katrinasadventures' Travel Journals


  • From Massachusetts, United States
  • Currently in Jakarta, Indonesia

Fall 2009: Northwest India

Join Katrina as she shares her adventures, stories and feelings throughout her journey across India's spiritual land. Traveling with a consortium of New York Schools (Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Hobart and William Smith, and Colgate), Katrina will spend time in various locations, such as Musoorie, Delhi, Jaipur, and Varanasi.

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India Jaipur, India  |  Nov 30, 2009
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 “We are all Hindu, it is karma that has made us practice different religions” 

Sunday, Nov. 15th :

I woke up late and still felt tired.  I felt low on energy, so I had a big breakfast (a few pieces of toast and p.b.) to make up for my lack of energy.  I also thought that b-fast would be at 3pm, as it usually is on the weekend, but then later found out  lunch was in an “hour”.   We were having a special lunch that Deepoli was preparing because she (and Anand, A.J. and Mina) were leaving to go to Deepoli’s parents house in Jabalur in Madhya Pradesh.  So, around 130pm the family members that lived in the area came to eat and say goodbye.  I enjoyed the meal because we had baked beans. 

The rest of the day consisted of a park walk and homework.  At dinner, Marissa and I had an interesting conversation with Jhoti’s husband (Jhoti is the youngest sister of the older generation family) about what Hindu ideology he believed in.  He told us that he was not a practicing Hindu, but believed in the morals and tenets that Hinduism rested upon.  He did not believe in reincarnation and rather thought that one must live in the present.  He said  that when he is happy in the present then his past is happy and his future is happy, and that is all that matters.  He also elaborated on “charity in the home”, family support structures, and the oxygen masks that come down on planes and tell you to “please help yourself before  you help others”. 

Monday, Nov. 16th:

Today we learned about the complex reflexive (apna) and the kar (which means “do”) compound verb.  We reviewed Hindi and I realized that I really do not know anything about the language.  I understand how to be grammatically correct on paper, but when it comes to creating sentences in conversation there are crickets chirping in my brain.  I get stuck.  There needs to be more practice with useful phrases and conversation for these Hindi courses to be effective.  Anywho, I discussed that in the feedback forms that we had to fill out after class.  Since we wrote these comments on the computers at the Hindi school, I and other members of the group took advantage of the free computer and internet.  For the first time, I got a chance to notice what other students were studying Hindi at the school and it seemed that many of them were graduate students that were also writing articles while they were studying Hindi here.

After buying our fair share (aka 1 kilogram) of gajak (crushed sesame and sugar), Anna and I headed to my house to study geography and work out.  We were feeling fat and needed to take out some excess energy.  When we got to our abode, there was a man washing the floor with the water from my water bottle.  Anna and I had planned to work out on my roof, but since various family members were hanging about the courtyard, we decided to go wander in the park.  The next hour we spent our time running/walking/running in the park.  This was Anna’s first run in India and she was wearing sandals, so it was a little painful for her.  For the first time in weeks, we did some crunches, lunges, etc and then some suicides on the polo fields.  It was very entertaining, especially since there was a man walking by our running path and so I think he thought that we were running towards him when we were running the suicides… awkward.

Anna took off for tea and I enjoyed my cold shower.  I find it useful to take a deep breath out when you pour the bucket of cold water over your head.  It lessens the shock of the temperature.  The rest of the evening consisted of writing Field Journals, memorizing geography and reviewing Hindi.  We had a great dinner with a cinnamon pumpkin dish and poratta (rice, dhal chappoti).  The family ate early because they were going to the movies. 

At one point, when most of the Pareek family members had gone to the movie, Willie was left wandering the compound.  He was lonely, so he sat in front of our door whining for us to come out and play.  I tried to put him in the house, but he kept jumping up on my shoulders and humping my leg.  It reminded me of Loki.  Willie is an interesting dog, because when he is let out of the compound he makes his rounds around the neighborhood, socializing with other dogs and people and the trash piles around.  As soon as he sees a person he beelines for their crotch to get a little sniff. 

I had a cup of coffee and a few cups of chai during around normal 11 o’clock Hindi break and so I was wired and had some difficulty falling asleep.  I guess chai has more caffeine than I had thought…

Tues, Nov 17th:

Today, I actually woke up with my alarm at seven and prepared for the day of lectures.  We had to meet at 9am because we had a lot to fit in.  Around 9ish (with the teachers running late), we took an Indian geography quiz.  Then Basant Jaitly spoke about the epics: Discussing Ramayana as a Cultural Text.


