Posts Tagged ‘ india ’

mumbai attacked, again.

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 today, Mumbai was attacked by terrorists once again in a multiple bombing, which left over a dozen people dead and nearly 100 injured. this hurts my heart because it’s Mumbai and it’s where all my Indian relatives live. Also, I was there when the attacks in 2008 occurred and that was a scary experience. Read more about the recent events here

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the girl with the roses.

mila: This is sad… About a young woman, 25, Eva Markvoort, who journaled her fight with cystic fibrosis and MSRA. She began her blog on July 15th, 2006. I just started reading it (from the beginning) as I just found out about her death today. So far it’s been really great, insightful and she makes you feel like you’re one of her friends. Eva was a great writer and it’s going to be really interesting reading what happens- even though I know the ending.

Saying Goodbye

mila: An indescribable heaviness settles upon me. Looking into the near future, I see that I am checking my baggage at the Emirates counter, sitting in a steel chair, waiting for a 777 to kidnap me overseas. A sorrow, the thought of leaving this enchantment behind me. For how long my return will be is unknown. What is known is that a part of me has clung to this country. I assume that if India does you right then it traps you. Something about the pulsing heart of this place that is close to an addiction. The streets are littered with garbage and sometimes the stench of human and animal poverty whirls so thickly in your nose you can taste it. Things are a little off. But if you squint, you can see past all of it… Right into the core of what this country is about, which I agree with most, is the love. Love is what keeps beat going around here. The class difference is quit stark here and something has to keep these people running… It’s all about survival, all about family, all about providing… All love. Something that I have become very fond of here is the no complaint policy. There is no real policy and I’m not sure there is even an unspoken rule about complaining… But what I have come across is that people complain very little here. Those that have something to complain about never do… Of course I am talking about the impoverished. The slums are checkered throughout the city, it is inescapable, a reminder wherever you go. The children are usually playing but not always… Sometimes they are sent off into the streets to tap on car windows to beg for change. Homeless families huddle on the sidewalks to make their daily homes from tarps and blankets, sometimes smiling, sometimes with that permanent frown, the kind that reflects a hard lived life. During the day it’s all about getting by but at night when there is a gathering of them on the street, they are deep in conversation whilst building a roadside fire. Just another day in Mumbai. At times of being here has made me so angry… I see these magnificent buildings and only a few meters away is a sprawling mass of slum dwellings and businesses. Everyone has gotten used to it. But I guess it’s the same in America… When I was in New Orleans a throng of people lived under the I-10 bridge, everyone got used to seeing that poverty too. I find that it is very easy to compare and contrast the two countries and they both have their rights and wrongs… Neither is any better than the other, I suppose it’s just what you consider “home”. If “home” is where the heart is, as they say, then wherever your heart goes then you’re always at home. And I guess that India has become a home to me because a part of my heart will be left here… It cannot be expressed what India can do for you but what is certain is that you definitely have to surrender to its ins and outs, pretties and uglies, brightness and shadiness… I surrendered and I’m glad I did because I have an appreciation for my heritage, my ancestry that I never used to pay much mind to in my years past. Although I say bye right now, I know that I will be returning… Soon.

What personal space?

