Thursday, October 30, 2008


Hello there. If anyone was actually anticipating me writing in my blog about India, I'm sorry for the delay. I know I've been here over 3 weeks and should have done it sooner. Well I have a lot to talk about, and I'll do it in increments over a few posts.

Clearly, these posts are coming from someone who hasn't been in India in a while. Last time I came here I was 10, now I'm 22. Back then India was pretty different (that's another post altogether). So to Indians reading this, the stuff I'll write about it is not gonna be anything new. These posts are coming from a mindset of a kid of Indian immigrants who has grown up being surrounded by an (not 'the') Indian culture, while only seeing India at a very young age. So when I first got here, there was a huge cultural shock, as I knew there was going to be. I remember my drive from the Delhi airport to my cousin's house - I was curious about every single thing I saw. After a week however, that had drastically subsided, and I had gotten much used to how things look in India, and to how people live here (servants, for example. Another post). And a disclaimer: don't worry, I don't think I'm an expert on India just coz I've been here a few weeks.

First off, I've hardly thought about the U.S. election while here. The only things I've read have been in the Times of India or in the Telegraph, and that's it. It feels great to be disconnected from the insane election, because in the U.S. there was definitely information overload about it. My only comment about the election - if Colin Powell was so great he wouldn't have lied and said that Iraq had WMD. Innit?

Being over here it seems like a lot of things don't matter as much anymore, or at all. I've been feeling pretty disconnected from stuff, which is good in a way, but I think its also dangerous because it can lead to apathy. I'm beginning to understand how easy it is to disengage from everything and just focus on yourself and what's in front of you, and to forget about the outside world. I don't know if any of this has to do with me being in India, or with me just not being at home and not having as much access to gaining information.

Why do I so focus so much on how much information I have access to? I suppose its because I'm a media person and I'm also concerned with media monopolization and the effect it has on us, plus our use of technology is pretty overwhelming if you think about it. All of this adds up to me thinking about how much media I access and how much technology I use on a daily basis.

Anyway those are my reflections for the moment. I've got three funny accounts to tell for now, at least what I find funny, but then again I find a lot of things amusing:

Patna - isolated train station: Our train to Calcutta was around 8:40pm. This was a local train station right next to my uncle's house, so all we did was leave the house and walk a few steps to the station right in front of us. The power had gone out again in the area (this is Bihar), and there were only a few lights on, right in the station, swarming with bugs of course. To cross the bridge to get to the other side we had to face flying masses of these bugs. My bhaji (female cousin) and I tackled the bridge, because I could use my hijab-dupatta and she could use her dupatta, to cover our faces. We ran up, over, and down. I didn't think it was that bad but that's because my arms were covered. Meanwhile my brother, nephew, and other cousin crossed the tracks, something I remembered doing from when I visited India before. We got to the other platform before them and I realized I could have just crossed the tracks as well, the only reason I didn't is because I was wearing sandals (which I've done since I got here), and the railroad tracks have loads of rocks.

Anyway by the time we all headed down to where 2 other guys with our luggage were standing, we were practically in complete darkness. The train announcements kept coming, with the annoyingly loud ding - in Hindi only. I wondered if tourists (Western ones) had ever come to this station, and if so, they would be pretty troubled I reckon, because nothing was in English and there was certainly no station worker. The train was on its way and we knew we only had a minute to get on it - the 5 of us, with our luggage, including 2 big suitcases. The train blasted its awfully loud horn and we got ready, bags in our hands, ready to pounce on the train. Of course, that didn't happen.

