Wednesday, November 7

The purple dupata

As I get settled in India, blogging seems to be less and less on my mind. So many beautiful things are happening, but they are becoming so commonplace to me! Man, I pray that I don't take for granted what an amazing time I'm having - I don't want to miss the awesome weight of everything I'm experiencing, or lose the wonder of life away from heart-numbing comfort.

So, firstly: I'm learning what I like and what I don't like about both Indian fashion and Indian food. This might seem like a good thing, but in reality it is a dangerous thing. As in I'm obsessed. As in very soon I may be fat and broke.  I'm frying banana fritters and pakora,
Praisey's banana fritters:
basically pieces of fried banana bread dough.
i may have died and gone to heaven.
chowing paneer and naan and chole bhature, and searching endlessly for an easy chicken tikka recipe.

I'm making weekly trips to the market with friends (as an outreach opportunity, of course,) and coming back with a new set of bangles or pair of patiala pants every time (i'm only going to use them for a little bit, and then i'm going to send them to friends in America, naturally). Also, I have discovered the beauty of custom-made clothing: I bought 2 meters of beautiful cotton fabric (that I spotted while shopping for necessary PMI decorations, you see,) and had it sewn into a kurta made to fit my preferences, measurements and specifications for a grand total of right around $6. After the experience of wearing such nice-fitting clothing, I just can't go back to clothes made to fit the size S masses. I took four more of my old kurtas to the tailor straightaway to be altered to my liking, gave the nice man 4 hours to have the job done and paid him $3 upon its completion.
The last step in my cultural fashion indoctrination is to take my clothing to the press-wallas to be ironed after washing. Everything is really really wrinkled after it hangs to dry, for whatever reason, and i've been skipping the ironing step so i always look a little mussed. I think i heard the fee was 5 rupees (10 cents) per article of clothing, so after my next laundry day i'm going to go on an adventure and have everything pressed...
I'm getting more Indian all the time.

So, I told you that i bought my scooty, right? Yay! It's wonderful! I've had it for a little over a week, and I've driven it twice. I'm still getting used to the controls but it's basically what you'd expect: since it's automatic transmission, it's just like a bicycle and a car in one. Once i'm used to the sensitivities, I'll be taking that thing EVERYWHERE. I'm still a little cautious, but I'm loving riding it. The other night Praisey was feeling restless, so she just said, "okay, let's go have a scooty session!" We got it out and she rode on the back while I drove. She kept saying i was so brave, but I think she was the brave one to ride with me after I'd only had one driving lesson! We were laughing so hard when i would wobble in my steering, or anytime i came up to a turn in the road. We went around the neighborhood twice, and on our second lap, a good-natured man who had seen us already and knew i was still learning started teasing us and pretending to jump out in our path! We were losing it. It was so fun.
Experiences like this - learning and being vulnerable with people i'm coming to love here - mean everything to me. The friendships are real, the fellowship is true and deep, and the memories are simply priceless.

So, I'm going to be taking 2 days a week this month to teach English at the Burari center. Burari is about a 45 minute trip away from my home in Hudson Line, and yesterday the burari team and i went by auto-rickshaw. This vehicle, which some people call a tuk-tuk, is basically a three-wheeled covered moped with a back seat. It's pretty open to the elements, and to the eyes of any onlooker.
Now, I'm pretty resigned to the stares of the Indian masses. I don't mind. I'm not surprised. I stare right back until the gawker drops his gaze out of awkwardness. But i'm not big on celebrity, or a fan of too much attention, so I don't love it. On the way to Burari i used my purple scarf (a new purchase from a market trip - scarves are useful and cultural, thank you,) to cover my mouth in places where the pollution was particularly bad (and when i say particularly bad, i mean so thick you can't see through it and so pungent i think i'll always reek of stinkyriversmog). On the way back, though, i used it as a dupata - like many typical Indian women - to cover my flowing golden hair (pfff) and my pointed aryan nose and chin. I was amazed at the difference. Usually in a crowd, as an Indian scans the way ahead, their eyes rest on me and they do a quick casual double take, or they cock their head curiously or simply unabashedly continue to look at me until i'm out of their line of view. But without my caucasian features visible, their eyes did not even find me. Though people still looked in my direction, every single one looked through me without seeing me. Where usually i would meet someone's gaze upon every glance up from the road, i now found myself free to view the comings and goings of Delhi without scrutiny from behind my purple screen of privacy. One two-foot piece of cloth made all the difference.
I'm struggling to tell you why exactly i find this so meaningful, but i think it has to do with the feeling of being integrated as opposed to being other. Something about blending in is important to me. I feel legitimized by knowing when to turn off the water pump, how to tell the tailor to alter my clothes, how much i will pay for a pair of pants, which side of the street to drive on, and how to prepare food that an Eastern tongue will not spurn. It's important to me not to be a severely foreign presence here, but to be a learner, a chameleon, a lover of culture. I feel much less other when i am not always demanding peoples' attention with my mere presence. I hope and pray that Indians see me as a humble servant rather than a demanding tourist;
for I have left my home environment and come here not to be served, but to serve.

More and more, i want my life to exemplify incarnational motivations and selfless labor, and i'm glad to say that i feel the steps i'm taking are leading me there.

Love from Delhi,
Julie the servant.

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