An epic is defined as a long poem usually based on a historical plot.  These traditions were usually oral and reinterpreted by the different generations.  Around 500BCE, the two major epics in Sanskrit, which are the Mahabharat and Ramayana, were written down.  These two epics are very different because Mahabharat is concerned more with philosophy and everyday questions of life (How should we live? What is death? What is happiness?  What is the solution to the problems we face in every day life), while Ramayana was an adventure story with morals. 

The Origin of the Ramayana:  Valmiki once was wandering through the forest along the bank of a river, when he noticed a pair of mating birds hopping about, singing sweetly. Suddenly a hunter came along and killed the male bird with his arrow. As the bird was weltering in his blood and his mate mourning for him in pitiful tones, Valmiki was overcome with pity, and pronounced a curse on the hunter. But the words of the curse left his mouth in the form of a shloka-verse. Then the god Brahma appeared and bade the poet sing of the deeds of Rama in this very meter. Thus, the Ramayana was written. 

This epic is a conglamoration of many different stories (birth of Ram, abduction of Sita, Hanuman battle, etc).  Most Indians consider the Ramayana to be the most important book in Indian culture.  There are many versions of the Ramayana have thier own flavor, style, and ambiance; because of these differences it is said that anytime someone reads the Ramayana they are reading it for the first time.  This book brings together people from different regional, language, cultural and religious backgrounds.  Despite the differences in language and culture, the Ramayana is often read as a bedtime story (even down south where no one worships Ram). 

Storyline: Ram is exiled by his step-mother and so he goes on an adventure meeting demons along the way and saving his wife Sita.  He is turned into a virtual hero through his adventures (he would not have become this hero if he had stayed in the palace).  Ram is known as the incarnation as Vishnu, but in the Valmiki story Ram does not know about his power.  He is depicted as the perfect man and the ideal son, brother, and king.  The characters reveal ideal of how one should act.  It is also a tale of personal promises kept between brother-son, friends-allies, husbands-wives, etc. 


The world he enters in his journey is a metaphorical one.  It is a mixed world because the characters represent the best of men and the worst of men, who are guided by basic instincts.  The characters that Ram mets, such as the monekys and demons, are the embodiment of non-perfection, while Ram embraces the ideal set of behaviors. 

People believed that Valmiki’s narrative had some short comings, such as Ram’s ignorance of his divine status, pregnancy of Sita, etc and so other authors rewrote his tale. 

The later Ramayanas are attempts to rethink these unresolved issues that the story brings up.  The most famous one is the episode of the demon, Shoorpanakha, and her mutilation.  Valmiki describes this incident in 51 verses, when he says that Shoorpanakha appears to Ram in her real ugly form, though she is able to acquire an form that she desires.  She talks about her lineage and proposes to Ram, who in turn sends her to Lakshmana.  They send her back and forth and make fun of her.  Shoorpanakha gets angry and attacks Sita.  Ram order her mutilation and her nose if cut off.

Kumen, the South author, expands on this scene.  He describes Shoorpanakha as a beautiful and chased virgin.  Since chastity is a woman’s power, it is not Ram who orders the mutilation, but rather Lakshmana in Ram’s absense. He cts off her nose, ears and nipples at the time when she attacks Sita.  Ram enters the scene and inquires on this behavior and tells Lakshmana to give her up. Shoorpanakha does not give up and says that she will reconstruct her parts if she is constructed by Ram.  Lakshma is responsible for the destruction and he is not an ideal person like Ram.  Kumen emphasizes that a woman’s breats are symbol of women’s power, motherhood, and beauty.  This mutilation was a very harsh punishment and so Ram was not in favor of the mutilation.

Another version, where Ram is aware of his divinity, Shoorpanakha attacks Ram and is mutilated.  Here, Ram knows that he is more than a man and he says that if he is killed by the Shoorpanakha he will just enjoy the kingdom of heaven.  There is a shift from the heroic sentiment to the sentiment of devotion.  The Hindi Ramayana (Tolsidas) writes that Shoorpanakha falls in love with both Ram and Lakshmana.  In the sight of a handsome man, a women gets excited and cannot restrain her passion.  The emphasis is not on the demonic nature of Shoorpanakha, but rather on her nature as a female. 

The Uttar Pradesh version writes that Shoorpanakha falls in love with Ram and She then approaches Lakshmana on her own and he revokes.  She attacks Sita and Lakshmana is about to kill her, but Ram intervenes and tells Lakshmana to mutilate her and leave her, not kill.   Lakshmana says that it would not have been wrong to kill her, but Sita says that you could have killed her, but Ram is an ocean of mercy and compassion.  Ram gets embarassed. 

