and I had a little spat by the roadside, and whilst making up with hugs, a guy riding past on his moped purposefully drives his handlebar into my back. For what reason we may never know. Hopefully he fell off his bike on the next bend, what with karma obviously being so strong in India.

Jaded, when we reach the temple of Hanuman’s birthplace, I leave Roy at the bottom of the 500 steps. We catch the last ferry back and collapse exhausted on the ghats, and watch people fish in the river. Time for some sleep.

With plans for Gokarna beach, we leave Hampi the following afternoon for a stop-off in Hubli. On the train journey there, Roy gets inadvertently groped by a sleeping five year old. Between Hubli and Ankola and finally Gokarna, endless bus journeys are filled with rain and mist; the fields around Gokarna have become lakes so large, at first I mistake them for the sea.

We find a grotty hotel and settle down, a week into our trip.

Bangalore Comic-Con

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comic con express

I wanted Comic-Con to have its own post.

Sowmini and I decided to go as soon as I saw that Bangalore was hosting a Comic-Con event. My room-mate Jadine initially wanted to come too, and as two avid Whovians (Doctor Who fans for those muggles who aren’t so excited by a certain blue box) we entertained the idea of going as different aliens.

Jadine couldn’t make it in the end though, and Sowmini and I were left to fend for ourselves. Then I had it! Why had I never thought of doing Lord of the Rings cosplay before – ever since the films came out (now so long ago) I’ve wanted to be Eowyn…ahem, I mean dress as Eowyn.

So we took a trip to the claustrophobic streets of Shivaji bazaar last weekend in search of fabric and haberdashery. Very pleased with our purchases, we took the stuff to every tailor near to the office in Lingarajapuram, only to be rejected again and again. Turns out most tailors only want to make salwar kameez.

We did manage to dig out a good one back in the depths of the market however, so all was not lost. Late on Friday night, after promises of delivery and wasted trips to pick up items when they weren’t ready, I finally got to view the finished outfits. They looked fantastic. He did such a good job with Eowyn’s dress, and it fit perfectly.

Me in my Thor costume

Our fellow volunteer, and Sowmini’s friend from college, Prarthanna decided to join us at the last minute, so the three of us spent Saturday morning getting ready at my place. We pinned Sowmini’s hair with some silver anklets, and voila – she was Arwen! I rooted out a blond wig from a shop near the apartment, and one more cosplayer – Eowyn-maybe-Heidi. Luckily I’d kept hold of my costume made for the marathon, so Prarthanna donned her papier mache helmet with polystyrene wings, her red curtain cloak, and chainmail top – one Thor!

Comic-Con itself passed in a blur. It was so crowded and hot inside the stadium, moving through the narrow channels was like being part of a shuffling human caterpillar that didn’t know which way to turn its head.

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British Pistol, 18th. Century – Flintlocks | Collectors Heritage

There were stalls full of temptation on every side. I almost cried when the ATM refused my card, and I was forced to choose between House Lannister, House Targaryen, and House Stark in buying a sew-on patch. Obviously being Northern and proud I opted for the direwolf.

Then there was the Abigail-heaven-but-I’m-too-poor-stall selling steampunk pistols and replica lotr swords; a gandalf hat and even Sauron’s mailed hand with the One Ring! *fangasm* I couldn’t afford the 5000 rupee price tag though, so moved onto registering myself for the cosplayer competition and got some over-priced food.

Sowmini and Prarthanna had retreated to the stadium benches by that time. They were definitely not used to being constantly harassed and asked for photos. I think at least 20 people must have asked whether I was Daenerys Stormborn, simply because of the wig. I had a couple of “Are you Rapunzel?”s and even one “She’s Snow White!”. Yes, because they look exactly the same.

There was a girl there as the dragon-queen, with a home-made egg, but the guy who won our category was painted up as Darth Maul. A bit uninteresting in my opinion. Why be Darth Maul when you can be Hans Solo, or Jabba the Hut? He didn’t even have the correct colour light saber!

The guy who won overall had a fantastic getup though. He’d spent four months preparing his fully articulated Iron Man suit, and he’d even wired up bulbs in the palms to get the real light effect. Each piece moved individually. Everyone was yelling his name before they announced the winner, he really deserved to win.

Iron Man cosplayer who won the top prize

Finally, we headed home. The day had been awesome. That night I went to bed far too late with a browser full of steampunk ideas, just waiting to burst into creation. Might have to make a visit back to that tailor.

Getting the Flu

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I’m being incredibly lax in keeping this blog up to date – I guess I just have too much to do (plus my new glee-addiction has taken away much of my spare time). Considering this, I’m going to make a series of posts to break things up a bit.

