Wednesday, 31 December 2014

SINGING BOWLS


As I've told you before I had the opportunity to do a lot of travelling while in India. When the school year finished I went to Kerala (which I recommend, by the way). Kerala is a state in the south-west of India, on the Malabar coast; it's the land of tea fields, backwaters, houseboats, palm fringed beaches, and Ayurveda massages. But I'll write about Kerala in another blog.

It is said that, as a woman, travelling around India alone is dangerous, but I had no problem. What you do have is a lot of opportunities to get nailed! Men there are specially eager to get to "know" a whitey!

The thing is that I arrived in Thekkady, willing to visit the famous Periyar National Park there, but there were no tickets, so I decided to go window shopping. Of course, Indians cannot let tourists go without jumping on them like vultures on a fresh carcass. And so did Mustafa, a muslim shopkeeper, hungry for selling and something else...

After showing me around the shop, he tried to buy me a cup of tea (it couldn't be anything else in the tea land). Well, not to buy, but to prepare it in the shop itself! I wanted to have an Ayurveda massage, so I just went, promising him, though, to come back later for the tea.

After the "relaxing" massage, I felt so great I decided to spend the rest of the evening with this guy. When I went into the shop, and while the tea was being steeled, he showed me the singing bowls.

This sound healing technique has been used for centuries by cultures around the world to balance the Chakras. A Chakra is a vortex through which energy flows both in and out. The body has seven major Chakras along the vertical axis of the body, running from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head. Our bodies, like guitars, are constantly moving in and out of attunement. Regular Chakra balancing helps you to maintain a vibrant life. Of course Mustafa wanted to tune my pelvic one!


A singing bowl can be a powerful tool to let go of current or past physical and emotional pain, in order to move forward in a positive, pain-free direction. It can also be helpful in manifesting your new life vision and in reaching your highest potential by removing physical and emotional blocks within the mind and body.

To play the singing bowl you have to rub the rim of the bowl with a padded mallet. It then produces overtones which create an effect that is unique to the instrument. If you want to know exactly how to play it, have a look at this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek_7NSsNdYk

Although I have to admit that I do "believe" in the singing bowls' "power", what I think it's a bit unbelievable are the sessions conducted over the phone or via Skype! That is too much to swallow!

Apart from being used to balance your Chakras, singing bowls can be used to entrain your brainwaves, relax, boost your immune system and creativity, reduce stress and anxiety, increase your intuition and your learning abilities, connect with your subconscious and program it, improve long-term memory,... So, why not give it a try?

Ah! And, in case you're interested, Mustafa didn't succeed!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

INDIAN NAMES

 
I am only a part-time teacher now. The rest of the time I'm a student (it's just momentarily, while I find a job I like). Well, one of my teachers keeps on calling me Mari Pau and and calling my classmate Mari Pau, Gema. She also mistakes another two students: Glen and Félix. That's reminded me of how hard it was for me to remember Indian names.

One of the frustrations you face when in India, at least at the very beginning, is remembering names.
 
You have to remember things' names, in order to be able to manage in everyday life, in a shop for example. But above all you have to remember people's names. And that is quite challenging when you can't even tell the difference between one person and another. Everybody seemed the same person to me! And with children it was even harder!
 
As a Spaniard, don't you have the idea that every single Chinese person looks exactly the same as the other? Well, that's what happened to me with Indians the moment I set foot in the country.
 
I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw all those lovely children the first day I stepped in the school hostel. I panicked when I thought of the idea of having to memorize all those faces and names. And there were only about 30 something of them!

But then, next day, I went to school. And there, there were more of them. I had to teach 102 children, to be exact! And that meant I had to recollect 102 faces and 102 names. But not any name! No! They were Indian names! Each one weirder than the other! I thought I could never do it! I remember thinking that I would leave one year later without knowing them!
 
Have a look at some of them:
 
 
So, there I was, determined to learn all of them, the sooner the better. I had my strategy. I would take note of all the students' names and I would draw a picture of the class seats. At night, I would "study" them and then, in a few days, I'd be able to call them by their names, which, on the one hand, shows respect for your students (and by feeling respected they respond better), and on the other hand, it gives you some control over the class.
 
The perfect plan! But guess what they did, realising that I didn't have the slightest idea of who they were. Every day, they switched their places. When I looked at one of them, confident that I knew his or her name, he or she answered from the other part of the class. So, I thought my notes were nor correct and I changed them. At night I studied their names again, and the next day, the same story de novo! Finally I saw daylight and they could not pull my leg any longer!
 
But then, like 2 weeks later, I not only knew all their names and faces, but  I could also recognize their voices, as well. I had my own pronunciation, though! For example in the same class I had a Jeshwanth and a Heshwanth! And then in another class I had a Yeswanth! Do you think I made any difference when pronouncing them? I don't think so! I tried, but... Calling the roll was funny (for them)! They cracked up!

 
I have to add that I don't think many people there knew my name. They called me Miss or Sister or "telaama" (which means white woman),...
 
Naming all of them, may be boring for you (reading this blog), but it's made me recall each and all of them.

Here I go!

