Sunday, May 9, 2010

20 days? Nahi!

It's a very scary thought for all exchange students and that is: the end. To be perfectly honest, I'm quite scared. I keep wondering how things are going to be when I get back, hoping I’ve bought presents for everyone, that people will come to my welcome back picnic, etc. etc. etc. But what I’m most scared about is the leaving behind part. It’s all very easy to leave your home country because you know in 10 months you’ll be back with the family and friends who love you. But what’s difficult is leaving behind your new family, the new mother, father, grandparents, what-have-you that have become your world. The aspect of loss kind of gets to you. You’ve had so many great memories but suddenly, they will have to end, and you find that you’ll probably never be able to have this ever again. This has been what has occurred in my mind the past couple of weeks as my time in India becomes shorter and shorter. But as the international president of AFS, Tachi, said, this really isn’t the end of a journey, but the beginning.

Eedar Oodar

So the past weekends I have been buying presents for people. This is a very difficult thing to do because it can be hard to pick things out for people. For one, you have to remember EVERYBODY back in the U.S. and then their tastes and try to find something suitably within your budget as well as something that kind of represents your host country. It’s… tiring. Austin and I have been rushing around (well I guess it’s more like I drag Austin around…) to shop for things. We’ve hit Bandra (Linking Road and Hill Road), Colaba Causeway, and various other places in search of gifts.

Since I have a lot of girl friends I got mainly things like scarves, jewelry, some tops, really simple things. For my dad’s coffee shop I got one of those toy auto rickshaws despite its semi-clichĂ©-ness. Of course, I can’t deny the fact that I bought myself a few things. This includes some awesome puffy white pants, a sari, and some movies. Actually there is probably a bit more I got but oh well, I don’t remember now.

The thing I most excited about is the sari because, well despite already having one in the U.S. that my dad had bought me when he came two years ago, I get to have this one done professionally. I didn’t get to put it up when it happened so as not to ruin the surprise but I did buy my mom a sari earlier this year as a Christmas present (and I guess late birthday because I didn’t send her anything then…). Considering how cheap that sari had been (something like rs.1200-1800 for the sari, about rs. 300 for the blouse and petticoat, and approx. rs. 500 for the tailoring), I wanted to get one done for myself. Now I guess if you want to travel to India this would be a bit difficult to do unless you’re spending more than a week in one place and you know where a good tailor is. But I do suggest it because the price is so cheap here for these things. Even dry cleaning is relatively cheap. I have sent a kurta from a set of mine and the cost is less than rs. 300, which is about $8.

Oh but you must be wondering about the act of buying a sari. Well I should first start off by saying that Indians’ hospitality is quite well seen here. Like most of the street shopping in India, you yourself never go through the clothes, but instead they are pulled out and laid out before you. At first, it’s really strange because you know what you like and you just want to do it yourself plus they just keep pulling out one right after another, some in styles you definitely don’t like. It can also be frustrating when, once you’ve found something, they keep on pulling items out, or you decide you actually don’t like anything and they have to now put everything back on the shelves. I feel really bad at these moments but it really gives one insight into the American personality. Though as I mentioned, I’m now used to it and sometimes it does serve a quite useful feature because they know where to find the right products so you’re not running around. Also, many (if not all) will ask if you want some refreshment in the form of chai, coke, or any other beverage at their disposal. Anyway, back to the sari. Austin likes to joke that this is probably the fastest thing I’ve ever bought here and it’s true my decision making was quite fast since I already had an idea in my mind. Otherwise, I’m a typical girl, debating over the color, style, etc. and having to go to quite a few other places before finding exactly what I want. Because I already had one blue kagra choli that is extremely fancy I couldn’t get a blue sari and I don’t look good in yellow or orange nor do I extremely like purple, I decided to look only at red and green saris. Although really maybe I should have looked at green since that sari in U.S. is red… whatever, I already got mine so it doesn’t matter.

My budget was under rs. 3000, so that automatically ruled out some. Eventually I took a red sari with a black border. Another thing about choosing a sari is that they will test drape it around you so that you can see how it looks on yourself. They do this by wrapping the sari around your waist once, making the six or so folds, and tying an elastic black belt with Velcro around so that it doesn’t fall and then pulling it over your shoulder for the whole look. This really does help with the visualization. See the picture to get a good idea. The sari ended up being rs. 2400, a nice price. Later in the day we went to a color matching center, which is just what it sounds like. You go there with the sari and the blouse material (which is attached to the sari originally and is cut off by the sari shop employees to take to a tailor) and look at the color you wish you go under the blouse material and for your petticoat. The reason you need it for the blouse is because, well if the sari material ends up being see-through, you don’t want to expose anything! The same thing is with the petticoat. The petticoat helps to give a definite shape for the sari and keep everything in place. In some cases, the tag for the petticoat is very humorous, as the one for my mom’s petticoat read out “Specialist in Fish Cut Crap, A Line, Bizzy Lizzy”. I’m sure this means something in Indian tailor-jargon but it just made me laugh.