mila: I trudged along a platform, landed, waited- thinking I was in the right spot to take my train. Time in India holds a different meaning. It’s usually off, by a lot… IST must mean something it certainly does not follow any rules of the Earth’s rotation or the positioning of the Sun. After some time I had a feeling that something was off. The guard walked up to us and told us that the platform for our train had changed. Of course… In fact, we had to cross the bridge and be on the other side of the tracks within a few mere minutes. Perfect. I had a lot of luggage, heavy too. I had to climb an, what seemed to be, infinite amount of stairs… Up and down. Finally, destination reached. A while later the train arrived… I had a first-class ticket in the sleeper car but for some reason I knew it wasn’t going to be like my previous train experiences. I clambored onto the train and was stuck on the little area near the open doors… You know, the part that connects between the different cars. The part where the bathroom is, the part where all the foot traffic is. That place. It was a small closet size space to be shared by a ton of people- all pressed up against each other, hot, sweaty, smelling, with luggage as surroundings. I managed to stick myself in a corner in between various pieces of baggage and used my own rolling bag as stool for what was supposed to be a three hour but really five hour, train ride along the southern coast of India. If I thought my previous rides were adventurous then I was gravely mistaken. A pack of friends, male, joined my personal space… My friend stood right in front of my lap, his dad next to him- protecting his luggage and his brother next to him- keeping guard next to the doorway that led to the seats. Then there was a mish-mosh of strangers that all snuggled in, their breath evident on our faces. I stuck my earbuds in, turned on my iPod and let the music set the soundtrack to my windy journey… Soon, I was in a tropical land… Coconut trees lined the dusty orange roads leading the way to an expanse of beach… The waters, turquoise, the sand, a seamless mixture of beige and black iron. Stomachs growling, we wandered to what seemed to be a popular seafood spot. A palm frond-thatched hut fit snugly into the beachside, littered with colorful plastic chairs. A song in some unrecognizable yet failiar language sung pitchedly. A drunken waiter mosely danced his way through the pebbled sand fitted tables and bent over telling me, “This is my favorite kind of music.” and then leaned into my friend next to me, embracing him affectionately as if he’d known him for years. Almost an hour later, grilled fish, caught fresh just a couple hours earlier, arrived to satiate our hungry appetites. I had the pleasure of diving into a red snapper, doused in coconut masala curry… Heavenly. My counterparts tore apart Kerala-special prawns and calamari. Happily… Food drunk, I walked along the surf and settled upon a spot… I lay on an incline, dampened sand packed perfectly for my back’s recline. I took off my tank top, covered my eyes, the gauzey gray creating a smoky quartz glow from the filtering golden sun. The waves crashed quietly, peacefully, the laughter of friends wafting in with each tide. Afterwards, we poked our way through several shops that lined the sand cliffed road that cut through Verkala beach. Every salesmen had some pitch line, something to sell, something so special to show us. We listened, we sat, we watched… Hundred year old silver jewelry pieces were presented, Kashmir pashminas were waved and pushed in our hands to show the lovely material made from a goat’s beard… Uninterested, I left to traipse down the street, and found refuge in the water of a fresh coconut, sliced open with a machete by a sareed woman who handled the blade quite swiftly with grace. When you are done with your drink you hand it back over, where they slice off a “scraper” from the bottom of the fruit and then chop it open where then they proceed to scrape off the “malai” which is the meat of the coconut. It has come to be one of my favorite things here in India and I snap up the opportunity everytime I see a little coconut-selling hut on the corner. Later, we returned to the Taj hotel at which we were staying at… Sitting on the deck outside of our room, the sun was setting… A large flying creature swooped through the sky in front of me into a tree. I squinted, my head to the side, I wondered what kind of bird it could be. Another silhouetted animal followed, then another, expanding their wings across the sapphire sky. The wings were hinged in three places… Bats. The biggest ones I have ever seen in my life… And if you know me and a little bit of my Woodstock background then you’d know I have a little history with bats… These midnight creatures flying to and fro from tree to tree could easily have been mistaken for Batman. The North Star appeared in the sky, a sign that it was dinner time. We were to return to the same luncheon restaurant… The electricity had gone out in the neighborhood, creating a widespread blackout but no panic. The tables at the restaurant glowed with various glass lanterns. Waiting for our food to arrive. The latern suddenly burst, sending flints of burning glass onto my legs. I was on fire. Okay, not really. But it hurt and I knew I was being burned. I sort of yelped, alerting the waiters who hurriedly came to my side- opening their cellphones to be used as lights onto my upper thighs… They asked, “Hospital? Doctor?” I shooed them away and laughed, waved my hands about in a “it’s not a big deal” gesture… The food was sure to make up for such an injury. The softest, most buttery naan, flaky tuna, crimson tandoori chicken, eight inch prawns and coconut rice settled perfectly into our tummies. Enough to put anyone to sleep. The next day, traveling in a shiny white Fiat, our driver with his excellent English drove us up a windy dirt road… He made an impromptu stop at a banana stand and threw a gaggle of yellow fruit into the backseat. We pulled into a lot that housed four elephants: a mommy, a daddy, a baby and an estranged fellow who was parked far off in the distance from the others. The dad was at work, providing, maybe, most likely, unwillingly, trips to tourists. The mother tended after the baby- they both were chained up by the leg and chomping away at leaves. I had the pleasure of encountering a complete nutcase at his best… A Spaniard, who resembled Krusty (of clown infamy via The Simpsons) was lovingly taunting the baby elephant. He reminded me of a brainless Dr. Doolittle, trying to be at one with nature’s beasts. For some reason he thought he was Mr. Animal Planet and the Dog Whisperer all rolled into one, clicking his tongue, smooching his lips, putting out his palm to get a lick from the baby heavyweight. I was on edge, just waiting, that hopefully, just maybe, the elephant would lose his mind and trample him. But to wish such thoughts is wrong (but fun) and I just sat there watching him, whilst the compound owner kept pleading with the guy to back off, to which Zorro refused and kept at it anyway. This became annoyingly amusing and I began calling him funny names in Hindi so that the workers and my driver could laugh with me and nod in agreeance… After some time, the elephant would swing his little trunk all about and eventually gave the guy a good thwack in the face but it didn’t phase him at all. At this point it was time for me to take, what would be my second ride on an elephant since being in India… Mounting the elephant this time around was a lot more difficult cause there was literally no seat to be sat on… It was like riding a horse, bare-back, except that it was an elephant. I grasped his prickly little neck hairs for dear life and we sauntered along the dirt roads… The master leader guiding the way, shouting snippets to the elephant in an unrecognizable dialect every now and then and hitting his bamboo stick on the ground in front of the elephant’s path. Before I knew it, my hand was in the elephant’s mouth and I was swallowed alive. This is untrue. I can’t help but lie, it makes for a good story… When we returned from the ride, we had the exclusivity to feed the elephant the banana treats purchased earlier in the day. This was fantastic, slimy, a little slippery but so fun. He was such a good little guy, he held his trunk up, opened his mouth wide and waited patiently to be fed. Stomach full, he was led to his bathing area… I was given the opportunity to shoot a hose of blasting water into his trunk so that he could spout it behind him and shower himself. What fun. The crazy Spanish man was still lingering around and insisted on helping the daddy elephant eat his food… Cause apparently the foreigner didn’t think the elephant was strong enough to break an entire tree on his own… This last scene was a laugh. After a few hours, I would set sail on a speedboat through the backwaters of India… Lovely, calm… No one was out there but us… The teal waters swooshed as the boat cut through the waters in an unrushed hurry. Amazing eagles soared above, eyeing the waters below for their next meal… There were huts scattered along the banks, where cows served as lawn gnomes, children watching their parents fishing for something, fish perhaps? It was brought to my attention that a group of jellyfish were swimming alongside us. I scruntized the waters until I finally saw one of the mysterious and translucent creatures… I sat back, amazed that in such a short period of time I had the pleasure of witnessing a wide array of animals. These moments are always bittersweet when you know they are coming to an end… After a few short hours, I was in an aiport, dining by myself (thanks Ashley) in the restaurant, chomping away on the best French fries ever. Then on a plane… Heading to Bangalore…

