Happy 2011

I’m giving myself 7 minutes to get as much out as possible. I won’t touch the weekend events even. I promised Tom, my friend Nora’s husband’s friend, who works on documentaries that I would find some sort of project to work on. For example, taking a picture of myself every day, or taking a picture of a set location every day, to see the changes. I didn’t choose one of those. We even had a skype conversation about how I hadn’t yet decided what to work on. It came to me last weekend on my travel back to Pune from Mumbai. I want to start documenting all the people that I meet along the way. If there’s one amazing thing about India so far, it’s that everywhere I go, someone wants to talk to me, to understand what brings this American to India when most Indians want to go to America. It seems like the reverse to many people I meet. Within those conversations however, I learn so much about them, about their families, their jobs, the culture, the food. It’s really an amazing experience. So, my project is to take their photos. I wanted to start last weekend. I met two brothers and a cousin who kind of adopted me for the trip, told good stories, and offered their help if I ever needed anything in Pune. I didn’t have the guts to ask them. This changed with the New Year. Therefore, because I only have 2 minutes left (I gave myself a time limit because I’m exhausted from a great weekend and long train ride home) I just wanted to officiate my new project.

I went on the train with Sampada, my friend from work, to Mumbai a few weeks ago. She showed me the secret way to get a ticket. It’s not so secret, just a different ticket window where the line is much, much shorter. You have to pay an extra rupee; it’s worth it. I went to that window, which allowed me some free time before my train left. While waiting on the stairs to figure out the platform and an older gentleman asked if I was heading to Mumbai – I was looking around and straining to listen to the announcements. He was also waiting and when they called platform 4 we headed down together. I was walking towards the women’s car but he told me to wait with him at the reservation car, even he didn’t make a reservation, but there would be seats. It was amazing. It was the first time that I ever had a whole seat to myself. I even took a nap! It was a nice ride. I was not able to snap his picture because he said goodbye to me and said he was leaving but he was already walking away and the stop was close. The train cleared out as we got closer to Dadar and a couple occupied the seats opposite me. You could tell that they were very much in love; they were playful and sweet with each other. I didn’t want to disturb but I was nervous my stop would pass so I asked them if Dadar was next. Of course we jumped into conversation and they asked where I was from, what I was doing, etc. Satya, lives in Chicago. He and his wife just got married a week ago. They will go back to Chicago on the 3rd and will set up their lives together there. They asked about my language skills so I busted out my little red notebook and they quickly examined all of my words, correcting just a few. I told them about my project and they were intrigued. When we got out of the train we took our picture and Satya wanted a picture of me with his wife as well, featured below.

Now for the weekend. The weekend was lovely. I arrived at Baba’s a little before dinnertime. Dinnertime here is much later in the US, most people don’t eat until at least 9 or 10 in the evening. With a small group of people we watched capoeira videos, spoke like old friends (for me it even feels like they are old friends or family already) and had amazing byriani. Baba has two kids, one 8 year old, one 6 month old. His wife is also a really sweet woman who welcomes me into her home every time with open arms. At a little before midnight we did our own countdown, hugged everyone, and started playing samba on the various instruments around the house. The festivities ended early, and it was amazing to get a great night’s sleep in a warm bed (Pune is so cold in the evening).

The next day Baba and I drove around for hours, brining Cavalo (one of his younger students) around with us. At a certain point his clutch stopped working, we pulled over, and within an hour or so there was a mechanic at the car, with the part, and we were off again. I’m not sure the same would happen in the US, although I don’t know because I don’t have a car. We went twice in the wrong direction, even getting on a boat to get to the beach we thought we were going to go to. This involved getting on a long dock supported by big drums above muddy and oily water. Even motorcycles went on the boats. Like the trains, the boat filled up with the maximum amount of people. Only after entering the island on the other side (about 50 meters away) we realized we were wrong and headed back to the boat. Getting off the boat was ridiculous. Also like the trains, the concept of allowing people to get off before you get on, does not exist. This was worse because we were on water. There were so many people on the docs that they started sinking. And still we were not allowed to walk away. Pushing slowly was the only way. Additionally Baba had to save me from someone who was getting too close to me. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t think I would sink slowly and no one would get out because they would be too busy pushing.