Another unique place we went was Chiminlal’s, a stationary store with so many nice paper products. I got some nice cards to write thank you letters to people here, a bangle box for myself, and some other tiny presents for people in US. I wish I could’ve gotten a packet of stationary but I know myself too well and the fact of me never using such nice paper would make it a waste for me to buy it. My host mom took us to Bombay Blue for lunch which is a pretty nice chain of restaurants. AND they have Onion Rings. Okay maybe that’s not such a big accomplishment and yes, they do taste different from the ones in US but they are good. Plus here, we eat them with chaat masala and it’s delicious (but I’m betting it’s an acquired taste because at first I didn’t like it either. The causeway was nice as usual and I ended up getting a new bag because the chain on mine broke again (it’s a warning: I had bought a fake Diesel bag here and when I was in Goa it broke due to over stuffing but when I got back we fixed in. Little did I know it wouldn’t last…). Although if your bag or purse does ever break in India, be happy, because in cities like Mumbai with a western influence (like Goa or probably Delhi too) you can get pretty good quality, cheap bags. Mine feels almost like real leather and was only rs. 500 (yes I will sell my host country to you slowly).

Last weekend was a “farewell” party for Austin and I at Mumbai’s Hard Rock CafĂ© which of course would not be the real thing. A lot of our friends were taking their SAT and so afterward we hopped into cabs and went speedily to the restaurant. Now, I should’ve been more careful but sadly I was tempted. Here is the moral of the story: DON’T EAT BEEF IN INDIA! Yes, I had a burger (well more correctly I had the equivalent of ¾ of a burger- ¼ of one and ½ of another). It was good but too much meat after a practically all veg 10 months with small meals here and there of fish and chicken is a bad idea. My other two Indian friends didn’t have digestion problems but my system hasn’t been good for the past few days. I didn’t throw up or anything but just generally stomach aches and all that goes with it. Anyways, despite being in India for so long, it upset my stomach, and this was a reputable company too so just a head’s up. I, myself will stick with lovely veg burgers. And this also leads us into our next topic…

Ap kya khana pasand hai?

Oh khana. Or what is better known as ‘food’ in English. It occurred to me that I have never necessarily talked about this so I should really do that now. The typical Indian meal involves roti, subzi, daal, and chaval. This translates basically to bread, vegetables, soup, and rice but not exactly. Roti can also be called naan, paratha, rotilal, etc. based on how you make it and it generally can be called bread but is rolled and made over a fire on a pan with ghee/butter into a circle/triangle/whatever shape you want. You use this to eat your subzi or vegetable (with your HANDS! :D) which is actually vegetables mixed with masala/spices or put in gravy (if you’re familiar with Indian food think aloo gobi vs. paneer tikka masala). Now if you’re non-veg (you eat meat) this can also be where you have chicken or lamb (like the favorite chicken tikka masala or lamb korma).

I actually don’t think you can call daal a soup but that’s the best way to explain it. It’s made out of daal (that’s what it’s called) or lentils and they are boiled in water with other vegetables or spices. Take Daal Fry, which is what I usually have. You put in toor daal with water into a pressure cooker. You can add also, tomato, onion, and green pepper with the masala. Daal Makhani is different, instead having lentils, kidney beans, onions, tomato pulp, and some other things. As you can see, daal has various interpretations. Chaval is the name for rice and you have many different styles there too. It can be mixed with jeera or cumin seeds, it’s called pulao if you add peas or dired fruits, etc., biryani with a spicy sort-of paste with vegetables, or kichadi, which is a mix of daal and rice (very easy to make when camping). This is typically what I have everyday for lunch and dinner with a few exceptions and for breakfast I have cornflakes (boring I know. I wish I had an exciting breakfast like paratha and jam).

Another type of food that is close to my heart is chaat or street food. Oh my gosh, if you come to India and not have this then… well you’re losing out because it’s some of the most fantastic food you will ever have. My favorite is pav bhaji, which is buttered bread with mashed up vegetables- a Maharashtrian special. There’s also sev puri, pani puri/ gol gappas, bhel, Bombay sandwiches, cheese toast, vada pav (the “Indian burger”), the list goes on and on. I suggest you try them all except for a few factors: if you have a small mouth like me, I would skip on the pani puri since it can be hard to chew then and consequently gets stuck in your throat. Also always make sure it is made in front of you, if using raw foods- be hot, and make sure none of it looks spoiled. It really helps to have an Indian with you when you do this: they’ll obviously know the right places to go.


I forgot to mention the events of Saturday night which was actually quite exciting. All of the exchange students, their families, and AFS staff and volunteers got together in Mumbai for a dinner with AFS International president Tachi. Tachi (it's not his real name but a nickname) is from Paraguay and had been on an exchange himself to the U.S. and now works with AFS in New York. It was really nice to meet him and share our experience of being in India and he was very excited to talk to us. Because Austin and I have learned hindi in school and the others know a bit of it themselves, we were asked to speak a bit. During dinner, all of us exchange students sat together and caught up a bit. Sadly, they will be leaving this saturday so this was the last time I might see all of them. That's another thing great about U.S.: meeting the other nationalities. Of course we didn't meet so many since we're on the YES scholarship but I like my new German and Belgium friends. AFS gave us all gifts since our experience was ending: the girls were given scarves and the boys, elephant statues. It was a really fun night in the end.

Well I think that’s it for now. I’ll post more later!

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