India Bound

Sunrise at 5.30 am Sunset at 7.05 pm

Location: Mussoorie and Delhi, India

Engaging in wild acts of exploration and inquisition.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Eating on the Street

There is a definite art to vegetable arrangement here, and I think farmer's markets in the States could really learn a thing or two. Most of the time I haven't a clue what half the vegetables here are, but I started an experiment of buying the strangest looking ones, steaming them and eating them with soy sauce to see if I could recognize their taste. So far have eaten pumkiny looking things, various root vegetables and odd looking squashes as well as several leafy looking things that I suppose were in the spinach family.

And of course, what a better place for a locksmith to be...Also the papaya stand in front of our house - I've only just recently perfected how to tell when a papaya is ripe. But man, they are sososo good and your knife just cuts through them like butter.

There are amazing fruit juices here, but its always sort of a gamble to drink juice at them - I'm pretty sure that one time it was fresh pomegranite juice lead to my demise. Another delicious, but fried as usual, street snack are pani puri - which are puffed up fried balls that you poke a hole in a stuff with spiced potato and chickpeas and then you sort of float the ball in a salty flavored water with sweet chutney and drink/eat the whole thing. Sort of hard to describe, but this is a pani puri stand that is in front of our house.

A cycle rickshaw passing in front of the neighborhood shanty town and women carrying heavy loads of sticks on their head attempting to get on the bus. Busses here don't stop for people to get on and off of them - people run alongside them and hop and and off the best they can.

There are carts and stands for all sorts of foods...this guy makes omlettes on command and this is my favorite fruit wallah.

This is the dairy where we buy fresh yogurt and rosewater lassi every day - those big white blocks are paneer (Indian cheese), and also the store fronts down the street from us.

This is the neighborhood's Gudwara...and a cow eating trash, which is one of their favorite things to do - that and wander into the street and block traffic, or try to get inside of shops or lay down in the most inconvenient place possible

The Sehgal family who live above us have become our surrogate Indian family, and every moment when they aren't doing their homework we have Vibhu and Vasu, the twin 9-year-old boys doing cartwheels around our flat. They are really smart little tykes and have a wicked sense of humor and I have to say that after having an exausting day in the Delhi heat it is really nice to come home and wrestle with them a bit. This is also a picture of the Ekda brushing her daughter, Pranshu's hair. Having very short hair, I don't think most Indian men view me as a woman, which means I am "accidentally grabbed" half as much as girls with long hair.

I took a walk down my street, digital camera in hand, and elliciting many stares and a great amount of enthusiasm from the fruit vendors who all wanted their photo taken, I took a few pictures of what an afternoon on Kingsway Camp Road, North Delhi looks like.

Everything happens in the streets of India - a close shave and a haircut, fruit and vegetable sales, sleeping men and children, cows wandering here and there, and most of all there are the food vendors selling fried everything. My favorite are the barbequed corn stands where for 5 rupees you get a charred piece of corn with salt and lemon - so tasty!

At the risk of doing that "look at these poor animals/crazy sights!" thing, these are the fish/poultry stands on my street.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Delhi Itch

Well, for the last week all I have been doing is attempting to move into an apartment in the Ottram lines section (north of Delhi University, which is the north section of Delhi itself), and fucking hell its been exhausting. Getting anything done in India is a fucking pain, most especially if you aren’t Indian or don’t speak Hindi….and so it goes like this: our landlady takes us to very specific shops for our specific needs (spices here, spoons and dishes here, refrigerator here, beds, there, etc.) and so on and so on, and in each place she makes sure we aren’t being royally ripped off by the shopkeepers and gives us her very opinionated views on what is good and what isn’t, and at many points makes us all leave the shop in a huge huff if we aren’t getting from the shop what she thinks we should.

Ekda, our landlay, lives the floor above us and has two twin boys who are nine-year old swimming champions and translate her Hindi to us in the the most adorable nine-year old English. In the markets, Ekda will grab my hand and go tearing off in one direction when she sees something shiny and if there is a point that she wants to give particular emphasis to, she repeatedly jabs me in the shoulder or arm with her gold ringed finger (I’m finding our that Indians are very very physical, to the point of uncomfortability and most often pain).

Ekda on the art of shopping (man, I wish I could correctly transcribe the Indian accent):

Ekda: Kelly, its all a high drama! Play the drama! When I ask you if you like something, you say no, you don’t like it at all. No interest!