Clean Mumbai, Green Mumbai

(Why does Ashley insist on not writing anymore…)

It has become a running joke between me and Ashley… Then also between us and my cousin Karan… The first time I saw, or at least noticed, this sign was in Delhi… “Clean Delhi, Green Delhi” It doesn’t get more fabulous than that… The fact that “going green” is a world-wide event. Event? Thing? Something… Is kind of awesome. Then in Jaipur, we saw, “Clean Jaipur, Green Jaipur”… No matter what city I’ve traveled to within this country I always see that sign. When finally landing back in Mumbai, I began to see it everywhere. The best part is, I would see this sign right next to someone who was littering out their car window. Or the sign would be glimmering next to a heap of some burning trash. But at least they’re trying… Advertising the cause is half the battle… Maybe? It is just of interest because in general I do believe Indians are conservers to some degree… Take for example the restrooms in public places and bathrooms in homes… You will not find paper goods to be utilized then thrown away. It is the standard to not have toilet paper, paper towels and trashcans in these places. They just don’t use it… Bidet-ish water faucety systems are in place instead. To the westerner this is of discomfort because it is not something one is used to… Perfectly acceptable, so, higher end places of business will indeed accommodate to this need and provide such papery. So here we go, one area where Indians don’t waste unecessarily. Next, electricity. This is a pretty big issue in every household I’ve been invited to… Each light, fan, A/C unit, kitchen appliance and plug has a switch: the normal on and off kind. As in the States, if we want to turn on the light we just click the switch to on, well, that’s how it is here. But in the States when we plug in an appliance, we just pop the cord into the socket, turn on the power button and you’re good to go. Here, you plug in your appliance. turn on the power button… But it is still not on… Until you turn the outlet’s switch to on, it won’t work because electricity is all controlled by plate. This is how they save money on electricity. It is very, very rare to find a light on in a room that is not being occupied. And it is a definite no-no to have the A/C unit running if you are not within the vicinity of the cooled air. As for hot water… You won’t find it in the kitchen or the bathroom sink. If the house is modern, it will have what they call a “gizzer” which is comparable to the U.S version of a water heater. However it is much, much smaller… It holds probably a few gallons… And you have to turn it on a few minutes before you even think about stepping foot into the shower or else it will be cold as all heck. Then of course you have to plan out your shower and use the water wisely or else, after about five minutes you’re basically screwed. I have created a system for myself… I will turn it on, water down, turn it off, soap up, turn it on, water down, turn it off, lather up the hair, turn it on, water down, turn it off, condition, turn it on… Well at this point the gizzer has caught on to my scheme and has stopped producing hot water and instead produces tepid temperatures… Sneaky. So those are a few things… However, when we go back out into the streets, with the exception of the eco-friendly slogan, it seems that the citizens don’t really care much about trashing their neighborhood. It is perfectly normal and usually acceptable for people to throw their trash onto the street… Everyone does it. I look around and see there are no trash cans… Not even in the malls or other places of business… So of course people are going to just litter wherever they please- they have not much alternative really… Solution? Installing public trash cans and a good waste management system couldn’t hurt. In general, the people here do not generate much garbage as it is, so if there were some organized system then it really would be Clean India, Green India…

