Tag Archives: mehndi

Mysore

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This weekend has been an eventful one. Julika and I left for the nearby city of Mysore early on Saturday morning, catching a local bus which only took three hours or so, and arrived to wide avenues with trees, and clear air. It made me so glad to escape the pollution and crowded streets in Bangalore.

After taking an auto (-rickshaw) whose meter seemed to clock round at an alarmingly fast rate, we checked into India’s very special international brand of youth hostel. I’ve never seen a hostel looking so well-maintained. It had huge gardens and lots of benches amidst the palms, and we even got our own sheet and pillowcase! Clean showers, flushing toilets, washing facilities and drinking water – there was even ping pong in the canteen – and it only cost 100 Rs. for the night. That’s about £1.30.

I was starting to feel a little bit awful around lunch time, as we got a local bus back into the centre for some sight-seeing. I didn’t expect to get sick so soon into my trip, but we had been eating out a lot, and in most street-based restaurants they don’t have soap. Anyway, I nibbled at an idli in a back-street by the main circle (roundabout) before attempting to have a gander at the Maharaja’s Palace. By this time I’d already taken painkillers and Julika’s natural remedy for painful stomach cramps, to no avail. Doubled over by the main road and hanging onto a railing, I was in no mood to be the centre of every Indian national’s attention.

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A cow tries to catch a rickshaw ride

When an auto driver came to stop next to us I just ignored him, but Julika then told me he was offering to drive us round to the palace gate for free. Once we realised he wasn’t trying to con us, I collapsed into the seat and he took us the 600m or so to our destination. He was a very rare man indeed, and insisted I sit for five minutes to recover inside the auto, and he didn’t want a penny off us. It was when we saw the masses of people swarming into the palace gates that we decided to recuperate in the shade for an hour, after waving him off.

As the cramps finally started to abate, we made it through the hordes of people, and I pulled my trick of producing the visa registration certificate at the ticket counter.

“200 rupees M’am.” The foreigner’s price (I call it white-person tax).

“Oh no, I work in India.”

“Please give me proof.”

“Here you go,” handing over photocopy, with impressive-looking government stamp.

“OK, 40 rupees.”

Wohoo, I’m officially an Indian!

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Maharaja’s Palace, Mysore

The Maharaja’s Palace itself was breath-taking – all red and gold domes and grandeur. In walking towards the entrance I think at least three or four different people asked to be photographed with us. Whether it’s a status thing or not to be in a photo with a white person I don’t know, but I often get people walking past who comment on my “beautiful pale skin”. One woman even stroked my arm. Children are always trying to touch you, or parents proffer their kids’ hands to shake. This is fine in moderation, but on this day there were so many people due to it being a public holiday, that we didn’t get given space to breath.

It was so crowded inside that only a shuffle was possible. Apart from other people’s heads, I can really only recall what the ceilings of various rooms looked like. When we stopped to sit and rest in the main hall, people would look at us as they passed, or comment, or point. So far, so normal. Then out of nowhere, a large family group suddenly pressed upon us trying to get their children to speak English, and all wanting to ask the same questions – “What is your good name?” “Where are you from?” – and treating us like animals in a zoo.

It was too much, still being ill, and I was so glad to escape into the cool gardens after we swam through the rest of the crowds.

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Coloured powder at Devaraja Market, Mysore

A trip to Devaraja Market with plenty of haggling over incense sticks and coloured powders made the day complete. I was looking forward to some sleep and hopefully no more stomach cramps back in the hostel. Almost as soon as my head hit the pillow however, a large party of over-excited young Indian girls crowded into the female dormitory, and subsequently spent the night chatting and laughing. I think I had no more than 4 hours sleep. To top things off, we arrived in the canteen for breakfast at the allotted time, to be told that it only lasted half an hour, and we had just missed it by two minutes. Grrrrr.

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Hindu’s performing puja at Chamundeswari Temple, Chamundi Hill

Not to be perturbed we devoted our Sunday to Chamundi Hill, site of the ChamundeswariTemple. Taking the bus up, a road sign declared it to be one of the eight most sacred hills in south India. A vision of incense and quiet meditation entered my mind’s eye, with pilgrims going to worship in the temple, perhaps with the sound of the wind rustling the trees. In typical Indian fashion though, things were very different to the expectation. Rows of stalls selling stuffed tigers and ice creams lined the street, and so many food stands surrounded the main circle that I couldn’t even see the temple.