She was very shocked to hear that there was no bargaining in the United States…and yes, bargaining is fun, but sometimes its monsooning and I really just want to get somewhere and when it comes to a difference of ten rupees (less than 20 cents), often it’s more like “oh fuck it, I’ll pay the goddamned ten rupees.” But then you feel like you are giving in because you are a weak and drenched foreigner and you also know you are being ripped off precisely because of that and you think about that and it makes you stand in that monsoon and fight for those ten rupees. Phew, but you usually do some sort of turn around, realizing that ten rupees matters much more to this rickshaw driver than it does to you, yet its not about the money…it’s the principle of being tired of getting ripped off for being white. There’s a rant for you.

So, we live in a rather busy and dusty area that seems like a mix of Mexico City, Madrid, and India. There are little fruit stands lining the street everywhere, so we can hop out the door and get mangoes, papaya, melons, pomegranite, bananas and coconut. There’s also a dairy store across the way from us where you can get rose water lassi and paneer in blocks as big as my head. Out my window I can watch men in a little shack make sweets and it always smells of sweet milk being condensed for candy and cardamom. There are little women in the streets stringing lines of roses and marigolds for the temple, lots of funeral processions, waterbuffalo, and a shanty town right in back of us next to a small park (in India you come across these shanty towns everywhere, there are a bunch of them on the University campus - I'll be walking from the library, which looks like some library in the deep south circa 1912, to a class and have to walk through two shanty town settlements where children are runny around naked with their ribs poking out).

I’m very much looking forward to getting out of Delhi soon – Delhi is indeed a shithole (I say this fondly) in the same way that all of these huge spread out cities are. I was thinking about the concept of America’s “Little Italies” and “Chinatowns” and “Little Tokyo” and how there are no names like that for sections here, but we keep finding ourselves most comfortable in places that could be called “Europetown” or “The Little West” – places where we can find whole grain breads and hard cheeses and avocado and tofu (we finally fucking found it) and where there are restaurants serving Mediterranean foods. Coincidentally, these are the places where the richest Indians hang out also, and they always come up to us and give us their phone numbers and want us to come to parties with them. For the first time in my entire life, being an American in a foreign country is a good thing. According to some Newsweek poll, Indians are second only to Americans for loving Americans, and its really true. This means that you can never walk anywhere without people staring at you or trying to follow you or touch you, and its fucking overwhelming as all get out.

I've just finished a spell of puking for two days and am back in action - we're going to hear singing at a Mosque where we have to wear very tradition dress and try to pass off as Muslims...

by the by, my address is: Kelly McCormick, INDIA Study Center, 8/17 Sri Ram Road, Civil Lines, New Delhi 110054, INDIA

So, you know...send me some food that won't make me sick...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Flaming Egglpants, Yeah!

My friend Cora and I have befriended the sweetest little Indian woman named Kaushal. She must be nearly thirty, but has the sweetest giggle and twinkle to her. She had previously worked with an American family for three years - cooking, teaching Hindi, giving massages, etc. and we asked her if she could teach us how to cook a few dishes. Start simple - rice, bangam bharta, and roti.

She took us to her house, which was one room (about 15'x10') adjoining the house of her mother -in-law. The space was organized with complete efficiency and neatness and everything was brightly colored and tucked away. Her nine year old daughter, Asha (ÒHopeÓ in Hindi), had red ribbons in her braids and we talked about favorite foods and dancing. Her son, Ashu ("sadness") kept running in and out with a different friend to show each time that there were westerners in his house.

And so for the next two hours we roasted eggplants on the two-burner camping sort of stove and scraped their skins off and mashed them in a huge pan with garlic and onion and chili peppers. We rolled out roti and somewhat successfully made them even looking and in between it all there were amazing/funny hindi songs on the radio and a small child running in and out demanding bananas and pails of water to be fetched. When it came time to eat, Kaushal taught us to mix the rice with the bangam bharta and roll it into a little sort of ball and eat with our fingers. Funny to grow up constantly being told not to eat with your fingers and then to be re-taught how to eat with your fingers in the most delicate way possible. We made fools of ourselves getting food everywhere and found it really hard to not actually stick our fingers in our mouths...