Overall, these scenes have been variously interpreted and most of the texts forbid killing a women, even for a serious crime.  They say that mutilation is the most common punishment for sexual crimes like adultry, etc.  Shoorpanakha is the evil women, while Sita is the ideal women; yet, Shoorpanakha is the shadow of Sita.  A women should never be independent, thus to save a good woman the bad woman has to be punished.  If the bad woman is not punished there is a fear that the bad women will become popular.  Contemporarly, the Shoorpanakha story has also been told by various feminist authors, such as Volga, who use the characters of the Ramayana to discuss female solidarity and fight for the women’s movement. 

Interestingly, drinking alcohol was a tradition discussed in the Ramayana.  Rum (Rumbulian, Somo) was considered divine, since it was drunk by the God.

Questions to ponder:  Why are there so many contradictions in Ram’s life?  Why is Ram called the most ideal person?  Is it because he protects the law and order of society as layed down at that time?  Or is he a status quoist? 

Modern film and novel to watch:  Panch Vati By Usha Priamvada


Next, we discussed the novel Lesser Breeds by Nayantara Sahgal.  Nayantara was the niece of Nehru, the first prime minister of India, and she studied at Wellesly University.  She discusses the need to resist the encroachments of freedom on India.  In Voices of People, she criticized her cousin Indira Gandhi’s emergency act.  Her four novels cover a political period in continuation: Rich like us (covers 1900s) , Plans for Departure (1920s), Mistaken Identity (1929-1931), Lesser Breeds (1932-66).  All of her books have characters of different nationalities and of different languages.  

This is confusing, but anthropology has played a major role in colonizing Asian and African lands due to this notion of lesser breeds.  Some people had greater features than others and therefore were a greater breed.  Science has contributed to the imbalance of political power.  Indians were looked as a lesser species because they believed in many gods and were superstitious and irrational.  The British in the 19th century attempted to change this and create a more rational society.  (Jasbir Jain believes that these reform movements fragmented India).

 Lesser Breeds has three parts and is not a chronological story (and thus is VERY confusing).  Part 1: Company Parks deals with India.  India was like a company Park for the British because they could “pluck flowers and fruits” while walking around freely.  Part Two: Island called America deals with American adventures and the title is not harmonious with the size of America.  America is a continent in itself, but the way that America has cultivated its own interests and cut itself off from colonistic impositions like an island.  Lastly, Trade Winds discusses capitalism and capitalistic power, which does not have a human face.  It is a very dense novel with many minisqual details of historical events. 

Questions to ponder:  Is non-violence a lunatic’s fantasy?  Has it any place in the world as it still is?  Did it work even in India?  Shall we ever know?  How does literature differ from historical narration?  (things to consider emotion, imagination, perspective, critique of past)


Next, we did some IFP presentations:

High Input versus Traditional Cropping Farming Rituals by Katrina (me): Originally, I had aimed to look at the differences between agrarian rituals in “organic” and “Green Revolution” farmers, but now I realize that it is hard to differentiate between organic and traditional, so I have narrowed my research to looking at traditional and high resource input farmers;  I aim to explore the agricultural spectrum and how traditional, organic and industrial farmers differ in their relationship/connections with nature;  Is there a comparable difference in their appreciation of nature? How does technology alter this appreciation?  What has the role of the tractor played?  What are the current rituals practiced with cows?  Are astrological guides used anymore and if so which ones?  What determines when farmers should plant and harvest their crops? 

Other question I hope to ponder:  What is the organic movement in India?  How does it differ from the traditional methods of farming? My research hope to address what organic farming means in India and where it lies on the agro-nature spectrum.  Thus far I have found that organic is used because of (1) expenses, there is a market for organic food, especially with the emerging middle class and if you have invested in animals (cows), organic farming can be cheaper (2) a desire to have a connection with nature, organic farmers want to improve their lands and not rip it dry of nutrients

Themes: science versus religion, tractors versus cows, meteorological versus astrological, relationship to nature and her resources, connection with nature

Women and Sports in India by Rebecca:  What do young Indian women consider to be the normative expectation for sports; girls who have the opportunity say that they love sports; gives them confidence; only the upper class gets the chance to play sports; there are many restrictions including:

 (1) economic stability: Indians constantly feel that they will not have enough money if they went into sports; “Tennis isn’t my bed and butter”, there is no sponsorship for women in sports in India; Cricket (BCCI) is the largest sports organization and that may be the place where money and sponsorship would come from

(2) clothing: good girls do not wear athletic clothing (short shorts), there are clothing restrictions


The impact of British Architecture by Fernando: Intentions of the British when they created buildings; how these buildings are perceived today; Used three British structures: (1) intent of the Mussorie Library (hill town station, created for enjoyment of the British) can see the hierarchy power structure; today, British architecture is not lasting, due to the increase of tourism people are traveling more to these spots and so want to appeal to the masses and therefore are renovating and changing architecture; intent of hill station is broken (2) Jaipur: meant to be safe haven for trade, profit; adopted indo-saracenic style (melding of Indian and Europe style); come across as “more” Indian; today, sense of domestic tourism, interviewee stated that there was no sense of racism or superiority with the construction of indo-saracenic style, while scholars disagree; where is architecture heading?  (3) New Delhi: when British moved capital to Delhi from Kolkata they desired to create a city and buildings that emphasized power


Child labor by Martha: investigating different industries and organization involved in child labor; child labor is not universally defined, but most go by UNICEF standards; child between ages of 5 and 14 working in hazardous environments and especially if it hinders education; child labor act of 1983: anything in home did not count as child labor, but many industries are cottage industries so they work at home; (1) hired child workers:  bonded workers, parents take out loan and the child is forced to work to pay loan back, found mainly in carpet industry (2) paid household workers:  most child work found in this category, help family income and (3) unpaid household workers: aid parents and siblings with work; no organization attacks child labor specifically, but rather looks at education as well;  some have large sector of prevention, rescuing, and education; in Rajasthan, child labor is high because migration is weather dependent and high

CECODECON organization: (1) forms non-formal education groups for children (2) aids in formal education sector (3) teach children work skills (4) want mothers to work in order to prevent need for family to supplement income

Bal Rash: provides loans for them families (2) teaches skills for women; organize communities to identify problems and solve them; brightens school so that it is more appealing to go to school; teachers are sent to schools as well

World Vision: Christian organization that helps Muslim schools, religion plays a factor in child labor; established child protection committees, made up of policeman, teachers, elders and the group checks school records; when child is missing they investigate it with the family

After the long day of classes, we emerged from the building to find the sun shining.  Marissa, Anna, and I walked to an internet café and they used the computers to type up field journals, while I typed up on my computer and got attached by mosquitoes.


Wed, Nov. 18th:  Hindi

            Today, was the last day of Hindi classes!  We reviewed what we had learned.  Vidhu-ji, the main teacher, was very energetic today.  He enjoys drinking bahut (large) amounts of chai and smokes at every oppurtunity that he gets.  The combination of the two habits make him a bit juttery.  Sometimes he will write on the board and just twitch randomly.  I learned a few interesting things about Hindi today and that includes the fact that Hindi is more of an object oriented language.  It is a “to me” language (like most N. Indian Sanskrit languages)  instead of a “me” language.  In Hindi, things are percieved as happening/overtake the subject, for example “Mujhe pani chahiye” (To me water I need).  On the other hand, English is a subject oriented language and emphasizes the person, for example, I need water.  The Hindi language is more about circumstances, resposibilities, obligations and therfore less Individuallistic.  The language reveals the idea that there is a  limit to what humans can do.  That we should take life as it comes because we are helpless in hands of nature and relationships.

            Some interesting facts: Planets in Hindi are masculince except for Earth.  Boats and cars are female but ships and airplanes are masculine.         Another  random language thing that occurred to me is the fact that Roman script has upper case letters.  Students who write in Devanagri script must think that the upper and lower case letters of English are so strange. 


Changes in Wedding Traditions by Adele: Speed wedding contradict the traditional wedding ceremonies (usually three days); focused on middle to upper class; traditions have changed the most in the last decade; interviewed women from range of ages from eight to fifty; different perceptions of the ideal wedding; wedding industry is one of the largest sectors of the market; auspicious days to get married since traditionally astrology was used to plan weddings; used to be “bumper to bumper” weddings on auspicious days; in past, family affair and they decided where to have wedding and what rituals to perform; now, more urban brides are taking more independent attitude to planning weddings;  brides are making their own choices younger interviewee sees herself wearing white dress, does not care about having traditional Indian dress, religion will not take a large part in her wedding; dowry (demanded by husband’s family and contratrly produced)versus gifts