I managed to lose Julika as we separated in the market, and spent the next 45 minutes running from one useless police officer to another. “Oh yes Madam, make an announcement…loudspeaker! Loudspeaker!” Then they would walk off, leaving me in the middle of a crowd of Indian tourists and pilgrims to try and find someone else who would help me. In the end, I got so frustrated and it was so hot, that I marched back towards the bus drop-off, ignoring one poor girl who really wanted a picture (again), in mounting panic to try and find my friend. Then I suddenly saw Julika jump up from the roadside where she had been waiting patiently for me. It turned out she hadn’t really moved, and I’d been spending my time running around at the wrong end of the market. It was time for some lunch.

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The 1000 steps to the temple

To edit out the boring bits, suffice to say that we finished with a leisurely walk down the 1000 steps of the hill, passing several youths placing coloured powder onto each step as they walked up. I should do some research on this – it looked like a rite of passage or something. We also had our first follower of the trip, a man in his forties skulking behind as we descended. After I told him to go away, and we waited for another group to pass which we could join with, he disappeared, only to re-emerge further down. He was like our very own Gollum, slithering over the boulders and just looking at us. Pretty harmless though.

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Shiva’s Bull statue

At the large bull statue halfway down, built in dedication to the god Shiva, I did a small currency exchange with a street hawker who couldn’t change a £10 note somebody had given him. Taking advantage of the favour I’d done him, I bought one of his gorgeous miniature statues at a steal of 50 Rs. Mini-Shiva is now sat in the SICHREM office, watching that I don’t go on facebook too often.

We caught the bus back after a long, long queue for tickets across the tarmac, with buses trying to run us down every five minutes. Once in Bangalore again, we caught the last bus to Majestic Bus Terminal, plus one bum-grope by a tiny man who was no more than five foot tall. Then we had an altercation with the auto driver, who turned a 6km journey into 14km in an attempt to rob us of our money. Eventually he took what we offered him, after Julika’s male host stepped in. Finally, at 2:30am, it was time to sleep.

Despite all the grievances, or maybe because of them, it was a fantastic weekend. Just getting out of Bangalore and feeling like a tourist renewed some of that love for India which has been hiding away in me for the past couple of weeks. Obviously working in India was going to feel very different to being a tourist, but it was good to feel the smile spreading across my face, every time I saw a mandir, or thought of the Hindu priest who put the tikka on my forehead. There is so much more to see of this country, and I want to see it all.

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Hanuman statue, Mysore

Airports, Homesickness and Buses

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 Well it’s come to writing my first post in India, and I’ve no idea where to begin as there’s so much to say.

To briefly skip over the less than thrilling trials of travelling by Air India, both of my flights were delayed, which meant I got to practice my skills at sleeping on metal airport benches…twice. Why do they always make them so uncomfortable? In Delhi airport at least they had considerately provided some reclining sleeper chairs, but being in such short supply, they were all occupied.

I arrived hassle-free into Bangalore’s airport however, collecting my bag and walking straight out in literally five minutes. I guess Karma has to kick in at some point, right? Driven straight to the door of my homestay, I met the family I’d be living with over the coming months.

Initially I was confused by the large number of people present in the main room, who all turned out to be friends, or various relations of complicated connection, leaving only four family members in the core household:

The mother, Vanita, is a fantastic cook, and she has been gleefully teaching me random words in Kannada. It turns out my efforts (though pitiful) to learn Hindi were indeed in vain, as my family and most of Bangalore speaks either Kannada, or English.

The father, Paul – or Sunil as he’s known by friends – has his own business making door frames and the like, which he commutes to at very late hours on his moped. He’s been incredibly welcoming so far, though he’s a very eager Christian convert, and gets the family to sing and pray twice a day. I’ve already been dragged to church this Sunday. I just hope it’s not catching.

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Daniel, or Ardesh, is the eldest son at 19. He speaks great English and is my main translator for conversations with his parents. Not only is he a good laugh, but he kindly took me out around Bangalore and helped me to register for my visa. This may sound like a small effort, but trying to register took seven hours and five buses to do so. A great lad.

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Finally the younger brother David, or Sandesh, at 17, is studying commerce (or something like business or management studies) at college. I haven’t seen him as much because of this, but when I do he always seems to either be rolling out roti flour or watching TV.

To reference the second part of this post title, one of the main problems I’ve been facing in these first few tender days has been, surprisingly, homesickness.

I didn’t expect to ever get it that bad, as I’m already so familiar with India, and thus things like the food and the traffic and the people aren’t nearly so daunting. It was more the thought of being away for a year which started to press down on me – so much so that I barely slept at all on my first night. Being away from home, and my boyfriend, for so long seemed utterly unbearable, and I was ready to go straight back to the airport the next day.