5th standard: V. Navya Sree, Arun Prasad, Bhavana, Meghana, Manohar, P. Navya Sree, Sujay, Damodhar, Girish Rani, Prathyusha, Joseph, Arthika, D. Lokesh, R. Dinesh, D. Dilip, Kiran Kumar, Bhavya, Vaishnavi, Geethika, A. Dileep, Nanda Kumar, Nithin, Ashok, Gowtham, Sravan Raju, G. Lokesh, G. Dinesh, Laksmi Prakash, A. Aravind, Sagar, Balaji, K. Aravind, Akash, Praveen, Naveen, Srikanth, Prakash, Manjula, A. Likith, Karthik and A. Dilip Kumar.

6th standard: D. Vinay Kumar, Mary Selvi, Taja Sree, Murali, Chandana, Kusuma, Hemanth, Divya, Sai Prakash, Bhavana, Deepthi, Shekar, C. Vinay, Manisha, Abilash, Sandeep, T. Prasanth, Sumanth, Akhil, K. Prashanth, Muni Raja, Indu, Madan Mohan, Harshavardhan, Charan Kumar and Sukanya.

7th standard: Bhavya, Naresh, Rohith, Rechal, Likith, Saichandu, Brundha, Sanath, Chandra Kanth, Chaithanya, Sai Manoj, Reddy Prakash, Pavan Kalyan, Sathya, Vamsi, Yeswanth, Ajay Kumar, Veena, Shabaz, Yogaranjini, Ganesh, Chandana and Vinusha.

8th standard: Jeshwanth, Anil, Rundha, Tanusha, Tharun, Bharath, Ghavith, Sudhakar, Heshwanth, Reddy Prakash, Laksmi Kanth and Reddy Prasana.

Each one of them was different from the other. Some were really clever, some were extremely lazy. Some were naughty and some were like angels. But each one of them taught me something! Thanks for ever!

And to end with, one curiosity: they ask, "what's your good name?" instead of asking "what's your name?" As if you had a good one and a bad one!
 
In this link you can find a list of all Indian names and their meanings:
 
 

Monday, 20 October 2014

AUTO WALLAHS


An auto rickshaw is a three-wheeled cabin cycle for hire. It is a motorized version of the traditional pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw. Although you can see one of those from time to time, they are doomed to disappear, sooner than later.
 
 
Autos or auto rickshaws are a common means of public transport in India (mind you, I also found this one in the Dominican Republic).
 
 
 
As I was saying, they are an essential form of urban transportation. An auto ride is the easiest way to travel in a busy city; they slide through the traffic while cars can barely move.
 
They have the same unwritten rules as everything else in India. The minute you get off a bus at a station, you stumble upon a heady hotchpotch of risky traffic mongers. Before you realize, your luggage is in one of those autos, and you have to hurry if you don't want the auto to disappear with it!
 
You'd better bargain heavily with this infamously brazen community if you don't want to be ripped off! It's quite likely that you have your usual share of daylight looting. If not, that's not India. When you get an auto wallah who tells you (a whitey) the right fare, it's nothing short of an achievement. It deserves a celebration!
 
 
This is a picture of the first one I got in alone. It had to take me from Punganur to the school where I worked and lived. Well, so far so good! But two minutes after setting off, it stopped and the Muslim driver (most of them are Muslims) got off and disappeared, without saying a single word. And there I was, sitting in the back, wishing for him to come back, because I didn't have any fucking idea of where the hell I was! But, on the other hand, I was wondering whether he'd come back with a bunch of buddies to rape me or something! He returned like 15 minutes later with a bottle full of petrol; he had run out of it!
 
That time I was lucky. I had all the auto for me. But you usually have to share it with maaaany people. When you see an auto for the first time, you figure that it's made for 3, maybe 4 people. But nope! Up to 19 people (including the driver) can fit in them! I swear! And, to spice up the ride, it was raining!
 
But I didn't mean to talk about the autos themselves, but about the auto drivers. They are a breed unto themselves. I've made a list of the various kinds I could find:
 
1)The "I'm-on-a-sofá" wallah:
He sits comfortably with one leg tucked under his bum, while driving! No need to wonder how he would react in case of an emergency; he'd be the one causing it!
 
2)The "magic-meter" wallah:
When the journey starts, you look at the meter steadily, and it works. But, about 200 metres later, you realize that his meter has probably suffered a fit; it's convulsing; the numbers are dancing; the meter is on its own ride (and you are sure that you had not partaken of any banned substances).
 
3)The "sleeping" wallah:
He takes a nap wherever, whenever. I think he even does so while driving! Just kidding! He can be sleeping at a rickshaw stand (pun unintended!) and there you are, hoping an awakened-soul auto wallah comes along. Alackaday!
 
4)The "gasbag":
You usually find this one when you've had a tiring day and just want some peace and quiet. It's no point plugging in your music or pretending you're talking on the phone, he will talk over it. And he'll give you a guided tour of your route as well. Enjoy it! There's nothing else you can do!
 
5)The "Formula 1" wallah:
He is the one that zips past you leaving nothing but a streak of black smoke in his way! He must have taken an online course given by Fernando Alonso or something! Sleeping policemen are nothing but minor bumps on his quest for whatever time record he is seeking! I'm lucky I didn't get one of these guys, but I saw them!
 
 
6)The "turtle" wallah:
Mr Murphy surely strikes here. You get one of these when you are in a hurry. And no matter what you say, you won't be able to coax him into driving any faster. Just use your acquired Indian patience and make the most of the ride, turning it into a mini-holiday and watching the world (and pedestrians) go by!
 
