Sunday, September 4, 2011

Attempts at being cultured

As some of you may know, I contracted an awful viral fever around the middle of August.  I started feeling sick on August 15th (India’s Independence Day) and didn’t get well again until a whole week later.  Not only was I out of school for a week, but I also shivered and slept through two three day weekends.  This means that, while I was flat on my back recovering, my fellow ETAs were being good Fulbrighters, seeing the sights of Delhi, and getting to know our new home.  Once I recovered, I was determined to catch up.  Here are some of my adventures.

This past Saturday, my flat-mates and I decided to take a trip to Old Delhi.  I had been there before, close to the end of my junior semester abroad, but was eager to go back.  It was as I remembered it: hot, crowded, busy, dirty, and caught in some bygone era.   Please do not take these words negatively though—I love Old Delhi for these very reasons.  It is the most alive-feeling place I think I have ever been to.  The energy there is indescribable, but incredible. 

The highlight of the trip for me was our visit to Jama Masjid, Old Delhi’s most famous mosque.  I had been there once before in May 2009 with my friend Taylor, but had not had a very positive experience.  That time, I had been wordlessly roared at by a man sitting outside the mosque; only later did I discover that he was trying to tell me that I could not bring a camera inside without paying.  Additionally, I had made the mistake of wearing ankle baring pants that time, and had to borrow a robe.  That time, Taylor and I decided not to pay the exorbitant camera fee, so went in one at a time, while the other stood outside with the cameras.  Due to this less than ideal situation, the visit was short and stressful. 

This time though, I met my roommates Jessica and Krish at the mosque, and had no choice but to bring my camera in with me.  I’m glad I did.  Inside the Jama Masjid is a tower that one can climb up into.  Women are not allowed into the tower without male accompaniment, so I had not been able to go there last time.  This time though, Krish secured tickets for Jessica and me, and we all climbed up the winding, narrow staircase.  I’m glad we did.  Not only could we see all the mosque grounds, we could see all of Old Delhi.  From such a great height, it looked just as hectic, but there somehow seemed to be an order and harmony to the chaos.  Definitely worth the return trip.

Courtyard area of Jama Masjid

View from the tower

Jess and me

The next day, I headed to the India Habitat Centre (IHC) for the Asia Livelihood Documentary Film Festival.  (See and for more information.)  First of all, I have to say, I am so glad I found the IHC, as it seems like a great place.  There are always Indian art and cultural shows—galleries, plays, dance performances, music concerts—I’m sure I’ll be there a lot.  The film festival was great—all of the films were on life in India, but they were all very different.  The day I was there, I got to see a film about homeless children living on a train platform, one about the Baul musicians of Bengal, another film about street hawkers, one about a young boy working in a cinema, and two films about ambitious Indian teenaged boys.  Quite a diverse sampling!

Last Wednesday was Eid, the end of Ramadan.  I spent the evening, along with my roommates, with the family of the cousin of one of Krish’s friends.  The family was wonderfully kind and welcoming, and also very knowledgeable about India, America, economics, theater, literature, and everything in between.  This made for very pleasant and interesting dinner conversation. 

Now about the dinner.  There was SO MUCH FOOD!  This makes sense of course, as most of the people present had been fasting for an entire month.  I had not been, but I ate as though I had.  The food was delicious, and almost entirely non-vegetarian (the idea is that, after a whole month of fasting, no one wants to eat vegetables).  I am almost completely vegetarian here in India, and also have not eaten any mammal meat since 2009.  This time though, I really felt that I should get into the spirit of things, and celebrate Eid properly.  So I partook of the chicken biryani, mutton curry, roast lamb, prawn curry, and liver fry, as well as the parotha (bread), the salad, and the raita, which were the sole vegetarian elements of the meal.

This past Friday, I went along with some other Fulbrighters to the India Habitat Centre, where there was a dance and music festival going on.  I got to see some truly amazing Odissi dancing by a male dancer, who first did a dance based on different legends of the sun god, then did a second dance about the many reincarnations of Vishnu.  His ability to tell a story through not only the grand gestures and turns usually associated with dance, but also with the subtlest of movements with the fingers, eyes, and eyebrows was amazing.   Also part of this festival was a sitar/tabla performance and a kathak show.  The beautifully graceful kathak dancers definitely inspired me to practice more!  I know I will be attending as many dance concerts and “cultural events” as I have time for this year.  I am disappointed to be missing things like the Philly Fringe, but am very excited for the dance and theater I will get to see here.

Also this weekend, I went to the Delhi book fair, to “Zindagi na Milegi Do Bara,” the Bollywood movie that the other ETAs had seens while I was sick , and to Dilli Haat.  Dilli Haat is a rather contrived little crafts marketplace that seeks to recreate a village feel.  (For any Hyderabad people reading this, Dilli Haat is basically the Shilparamam of Delhi, except about half the size.)  As in Shilparamam, there are little stalls all around Dilli Haat, where vendors hawk crafts from all over India.  Unlike Shilparamam however, there is also a huge selection of food stalls.  Each food stall represents one of the states of India.  Krish and I ate at the Uttar Pradesh stall, and it was very good.  I doubt I’ll be shopping much in Dilli Haat, but I’m sure I’ll be going there quite often to eat!  My goal is to sample food from every stall by the end of this year.   I am quite excited to try some of India’s lesser known cuisines, such as the cuisines of Manipur and Nagaland!   

No comments:

Post a Comment