After several texts and phone calls though I managed to calm down enough to finally get to sleep, and my first spontaneous lesson in Kannada from my host mother (“Vanita Auntie”) made me feel human enough to actually take my mind wholly off escaping India altogether.

As the days have progressed, and I’ve come to appreciate how lucky I’ve been in my homestay allocation – my own room and en suite bathroom with a flushing toilet (!) – the feeling has begun to diminish. That’s not to say it hasn’t disappeared, just that I have started to function enough to get up and occupy my mind with other things.

My first day at the SICHREM office was one of those other things. Luckily for me, Daniel announced on the evening beforehand that he’d been offered a part-time position at the charity through family contacts (apparently he is somehow related to everyone in this city), and so I gladly let him guide our journey to the office the next day.

Again, I was very happily surprised with the set-up and facilities at my placement. The office has three good-sized rooms and each of the fifteen or so paid staff has their own desk and projects. There are several other volunteers – though the label interns might be more appropriate – from local Indian universities on placement as part of their course, and another international volunteer from Germany who I have yet to meet.

My introductory meeting with my supervisor Anitha (again, related to my host family) outlined the tasks I would be given and the specifics of SICHREM’s human rights work. I’m sorry to say that a combination of her softly spoken manner and some residual jetlag (maybe) started to lull me to sleep, and I had to fight every blink back open again whilst she explained everything to me. It’s probably why I can’t really remember much about what she said.

Before you start thinking that I’m lazy though, I’ve been busy reading SICHREM’s previous reports on different issues, impressively published in small paper-back format. My head has been so full of ideas in response to the different challenges proposed to me, that I’ve been itching to go into the office all weekend. This is despite the fact that tomorrow is a public holiday, in recognition of a Tamil festival, meaning that I’ll likely be amongst a minority of staff.

All in all my first few days in India have been totally different to the expectations I had – no running into the first shop on the street and filling my bag with mehndi cones, or buying sarees in ten different colours and fabrics just to throw around my room – but it’s starting to become normal very quickly. After my first week in the office, I’ll hopefully be able to judge the pattern of events in the longer term, and get an idea of how things will pan out. Even better, I’m going shopping next weekend!

Over-excitement

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Phew, it has been a while! Lots of things to update on – the most important being that I have a couple of new fundraising events coming up.

I met with the Amnesty International group and we’re now planning to put on an Indian food evening on November 23rd (a Friday I think) and split the proceeds, which will be fantastic! I’m not cooking though as I have no idea what to do with food. I might try to make some Indian sweets though, as they’re my favourite, and the chef always gets to lick the bowl.

I’m also now attending my village’s Autumn Fair on November 10th, selling the same Christmas tree decorations that I’ll be selling at the WI Fair on the 17th. Everything is happening in November! It’s going to be a chaotic month. I’ve attached some fantabulous pictures of the various works in progress, again as a photo-diary of how things are getting on.

I did a little presentation for the village’s WI group as well last week, which was far more successful than I’d anticipated. Handing out flyers for my upcoming fundraising events, and a sponsorship form for my (still-stupid) bungee jump, it seemed like everyone gave me a donation or said that they would attend one of the events. It feels fantastic to have so much support from my local villagers. I can’t wait now for each one to happen, and to see who turns up.

My raffle ticket book for the raffle (surprisingly enough) also turned up today. Time to start selling! I’m thinking a pound a strip. I’m still collecting prizes from businesses and other places – I’m very good at getting freebies – so I already have some chocolate boxes, a voucher for Roe’s Farm Dairy, a £25 treatment at Earth Energies, and £20 for Bengal Spice, where part of the evening is being held. I must keep going!

Looking at visas today also made me realise that the departure date is starting to get quite close now. Up until this point I’d been very good at keeping calm and pretending to think about other things, but now I’M SO EXCITED. My internet history list is becoming increasingly dominated by India-related sites. So much so, that google keeps giving me ads for shalwar kameezes and flight comparisons, and deals for mobile phone rates to India. Stop it, I’m already excited enough! As soon as I step off that plane I’m going to have to grab the nearest mehndi tube and find a saree shop to release all the urges that have been building up for the past 3 years. Sigh, still two months to go.

I also met my supervisor at the charity over skype last week, and she seems spot on. We’ve agreed that I’ll be staying with a family for the first two months on a probationary period. I’ve also had a couple of offers to stay from my colleagues at work who have relatives in Bangalore, and both my (Indian) bosses are going back to the city whilst I’m there! It’s a small world.

Anyway, I’m off now to go and watch a Bollywood film. It might give me a temporary fix.