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Field Notes from the Digital Prairie

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bright Lights, Pink CIty (Part VII)

Last year, a young family friend left for India for the first time. In talking with him prior to his departure, I was inspired to dig up the emails I sent to friends and family while studying Hindi in India back in the summer of 2004. Blogging had just started to catch on at the time and it didn't occur to me to start one then, but I thought it might be entertaining to post these now. Excerpts are mostly unedited, except to remove boring pleasantries and preserve the privacy of those involved; also, links to relevant sites have been inserted for your enjoyment/edification/distraction. 

I will add a new post summing up my recently-completed trip back to India after posting all of these older pieces.

(Continued from Part VI)

Date: August 9, 2004
Subject: Monsoon Shedding

Dear all,

Unfortunately I have no good excuse for my less than enthusiastic reporting over the last couple weeks, except that not too much has been happening. Big news is the long-awaited arrival of the monsoon. While parts of Assam in the east and Gujarat to the south have been paralyzed by heavy flooding (which has killed several hundred), since Jaipur is in the desert we seldom get more than a half-hour of heavy rain in a day. So our biggest inconvenience is that the city smells vaguely like a marina for a while. Oh, and in the paper today there was a report that one guy got killed yesterday after being hit by lightning "while bathing in the rain on his terrace."

No field trips, unless going bowling at the fancy-schmancy mall south of town counts -- you'll be glad to know that the music at bowling alleys all over the world sucks equally. "I Wanna Have Sex On The Beach" is not really a lyric I would expect to hear in a family establishment in one of the more conservative states of India, but whaddya gonna do? There was also a big sign saying that bowling shoes and socks must be worn, so those who didn't have socks went and bought some -- only to find out that, in fact, the bowling alley owns no bowling shoes, so we bowled barefoot.

Also, one of our students also somehow managed to convince the teachers that cancelling less Friday's test and instead sending us on a Hindi scavenger hunt would be a good idea -- according to her, our experience up to now insufficiently resembled summer camp, a situation she was determined to  rectify. Some sample items: information from movie-goers about their favorite heroes and heroines, a recording of a snake-charmer's song, have a frilly shirt made at the tailor, etc. Double points if you can get a photo of the person wearing the frilly shirt on a camel or elephant.

Need I remind you that these are your tax dollars at work?

Anyway things have been rather low-key, recently as people are supposedly working on their final projects (the 19th is the last day of class) -- mine is to write some Hindi film songs, one of which will appear in "Mira!", a film that two fellow students are making. I also feature as the traveling background music (a la "Something About Mary") and -- somewhat reprising my role as a dancing pimp in a German play in Ireland -- as the dancing hero of the film within the film (it's, like, so po-mo... as Moe the bartender says, "You know, 'postmodern'... OK, weird for the sake of being weird." 

Did I already mention these are your tax dollars at work?

I realized the other day that even after all this time, I haven't told you too much about the family I'm living with. Uncle and Auntie (the respectfully affectionate term for anyone of your parents age) have been married for almost thirty years (their marriage was arranged when Auntie was 19) and seem to have a good relationship. He owns a number of factories and she has a handicraft-exporting business that she runs for fun, and used to be on television serial back in the bad old days when there was only one state-run channel. She talks -- a lot -- and he is very reserved, though he has a penchant for asking me questions at the dinner table for which my Hindi is utterly inadequate, and refusing to accept any flip-flopping or waffling sort of answer. Some examples:

"Which are more beautiful, American or Indian girls?"
"How will you know who to marry?"
"What is happiness?"

and, easiest of all:

"What is love?"

Their kids, as I think I mentioned, are around my age. R. is a nice enough guy -- pretty much your typical well-off Indian youth, with a thing for American girls and a penchant for working out, presumably to impress American girls. He studied engineering at Bombay University, but did poorly and after graduation came back to work in Uncle's factory. P. is more interesting -- she studied animation, also in Bombay, and worked for a while after graduation at a production house there. Last year, she came back to Jaipur and now works in marketing at a daily paper.

As those of you who know anything about Indian culture will realize, the social pressure to marry is incredible. Weddings are what people here pretty much live for, and as one of my professors once said "Every transaction in India is a potential shaadi (wedding) until proven otherwise." P. seemed kind of
depressed when I first met her, and I thought maybe it was because her parents had rented out her room while she was working in Jodhpur and she had to sleep in the living room when she got back, but it turns out that it has more to do with all of the marriage pressure. Auntie had told me that there was a boy in Bombay that P. wanted to marry, but she and Uncle didn't particularly approve (though they wouldn't stand in the way of the wedding) since the guy doesn't have much money, and drinks and smokes too much, etc. So she had also contemplated continuing her studies in Australia or America, just to get out of the pressure cooker, but it's just too expensive, not to mention the difficulty of getting a visa.

So last weekend, a "friend" of P's from Bombay came to visit with his mother. I suspected that this might be, and indeed it was, a reconnaissance trip to scope out her family -- whom, the potential mother-in-law concluded, lived in much higher of a style than she and her son, and that therefore P. would have unrealistic expectations about what he could provide for her.  So P. is pretty much screwed either way -- either she marries this guy and has her life be made miserable by a mother-in-law who clearly hates her, or forgets her love and marries someone else. Or she stays unmarried until 30 and becomes effectively a spinster. It's the stuff that Bollywood films are made of.

Oh, I almost forgot the newest member of the family: a little puppy named either Cherry or Jerry (I can't tell which) that the servant nabbed from a street dog who had given birth in the garden about a week before. I hope they get the puppy fixed before they can start arranging its marriage.

Anyway, that's about enough for a post that started out about how little I had to talk about.

be well,
A

(to be continued...)

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