7)The "lech":
I bet all the ladies have experienced this one. Easy to spot! Unnecessary twists and turns, sudden adjustments of the rear-view mirror,... I think it needs no further explanation. I even got an "indecent proposal" by a 26-year-old wallah. The guy even wanted to give me some money! In a way, it was flattering!
 
8)The "do-me-a-favour" wallah:
He kind of stalks you and tries to talk you into going with him on a free ride to a souvenirs' shop. It may seem dangerous, but it's just commonplace. He gets a meal voucher and you get to go shopping. In my case it was not a shop, but four! What can I say in my defence? I like shopping, I hadn't been shopping for 10 months, and I had nothing better to do in Delhi!
 
9)The "noisy" wallah:
He prefers to use the back of the auto to carry a huge loudspeaker than to take people. He loves music, especially loud music. Moreover, he loves everybody to listen to his music. One would say he's Dominican! Have you ever tried to listen to Bollywood music at a disco volume? Don't you dare!
 
10)The "normal" wallah:
He drives safely, at a normal speed, following the traffic rules, is honest, charges a fair fare, doesn't talk unnecessarily, is not a lech, and doesn't try to take you for a free ride. They do exist! Finding one is more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack, but I met some such!
 
 

 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

IS THAT ENGLISH?


The answer is NO!
 
In India, the English language gets messed up in some way or the other. They butcher the language!
 
I had a really hard time trying to understand people in India. Only one person about me (my friend) could speak decent English; the rest couldn't even say much more than: you had your breakfast? And, mind you, some of them were teachers in an English Medium School where they were supposed to teach all the subjects in English!

I realized how tough it was going to be to teach English there my first day at school, when I told the children to pronounce the letters and they said, "yem" (m), "yen" (n) and "yel" (l).

Indian English acquire the attributes of specific Indian languages, sometimes to make it incomprehensible to anybody unfamiliar with Indian English speakers. Colloquial English there is so heavily spiced with their other languages that it has become the patois of a growing number of people. Some people call it Chutney English!

Examples:

-"what is your good name?" It might sound like a parody, but I think it's a literal translation from Hindi. It makes you wonder if anyone has a bad name!

-"hotel"; any restaurant is a hotel in Indian parlance, even  a small street eatery.

-"little, little" or any other repetition to emphasise a subject.

-"only" and "but" make unexpected appearances in any part of any sentence, specially at the end.

-"what to do?" instead of "what can be done?".

-"simply" rather than saying, "I don't know why".

-"is there" in place of "it is" or "there is".

-"paining" and not "hurting".

-"come fastly" is also very common.

-And last but not least "full". They don't use the word "very". People are "full tired" or "full busy", but you have to extend the "u" when you say it if you want to seem Indian!

Then they use the future tense a lot. Everything is future, it doesn't matter if it happened yesterday or it is happening in this moment. Will!

And they also make up words. For instance: brinjal (eggplant), tiffin (lunch) or loose motions (diarrhea).

As pronunciation regards, they have different issues. For example they can't pronounce the "w" properly. They make a "v" sound. Try to say "where" pronouncing a "v". Difficult eh? The "th" is nearly always pronounced like a "t". So they say "ting" in place of "thing". And they roll the "r" in such a way you'd think they are Spanish!

The irony is that English has seen a revival inasmuch as it has become the language beckoning youth because it's the language of aspiration that will fetch jobs and money.

Another chapter apart deserves the spelling mistakes displayed on posters and writings on walls. Oh, my! Only in India can you see:

 





They have mangled the English language beyond recognition. What to do, but? They are like that only!

If you fancy, take a peek at this hilarious video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfcBrc1zwes

P.S.: This post is NOT meant to insult any Indians.

Friday, 29 August 2014

VINAYAKA CHAVITHI


Ganesha is widely worshipped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture or undertaking.
 
Vinayaka Chavithi is a Hindu festival celebrated on the rebirth of Lord Ganesha, Shiva and Parvati's son. Indians celebrate this festival with great fervour since they believe that Lord Ganesh bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees during this festival.

The festival begins on the fourth day of the waxing moon in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada and it lasts 10 days. Weeks or even months before, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are ostentatiously decorated. People place these idols of Ganesha on raised platforms in colourfully decorated homes or in purposefully erected temporary outdoors tents for people to view and pay their homage. These structures, called pandals, are decorated with flower garlands, lights or theme based decorations which depict religious or current events. For 10 days devotees offer Ganesh coconuts, jaggery or sweets such as karanji, vada and laddoo, which the women of the house prepare laborously. And the priest, with the chanting of mantras, invokes the presence of Ganesha. On the eleventh day, the image is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing and boozing to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing the see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode, while taking away everybody's misfortunes with him.


 
 

 
In my case, as I was a neophyte, I was taken from house to house and from temple to temple. My pupils and their families showed me all the poojas and traditions and fed me with all the sweets you can think of. I witnessed a snake pooja with Rundha;
 
 
I visited a little temple with some of the inhabitants of Marlapalle (where I was given rice and fruits and my face was 'made up');


I attended another pooja in Bharath's house (he chanted a kind of mantra while her mother offered Ganesh food and flowers);


I saw the sweet preparation at Bavith's house; I viewed a street pooja with Anuradha and Navya Sree;


And I finally saw the immersion in the river in Singirigunta;
 
 
Everywhere I went I ate, ate and ate, so imagine the stomachache I had and how many kilos I had put on when the festival finished!
 
