Thursday, 27 February 2014


The moment I stepped in India I received a garland of flowers together with a welcome song. Apart from making me feel embarrassed (since I’m extremely shy), I felt flattered.
Flowers are seen as a symbol of wishing good luck when given as a gift. That must be the reason why they gave me a bunch of flowers when I arrived at the school. Since the two bosses didn’t know me yet, they wanted me to be lucky. Later they changed their minds!

India, apart from having a national flag (Tiranga), a national anthem (Jana-gana-mana), a national song (Vande Mataram), a national pledge, a national game (hockey, though cricket is more popular), a national animal (tiger), a national tree (banyan), and a national bird (peacock), has a national flower: the lotus or water lily.

The lotus has cultural heritage and is considered very auspicious. In Sanskrit it’s called ‘nalini’ which means sacred and mystic. The lotus flower symbolizes detachment from the surroundings, be it good or bad. They acknowledge the lotus as absolute beauty, purity and prosperity and the symbol of eternal life. Hinduism says that within each human dwells the spirit of the sacred lotus. In the postures of Hatha Yoga the lotus position, padmasana, is adopted by those striving to reach the highest level of consciousness, which itself is found in the thousand-petaled lotus chakra at the top of the head.

Hindus often offer fresh flowers, as well as food, to their deities as a symbol of love and devotion.
And the presence of flowers is abundant in the portrayals of their numerous gods and goddesses. Flowers are considered the best offering that can be given to the deities in temples.
In Indian homes (hindu or not) you can always see garlands of flowers around the pictures of their deceased relatives.

At weddings, flowers are as important as the bride and the groom. There are festivals entirely dedicated to flowers, such as Bathukamma (the photo doesn’t refer to that one).

They also use flowers to decorate animals for special occasions, such as Sankranthi.

They serve them to protect vehicles, not to have accidents.
We could say, therefore, that flowers play a culturally significant role in Indian culture.

So as flowers are used for everything you can see people selling garlands and strands of flowers which sellers assemble in front of you, or flowers and petals by the kilo so that you can make the strings yourself at home.
Women are really skillful at making them. In no time at all they tie a metre of them! As you can see in the shot, I had a good instructor: Uday’s mother. She tried to teach me, but I was useless. I guess it’s a matter of practice!
But my real worry was the strands of flowers women pin up in their hair. On special occasions, for instance birthdays, women string big strands, like the one Rhunda is wearing in the picture.
But girls and women put flowers on their heads every single day. And they didn’t want me to be an exception, so… I had never, ever in my whole life put any flowers on my head, not even for the Holy Communion when all the girls have some of those cheesy flowery tiaras! In the beginning, every morning, when I came downstairs I feared someone had brought me flowers. It was a daily torment! And if I was lucky and there weren’t flowers waiting for me, that was a relief! But then, I went to school and there there was always some student or teacher with a rose or any other flower for me. But, as I said, that was only the first weeks. Later I missed whenever I didn’t have anything to pin to my hair!
And to finish with, a little bit of literature. The poem ‘Flower School’, by the famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, which shows the place flowers have in the Indian poetry:
When storm-clouds rumble in the sky and June showers come down.
The moist east wind comes marching over the heath to blow its
bagpipes among the bamboos.
Then crowds of flowers come out of a sudden, from nobody knows
where, and dance upon the grass in wild glee.
Mother, I really think the flowers go to school underground.
They do their lessons with doors shut, and if they want to
come out to play before it is time, their master makes them stand
in a corner.
When the rain come they have their holidays.
Branches clash together in the forest, and the leaves rustle
in the wild wind, the thunder-clouds clap their giant hands and the
flower children rush out in dresses of pink and yellow and white.
Do you know, mother, their home is in the sky, where the stars
Haven’t you see how eager they are to get there? Don’t you
know why they are in such a hurry?
Of course, I can guess to whom they raise their arms; they
have their mother as I have my own. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014


Note: this one is about real animals, not about the two people I mentioned in my fourth blog (THANKS 3).
Before going to India I was kind of allergic to every single sort of animal. Well, pets were OK, but when it came to insects I nearly got a rash at the mere thinking of them anywhere near me.

Not any longer! I wouldn’t say they’re friends of mine, but at least I don’t kill them (if they keep their distance). Nowadays my enemies are just cockroaches. There I murdered millions and I keep on exterminating them where I live now, but I’m OK with the rest of creepers and other bugs.

In my first months in the country I used to walk around, right flip-flop in hand, beating every bug I saw to death. I broke 3 or 4 shoes that way! I’d say I wiped out about 1,000,000 mosquitoes. They were tremendous (huge and moreover they bit even through the clothes). After assassinating that amount the word spread among mosquitoes and they didn’t bother me any more.