From Gods of Tradition to Hourly Commission by Milly:  specifically focusing on vocal music; meant; investigating student-teacher relationship in classic Hindustani music (Guru-shishya parampara); to be a sacred connection and goes beyond the average teacher relationship; grounded during princely court time when the best musicians would give princes lessons in exchange for monetary support; princely sons would be guided and be taught a new skill; treat guru like god because he is liberating you, devoted to you on every level; money is not an object and the services that he give to you are irreplaceable; traditional thread tying ceremony (way to appreciate each other); at end, recite what you learn from guru and culminates in thanking ceremony; today, there seems to be a change in the transfer of knowledge and vision of what relationship is meant to be; used to be intense and riguruous and now lessons are treated with the capitalistic demand and ; more group lessons and formalized teachings with teachers; where do you let go of traditions?


Street children by Hannah: India has highest number of street children in world (8 million— more street kids than entire population of Africa);  exploring government versus private institutions for street children and differences in care taking techniques; difficult to visit organizations because swine flu is spreading around…

(1)  Private Organization: Udayan is village for street children (voluntary); kids are educated, given psychological therapy, and love—though, children are not adopted by families because there are many volunteers; create bonds between older and younger children (big brother like); create family within children; sponsors financially support children and visit them; when children reach a certain age they may go to sponsor and stay for a while; desire to teach children how to be self sufficient and independent

(2)  Government orphanage:  high turn over rate; true orphanage since parents fill out form, show that they are financially viable, an officer checks out the house and then they get the child; the orphanage is just the place to hold the child until they find a home; not much psychological therapy


Spiritual Water by Lisa:  comparing hindu uses of water in all the locations that we have visited; focus on Rajasthani villages and Ganges in Varanasi; looking at historical ways that Rajasthani villages has obtained and uptained water—state is very arid and is currently in a drought; literature says that rain is saved by the drop, but through observation and interviews water seems to be wasted more;  multiple water catchment systems; waste water is often flowed into water bodies in Rajasthan;  few people seem to worship rain god; desire to find spiritual uses of water; water has become a commodity; recurring theme that “water cleanses”


Middle Class Women’s Role in Work Force and Impact of Family Structure by Anna: important topic to decipher role of women in society; looking at how female important income is, how much harrassment is in work place and changing dynamics in household; noticed that women do not work in the goods and services industry;  young working women seem to say that they will not work after they marry; women love to work because it is liberating, but it is still one of the things that they are not meant to be doing (shows how liberating and oppressed they are); why is household work not considered work?


Devotional Practices in Hinduism by Chelsea: different types of devotional practices that vary with (1) Sagun—temple puja (2) Narakar—formless worship of god, meditation (a) yoga (b) namsmatar; Hinduism has a lot of freedom in worship; 33 billion gods in Hinduism and unlikely that anyone can name all of them; many Hindus worhsip animals, plants, etc; (1) shantabar—silent form of worship, sit in front of god (2) dasibat—god is my master (3) laddu gopal—god as mother (Krishna)  (4) sakabhar—god as friend (5) Madurbao—god as lover (Krishna); overall, most important thing is that you surrender yourself completely to god; if make wish and wish is fulfilled by God then you start worshipping that God as a way to give back to god;  in Hinduism, tulsi tree is often wroshipped because brings good luck; Worship of baby Krishna—women who did not have kids would worhsip this little diety, change his clothes, feed and bathe him; women would spend time taking care of baby Krishna, just like a family member, with Krishna you get love by worshipping


The Advancement of Female Equity though Education by Matt: focusing on Children’s Right to Education Compulsary Act (free and compulsary education to ages 3-14, children are awarded a certificate after class 8, 25% reservation in all private schools: progressive because: (1)structural and material requirements (2)  student teacher ration (3) qualification of teachers (need adequate professional degree); problem of gender unequality with education; material and ideological levels, education is the most successful tool for sustainable development and improvement of gender equality; Barriers for women: (1) poverty (70% under poverty line are women and children) (2) transperency and funding (3) allocation of funding (teachers salaries) (4) inadequate school facilities (water, food, chairs, books, toilets, playgrounds) (5) lack of transportation to school (6) harassment, especially if no toilet facilities (7) work at home (take care of siblings)



Thurs, Nov. 19th: Freedom!