They also told me two stories about Ganesh's creation. I'll tell you both.

The first one goes:

Once, while goddess Parvati wanted to take a bath, there were no attendants around to guard her and stop anyone from accidentally entering the house. Hence she created an image of a boy out of paste and infused life into it, and thus Ganesha was born. Parvati ordered Ganesha not to allow anybody to enter the house, and he obediently followed his mother's orders. After a while Shiva returned from outside, and as he tried to enter the house, Ganesha stopped him. Shiva was furious at this strange little boy who dared to challenge him. He told Ganesha that he was Parvati's husband, and demanded that he let him go in. But Ganesha refused to hear him. Shiva lost his patience and had a fierce battle with Ganesha. At least he severed Ganesha's head with his trishula. When Parvati came out and saw her son's lifeless body, she was very angry and sad. She demanded that Shiva restore Ganesha's life at once. Unfortunately, Shiva's trishula was so powerful that it had hurled Ganesha's head very far off. All attempts to find the head were in vain. As a last resort, Shiva approached Brahma, who suggested that he replace Ganesha's head with the first living being that came his way which lay with its head facing north. Shiva then sent his disciples to do so. They found a dying elephant which slept in this manner, and took its head, attaching the elephant's head to Ganesha's body and bringing him back to life.

The second one, my favourite, is:

On the insistence of Shiva, Parvati fasted for a year to propitiate Vishnu so that he would grant her a son. Lord Vishnu, after the completion of the sacrifice, announced that he would incarnate himself as her son. Accordingly, Krishna was born to Parvati as a charming infant. This event was celebrated with great enthusiasm and all the gods were invited to take a look at the baby. However, Shani hesitated to look at the baby since Shani was cursed with the gaze of destruction. Parvati insisted that he look at the baby, which he did, and immediately the infant's head fell off. Seeing Shiva and Parvati grief stricken, Vishnu mounted on his divine eagle and rushed to the banks of a river, from where he brought back the head of a young elephant. It was joined with the headless body of Parvati's son, thus reviving him. The infant was named Ganesha and all the gods blessed him and wished him power and prosperity.  

You choose the one you like best, but, anyway, may the blessings of Sri Ganesha be upon you all! May he remove all the obstacles that stand in your spiritual path! May he bestow on you all material prosperity as well as liberation!

And if you fancy, watch this Goodness Gracious Me video on a 'miracle':

 

Friday, 15 August 2014

INDIA'S INDEPENDENCE DAY


Today, August 15th, Indians celebrate their Independence Day. They commemorate they awoke to life and freedom. As Jawaharlal Nehru said, they stepped out from the old to the new. After more than two hundred years of British rule, India finally won back its freedom in 1947.
All the patriotic hearts rejoiced at seeing India becoming a sovereign nation. It was a birth of a new nation and a new beginning. The only fact that marred the happiness was the fact that the country was divided into India and Pakistan and the violent riots took away a  number of lives.
Everybody, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, does something or the other to mark the birth of the world's biggest democracy. All the schools and colleges across the nation hoist the national flag on the rooftops and the buildings to symbolize the stature of the national flag as nation's pride. Also offices and businesses celebrate this day. Since it is declared a national holiday by the government of india, all the institutions, government or otherwise, have holiday. People only go to their offices to attend the flag hoisting ceremony.
Today they are jubilating the 68th anniversary. I celebrated the 66th. At the school I, as a newcomer, wore my first saree. I borrowed it from a teacher who is, at least, 40 pounds thinner than me. But they managed to stuff me into it. It was another matter to be able to breathe, but...
Everybody brought me anklets, bangles, earrings, flowers, necklaces,... so that I was pretty enough for the occasion. Bindhi (red dot on the forehead) included. I felt a little funny. A mixture of feelings. I felt like a geek, but at the same time I felt flattered since I sensed I was merging with them.
Everyone wanted to take a picture of me. That is the day when I lost my fear (or better said, allergy) of having my pic taken.
All the students at the school had prepared dances and songs.
Afterwards we played games and there was also a parade. It was a great way of breaking the ice. From that moment on I felt I was part of the institution.
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY TO MY INDIAN FRIENDS!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

SPANISH COOKERY IN INDIA


In a year you have time to get used to things and to get fed up with them. You also have time to miss others. It's not my case. I didn't really miss anyone or anything, but Spanish food was always welcomed. 

Sometimes, when my friend and I got really bored, we began fantasizing about having a Western dinner. We had a craving for pizza and paella, respectively. Sometimes we dreamed up a whole menu. It didn't sate our hunger; it only made our mouths water. 

After some months in India, my friend brought me a little can of olive oil. I remember having some toast with it as my Christmas lunch. I couldn't imagine a better delicacy than that! Every now and then I poured a few drops on a tomato and cucumber salad. Yummy! I made it last as if it were black gold! 

On another occasion he told me on the phone he had bought some ham for me. More than ever I was longing for his coming back. My surprise was when I opened the packet. It was not the famous Spanish Serrano ham but the boiled version; which is nice, but not that inviting. Don't get me wrong! I ate it with pleasure. 

Finally, the real ham came. It was the best present ever. I was about to set up an altar for it as Indians do for their gods. Moreover I know it was an odyssey to get it, so I appreciated it even more. My friend had to run like a maniac in the supermarket and nearly missed the bus. It's a pity I'd run out of oil by then. 
 