Since the marathon I’ve been winding down my various projects at SICHREM after deciding to take a month out for travel. Now that my boyfriend is landing in Bangalore tomorrow morning (!) I’m hectically running round trying to finish everything.

I had hoped to get all my loose ends tied up but that turned out to be a vain hope. Now that I’ve left (temporarily) and the other eight volunteers/interns were given their farewell packs on Friday, I still have a quarterly human rights watch report to finish and up to ten interviews to transcribe. Whilst I’m in the holiday mood and I want to relax, I know that I should at least try and finish some more of the report before I go off gallivanting. It was meant to be a quarterly report, and now that the second quarter has come around, it needs to be published asap!

But my weekend which I had planned to use for this has been eaten up by far more exciting events. To celebrate the end of their time with SICHREM, I dressed up in my sari with some of the other girls, and of course there was the usual round of photoshoots and posing. 🙂

We’d planned a trip to see ‘Yeh Jewaani Hai Dewaani’ after the office closed to extend the day, but the film was badly paced, with huge tracts of dialogue and no tension-building, and I kept wandering off. More dancing I say. Things got more interesting when an entire extended family decided to cause a ruckus over seating as they walked in late, toddlers screaming, and women threatening to stop the film, and old women blocking the screen. Sod’s law that they ended up sitting next to us.

After about 15 minutes of people being moved and flashlights giving everyone night-blindness, it then started to rain. The roof began to drip. Much as I like special effects, I’d rather not have an acid-rain shower when I’m inside.

Emerging a bit under-whelmed by the film, we found it was still raining. Finally plucking up the courage to dash for it with Sowmini and Prarthanna behind me, I realised too late that the filthy lake pooled outside the doors was deep. We were already wet, so stood huddled under my sari pallu in the absence of an umbrella. After every auto driver refused to take me to my house, I left the other two and walked the 1km home. Though my sari was a pretty good rain shield, I was still soaked by the time I got into the flat.

That’s when I discovered the water pressure had gone. My hot shower had turned into a tepid trickle. Hardly surprising then that I was gifted a fever, which has now evolved into a fully fledged cold. Even Vicks won’t shift it. Going out to buy bananas wearing a hat and scarf this morning felt a little strange, but I was so cold! Maybe I’m turning Indian, or maybe it’s because Bangalore has lost 10C in the last week. Brrr…26 degrees.

 

Invite: Breaking the Binary: Release, Sharing and Discussion of the report

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Yesterday, I attended this meeting with LABIA – a queer feminist women’s group, who were releasing their new report on Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth (PAGFB), and their lived experiences across Indian cities.

An extremely interesting study, a copy of which I of course purchased, presented yesterday through a series of case studies and quotations. I enjoyed listening to their explanations for the empirical methods chosen – for example taking their sample from first wanting to cover individuals not conforming to gender-normative expression, to individuals assigned gender female at birth, thus ensuring that persons self-identifying as ‘men’, ‘women’ and ‘other’ were included from a wider angle.

My notes from yesterday’s Bangalore release and discussion of the report can be read here: Breaking the Binary.

 

LABIA’s summary:

Breaking The Binary (2013) is a study by LABIA – A Queer Feminist LBT Collective. Based on a research initiative that began in 2009, its findings question and challenge many of our fairly basic assumptions about gender, sexuality and sex. That sounds alarming – but only until we realise that this questioning of rigid norms leads to more and more ease that allows people to live and breathe in their own skins rather than suffocate inside somebody else’s impossible boxes.

The sub-title of the study is Understanding concerns and realities of queer persons assigned gender female at birth across a spectrum of lived gender identities and yes, that’s a mouthful. A mind-tingling thought-provoking mouthful of words, which the authors are at some pains to explain and elaborate in their report – and at its release in 6 cities between 27 April and 11 May 2013. For now, suffice it to nrmsay that for this study we spoke to 50 people across the country, and it is their voices and stories that we bring to you, accompanied by our own understanding and analysis.

Through this study, we explore the circumstances of queer PAGFB who are made to, or expected to, fit into society’s norms around gender and sexuality. We look at their experiences with natal families and in school; we chart their journeys through intimate relationships and jobs; we attempt to understand what happens to them in public spaces, and how they are treated by various state agencies; we discover where they seek and find support, community, and a refuge from the violence and discrimination that mark far too many lives.

Most significantly, this research has given us new insights into gender itself, which we feel are crucial additions to the current discourse in both queer and feminist spaces. Finally, the study flags areas of particular concern, and highlights some necessary interventions.

We ourselves are amazed at the richness and complexity of our findings and are impelled by the need to share these as widely as possible with all queer and feminist groups and individuals, activists and academics, all people working specifically with LBT persons as well as broadly in the areas of gender and sexuality — and of course all of us who are interested in knowing more about our selves.

https://sites.google.com/site/labiacollective/we-do/research