On Inhabiting India
well, now i must follow up zach's superb writing. in my defense, he has spent over a week on that letter. now for The Update: my birthday on friday was a lot of fun here, the group threw me a surprise party and said it was only because i am "the baby of the group" and it is their "duty to take care of me". as you can see from the pictures, they even ordered me a cake. on a funny note, the hotel owner (that i had never met before) gave me a black and gold necklace for a birthday present. i found out soon after that wearing it would mean i was married. maybe wearing it would be a good plan. later that night, i received a phone call from the front desk saying i had a visitor. i racked my brain trying to think of what person could possibly be coming to visit me. me! my mind wandered to the question, "my family couldn't have possibly flown in....right?" it turns out, it was my mentor, deju, bringing me flowers. this small encounter made me realize the dedication of the people here. at that point, i had only met her twice (and very briefly both times) and she treated me with more respect than i would have ever expected in knowing her for such a short time. what made my day on saturday, was finally discovering how to turn of the faint elevator music that has been playing through mysterious speakers underneath my bed for the past few days. there are at least ten different switches and dials in my hotel room, and last week, sarah and i were...um....testing them. i guess we learned our lesson now as the music never stopped. for days. thank goodness for earplugs. on sunday, i met my host family, the shah's. their warmth was startling as usually indian culture does not even tolerate a handshake. their welcoming hugs were truly family-like. i couldn't ask for a nicer couple to be my ai and baba (mother and father) as they want me to call them. their house was beautiful and they even have a swing (i'm sure some of you might appreciate this aspect of my living situation more than others). also a garden, that can be viewed from the many balconies or the roof, which is also a nice spot for homework. don't even get me started on ai's excellent cooking, and the fact that she is ridiculously excited to teach me. after my afternoon meeting, deju came and picked me up to see a sitar and her violinist friend's house. it's amazing how run down homes can look from the outside and then one step inside, your jaw drops from the contrast of trashy to very elaborately decorated and the utterly immaculate like many middle class indian family homes i've seen. the sitar seems like it is great quality and excellent condition, but i am not really an expert when it comes down to it. luckily, i will be able to keep it for a few days to decide whether or not to buy, which is long enough for me to find a professional opinion on the matter. after we obtained the sitar, deju wanted to pick up a keyboard from a friend's house. she expressed to me that she feels a calling for piano and western music in general because she met me, then some old woman gave her all of her classical violin music that she had never met before, and then this piano was accessible as her friends are going to america for a few months. despite the fact that she could not get the keyboard until the next week, we were still invited to her friend's house for chaha. it was amusing to hear deju and her friend converse in both english and marathi, switching off every other sentence. after hearing a broken conversation as my marathi understanding is minimal, we headed, on her motorbike, to a seminar on the subject of how a certain composer created jingles for indian commercials. it was again all in marathi (surprise, surprise), but it was still interesting to hear the music. however, i was beginning to feel sick at that point so the experience was less enjoyable. i'd rather not discuss my sick few days, but i am feeling much better today. i am starting to feel a lot more comfortable with marathi and the devanagari script. i also feel like i have conquered the whole Traffic Terror, with both mind and body. i can now walk across the street with astounding grace. i can now travel by rickshaw with ease. it's amazing how much respect one will earn when they just know a little marathi. i have additionally learned how to stick up for myself when they do cheat me (which is happening less now). and, surprisingly enough, i am starting to know my way around the city and can wander without feeling the threatened in the least. days still pass much more lazily here as i am still absorbing many new experiences compared to happenings in the states. the hectic quality of the city still gets to me sometimes. i mean, big city life even got to me in the twin cities, so it is quite the transition here. what surprises me most, is not the traffic, the staring, the beggers, or the lack of cleanliness, but the shock that, really, i haven't experienced any "gasp" moments. maybe i've been here for too short of time. my mental image of india was much more extreme, spiritual, impoverished, and claustrophobic. hooray for stereotypes. tip of the iceberg, tip of the iceberg. time to dream... p.s. more pictures in both albums.