I killed like 8,000 geckoes, too. They welcomed me and they continued being by my side (and when I say by my side I mean it, especially by my bed) until the last day. Unlike Spanish ones, Indian geckoes are quite clumsy. They fall off the wall quite easily. Indians say that if they fall on your head you are lucky. I must be the luckiest person on earth! But on the other hand, if they fall on your shoulder, it’s a bad omen! So, fifty, fifty! Anyway, after some time, geckoes and I became friends. They emit a shrill cry and they would wake me up every morning. It was a peculiar alarm clock!

Almost every Indian is against killing animals for the sake of killing. It’s almost a sin! So, I guess, that’s why they stared at me as if I were a freak shaking my shoe around.
But apart from the animals I tried to annihilate, there were other creatures. There were bats, owls, toads, monkeys, snakes, elephants, cows, buffaloes, hens, oxen, scorpions, silk worms, rats, mice, pigs,… etc., etc.
I have something to say about all of them:
Bats: once the children scared me around with one of them! There I was running like a bat out of hell and the kiddos racing after me holding the bat with its wings spread!
Owls: the kids caught one and cooked it for dinner. I didn’t eat it anyway!
Toads: when it rained you could easily step on one! They were all sizes.
Monkeys: Punganur was full of them and they sometimes came to the school to grab all the food they could. Once I was nibbling an apple and a monkey came and grasped it! I had no choice, but give in. They become very aggressive if they don’t get what they want. Before going to India I had the rabies vaccine. But the problem with monkeys there is not that they bite you (which may happen) but that they throw coconuts or whatever they have on hand at you.
Snakes: in the Indian school textbooks there is always one lesson about snakes, so that the children can differentiate them and know what to do in case of a snake bite. I saw some poisonous snakes (I can recall 6) but nothing serious happened. They’re quite thrilling! Some people took the courage and tried to kill them and some of us just ran in the opposite direction!
Elephants: As you can see I had a ride on one in Munar. Her name was Mahal (palacio). I thought I wouldn’t have the courage, but it was amazing! Later I fed her.
Cows: the one on the picture is ‘decorated’ for Sankranthi. My first mishap with a cow was in my first week there. It was not with a cow but with its dung! Two of the students and I went to a village nearby to sell the milk they had just milked, it was dark, we had no torch,… Imagine the rest! But they saw it as an everyday thing. You wash your feet and that’s it!
Buffaloes: which, in spite of being rather big, seem quite tame. I saw these ones in the middle of Hyderabad streets! Imagine a herd of buffaloes stampeding in a 7-million-inhabitant city!
Hens: pecking the heaps of rubbish.
Rabbits: we used to have three. Sai Manoj and I named them Blackie, Brownie and Whitey (imagine what colour they were! Not very original, I know!). But after some weeks of starving, they passed away.

Oxen: used to plow the fields and other tasks in the country.
Scorpions: which are huge and of course poisonous! We found this one in my friend’s office. I understood why he’s afraid of the dark!
Silk worms: the man who milked the cow had a silk worm business. Although I had silk worms when I was little, there I got to know how they make the silk and I even helped him and his family separate the cocoons from the sort of board where they were formed.

Rats and mice: every now and then we could see a rat like the one Naveen is holding! And mice were the daily bread in the kitchen!
Pigs: these ones were having a siesta in the shadow! That day the temperature was like 45°C. Even the pigs looked for a shadow desperately! By the way, it’s a pity Indians don’t exploit the pigs to make ham!
Camels: which they use to go for a ride on the beach. Quite relaxing at sunset, I must say!

And of course, I can’t forget Blackie! Blacks was more than a dog, he was a friend who came with me for walks whenever my friend was not around! He protected me and he just wanted some chapattis in return. Although I have to say that he sometimes preferred any bitch that came along to me! When he was in that mood, he was tied. That’s why he didn’t let me sleep some nights. He was completely nuts! He used to go crazy when either my friend or I played with him! But for the rest, he was faultless. He even came after the jeep I was leaving in to ‘say’ goodbye!
Here you have this video about a pet cow by Goodness Gracious Me:

Sunday, 16 February 2014


Toilet paper hasn’t made it to India yet! And that took me by surprise!

In the loo of the room where I first stayed in India there was soap, toothpaste, and, of course, hair coconut oil, but no toilet paper! I thought, ‘They must have forgotten it!’ But no, that was not the case! In India they don’t use it. Don’t ask me what they do. I haven’t got the slightest idea and I preferred not to ask! I assume it’s better that way considering there are more than 1,200 million Indians. Imagine how many trees would have to be cut down to supply all those dirty tooshies!