Other memorable events are eating at the houses of a few capoeiristas. The dinner on Saturday evening lasted until 4am. The company and food was perfect. Sunday we had lunch at another’s. I’m happy I don’t live in Mumbai or else I’d gain so much weight from the amazing food. On Sunday morning we were at Dharavi. I’ve mentioned this slum a few times before; the largest slum in Asia. This week the kids remembered me. They showed me some moves, wanted to give me a high five, sought out my attention. They are amazing kids. Class was nice too because I split a group with Succuri, while Baba split a group with Saci. I tried out a few words in Hindi like satme (together) and they liked it. After class while walking to the car they all tell me to “get” their friends, which involves lifting them off their feet in a capoeira move. They’re too funny and too sweet. They carry all the instruments, fighting over who gets to do what. After loading the instruments into Baba’s car they also loaded themselves. This was the first time they got into the car. There is no reason because they all live very close to where we were. However, we piled about 15 kids into that car, 3 in the front seat with me. If I were anywhere in the US that would never happen, but as we were going maybe 50 feet on a road where no one ever goes more than 10 mph, I let myself be ok with this and enjoyed their laughter at the car, their happiness overtook me. There are a few that I already have a nice relationship with; they know me more than others. Their energy and happiness left me with such a high; I couldn’t stop talking about it for at least an hour. If I didn’t love going to Mumbai for fun and capoeira, I would probably just go to see those kids on Sunday mornings. I told Baba that my project for them would be to have them line up for biscuits (which we pass out at the end of the class) quietly, without pushing, hitting, yelling, or sticking their hands in my face. There is similar behavior in my kids in Pune. Fighting, hitting, yelling, etc is pervasive. It’s a cultural difference that I’m not too fond of. I just need to find the words to tell them, a way to show them, that the same result comes (a biscuit) whether or not you’re first, last, yelling, quiet, or pushing, but it’s a lot easier to be nicer and pleasant.

My way back to Mumbai was an odd experience as well. I didn’t want to miss the ending weekend events but then became super nervous that I’d miss my train. Of course I had over a half hour to kill once I got to the station and was happy that my friend Vipin was there to pass the time with me. There are 2 trains that leave within five minutes of each other that get to Pune at the same time as well. The first one, my train, didn’t come, so I hopped on the other, in the reservation car and again (thought) I had my own seat. It was the first time traveling on the train that the conductor came around and checked. All seats were reserved but I could stay until everyone else came. At this time I was sitting with Arush and Parish, two friends traveling to Sangeli after a month of vacation. Arush is from Kashmir, where, he was telling me, it was -25 Celsius. They saw me sitting, reading a book, broke out some amazing smelling food, and invited me to join. It was kerila, a kind of green vegetable. It was absolutely amazing food, typical of the north. We played cards; I learned Bluff and Sweep. I’m not sure if I understand the latter completely, but I would love to learn. The company was really nice but I was happy to reach my bed; I was completely and utterly exhausted. While waiting by the door, someone else wanted to ask the foreigner what she was doing in India. It turns out that they’re both from the same state (apparently not something too common to find here). Small world.

Last note. I have my learner’s license. This means that it is now legal for me to drive any two wheeler (scooty or motorcycle). Watch out! I went with Sameer from work on Friday. I had to get an agent after the woman who checks the paperwork, glanced over my paper and yelled, quite rudely and nastily, that I needed something else that I was missing. Thinking oh well, more or less, an agent offered to make sure that I would get it for sure. I got the signature directly from whoever I needed the signature from. Even he was a little intrigued to see a foreigner in his office. He smiled when I said that I wasn’t studying, but working for a NGO. After waiting on lines and getting papers signed and delivering them to other lines in other offices, I got my little plastic piece of paper. It’s valid for 6 months, then I have to go for a test to get my license. Sameer was a good sport for waiting with me. He even got into a fight with one of the paper work women when he said for her to speak to me in English. She started yelling at him and said that as my agent he should know blab la bla. He got very upset when she thought he was my agent and exclaimed with conviction that he was my friend. I supported him and tried to make him feel better. I don’t want anyone to feel like that when they’re with me.

Now back to the working week. Happy New Year!

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