Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dear Prem,

Thank you for the fancy phone. You rock. I promise to try not to drop it.

I'm very excited to figure out what this Angry Birds is all about. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hindi Word Highlight: Film (फ़िल्म)

Yeah, it's the same in English. Look, you already know some Hindi!

Last week I went to a movie theater in India for the first time. Let me tell you - the US is doing it wrong. In India you get assigned seats, so there's no need to arrive hours in advance just to sit with your friends. The seats (in the really nice theaters) do that lean-back-slide-forward thing, optimizing both comfort and space. And in addition to the standard popcorn and soda, they have fresh corn (a popular snack at malls and markets here) and...Baskin Robbins. It's lovely.

The movie we went to see has been generating a lot of talk over the last month or so. It was produced by the ever so dreamy actor-turned-producer Aamir Khan (So what if he's 46? He's hot.) and stars his nephew, the equally dreamy and more age appropriate (yet sadly married, I checked), Imran Khan. The movie is called Delhi Belly. It is dirty in every sense of the word and it is, dare I say, fantastic.

Here's the trailer:

It's basically the Hangover and American Pie mashed up masala style. Action, bodily functions, sex, suspense, humor, violence, more bodily functions. I don't know if I would have thought the movie was so funny if it were a Hollywood film. Part of the appeal was the shock of seeing and hearing things that Bollywood normally wouldn't go near. In Hollywood, such topics are old hat. In Bollywood, a multi-second kiss is about as wild as it gets. Until now, apparently.

I don't know when Delhi Belly will roll around to the grocery stores of Cary and Murray Hill, but if you want to see another Aamir Khan-produced movie (this one starring him, too), I'd recommend Dhobi Ghat. I think it's called Mumbai Diaries in English and it's definitely available on Netflix instant play. It's not a comedy. It's actually really depressing. But it's a non-Bollywood (and non-Hollywood) look at India and I enjoyed it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

And I'm off!

Flying to Mumbai today to take a certification exam, the culmination of a course I took this last year of grad school.  I'm all set - I have my two pencils, my pencil sharpener and my eraser.

And please don't worry that my pencil sharpener might fail halfway through the exam - it has Japanese technology.

Headed to the airport soon. Wish me luck, folks. I will need it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Completely Frivolous Post

This is the notebook I use at work. Isn't it purty? It's hand painted and it cost $2.

It's going to be difficult for me not to bring home an entire suitcase full of stationary.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Scenes from My Commute: Part 2

On my way home each day, I see at least three men peeing. 

Roadside shave.



Hindi Word Highlight: Dudh (दूध)

Translation: Milk
Pronunciation: DOOdh

Milk in Delhi comes two ways - in little plastic bags or in shelf-stable cartons. It's rich and creamy and tastes a little funny. And it apparently DOES NOT COME FROM COWS.

This past Saturday, I spent the day with my new best friend (aka the mom of one of my existing BFFs, who conveniently lives in Delhi right now). We went shopping, had lunch, went to a fantabulous grocery store called Spencer's, and then headed back to her home. After she packed up several meals worth of food for me to take home (amazing), we chatted while she made us some chai. As she added the milk to the pot, she mentioned that she had some cows milk on hand for when she ran out of milk. 

Me: Wait, what? What do you mean 'cows milk'? How is that different from regular milk? 
Mrs. K: Milk in North India doesn't usually come from cows. 
Me: Seriously? What have I been drinking?

Apparently, despite the abundance of cows in Delhi (see below), the milk I've been putting in my coffee comes from...water buffalo. Water buffalo! You wouldn't know this from looking at the carton. "Ingredients: Milk" is all it says. Species not specified. 

An extensive search of the website for one of the main brands of milk in Delhi, Mother Dairy, led me to find that it clearly indicates that its ghee comes from buffalo milk, but no other milk product lists originating mammal. I might never have known!

More cows on my street. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I have a housekeeper.

We'll call him M. He comes to my house for a few hours six days a week.

