June 22, 2009

Extended Indian Family


So I'm working on a post about Amritsar, which I traveled to this weekend, but I just got home from dinner and wanted to do a quick post on something I haven't written about yet: my extended Indian family.

Just before I left home to start this adventure, I got engaged to my boyfriend of three years, Vivek, who grew up in India -- born in Calcutta and raised mostly in Bombay but with stints from Kerala to Hyderabad to Uttar Pradesh. So on arrival here, I had a lot of future in-laws to meet -- and they've been an amazingly welcoming bunch, taking care of not only me but also, quite often, my co-worker Greg, who was along in Chandigarh when I was literally welcomed into the family.

Greg and I just got back from a lovely evening at my cousin-to-be's house -- playing with her two young kids, talking with her father (my father-in-law's brother) and watching her husband, a journalist, on TV -- and then having a chance to chat about politics with him when he arrived home. We were served a delicious Bengali-style meal, listened to Elton John (Greg picked, with the help of the kids) and looked at family photos -- of Holi, of a trip to Rishikesh, of ceremonies such as annaprashana.

We have a busy week ahead, but I'm super glad we took tonight to visit. Living in India for three months is bound to be an amazing experience, no matter what, I think -- but being able to meet and hang out with my new relatives -- seeing a glimpse of what truly living in India looks like -- has made mine even richer.


June 21, 2009

Holy Water, Architecture & Organizational Wonders

Last weekend, I ventured -- and I do mean ventured -- to Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple, Sikhism's most significant place of worship. It's a trip I'd wanted to make for a while but had considered avoiding because of some unrest a few weeks back.

Having gotten the all-clear from my fiance's parents, I decided to venture into Punjab with my co-worker, Debdutta, for a quick weekend trip -- arriving late Friday night Amritsar Shatabdi and returning by the same train to Delhi quite early (5:10 a.m. departure) Sunday morning -- leaving us just enough time to see the Golden Temple, have a rest from the sweltering heat and then head back out for the changing of the guard at the Wagah Border (see next post).

The Golden Temple, as everyone said it would be, was amazing. I've been to a number of sacred places in India -- churches in Old Goa, Hindu temples in Bombay, Jama Masjid here in Delhi, etc. -- and this was one of the most peaceful, to me.

For starters, in contrast to the streets of Amritsar -- a city with the pace, atmosphere and dusty heat of Old Delhi, but with slightly wider streets -- the Golden Temple is a beacon of shining, spotless white marble and gold accents. Everyone entering must check shoes outside the gates and walk through a running stream of water to enter -- a process that ensures everyone's feet are clean. Inside, volunteers sweep and wipe floors clean from dust, leaves, water, etc.

Next -- the temple is immaculately organized. At the langar, or community kitchen, each person grabs a tin plate and waits patiently in line for his or her food -- in a system that cycles the crowd through the kitchen, into the seating area to sit in orderly lines and back out again. They wait again, quietly, to enter the main, golden gurdwara at the center of the Pool of Nectar, or Amrit Sarovar, from which the city gets its name.

We had two excellent Sikh guides for the tour, ensuring that we saw all the crucial parts of the temple, including the bread machine and Holy Book; we enjoyed the fish in the pond and I had some chai at the langar; and we made sure to visit the gory Sikh museum on the way out to reclaim our shoes. A lovely experience overall.


June 16, 2009

Traditional Indian Wear

I said I'd post more, so here we go.

I've been gathering quite the collection of kurtis -- traditional Indian blouses -- since I arrived in India. They're available in an incredible range of colors, styles and prices -- and I love them all, essentially -- particularly the ones that cost Rs. 230 (about $5) at Delhi's outdoor markets.

I haven't, however, taken much of a plunge into traditional Indian wear on the whole -- full salwaar and chudidar suits -- except for the outfits I wore to the wedding in Chandigarh and the suit made from the fabrics that Vivek's folks sent me.

This weekend, I decided it was time to pair some cotton chudidars and salwaars from Fab India with a few of the kurtis I now own. And today, I -- drumroll please -- wore one of my suits to work. It's a kurti from Vivek's folks, accessorized at Fab India. The photo's me with my co-worker and friend Veni, whom I've been working with now for nearly a year. She's wearing a salwaar suit, and I'm wearing a chudidar suit. Aren't we nicely color-coordinated?


Long Overdue Update


OK, I know I haven't written in a while. Yes, I know it's been a month. I apologize. I can't even say I was so crazy busy that I couldn't post. Work's taking up some time, to be sure -- but I could have done a better job of keeping you in the loop. So here's an update.

The contents of my desk are a good place to start in terms of getting a sense of what's been keeping me occupied since I last wrote. I'm reading a new book -- Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, by Fred Kaplan -- than I was a month ago. In fact, I think I was probably still reading Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, the last time I wrote -- and I've since also read Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown. (But no, alas, I have not yet seen the movie.)

Enough about books, however -- you wanted to hear about India, right? So the rest of the run-down of my desk:

-- the June 13th-19th Economist. After reading magazines from circa April 15 for nearly eight weeks, I caved in and bought a few new ones.

-- a chuni from my first casual salwaar kameez suit, made with material couriered to me by Vivek's parents in Bombay.

-- small gifts for Vivek's relatives in Gurgaon, given to him to deliver by his brother in Hong Kong and then passed on to me. I'm now part of the informal Indian supply chain.

-- my India tour book (the pretty picture one) -- now more of an old friend than a volume of mystical options.

-- (now dried) birthday roses! And a birthday card from home. I had a birthday last month. I spent it with Vivek, who was visiting, and his friends, in Delhi's GK2 neighborhood. In true welcoming Indian style, I was invited over to celebrate with a homecooked, amazing brunch-time meal at the hosting friend's home. The group also bought me a cake that we ate with ice cream and warm fruit topping. A truly amazing birthday abroad.

-- my copy of 'Modern Bride,' just slightly dog-eared. I'm probably going to rip out a few pages and leave the rest of the mag here for future generations of expats.

-- a beaded, quilted Rajasthani tapestry that used to cover my co-worker Megan's desk here at our guesthouse. Megan went home last month, and I inherited a number of her old items, including a flashlight, several U.S. pennies, about a dozen blank CDs and a flashlight. Megan's thriving back at the office in California -- but we're keeping up the shopping, Sunday expat brunch, guesthouse pancakes and other fabulous activities she introduced us to.

-- my camera -- full of photos from Khan Market, Faridabad, GK2, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Old Delhi.

In sum: I'm doing some more traveling and a lot more work; feeling more settled into my room, my surroundings and India in general; and getting to be a bit nostalgic as we move into the home stretch (14 days and counting). I promise to post more soon.