Although I am a fussy person, I was determined to try everything I was offered. Indians are not that way, though. 

They are not really fond of fungi. Once I was walking in the country and I saw some mushrooms, similar to the oyster mushrooms we eat in Spain. I decided to cook them for me and for the boarding school workers. I've got to admit that the dish left a lot to be desired, but the fact is that they didn't even make the effort to try them. Only one of them tasted the mushrooms, and, using Indian absence of sincerity, said they were OK, but he didn't have a second helping. 


Another day, taking advantage of the fact that the 'bosses' were away, I prepared a paella. Well, sort of! It had all its ingredients (adapted to the Indian market) but it was tasteless. Being an expert in rice dishes as I am, I guess it's the kind of rice used there, which doesn't absorb flavours. Everybody tried it, but as it was not hot, they didn't like it. Only when they added pickle or any other hot sauce, did they eat it.

And the same happened with another rice dish I prepared (tuna rice). Everyone added any available pungent sauce. My friend and I had two helpings, though. It was a time when we were a bit weary of the repetitive Indian cuisine. 

And the same old story when my mother came to visit me, and so to show the cooks some Spanish cooking, she sautéed some chicken livers (which were delicious, by the way). Six of one and half a dozen of the other! It was not hot. Translated into 'Indian', it was waste. 

But all in all, I love Indian food. And I missed it when I was in the Dominican Republic. The spices prevent you from sweating, which would have been great in such humid weather. 

The idea of opening a Spanish restaurant somewhere has crossed my mind. Now, taking full account of my fiasco, I know it can't be in India. 

P.S.: The awesome paella at the beginning of this post is not the one I cooked! 

Monday, 14 July 2014

INDIAN SUPERSTITIONS


India, being the hub of diverse cultures and traditions, is also home to myriad superstitions. There superstitions abound. They are usually attributed to lack of education. Yet, they are followed stringently, even by the so-called liberated, modern, scientific minds. Though most of them don't want to believe them, these practices are so deep rooted that Indians are not prepared to take the risk of ignoring them. Some of these beliefs are centuries old and have a story behind that makes them logical, but we simply forget why we started doing it and now do it mechanically. Some have their basis in religious beliefs, others in scientific facts and others in no conceivable reason.
 
One superstition that cracked me up was when one of the cooks, Anitha, after witnessing two or three of the rows I had with my 'bosses' there (showing my strong character, which is something a woman never does in India), stared at my toes and blurted, "Now I know why your husband left you! Your index toes are longer than your big toes! That's why!" I laughed my ass off!
 
On another occasion I was cutting my nails and some of my students screamed blue murder. They came running to warn me of the dangers of doing so on that day. I don't remember which day it was, but one of them told me that cutting your nails on a Friday or Tuesday is considered bad luck. But then another student said that it was not on a Tuesday, but on a Thursday. So... And the same happens with your hair. Mind you which day you go to the hairdresser's!
 
A separate chapter is needed for menstruation! That is a taboo. Nobody speaks openly about having their period or needing a sanitary towel. I've also had some funny stories trying to 'smuggle' a sanitary napkin in a class. Menstruating women are considered impure and unclean. This, of course, gives rise to many superstitious beliefs. Women on their period can't touch certain plants. They would die (the plants, not the women). One day, Leena, the other cook, whispered in my ear to pluck some leaves of a plant to cook; she said she couldn't do it because she had 'that thing'. When I told her that I also had 'that thing', we had to go and find a purer soul to do it.
 
A woman who is menstruating is also supposed to stay away from temples, mosques and all religious spots in the house itself. The cleaner in charge of sweeping the church next to the school where I taught had to ask the other cleaner to do it. She simply crossed herself and went past the church.
 
When a girl's first menstruation arrives there is a ritual. The girl is specially dressed and decorated with bracelets and mehndi; she has meetings with women as well as the whole family. Each girl undergoes a short separation time, when she is fed special food to get extra strength. During this time she is visited by friends; she can't leave the house (for 9 days, if I remember correctly). Elder women sing songs for her and prepare her a scented bath. She is usually wrapped in beautiful fabric and she receives presents.
 
 
Astrology is an integral part of Indian culture. Even today, many people prefer to do some things such as entering a newly made home, fixing a marriage proposal or a marriage date, starting a new business, etc., according to their astrological belief. These auspicious dates are often decided by an astrologer.
 
Then they have the lizards. If a lizard makes a sound when you make a statement, that's a good omen. It indicates that what you said is true. If a lizard falls on your body, that also means something. And they do fall! Never in my life has a 'Spanish' lizard fallen on me. Yet, while I was in India, they fell on me every other day! If one falls on your head, then you are ready for a clash; if it falls on your shoulder, that means victory; if it falls on your hands, you may expect financial profits. And that goes on and on and on.
 
Another jinx is seeing a black cat. Especially when you're going to work. You are supposed to turn round, go back into your house, pray and then go to work. Either you do that or your work that day won't be successful.
 
Never ever use your left hand to give or take anything (you know what the left hand is used for in India!).
 
It also brings bad luck standing in a doorway. You cannot stand on the threshold. You either get in or out. That is exactly the opposite of what we are told here, where there is risk of having earthquakes.
 