Food

(Ashley has left the building…)

I don’t think I will ever eat paneer and naan ever again. Enough said… Okay, not enough said cause it doesn’t make sense otherwise. If anyone knows me and my taste for Indian cuisine, then you know that the two don’t mingle on a regular basis. This is largely due on part of my upbringing. It was the norm to have Indian food brewing in my home, after all, we are Indian. But it got to the point where I was sick of it… Upon reflection I realize that I was never made to eat Indian food, I just didn’t like it in general cause it wasn’t exotic or appealing to me. I was the kid who ate McDonald’s at least four times a week. (I know that is a disgusting admission on my part but ever since I was 14 I stopped eating there.) In any event, when I came to India when I was four (about to turn five) I would not eat anything my family cooked for me… So I starved and died.

Lies. All lies. Not all lies, just that last part. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I don’t know why I joke of things of that sort- I’m stupid. Growing up, I learned that I didn’t like the particular style of cooking that my family is used to, and I figured out that the style I like is more from the northern region of the old country. This time around in India, at my aunt and uncle’s house, they have cooks so I’ve been eating just whatever but very sparingly. Then my family noticed my birdish habits and started asking what I wanted. When we went on the trip up north, I found my paneer and naan in abundance and immediately jumped on the tandoori clay-bandwagon. But when you’re eating the same meal twice a day everyday for a week you’re bound to feel kind of sick and perhaps a little fat? Fine I won’t say fat or else there will be many rolling eyes, but I feel my insides lining up with cholesterol. Is that better?

But I shouldn’t complain, the prices here beat the restaurant prices in America. If you want to feel full or at least have a good, hearty meal, it will cost you about two dollars or under. And if you splurge you top five dollars. It’s the best feeling when you can pick up the bill every time and say, “I’ve got this one.” This is a lie. I have to admit this now before Ashley catches me… We all take turns paying the bill but what is great is that you don’t feel like you’re putting anyone out by letting them treat you to dinner… All in all, I hate cumin, cardamom and mustard seeds.

Terrorism?

mila: We were in Delhi when we got the call. Actually, there was a secret call placed to my mom by my aunt. At what time, I’m uncertain but it was around the time of the first attack at the Taj Hotel. My mother didn’t tell any of us… Us includes me, Ashley and my mom’s sister. Oddly enough, my mom was expecting something of this nature, and this is what had her on edge, and I had no idea. She had already told herself and us that she was going to stay awake for the twenty hour train ride from Mumbai to Delhi. She said it was so no one would steal our things but in reality she was stressed out thinking there might be some terrorist attack. I love this. I love that my mom was expecting terrorism and it happened. She’s always had good instincts and that’s probably where I got it from, if I do say so myself.

