Monday, 26 August 2013

1 month-versary


Sorry it has been a while - the roughness of India has finally caught to me! I was down with Delhi belly for a few days, after which the internet broke down due to its inability to handle monsoon season. My stomach and the modem are finally up and running again, which means I can eat greasy indian food while catching up on Breaking Bad after an exhausting day in the August heat!

Yesterday marked a month since my arrival in Delhi! It's overwhelming how fast time has been rushing by. I've seen so much already, but I still feel as if I don't have enough time to really capture everything Delhi and India has to offer. My tourist to-do list keeps growing!

Qawalis at Nizamuddin
Since I last posted, I've listened to Sufi qawalis at Nizammudin Dargah, flown (and attempted to cut) kites for Independence Day celebrations, visited the Golden Temple at Amritsar, impulse bought a tabla, explored historical artifacts at the National Museum, watched an awful Bollywood movie, and checked out crafts at a South Asian bazaar. And that's apart from working a job!  

Nizammudin Dargah is an old mausoleum dedicated to a famous Sufi saint in Delhi. Apparently, qawalis (hymns) have been sung there every night for 600 years, and those who sing the hymns today are direct descendants of Nizammudin himself. It was a very calming way to spend a Thursday evening at a concert in the middle of such a historical site! 

Kite challenges! 

Independence Day, August 15, is celebrated by flying kites on your rooftop, with fun company, good food, loud Punjabi music, and oddly enough, no booze. And so we too celebrated in true Delhi fashion (omitting the booze rule obviously - only young once!!) 

Golden Temple (roof is made of gold leaf)

After too many days in a chaotic city, we decided to venture out of Delhi and see Amritsar. Amritsar is a quiet metropolis located on the edge of India, and is home to the famous Golden Temple and Wagah border between India and Pakistan. After doing obligatory pictures at the temple, and after visiting a few other religious sites and a massacre site, we checked out the changing of the guard ceremony at the Wagah border. This happens every evening, and is essentially a "my horse is bigger than yours" ceremony between the Indian and Pakistan locals. Frankly, it was difficult to tell if this ceremony promoted amicable or hostile relations. We wrapped our day by eating the best Indian food I've ever consumed (with the exception of my mother's cooking of course!) 

Performing in Delhi 
As time goes on,  I’m starting to learn what adjustment really means.  The act of adjusting is more than just adapting to my new surroundings, but constantly and consciously realizing that I have no ownership to this country, and to the norms that exist here. I am merely a guest. I cannot expect that life should be conducted the same way that I am used to. I cannot demand that cars will watch out for me crossing on the road; instead I must move cautiously around traffic, staying out of the way as much as possible. I cannot wish that my autorickshaw driver use his indicator, stick to a traffic lane, or even look to the side when turning; instead I must accept the honking system that is so ingenious to Indian driving (as well as the headaches that accompany it). I must come to terms with the stares, on the metro or the street or even the grocery store, by women who are curious about my mannerisms, or by men who probably stare for more indecent reasons. However, I must not blow my nose into a Kleenex in public, or point at anything with my finger, or touch food with my left hand – customs that are considered bad etiquette in India, but that most of us would not think twice about.

Making friends during our travels! 
In spite of this adjustment, there are some aspects of the culture that are difficult to understand, especially as an independent Canadian woman used to having certain privileges and somewhat of a sense of equality in society. Being a woman in India can be a challenging experience – the respect is minimal, the attention is unflattering, the risks are vivid, and the expectations of your role in society can be rigid. In that sense, it is comforting to work for an NGO who aims to empower the girl child. Through my internship so far I’ve seen how abnormal it is for a girl to finish her education, and how predominant marriage is as a solution. For example, when deciding on candidates for our fellowship program, we interview parents to determine whether they would marry off their daughters if an eligible match came about, even if her education was incomplete, which is typically not a concern for similar programs back in Canada. If the girls in our foster homes are unable to support themselves independently after the age of 23, our organization takes the step to actually arrange marriages for them. I am in no way condemning this custom, nor do I find it repulsive, but I can realize that it is a norm that is drastically different from ours in Canada, and one that I would personally find difficult to accept if I was in these girls’ shoes.

Feeling inspired and humble! 
All in all, India has an unwavering beauty and kindness that is hard to find elsewhere. People here are hospitable and proud of their country, and will go out of their way to show you a glimpse into their lives. I have encountered humility and generosity in the unlikeliest of places, and I’m excited for the gems I'll keep discovering in my next 5 months here. 

P.S. If you dare to watch Chennai Express, it is 3 painfully long hours of your life that you will not get back. But I want the leading actress' saris! 

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