And the last superstition I can recall has to do with babies. This one made me laugh out loud! Anitha had a baby. You know that Indians make a fuss about the skin colour. The darker, the uglier! So, Anitha had a pretty dark baby. She is quite dark, too. So no surprise whatsoever (for me). She admitted that she was to blame, but not because she is rather black, but because she didn't have pomegranate or powder milk while she was pregnant! If she'd had, the result would have been completely different. I wonder if Indians think that the mothers of albino children are on a pomegranate and powder milk diet all their pregnancies and the diet gets out of hand at some point. Ah! I had forgotten! Women always sit on the floor to do all the tasks, but during her pregnancy she insisted on sitting on the floor and not using one of the low stools we had in the kitchen. The reason? If you sit on a stool or a chair while you are pregnant, your child's nose will be huge! My mother must have sat somewhere really high!
 
Another superstition babies have to put up with is having that kohl dot their mothers put on their faces to ward off evil eye. The 'logic' behind this process is that doing so makes the child in question look ugly, and therefore unattractive to the evil eye.
 
 
I possibly forgot some of the superstitious stories, but with this bunch you can have an idea of how credulous (I didn't want to use the word gullible) Indians are!  

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

THREADING

 
Threading is an ancient method of hair removal that has been practiced in India for over 6000 years, but for me it was something unknown. I'd seen it ina a documentary on televisión (if you haven't, take a gander at the ling at the end of the blog), but I'd never tried. It's hever crossed my mind. But one day, I was at a hairdresser's in Hyderabad and the "hairdresser" began doing it to a client. I wrote hairdresser between quotation marks because she was not a conventional one. She began cutting my hair without even wetting it, let alone washing it! When I nicely reprobated her method, she just sprayed some water on my hair to moisten it. It's fair to say that some months later I went to another salón in Bangalore and there the hair stylist did cut my hair Western-style.
 
As I was saying, a woman was having her moustache done. Seeing that she didn't seem to suffer much, I decided to give it a try, but not without first asking for the price. As I mentioned in another post, tariffs are usually different for Indians and for foreigners. I was given a reasonable figure so I ventured to have my eyebrows done. The beautician took a long piece of thin thread in her hands and mouth, doubled it and then twisted it. She then rolled it over my eyebrows, plucking short lines of hair. It was fast, precise, cheap and painless.
 
Later on, I went again with my friend Leena to a salón in Punganur. That time it was also OK. Not that fast, but at least it was painless. But the last time I went (even though it was the same specialist) it was as painful as hell. Had it been that excruciating the first time, I'd never have had it done again. That day I learnt to say 'pain' in Telugu, which, by the way, I still remember: NOPPI.
 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

SWASTIKA


At this stage of the game you must have realized that everything in India shocked me. Another thing that startled me was the Swastikas.
 
I saw Swastikas everywhere, on cars, buses, buildings, autos, clothing, business logos and even on cakes. Swastikas seemed to be ubiquitous! I've even read that Swastik and Swastika are common first names for males and females respectively (I didn't meet anyone called like that, though!).
 
Of course, I (biased by the western stigmatized idea of being associated with Nazism, anti-Semitism, hatred, violence, death and murder) immediately thought that Indians were crazy and had all been abducted by Hitler's spirit! I actually freaked out! Surprisingly, I don't have any anecdotes to tell you. I didn't insult any Indian calling him Nazi or anything of the kind.
 
Later I learnt that before the Nazis used this symbol to show racial purity and superiority, the Swastika was used my many cultures to represent the sun, life, power, strength and good luck.
 
The Swastika, in case you don't know,  is an equilateral cross, with four arms of equal length with the end of each bent at a right angle, all in the same rotary direction. sometimes dots are added between each arm.
 
Jainas use it to remind the worshiper of the four possible places of rebirth (in the animal or plant world, in hell, on Earth, or in the spirit world).
 
In Hinduism it represents the principle originating the universo of life, with the four swirling arms representing the four faces of Brahma. The right-hand Swastika is a solar symbol, while the left-hand one (called Sauvastika) stands for night, the terrigying goddess Kali and magical practices. In Sanskrit it means literally 'well-being' or 'everything is well'. Hindus draw them on the doors and entrances to their houses during festivals to symbolize an invitation to goddess Lakshmi. In Indian custom, new cars are sometimes painted with a Swastika to signify blessing for road safety. It also represents the natural order, wealth, desire and liberation.
 
And Buddhists refer to it as the Seal on Buddha's Heart.
 
So, the moral would be: before judging (assuming, for example, that an entire country is nuts), get informed!
 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

MISSING, MISSING, MISSING


Exactly one year ago I left India. It might seem silly (what's the big deal of leaving a country in which you've only lived for just one year?), but for me it was quite tough.
 
I left the little adventures that filled every day.
 
I left a new routine which made me feel comfortable. I had finally got used to the Indian set of values (the complete lack of personal intimacy, the flexibility of truth, the sheer volume of life and their totally bizarre concept of taste included). I simply learnt to roll with it.
 
I left the freedom of not having to worry about things. Having a look at the problems some people there have, your bills, your divorce, your... seem trivial.
 
I left the fact of being busy (which I love and need). Either helping in the boarding school kitchen or listening to the children's crazy stories, I constantly had something to do.
 
I left...
 
I left...
 