Before we got to Bombay Central, which is the train station, we toured more of the highlights of Mumbai… This included the Gateway to India, which is right across from the infamous Taj Hotel, which is right next to the dock, where the terrorists came through. I actually had foreknowledge of this famous hotel chain and especially about this hotel in particular. I was inclined to stay at the hotel but there was no reason to spend the money as my family lives in the city as well. My cousin, while he was scouting for a film, stayed at that hotel and loved it. I was definitely going to go in and spend some time in there. At the time we had passed by there wasn’t any parking and we were in a hurry to catch our train so we couldn’t drop in. But I remember looking out onto the docks and seeing all the boats and I felt strange. I didn’t know why, I just thought it was odd for some reason. We moved on … Got on the train and were miserable for some time until we got to Delhi.

We basically never got a chance to sleep because our first night there was the night of the terrorist attack. Like I said, my mom already knew about it but never told us. In hindsight, this may not have been the best decision because Ashley’s cellphone blew up (figuratively speaking) at around one thirty in the morning. Call after call, everyone back in the States were stressed out and extremely worried. The news in America was very different from what we were being told by the locals and my family in Mumbai. This is how you know media works in strange sometimes skewed ways. Nonetheless, there was still reason to be on edge. In no time, all of us were awake and sitting in our hotel room, which by the way was in a temple and we had no television or internet so we couldn’t figure out anything on our own and relied on outside cellular forces to relay messages. That experience alone was very frustrating- feeling cut off from the rest of the world and having an overwhelming sense of the unknown looming over you. I called the American Embassy several times and every time they said they did not have any instructions for us. So we all lie around waiting for something to happen. This is about the time we started thinking about what we should do next… Do we go back to the United States? Do we swathe Ashley in sheets so she can pass as a Muslim? I felt like we should’ve taken this as the opportunity to fly to Europe and go have a merry time over there… No one else agreed. We also knew that at some point we were to return to Mumbai and how safe was that going to be if they were in fact targeting Americans. I said some dramatic things, which I will let Ashley divulge or else I would feel dumb talking about myself even though that’s what I’m doing right now…

Anyhow, that day we left for Agra with a sense of nervousness lingering in ourselves. And it was strange because when we looked around us, our environment showed no signs of there being a terrorist attack just south of us. When we drove into Agra, we were still paranoid since we were visiting the Taj Mahal, that being the main landmark of India couldn’t necessarily help the situation. However, if you weren’t aware before, the Taj Mahal is very much Koran-oriented and infused with Islamic influence. I thought, Good, we’re actually safe for a change. The Taj Mahal is also sandwiched between two identical mosques. Maybe it’s ignorant, but really, if the terrorists are in fact Muslim, why would they come after something that “belongs” to them?

When we got back to the hotel we got to look at the newspapers and they were calling it the “9/11” of India… That didn’t sound so good. I tried to hide it from my friend so as not to add further fuel to the fire and we went to bed. Next on the trip was Jaipur, another popular touristy city. But they just got bombed so maybe the terrorists were through with that area for now…? For the next couple days I relied on the Times of India, a newspaper to obtain news, who would ever think? The headlines read “Terror Reigns” until finally, when it all came to an end “Terror Eliminated”.

In any event, we tried our best to enjoy the adventures and for the most part we did a good job. But there was this constant reminder that we were unsafe. And it’s not like being back in America makes you any safer, but still, you feel safe at home.

ashley: I remember checking my phone to check the time, hoping morning was close because I couldn’t sleep. I look at it and see that I have 16 missed calls. I instantly get nervous thinking something bad happened at home. Just as I’m about to dial, I see my brother-in-law’s number and I pick it up. He tells me that there has been a terrorist attack in Mumbai (Bombay). I talk to my sister and she’s in tears because she thought I may have been hurt. My brother Chris heard about it first. He got worried and called my mom and the American Embassy. Now, let me just tell you, my brother never freaks out, and if he freaks out, we basically know something is very wrong. And he was freaking out. I felt so terrible that my family had been so upset and we had no idea what was going on. By this point, all four of us are up now, getting second hand information, due to the fact that we have no television, internet or radio.
During all this, Mila is very calm, she rolls over and falls asleep for about an hour. We all still talk trying to figure out what to do, my mom wants me to come home naturally. I say “This is what the terrorists want mom! They try to incite fear into the people. I won’t give them that” Probably not the best thing to say to your mother. But that’s how I felt. After deciding to finally get up, we try to figure out if I should cover myself and try to look un-touristy. Well, that’s not really going to work. I mean, all I have are my red converse, jeans and t-shirts. Mila rolls over and says “Don’t worry. I will die before I let them take you.” Amazing. We both started laughing at the intensity and passion behind the statement. But you know what, we ARE best friends. And best friends say these things. It’s what we do.

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