Apr 8, 2014

Running

Of all the springs I could have chosen, I picked this miserable, bitter, storm-ridden season to learn to run. Questionable judgement.
I started on a day when it was -11 with a windchill that made it feel like -24. I wore three layers, a toque, and mittens on top of gloves. I'm four weeks into the training and the weather isn't much better. I find myself running in cutting wind or rain three times a week. 
When it comes to a steady exercise regime like this, in the past I've always given up. But this time I've discovered the ultimate thing to motivate me. Back in March I called my friend Y and asked him to run the MEC Salt Marsh Trail 5K race with me. That happens on June 22. It would be an understatement to say he was surprised, but he said yes. 
Running 5K is a pretty big challenge for me but I think I'm on track to do it. I have a deadline, and if there's one thing I understand it's deadlines. 
I'll let you know how it goes.

Feb 21, 2014

Return

As I prepare to go back to work tomorrow, I have been getting my life in order and readying myself for a faster pace. Sadly, India already seems like a dream, or a memory of something that happened many years ago.

Now I'm feeling ready to act, to move swiftly, to spend less time in my head being 'mindful' and 'present'. I will become again a reporter, not a writer. Although, you know, reporters should also be present and observant in the best sense of the word.

By a lovely coincidence I was listening to The Current today and heard one of my favourite writers, Alain de Botton, talking about his newest project - a users manual for the news. I've been following his Philosophers Mail online, so of course I wanted to hear more.

I strongly recommend you check out the full interview. Alain articulated some things I've been thinking about:
"Foreign news started off as information for governments, to know where they should attack, what they should do next, who they should trade with. This is high level, ministerial information...what we desperately need as ordinary audiences is more anthropological information of the kind that the explorer...used to bring back when they would head off to far-flung places. In other words, anthropological information that shows you how people live. How the Other, the abstract Other person from far away, what that person is like."
I may never report overseas. I don't know yet if that would be right for me anyway. But I know I have started to see individuals instead of a country. I will never again be able to read of India without seeing Akanksha and Jeet, Saraswati, Krutharth and his family, Judy Frater, the Pitrodas, Jitesh and Bhanu, Kailash, Hency, Hetal,
Lakita, Ruchita. If you have met them through me then I've done my job without knowing it.

So back to work I go, and I've heard that the coming weeks will be busy. Yep, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Feb 16, 2014



So, I'll wrap this up. Because tonight I'm flying home to Canada - can you believe it? I told you it goes fast. I'm ready and it's time. I think I can even face the winter. 

I came here because I wanted to find out what it was like to be in India and to travel alone. I can say with certainty that I barely know the first thing about what it's like to be in India. It seems almost discourteous to define something so big. 

I do think that my experience here was shaped by being a young woman travelling alone. It gave me access to experiences that young men or groups don't have. I was often taken into homes or kitchens or the front step with the neighbours. I saw what was cooking, how the washing up was done, I got to sit in on the way people live their lives. 

All over India, women and men and families watched out for me. They protected me because I was on my own. On a train once, a family of two dentists and their children and grandparents exchanged phone numbers with me so I would have someone to call in an emergency. The Baxis' number is still in my phone, unused but not unappreciated. 

Will I come back? Jeet asked me that yesterday. I said the honest answer is I don't know. I came at this time because I thought I might not get a chance if I put it off. Most tourists I meet in India are either retired or have quit their jobs. I'm lucky. I have a job that I'm excited to go back to, and that also could let me go for over six weeks. But the future could always change, so I can't answer the question about returning. 

What I do know is this - I met a few men and women who were travelling alone, same as me. They all told me that going solo is an experience that won't even register fully until about six months down the road. They said it takes that long to process things, think about what I've done, draw conclusions that I haven't seen yet. Some said that I might end up being drawn back to India or I might swear it off entirely, and whatever happened they said it would take time.

I have absolutely no idea what they mean by that. But I guess I'm going to find out. 

Namaste. 

On the whole I've been quite positive about India on the blog. But there are a few things that bothered me and I think they're worth sharing. 