I didn’t care what they did. My concern was to get it for me! I had some tissues with me, but not enough for a whole year! So I ventured to find some. But it was not so easy. In Vijayawada (with more than 1,000,000 inhabitants) I tried several shops, but they had no idea of what that was! Finally, after a lot of asking I found a hypermarket where they had some rolls. They also had sanitary pads (which are also quite rare). So I bought all the rolls they had (4) and a packet of sanitary pads. When it was my turn to pay, they asked me my name and my phone number. Don’t ask me why! I didn’t, either!

In the boarding school where I lived it was only my friend and I the ones who used it. We left the rolls in the corridor so that either of us could catch one whenever we needed. Other things could be stolen, but not that. On one occasion some of the kids saw the rolls and asked me what they were for. They’d never seen such a thing!

Getting toilet paper was an Odyssey! There wasn’t any in the place where we were living. So every time my friend or I went away (he used to go to Hyderabad once every two months and I travelled around India 7 times but not always to big cities) we bought all the TP we could find. When he returned he sometimes brought me olive oil, or ham, or a T-shirt, and that was OK (I mean, very kind of him). But when he came with the rolls, it was the best gift he could give me; it was a relief! We had some stock for the following weeks!

The thing is that when something is scarce, you value it more and, of course, you don’t waste it. I guess that you, the same as me before that experience, have never tried to save toilet paper. But I did every time I used it and I still do it now. I guess it’s a sequel of my life in India. The environment will thank me!

In the snap you can see how happy I was with my rolls! As many as 6! You see, sometimes you don’t need much to be up!

I don't know if it is accurate, but have a look at this video to get the picture of how they do it:

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Power cuts are funny! At least when you get used to them.

In big cities the electricity is cut off for two or three hours a day and the cut-offs follow a timetable. That’s fine! Tolerable! But where I was, in a little secluded spot far away from any kind of civilization, they lasted much longer and you never knew when they were going to take place. Supposedly, every week they changed the time. But, then, as everything in India, they didn’t take place when they were expected! So it was quite thrilling (especially with scorpions, as big as a hand, and different sorts of poisonous snakes around).

I’ve read that one-third of India's households do not even have electricity so, what’s the big deal? You don’t have power for some hours, so what?

Everybody is so used to cut-offs that they go on doing their tasks as if nothing had happened! They are prepared for them! Even mobile phones have a little bulb you can use to light up whatever it is you are doing! So we continued studying, cooking, eating,…

And when the power did come back, it was all running around switching on every single gadget: the mobile phone, the computer, the torch,…

Some privileged people in the boarding school had power generators, so they had electricity 24 hours a day. But that was not the case of my friend and me!  Remember that we were the black sheep of the family! So there we were, playing cards, reading, or simply talking in the dark. We sometimes had to sleep on the corridor floor until the power came back, since some nights without current to get the fan going (it's not that we had A.C.), it was quite difficult to get to sleep!

In summer we sweated in 89% humidity. I read that repeated power cuts during a spell of 43°C-plus heat prompted hundreds of folks to vandalize electricity substations, to beat up energy company officials and to hold them hostage! I sometimes felt like joining them!

Sunday, 9 February 2014


If there was something which didn’t surprise me about India when I got there it’s the way they wash clothes. What did surprise me was how spotlessly clean they are! I’d already seen it on television and I’d also read about it. Once I saw a documentary about Dhobi Ghat, which is a huge outdoor ‘laundromat’ in Mumbai. Each day it is estimated that a half million pieces of clothing are washed, dried and ironed there. (Knowing Indians I can imagine how many pieces are missing and how probable it is that you get someone else’s laundry back). This was not the documentary I saw, but you can watch this one to get the idea:

Now I’m living in the Dominican Republic and wash my clothes by hand; I don’t use a washing machine, even though I have one. I wouldn’t call it a “washing machine” since it doesn’t wash, but… The fact is that in India I got used to doing the laundry by hand, and that is the way I continued doing it when I went back to Spain and the way I do it here. I think it has many advantages: you use less water and detergent, you don’t have to wait until you get a load of dirty clothes, you save electricity,… It also has some disadvantages: if you do it in the river, the detergent pollutes it (or maybe it disinfects it!), it’s time consuming,…


On my first day in Vijayawada I saw a group of women washing clothes on the river bed. They were literally giving a beating to the clothes. I guess that’s the way!

I was privileged because I could have someone do the job. Although I like to do my things myself, for me it was an everyday  drudgery  I could avoid, so I gave my clothes to the male dhobi who came once a week  (or whenever he fancied). The clothes were beaten clean, hung to dry and pressed to crisp perfection. But the dhobi who did it loved my clothes and he used to ‘divert’ some pieces every time. On being told he gave some of them back, but some remained missing. Having arrived with not many clothes, I calculated that in a month or so I would have to go around naked! So, I had to stop giving the dhobi my clothes!