Kaushal showed us her photo albums and we found that she had been married at fourteen and had Asha when she was sixteen and has never been to the cities surrounding Mussoorie that are only an hour away. Her son had stayed home today as it was raining hard all day and he doesnÕt have a rain coat, so when we come back this Sunday for cooking lesson #2 we are planning on coming bearing a new raincoat and methia (India sweets made from nuts and flour and rose water) and a jar of Nutella, which is KaushalÕs favorite.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Well, I'm not very good at putting up pictures and they take ages to do, so I've got to find some way about it to make it happen eventually. For now I have just gotten through being sick as a dog for a few days...all of us are dropping like flies. I had thought that people living here were immune to all the bacterias, but my Hindi teachers were explaining that everyone constantly gets sick, especially the children, as no one knows what food is contaminated or not. There is a complete re-evaluation of what one can take for granted here (goodbye clean water, toilets, fresh foods, clean air, electricity) and it is very surprising what you can always expect to find (tea services, pizza, vegetarian food, someone to drive you or carry you).

Its raining constantly and a busload of pilgrims headed to Gangotri, the source of the Ganga river plunged over the edge of the road near a couple of my friends who were traveling the same road and half the bus died. Yes, and then there were these Mumbai train bombings (everyone's parents are calling to make sure everyone is still alive though Mumbai is all the way down the coast)...interesting to be in a place where such terrorist bombings are somewhat frequent (coming from Kashmir). Yes, death is much closer here....

On a lighter note, was chased by a mother cow this morning when I walked too near her calf and when I turned a corner to safety a hoard of monkies came running at me screeching and throwing their shit. A very "ha! I am in India" moment.

And so we went to Rishikesh....

There seem to be as many holy cities as there are people in India, and in the North they usually are connected to the River Ganga. Rishikesh is one of a few holy cities at the mouth of the Ganga and is also the place where the Beatles stayed while they were working on the white album (so there were a lot of hippies...) and is a huge center for astrology and yoga and all these new agey things that seem too stereotypical to exist.

The East Bank of Rishikesh is mostly made up of ashrams where you can stay and practice yoga - so for a few days we hung out and did yoga and listened to lectures from a swami who told us how to do rectum strengthening exercises and to please clean our noses with salt water every morning.

I had my Vedic charts drawn up by an astrologer and it took him nearly two hours to explain it all to me in a little musty bookshop down a dark alley and it was amazing all the things he said and knew....

Monday, July 10, 2006

So, I dunno, these pictures are pretty and everything, a really "like, woah, there's a lot of crazy/beautiful shit in India," but beyond that I hardly take pictures of myself so I hope everyone likes calendar pictures....

Mussoorie and Rishikesh - Pilgrims crossing the bridge over the Ganga River and the Shiva Temple
The misty Ganga and the hills around Mussoorie in the morning on the way to schoo

Delhi Traffic and a man selling marigolds at a Sikh temple

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I am starting to miss foods..

Yesterday we went hiking in the woods after tea and we all came back with at least four leeches on us each. Only one of them had started to suck me and I poured salt all over it and it writhed around a lot and was a generally traumatizing experience.

Indian tea cookies are the best (cashew and cardamom being my favorite) and also Indian ice cream, though not great in variety holds competition to gelato (safron being the best so far).

I would kill many men/give my kingdom for: tofu, green vegetables (spinach, endives!), whole grains, all of the hippy santa cruz food I have grown so dependent on, cheese, and japanese food...oooooh! Its all these things I took completely for granted before ( can I have some of Maria's banana pancakes or a Vanessa strawberry salad? Pleeeeaaase) and now thinking of them is so futile and so consuming...

Monday, July 03, 2006

11,000 feet of intestinal death...

"If we could hear the squirrel's heartbeat, the sound of the grass growing, we should die of that roar," said George Eliot

"Think how quickly the sheer volume and multiplicity of sensory information we receive every waking minute would overwhelm our consciousness if we couldn't quickly forget a great deal more it than we remember."

And so we took a caravan of old Ambassador cars and ancient vans for the eight hour drive into the Himalayas, stopping every couple of hours for "tea breaks" in small villages where our presence created quite a scene.