But above all I left some friends. I feel brokenhearted as day by day it's clearer that things will never be the same. With some of them I can barely speak, since they don't speak much English and I've forgotten the little Telugu I picked up. There the non-verbal communication replaced our language barriers. But on the phone (apart from being extremely expensive) it's a horse of a different colour. And the people I can speak English with are so busy they don't have time to share with me. (It's not a complaint). I just feel I miss them more than they miss me, which, on the other hand, is completely acceptable. But I can't help feeling stranded. I miss spending my time with them. Last night, for example, I slept on the floor and that reminded me of the times my friend and I did there. Again it might seem silly, but... I feel I was part of their lives and now I'm part of their past. I'm only some 'nice' fellow they met. Everybody seems to be moving on but me.
 
What I feared would happen has happened! But I guess it's the same as what Paulo Coelho wrote about love: It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Living in India was worth it!

The tone of my blog conveys that I'm feeling quite down, so to cheer myself up I've written a list of all things I won't miss about India:
 
-The lack of toilet paper
 
-The lack of Western manners ('please' and 'thank you' for instance)
 
-Practices such as shoving, poking, spitting, littering, and public urination and defecation
 
-Bargaining
 
-Overly persistent salespeople who descend on foreigners like vultures on a fresh carcass
 
-Bureaucracy and snappy, unhelpful, corrupt authority figures
 
-Needless paperwork
 
-Illogical and inefficient ways of getting things done
 
-Painful slow internet connections
 
-Inadequate infrastructure
 
-Cramped trains and buses
 
-Small, bumpy, and crowded roads
 
-Hearing the same Bollywood, Tollywood or similar songs over and over again
 
-Not being able to understand most conversations and not being understood
 
-The fact that people rarely explain what's going on (even if it affects me directly)
 
-The lack of clear, useful information when it is needed most
 
-Streets filled with garbage, excrement, and every other type of filth imaginable
 
-The prevalence of firmly entrenched, old-fashioned gender roles
 
-Living in a country where women are often restricted from everything
 
-Being asked when I intend to get married and why I am not
 
-The cast system
 
And maybe you're wondering: with that long list, how is it possible that she misses chaotic India?
 
Well, I do!
 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

HAGGLING


Exactly one year ago I left India. It might seem silly (what's the big deal of leaving a country in which you've only lived for just one year?), but for me it was quite tough.
 
Saying that haggling is the usual way of doing business in India would be a euphemism. I think Indians learn this word before they learn to say mommy or daddy!  
 
In India each and every deal is negotiable: food, clothes, taxi fare, dowry,... the list has no end! You must work out a deal at the butcher's, at the fismonger's, at the bakery,... everywhere!
 
 
 
 

The first sale of the day is considered to bring good luck, so it's the right moment to get a good price!
 
 
But the real paltering takes place at souvenir shops.
 
A piece of advice: never, ever show that you are interested in something! Pretend to be indifferent; it doesn't matter how much you want it! If they see the teeny tiniest enthusiasm in you, you're screwed up!
 
The game begins when you ask "how much is it?" They start off with an astronomical price, and that is in deference to us, foreigners! They think we are all filthy rich!
 
 
At the very beginning, I have to admit that I was fooled. I paid 275 rupees for a churidar. If I had bought it two weeks later, when I was more experienced, I'd have only spent 100. When my mom came to visit me, I wanted her to try a vegetable which we cannot find in Spain (if I remember well, it's called bitter gourd). I paid for a pound of it the same amount of money my friend spent on veggies for fifty people in a week!
 
 
But then I learnt! Whenever I went to a tourist site, I was asked exorbitant prices for simple knick-knacks. Then I pointed at my clothes, my mehndi and my anklets and said, "But can't you see that I am already half Indian? You have to charge me what you'd charge an Indian!" I know for sure I paid more than the local folks, but I got to lower the price by at least 80%! 
 
Although bartering can be awkward for most foreigners, you have to find the bright side: you can have free tea! Salesmen offer tea to posible customers, so you just have to display some enthusiasm and... voilà... free chai (which is delicious, by the way)! 
 
Another way of taking advantage of eager shopkeepers is getting to know the place with the inestimable auto drivers' tourist guidance. They get a meal coupon or a petrol voucher for taking clients-to-be into some shops. That is what I did in Delhi. I saw part of the city in an auto (all by myself, not with 18 people more), I had some free chai, I went shopping (which I love) and (why not  confess it?) bought some stuff (mind you, real bargains!).
 
 

Monday, 5 May 2014

BELCHING


I am far from being a clean freak or germaphobe (or any of that shit), but India was far too fond of body noises for me at the very beginning!
 
There are a lot of no-nos in India, but there seems to be no taboo about coughing, farting, pissing, shitting, picking your nose, blowing your nose straight onto the pavement or onto your hand (and then wiping your hand in your clothes), spitting everywhere, bringing up phlegm before firing it out on the road and, of course, burping. Those are things they do with complete impunity!
 
But burping, especially burping, is socially accepted, even appreciated. They do like a huge, audible appreciation belch after a rich and spicy meal. It is a sign that you've enjoyed your meal and an indication of satiety.
 
But this sonorous post-meal belch seems weird to the uninitiated. It did to me, anyway!
 
I knew it was custormary to burp out loud. But the very first time I was eating in India and one of the fellow eaters at my table let go such a powerful burp that I'd have been less shocked if I'd seen an elephant flying, it made me lose my appetite; it made me want to scold him and follow up with a lesson on good manners.
 