At the very beginning there was nothing easy or efficient about doing the laundry by hand for me, but little by little I think I got better. Not having a river nearby or 24-hour running water makes it a little more complicated. But it’s just a matter of practice. Now I don’t have the style Indians have, but my clothes are pretty clean! I am more pitiful and I don’t give them such a hard time, though!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


All those who know me a little bit know how much I hated (and notice I’m using the past tense) having my photo taken! Not anymore! I had so many pictures taken with people all over India that now I kind of miss it! (Just joking!)

People wanted to take snaps with me as if I was some sort of freakish carnival attraction! It happened everywhere every day. Thank you, mobile phones with cameras!

When this one was taken this family saw me, screeched to a halt and asked me to pose with them. Why shouldn’t I? If that made them happier…
But the funniest picture moment was with a yogi and his mate. I was walking along a country road alone. I was actually quite close to the boarding school when a van approached me and stopped the engine. One man got out of it from each side. Both of them dressed as you can see in the picture. I panicked! I just froze! I didn’t know what they wanted. I thought, ‘This is it! They’re going to rape me or kidnap me!’ (One listened to so many stories about tourists being raped in India). I think they saw the horror on my face and took out their mobile phones. They just wanted a picture of me with them! So there we were, in the middle of the road, having a photo shooting! In return for this they gave me a poster with the different yoga positions.
Once I was even asked for my autograph! Yeah! As if I were Madonna! So, Malika, if I ever become famous, that autograph will be worth a fortune!
In the beginning I attracted constant stares from people on the street (children and adults alike). I was greeted like a celebrity by the village kids whenever I visited any of the four villages around. And later, they became less shy and they shouted my name or ‘telaama’ (which means white woman in Telugu) and came running after me. Later on they touched me since they liked my fair complexion. And they even beat me (affectionately) or pinched me so that my skin became red! They found it peculiar!
And although at first I lost a few kilos (since I didn’t like hot food) I soon put on quite a lot of weight since I got invited by strangers into their houses to have something to eat. And as it’s rude to reject an invitation…

Monday, 3 February 2014




This one is going to be short!

And as I have no photos on the theme, I’ll show you some of the bunches of flowers that the children at the boarding school gave me for no reason at all. They have nothing to do with the subject, but they are pretty nice!

I’ve already mentioned this Austrian girl, who had been there for a while and who took me to buy my first clothes. Well, she made something strange with her head. She, like every Indian, wobbled her head when she wanted to say YES. I thought she did it just to seem more Indian, but the fact is that after some weeks I, myself, was also doing it. It is as contagious as a yawn!

So if you want to seem Indian, just embrace the head bob sideways nod. That is more Indian that saying “Namaste”. It’s quite a strange movement. For us (not Indians) it seems a NO, but not an outright one. Well, it’s better if you have a look at this link:

So now you’ll understand my confusion at the beginning. When I asked the children if they had done their homework and they wiggled their heads and I got mad at them because I understood that they hadn’t. I asked them why and they just shook their heads again. And that went on and on until they were forced to say “Yes, sister, we’ve done it!” seeing that I was about to punish them!
I could tell you dozens of anecdotes like this one. It was ever so funny! Sometimes I’ve even left shops because I thought they didn’t have something. For instance, once at a chemist’s I asked, ‘Have you got iron tablets?’ The assistant waggled her head and I just went out of the shop. But what must this shop assistant have thought of me? ‘What’s wrong with this “whitey”? I tell her we have the tablets and she goes!’ Or when I asked, ‘Is this food very spicy?’ and I interpreted it wasn’t and then my throat burnt like hell!

When my mother and my godmother came to visit me I’d been in India for 5 months, so my head shake was as natural as an Indian’s. I didn’t learn the language, but I have to say I had a PERFECT head wobble. So, my mother begged me to get rid of it before I went back to Spain. Otherwise people would think I had a sort of tic!
Apart from that gesture Indians do other kinds of signals. Watch this video:

For example, when they don’t know something, they just twist their hands as if they were turning two bulbs sideways; the right hand clockwise and the left hand anticlockwise (in the video it’s the Edward Scissorhands one). Eight months later I keep on doing it!

Or when they want to ask why, (or sometimes also who, where,…) they just make a fist unfolding the thumb and agitate their hand upwards and downwards (that is not in the video).

The one I found creepier is The Finger Crunch of Doom gesture (as it is called in the video). A friend, Marthamma, used to do it all the time. Up to now I don’t know what she meant! But nothing bad, I expect coming from her!