(quick, a list!)
- the wiry Nepalese men carrying stacks of bricks with their heads
- colorful skirts and shirts on the small, tanned men and women covered by large tweed jackets reminiscent of British Army coast
- women in bright saris tending to the rice paddies
- the tan dog who followed me all through the village and sat at a distance away while I watched the sun set (and the men who laughed at the sight of us)
- houses built on stilts at the edges of cliffs overlooking the Yamuna River
- changing landscapes: from jungle to pine forest with cacti and brown mountains to huge jagged green rice paddy-laden mountains with snow
- the sadhus living in caves by the river, the women coming down from the mountain barefooted and with no teeth
- the fat men and women carried in baskets on people's backs up and down the mountains (a group of thin women pointed at a fat Indian woman in her basket jiggling everywhere and laughed behind their hands)
- having chai and pekorahs under the awning or our small hostel as the sun sets over the 23,000 foot mountain behind us
- half the town that gathers around to watch us play a game of cards, or groups of people that gather in awe of digital cameras and smily shyly when they are shown pictures of themselves
- lunch by the side of the river - the tour guides took the trash we had put neatly in bags and set a huge bonfire as we looked on in horror (plastic melting to the ground, tinfoil crackling)
- marijuana plants everywhere alongside the road (all male) and we gather astonished to smell the four foot plants as women and children walk by entirely non-plussed


7 am hike to Yamunotri, the winding steep paths that never seemed to stop their switchbacks, and we ascended 3,000 feet huffing and panting next to horses carrying the old, the young, the fat, and the rich Indians too prim to walk through all the horse shit and piss and mud. We passed the sudhas in their orange and while drapery (Jai Yamuna Ji) and women weighing saris down with rocks to let the river flow over them for a good washing. Up and Up, stopping constantly at to have our pictures taken with those coming down the mountain (at their request - we are always an odditiy).

Finally we are there, and the little cleft in which the Yamunotri temple is perched on is opened to us and we walk through rows of smokey stalls where pilgrims buy their offerings to the goddess Yamuna (we buy little dishes made of leaves holding perfumed pink flowers). We make our way to the temple where we must wash our hands and feet in the scaling natural hot springs (rice can be cooked in them in two minutes). We perform puja - our offerings are given to the goddess with the aide of the priest, who gives us blessing and chants several mantras for us and then annoints our foreheads with red and yellow paint and rice. Then we are off to the "Ladies Only" bathing area where the water from the hotsprings is pumped in for the enjoyment and cleansing rituals of the women, though carefully hidden from the view of men. After splashing fights with a group of Indian girls, and when the hot became too hot, we stretched across rocks by the river and lay in the sun and wind. From a high rock I watched women washing their saris, sadhus smoking beaties (tobacco rolled in leaves), fat men from the city next to the skinny men of the nearby villages, everyone taking cleansing dunks in the river and sunning themselves.

The walk down the mountain, still warm from the hotsprings, I felt the closest to bliss and weightlessness that I have this entire trip. Surrounded by so many sights, sounds, smells (equally as disturbing as amazing) so constantly I had begun to feel a weight develop physically and mentally and the river and the springs lifted that weight. I can only image the joy the men and women who walk miles and miles just to get to the mountain must feeling having reached it (and feel a pang of guilt for being ferried around in a taxi)

Once down from the river we met a man who wanted to show a couple of us his village across the river, which is one of the oldest villages in the Himalayas. It was made of wooden carves strung with wheat drying in the sun and the women and children sat around in clusters eating mangos, dressed in the most brightly colored woven clothes. We were led into an old wooden temple and climbed ladders made of hollowed logs until we reached the top where we were given Shiva's blessings and then taken to a rickety balcony to see the view.

Ten or so of the village children who had been following us noticed that I had been collecting flowers and began grabbing handfuls of potatoe flowers and thrusting them at me and refused to quit...and so we trailed flowers after us through the town.

Then, down to the second village temple where a wedding had just been celebrated and flowers still lay everywhere...And standing in from of the snake god's temple, it hit me - a wall of naseau that threatened to knock me flat. Clinging to the edge of a shit-filled hole in the ground, vomitting my guts out, I saw a spider as big as my hand walk up that wall and was humbled before it all. Wrapped in blankets and sweating off a fever I marveled at how in one day India brought me to the highest (11,000 feet) and then soon after had me on my knees racked with pain. This is India thus-far, always in extremes, constantly reminding me that I am fragile and not a part of it.

We left Yamunotri the next day, and I thanked the river and the mountains but in truth was entirely glad to leave.