On the second occasion, I was urged to start a little chat on the basics of hygiene. Nonetheless, here's the rub: the strange one around there was me. I was the uninvited guest who was in no position to criticize the habits and the culture of more than one billion hosts. Especially considering that I too, by ignorance or neglect, did things that were considered rude there.
 
One of the bosses there, made a great effort so that I got used really fast. He went all out; he gave everything he had! The minute he finished eating, he began belching. He let go a good 30 times, one after the other, after every meal. He did it, specially, while we went back from the dining-room to the school. No wonder why I stopped having breakfast, lunch and dinner with him altogether!
 
So, as the saying goes, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do!" So, when in India,... 
 
After all, as someone said, "who does not burp not fart is doomed to explode".   

 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

ARRANGED MARRIAGES


It really startled me when a guy told me that he was going to get married in two years' time but he didn't have a girlfriend yet. Innocently, I asked him how he was so sure. He, as if it was the most natural thing on earth, explained that since his mother was becoming quite old, he needed someone to take care of him and of his mother!

In our western minds, maybe, obliging someone to marry a complete stranger raises rejection and horror; we consider it a barbarism from the Middle Ages. I guess that's because we've been brought up where freedom of thought and action are basic values. Nevertheless, there are historic, social and cultural reasons for arranged marriages.

A woman in India spends all her life under someone's command, as a daughter first and as a wife afterwards. Only when she becomes a mother-in-law will she have some authority!

Indian marriages are the union of two families. Cast and income outweigh the fact that the husband-to-be and wife-to-be like each other or not. They think that the fact that both spouses have the same background guarantees the durability of the marriage (quite arguable, I believe). Love'll come afterwards! According to them a physical attraction may fade, while this browed "love" will not!

Parents have more experience than children, hence, they are more capable of choosing the right person. Children accept that since obedience is basic in the family. A love marriage would mean that you are setting yourself before your culture and your family. If love fails and you get divorced, your family will be dishonoured and you'll be rejected by all your community.

Nowadays, marriages are "semi-arranged". The parents select an aspirant asking friends, accepting relatives' suggestions, peeking through mating sites, thumbing through the papers,... Yeah! You read it right! In the papers you can find matrimonial ads! They, together with the net, are the modern matchmakers! These ads are categorized by cast, religion and profession. Browsing them you can find a manglik (if you're also one), your vegetarian sweet heart, your fair and glowing Shahrukh Khan-like guy, or whoever you are looking for!

When they estimate they have the appropriate candidate, they organize a "date". It's the future couple's task to hook up or not. Could we take this as a step towards liberation?

By the way, it's the bride's family the one who has to pay the groom's family the dowry! Unbelievable!

Not being married, especially a woman, is something they consider fishy. I was often asked why I wasn't married, what my flaw was! Why wouldn't a not that bad-looking 41-year-old woman be married? In the end, we concluded that it was because of my character (too strong for men, especially Indian) and because my index toes were longer than my big toes! I just couldn't stop laughing! I'll tell you about Indian superstitions in another blog.

Meanwhile, have a look at this hilarious Goodness Gracious Me video and at a matrimonial ad parody!
 
P.S.: I did go to a wedding in India (well, to the reception), but I didn't take any pictures. How silly of me! The photo at the beginning of this post is pasted. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

INDIAN FAMILIES


Although you can find regular families in India, what really abound are really large ones. And when I say regular families, I mean families with a father, a mother and their offspring. Nothing out of the ordinary as those 'modern' families (which some old-fashioned people don't even call families) of gays or lesbians with adopted children, as we have here in Europe.
 
In Indian culture the family is really important. Indians horrify at the western 'lack of family loyalty'. For them, a family is not only people of the same clan living under the same roof, but relatives joined together by rights and commitments and subject to a hierarchical authority among its members.
 
So it's not weird to ask someone how many brothers or sisters they have and to get '40' for an answer! That is called an extended or joint family. It consists of all persons lineally descended from a common ancestor, and includes their wives and unmarried daughters. A daughter ceases to be a member of her father's family on marriage, and becomes a component of her husband's.
 
So that you get the picture: a couple lives with all their sons and daughters. When the sons get married, their wives come to stay in the same house and there their children are brought up, too. And the daughters live there until they get married. At that momento they move to their husband's house.
 
The patriarch (usually the oldest man) makes decisions on financial and social matters. His wife exerts control over the kitchen, child rearing and religious practices. Old women have more competence than young men, though. All money goes to the common pool and all property is held collectively.
 
This has its advantages. They develop a feeling of strength and security. They know they'll never be alone; they'll always have their family's support. To get that support they just have to comply the rules and not to dishonour the family.
 
So imagine you got married to an Indian man. You'd move to his house with all your in-laws and without a saying in your relantionship! So, there you are obeying your parents-in-law blindly, and with no right to complain. If one day you fancy eating this or that thing, you can't! If you feel like shouting at your husband, you can't! If you consider your kiddo needs some punishment, you can't! If you'd like to save money to indulge in a whim, you can't!... As if a 'normal' marriage wasn't complicated enough!
 
If you that you add that polygamy is an extended practice in India,... Picture yourself in your in-laws' house with your husband's other wife/wives! A loony house!
 
P.S.: Polyandry is also in practice.