Housekeepers are ubiquitous in middle-class households in Delhi, it seems. And they're nearly a requirement in expat households, which are seen as stingy and, frankly, foolish if they don't employ someone. M came with the house. He was working for the previous (expat) tenants and if we hadn't kept him on, he would have been out of a job. I'm not gonna lie, that's not the only reason we kept him on. It's rather nice to have my bed made every day. Yes, he makes my bed. Like all housekeepers, M also does the dishes, mops the floor, and cleans the bathrooms.

Unlike all housekeepers, M redecorates. I'll come home to find wall ornaments taken down or put back up, furniture moved around, and packets of oral rehydration salts left on the dining room table carefully displayed in new patterns. He clearly has a vision for our apartment and we are not living up to it. 

ORS packets

I was just talking to my roommate about how we feel a little awkward telling friends and family at home that we have someone who comes to our house every day to clean. It's difficult to convey how normal it is to employ house help (in households with the means to do so) and how abnormal it is not to. But I chose to write about it here because it is very much a "when in India" experience. 

It also gives me the opportunity to highlight this recent article from the New York Times: "In India, Maids Need Protection and Respect." M is a bit of an outlier in that he's male. More than 70 percent of domestic workers in India are female. They often face long hours, low wages and a lack of respect. Female housekeepers are, as the article states, "especially vulnerable to trafficking, sexual and financial exploitation, and forcible confinement." I recommend reading the article for an interesting take on domestic work in India and what's being done to provide protection to domestic workers. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Holy cow!

It worked! It finally worked! Today my ride to work cost 46 rupees

Autos are legally required to use their meters. Usually they are 'broken.' And yet this morning, the first auto walla to stop took me to work and put the meter on without me asking. He even took the direct route! I gave him 50 because I was just so darn happy. 

Cows on my street. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hindi Word Highlight: Pani (पानी)

Translation: Water
Pronunciation: PAHnee

Waiting on my desk every morning when I arrive at work is a bottle of pani, chilled. Welcome to an Indian NGO office, where no one blinks an eye when the internet cuts out for hours but my desk gets table service.

Adjusting to office culture in India has been an adventure. On my third day, I went to make myself some tea in the kitchen. As I'm filling the electric kettle with water, one of the office helpers runs in. "You are wanting tea?" He takes the kettle from me. He boils the water, pours it, steeps the tea, adds the sugar and milk, stirs it...all while I stand there awkwardly trying to figure out what the hell to do with myself. Do I go back to my desk? Wait? I haven't reached chit chat level in Hindi yet. I settle on standing there with an awkward smile, moving my hands from my pockets to my hips and back again.

When I asked the admin assistant if I wasn't supposed to make my own tea, she said "Oh, you can or he can. I'll just tell him to ask you all day if you want some."

The issue remains unclear to me.

Week 2 starts today. I have a 5 page summary report due on Wednesday, so it'll be a busy one!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Culinary Adventures

On Wednesday night, I decided I was ready to cook a full dinner in my new Indian kitchen. I bought all of the ingredients from the various vendors at the market a few blocks from my house, came home and started my cabbage*, potato curry, raita, and rice. And halfway through the cabbage, our gas runs out. You see, stoves in an Indian kitchen are unlike those in the US. They're usually set on top of the counter (few have ovens here) and they're powered by a tank of gas. Which has no gauge. So as far as I can tell, you don't know you're going to run out until you do. 

My roommate, K, went upstairs to ask our neighbor where we could procure another tank the next day. When K told my neighbor that I'd been in the middle of making dinner, she offered to let me finish cooking in her apartment. My initial reaction was "ah, awkward," because that's my initial reaction to many new situations. But because I have a "just say yes" policy for new experiences in India (within reason, obvi), I got my pan of cabbage and walked upstairs. 

It turns out, my neighbors are a lovely middle-aged Punjabi couple who have been in Delhi for at least 12 years. The husband is a documentary film maker and he told me all about a recent piece he did in the city of Varanasi. The wife, who lived in the UK for a while, told me that she likes our neighborhood well enough but that it's all (certain ethnic group) and (said ethnic group) are unfriendly. Ok then. As far as I can tell they don't have kids, though they do have a dog. I plan on making them my friends, so I'll get more details later.

*This is my favorite Indian cabbage recipe, from the fantastic Madhur Jaffrey

Auto bargaining update: I'd rather not talk about it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Scenes from My Commute


Bus stop

This is how you don't fall out of an auto. 