The train came, slowed down, and we ran. Instructions were for me, my bhaji, and my nephew to get on first, then my brother and cousin with our luggage. What happened is that the men ran way off because the AC carriage was meters away from where we were standing - we had severely miscalculated where the carriage would stop. The 2 guys with our luggage had to run with the suitcases on their heads - it was pretty funny to watch, but I also felt bad for them at the same time. Especially because one of them was the house driver, so this wasn't his line of work in the first place. So all the men ran way off while my bhaji and I ran, and spotted a door, but then no, don't go in that one go in the next one. More frantic running. Bhaago bhaago bhaago! We jump in, and I stick my head out right away, trying to see if the others got on. I see some figures but its so dark I can barely see anything. I figured we had all got on. Bhaji hears my cousin hollering from another door in the same carriage, and we rush over. Turns out my brother and nephew aren't on the train...yet, and the minute has to be over by now. In fact the train starts moving. 'Get on the train! GET ON THE TRAIN!' He stops shouting, indicating they got on the train. We head back down the carriage and we all find each other, with all our luggage. What happened? These 2 (nephew and brother) were trying to get into an AC car, instead of just getting on the train. Oooof. The whole thing was a scary adrenaline rush, with the darkness, and getting all of us on in a minute - but there we all were, happily exhilarated but also thankful it was all over. For me and my brother, it was a fun adventure.

2 stops over was Patna Junction, where we got off the train and found the right AC carriage. It was down about half of the length of the train from where we had actually got on. Severe miscalculation, on the part of the house driver.

Calcutta - Birla Temple: In Calcutta we met up with an uncle from my Dad's side. He took us out with his family to a lake, which was really nice. There was a small masjid right in the middle of the lake where we prayed Maghrib. On the same lake was a clubhouse that was showing a Hindu play, with lots of festive music and lights. As we walked around the lake we got a great view of the masjid and the Hindu festivities going on (I think it was the end of Durga Puja, or right after it). After hearing so much about religious bloodshed in India, I enjoyed seeing these kinds of sights, because of personal reasons. My aunt however, was not a fan. But it wasn't a big deal because we just laughed it off, including her son who just held her hand and told her to enjoy it (my aunt is the only one in my whole family, who wears niqab. I'm the only one that wears hijab). No one is really doctrinal in my family, or if they are, they're not very vocal about it - this aunt however, is pretty vocal, but she has a bubbly personality which takes the edge off.

Later on we were in the car and passed a huge temple. HUGE. So of course it grabbed our attention. My uncle asked if he should stop the car so that me and my brother could take photos. My brother said no, don't worry about it, not wanting to stop the car in the middle of traffic, but I said hey why not? Let's go man! My uncle stopped the car while my aunt kept saying 'Astufr'Allah', and my uncle just said 'Oh let them enjoy themselves'. None of this was taken seriously, they're fairly easy-going people, in case anyone is reading this and thinking 'wow Hena's family sounds fundo'. So me and my bro got out of the car, with another cousin, and we took photos. I just think this whole situation is pretty amusing. I'm not sure if it was ok for us to take photos from outside, but we only took a couple minutes just in case. We were only asked to stand on the side because the place was insanely busy, and off we went. Turns out Birla is the name of a businessman, and there are lots of Birla companies (like Birla Cement), and temples too.

Calcutta - some road in traffic: My bro and I had been to a few markets where shopkeepers would start following us around because they knew we came from abroad, telling us to come to their shops. We just ignored them, or said no and then ignored them. My bro kept saying that it was my fault, that I stood out, not him, and that's why we kept getting targeted. My argument - Fahad your clothes and hair make you stand out too, fool. But I know my hijab style and probably my trousers didn't make me look like a native, but who cares, I didn't.

This time however, we were in the car stuck in traffic again, can't remember who with unfortunately (we have lots of relatives in Calcutta). There was a guy on the street selling gobi, which is cauliflower. By this time we had gotten over our cultural shock of the mudderland, so stuff like this seemed normal now to me and my bro. This was everyday stuff now, nothing unusual. The guy walked amongst the cars going 'Gobi! Gobi! Gobi!' When the guy got to our car, he saw my brother first, and immediately said 'cauliflower', instead of 'gobi'. When he left I started gloating, and my brother was surprised that the guy knew he was from abroad, just by an instant glance. He asked everyone in the car how that was so and they all just said, that's how it is, they can always tell. My bro got proved wrong by the gobi man. Thanks gobi-wallah.