The Well-Travelled Geek; India Part 2
The first day of school was full day orientation. They talked to us about what to expect while in India. The most interesting part was a discussion on stereotypes. One of the Americans had mentioned that people assume Indian’s have body odor. Obviously due to the lack of space and the amount of people in the country, there is no way to have good body odor all the time.
In “India Part 1,” I mentioned that many Indian people chew paan. As a matter of fact, my host mother insisted on buying me a chocolate paan, a sweeter variety. Paan is betel leaves with areca nut, lime paste and other things. It is considered to be good for the digestive tract and for those of us with annoying halitosis.
For lunch, AFS India and Amity School Pushp Vihar provided us with bread, which we ate with chole (chickpea curry), diced cucumbers and tomatoes. We also had some samosas (potatoes and peas in puffed pastry) with mint chutney and tamarind sauce.
Throughout the day, AFS also gave us one hour of free time in the computer lab with frequent snack and lunch breaks. Later in the evening, we had high tea with school representatives, as well as the American Center in Delhi. We were entertained by some dancers, singers and speakers from both Amity and the Center.
We were required to give an introduction to the crowd that included the host parents and family. Unfortunately, my host mother had some outstanding circumstances and she was not able to make it.
On my way home, we went through a neighborhood where all of the middle class family’s maids reside. There were cows, goats and pigs on the roads wandering around. Most of the city roads were not like this.
Once we returned home, my host mother and I went to the market and bought some necessities. I was surprised they didn’t charge more because a “white person” was there. The markets in India are like the markets in Bangladesh. Except cleaner and different items like meats, fishes and vegetables are sold in the same area.
The next day, for breakfast, I had toast with pineapple jelly. In the mornings, I’d skim through the Hindustan Times and the Times of India newspapers. The papers are very nationally focused with limited news about international affairs.
At school, we were introduced to the Hindi alphabets, both natural and romanticized. There are 11 vowels and 36 consonants – and I thought the Bengali alphabet was long. After that, we climbed three flights of stairs to the Indian Music Room. We learned the specifics about sitar, a guitar-like Indian musical instrument. We learned about the different scales and octaves.
The musician played some recognizable Western tunes on the sitar, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. In the music room, we had to sit cross-legged with our shoes off, but there was a carpet. Afterwards we recited some Hindu poems and prayers. It was funny to hear everybody’s American Hindi accents, including mine.
One of the highlights of my day was the food, of course. Specifically, Indian egg rolls which are not like Chinese egg rolls. It’s basically a paratha flatbread with eggs, ketchup and onions.
After tiffin, the power went out. This is very common in Bangladesh but less common in India. Thankfully, it rained earlier so the weather had cooled down, making it slightly bearable. We worked on building some basic sentences and ended the day with more Hindi poetry.
After lunch, I bought a pair of dress pants for the school uniform. Additionally, I went to the gym with my host mother. The gym was like an American gym, but there was no air conditioning and it was in a ground floor of an apartment building. The funniest part is that the women do work out wearing a full sari and flimsy flip-flops.
In the evening, I went on the computer, called my family at home, cleaned up my host brother’s computer and watched him do his homework.
One of the cooler parts of the trip was meeting Rani Hong. She was a victim of child labor at a very young age. Eventually, she came to America where she started advocating anti-child labor laws in Washington State, and even passed some national laws. She has appeared on CNN, The Today Show, The Oprah Show and other media outlets. She was a very inspiring lady to hear stories from and she actually married a Vietnamese former child laborer who currently runs the Tronie Foundation.
In the afternoon, we practiced more Hindi vocabulary and script writing. Whenever I try to write the Hindi script, it ends up looking a lot like the Bengali (Bangla) script. To end the day, we recited some dohas (Hindu prayers/hymns).
We often had morning assemblies. One of the morning assemblies was with the eighth graders. They informed us about the news of the week, gave us some good quotes and amused us with a book review.
After the assembly, we had Havan. Havan is a Hindu prayer or chanting ceremony. The priest came to the plaza within the school and was sitting there. We, along with some third graders sat around him cross-legged. At one part of the ceremony, we had to throw potpourri into a fire which was being fueled by ghee (butter). The priest also threw marigold petals at us. At the end, he fed us some misht, or sweet meats. The prayer ceremony lasted for one hour. My feet had fallen asleep after sitting so graciously for one hour.
For lunch, I went to McDonald’s with my brother. Unlike what you may think, McDonald’s in India is completely different from American McDonald’s. I had a Spicy McPaneer sandwich, an iced coffee and fries.
Hang on tight. This is to be continued.
By Jason Kazi