In Delhi, drivers of two-wheel vehicles are required to wear a helmet. The rest of the family? Whatevs. 

I like this guy. He chose this moment - in the middle of an intersection at a red light - for his wife to drop him off at work (passenger's side is on the left in India). 

Bargaining update: Today I went up to an auto and told him my destination. Instead of waiting for his opening offer, I jump right in with "60 rupees." And he accepted immediately, which means, of course, that I started too high. Tomorrow, I open with 50...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Small Victories

The night before my first day of work, my roommate's friend gave me advice on how much to pay for an auto rickshaw ride from the neighborhood where I live to my office in another part of town. Don't pay more than 50 rupees, she said. And leave early because they're often full during rush hour.

First day - I leave my house with plenty of time to spare and head down the block toward the market. After 15 minutes of waiting for a free auto and being rebuffed by two auto drivers who don't want to take me to where I need to go, I'm running late for my first day. A driver pulls up and offers 80 rupees. I say no, 60, and he drives off to the next potential fare 3 feet down the road. It's clearly not the best time to bargain. The next driver to pull up opens with 80 rupees, too. I say 70, he starts to drive away, I can't lose another auto, he wins. When I tell my new coworker how much I paid, she laughs. 

Second day - I walk away from the market, where the competition for an auto is a little less stiff. Two drivers turn me away. When a third driver comes along, I try a new tactic - I hold on to the auto so that he can't drive away as easily when I counter his offer. And it works! I pay 70 rupees this time. Getting closer to my goal.

Third day - Two refusals for my destination and finally a willing driver. I ask him how much and he says, shockingly, 80 rupees. I start with 60. He says, "No no madam, only 70."  I'm feeling a little sassy, apparently, so I say "No no, you know the normal price is 50, not even 60; 70 is just the price for me." Jackpot! He chuckles and says "Ok, 60." And we're off.

Maybe tomorrow I'll hit Rs. 50?

Side note: The difference between Rs. 80 and Rs. 50 is about 45 cents. Sure, it adds up in the long run, but it's the principle of the matter, damn it. 

          A photo of an auto from my first trip to India. 

            The view once you manage to get in an auto.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hindi word of the day: Aam (आम)

Translation: Mango
Pronunciation: aahm

I got to India just in time for the end of mango season and I am thrilled. I adore a good mango. Not the red and green fibrous kind available at the grocery store in the U.S. I like a mango that slices like an avocado. The fruit walla (or, 'fruit guy') outside my house sold me just such a mango this evening.

Besides my first mango purchase, today was exciting because it was the first day of my fellowship and it went quite well! My new colleagues are friendly and helpful, the office is bright and fantastically air conditioned, and the work is challenging yet exciting. I'm looking forward to day two!

Monday, July 4, 2011

First night.

First power outage.

Electricity isn't a 24/7 guarantee in Delhi, where the power grid can't always handle the demand. According to my new roommates, we don't lose power very often and then only for a half hour or so. I got my first taste of it last night when the power went out as I was unpacking and stayed out for at least an atypical hour and a half. It was like a special little welcome present from the Ministry of Power (real name).

Conveniently my travel alarm clock is also a flashlight. It also has a thermometer, which may be convenient or possibly torture, since I was able to track the steadily rising temperature in my room, which hit 94 degrees before I fell asleep.

At least I don't watch Wimbledon:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Peace out, America.

My last view of the US for a while.  Not bad for Newark.

What up, blogosphere?

After years of cajoling, I've succumbed to my mother's request for a blog.  

I have always been ambivalent about blogging. On one hand, it's a way to share my travel adventures with my family and friends. On the other, it feels like homework. 

But when I said goodbye to my parents at the airport in Newark and, between hugs and kisses, they gave me a list of everything I had to promise to take pictures of (the outside of my house, the inside of my house, the view of my house from down the street, the view from my house of said street, my bedroom, the kitchen, the hallway from the bedroom to the kitchen...), I realized I had no choice in the matter. I had to blog. 

So here goes...I'm a blogger! At least until jet lag wears off and I get cable.