Several people advised me to watch out for caste and poverty issues in India. Valuable advice, but I think I would have seen it even without the warning. It is easier to see poverty, but caste is still so important that people will often tell you what theirs is even without being asked. I remember the driver in Gujurat who refused to enter the home of someone in a lower caste. He wouldn't eat with them either. I remember watching a street sweeper in Udaipur. He was very old and dusty. He wore nothing but a cotton shirt and cotton shorts and he drooled. He walked stooped over like he'd been sweeping his whole life, and I think he probably had. I watched who touched who, who did the work, who gave the orders, who was fat and who was bone skinny, whose children went to school and whose children went to work. 

I met many young girls, and they often liked to smile at me or talk to me and two times they did mendhi on my hands. They would often grab my hands and smooth my arms saying, "Your skin is so nice! So fair!" 

It is hard to ignore the signs in support of PM candidate Narendra Modi all over the country. Here is the Economist's take on the man: http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21591599-populist-nasty-past-and-decent-economic-record-wants-run-india-man-some
The former chief minister for Gujurat played a very controversial role in the 2002 religious riots that killed around 1000 people. Talking with some young people about politics in Varanasi, Modi's past wasn't seen as a big deal, as long as he boosted the economy. And he seems a dead cert to win. 

And finally, it's hard to deny the slight unease you feel as a woman in this country. On the street women are outnumbered, unless it is in a residential street where women sit on their stoops talking to neighbours. In the public sphere, women are outranked heavily and it increases when night falls. I never had any problems but I always noticed how my friends and hosts took care to check back after I arrived, how they put me into a rickshaw, how they wouldn't let me walk alone. You can't help but read the Attack on Women pages in the paper, and I wish I knew when this would change. 

I hope I haven't totally depressed you. I'll continue on with part two of this post...the positive stuff. 

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was nice...


Though busy...


We had to wear sterile shoe covers to walk inside. 


The gardens were pleasant around the edges. 


And the carvings too. 


It was a pretty building.


But the best thing was meeting Akanksha and Jeet and their family again!

Feb 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day. I am in Delhi, and tomorrow I'm heading to the Taj Mahal - they say it's a monument to love, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan after the death of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal. They had 14 children, and she died giving birth to the last one. 

So today I want to talk about love. There's a certain nice young man I'm looking forward to seeing in a few days. He's been going about his normal life at home, and sometimes in the evenings or the mornings we exchange a "how was your day?" over chat. 

Months ago he said to me, "Would you like me to go with you to India? Because I sense that this is something you want to do on your own." He knows me quite well, and he was right. 

He never said one word of reproach, never said he felt excluded, never gave me grief over it. He said instead, "I'm happy for you" when I bought my tickets and "You're going to have an amazing time" when I left.

I went to him often for help to work out my anxieties. I know he had his own fears too, but he never put them on my shoulders. Once, another friend said to him, "How could you let her go alone?” He replied that I'm smart enough, strong enough, to take care of myself. There was no question of "letting" me do anything. I don't come and go with his permission. 

I think this is an act of love in itself: to sense that your partner feels a call to do something, but understand and acknowledge that this thing does not include you. It takes a great deal of confidence and generosity and love to be okay with this. It isn't easy to offer support without becoming possessive. So I count him as wise and myself as lucky - very lucky. 

Happy Valentine’s Day. See you soon. 

Feb 13, 2014

Desert festival

So I'm off to Delhi tonight, but I stuck around in Jaisalmer for the start of the Desert Festival, a three day celebration of camel racing, big moustaches (really), folk dance, and folk art. The festival opens with a parade and I took a picture of someone's camel...


And then they said "why don't you get on the camel?"


No charge for the ride. Saw some camel love...


These guys are the Mr. Desert competitors. It's very prestigious. Bikaner is another town nearby and Mr. Bikaner and his impressive moustache has progressed to the next level. 


This is a competitor for the Miss Moomal competition. Moomal is a character in a tragic Romeo and Juliet type folk tale. Behind her you will see the rear end of a camel. 


Here are the soldiers of the Border Security Force. The Pakistan border is about 150km from here. 


And one more of their proud camels. 


These ladies are social workers preparing to folk dance. 


To either side of the Mr. Desert competitor are two men in drag, which is one of the events at the festival. I also saw a woman dressed in Mr. Desert gear, which was pretty unusual. Most women don't even compete in the Miss Moomal pageant because it's considered too public, so I wanted to know how she decided to dress in men's clothing and enter Mr. Desert. I was hoping to talk to her but she got away on her camel.