            I felt crappy and had a sore throat (33 people have died of swine flu in Jaipur…), so it was hard getting out of bed.  We had no classes today and so I had anticipated making the most of my free day by getting a lot of Hindi studying done, but that did not occur as planned.  I woke up fairly late at 1030 and then I spent an hour waking up further.  I walked 40 minutes to Hindi school to find that the teacher I was going to meet was also not feeling well and took an early lunch break.  So, I walked back to the Central Park, where I met Cynthia to go over some Hindi and travel plans.  After a quick lunch, I headed back to Hindi school and learned more about Vindu-ji’s perspectives on language. 

Vindu-ji enjoys reading Sherlock Holmes books “to enjoy the language” and the beauty of English.  He also has some theories about how popular words reveal something about the decades: in the 60s it was “wonderful, awful”, late 60s “mod”, 70s “super, big”, late 70s”hot”, 80s “cool”, etc.  He also explained that the Hindi he speaks is a very formal and educated one.  Sometimes even he can’t understand shopkeepers who speak Hindi because they speak a different form of Hindi.  They use slang with each other, so that they can cheat the customers more effectively.

Marissa was having some stomach problems and so at the dinner table Mridula made it a point to figure out what was going on.  She asked Marissa if it was dysentery or diarrhoe.  Marissa asked what the difference was and Mridula replied with,”Diarrhoe is loose stools. Dysentry is painful evacuation”. 

I also learned that the family does not enjoy eating out of the house because they are unsure of how clean and sanitary restaurants are.  They think that going out to eat is dangerous because you never know what you will be eating and will get sick.  They were especially careful about drinking water outside, because they believed that was where they were most at risk.  It’s interesting that Indian familes are just as worried about food and water as foreigners are in India.  They also said that it was highly likely that we were eating pesticides from the vegetables because traditional and organic vegetables are rare to come by these days.  They are also very expensive because it costs much more money to use natural cow compost versus subsidized pesticides and inseticide. 

I went to bed around 11pm and woke up an hour later to go to the bathroom.  Since I have to go through Marissa’s room to get to the bathroom I passed by her during my bathroom break.  When I got up the stair and peered over to her bed I saw that there was one tiny light glowing on her bed.  I walked around her bed to get to the bathroom only to hear “Don’t Judge me”.  Marissa’s cellphone light was lighting up her face in the dark room as she was playing tetris.  What an interesting way to study…


Fri, Nov 20th:  Hindi Exam!

            I popped out of bed this morning to study some “ko” constructions before the Hindi exam.  At the usual 820am time I headed out the door and for the last time walked to Hindi classes.  I said “Namaste” to the guard for the last time and went up the stairs to take the exam.  The exam was fine, but the desks were very uncomfortable because they are really low and so I had a lot of neck pain. 

After the long exam, Milly, Anna, and I walked to Central Park to have a little relaxation.  (At sunset, the trees are filled with birds and the park reminds me of the kind of place the Buddha would have gone to gain enlightenment… yet, there are hundreds of people around and the trees are covered in blocks of pavement at the roots for people to sit on).  We sat down underneath a tree and enjoyed watching the men that sat down near us and just stared at us.  They were so memorized by us.  The day was sunny and warm, maybe around 80F, and so if felt good just to sit outside in somewhat fresh air.     

This evening we had a farewell dinner with the group and host families.  I had planned to meet with Sheila beforehand to go over travel and IFP plans, so I glammed up and walked an hour to the North side of town.  There was lots of traffic, but it was not significantly different from the week days.  I discussed with Sheila about organic farming and traveling down South.  When it was time, the teachers and I (they had their own apartment for the time in Jaipur) headed across the street to the Meghiwas Hotel (the colonel’s hotel). 

We arrived right on time for the 730pm party at the Meghiwas.  Our group was such a big impact on the hotel, since there were other guests staying at it that had no idea who these random group of people were.   Most of the female students wore saris… and some of them looked great… but others not so much… eh, j/k they all looked good.  Although, I don’t know how I feel about non-Indian women wearing saris… it looks a bit strange, but at least they are trying.  The evening was spent moseying about, eating great food and socializing with families.

Lisa and I had bought a little nut gift box for the colonel (for taking us to his farm) and so when we gave it to him in his office, he insisted that we sit down and chat.  This man loves asking us what we thought of Jaipur (he has asked me many times).  He also insisted on giving us some wine and by the end of my first glass I was a little tipsy (my tolerance is little, let along non-existent).  We continued our conversation on what challenges India faced (population, education, poverty, etc).  When we reached an awkward moment, Lisa and I slipped out to join the festivities of the other kids and their home stay families. 

After the beautiful evening out with Marissa and Mridula, we headed home to find all the family members in the kitchen eating their supper.  The kitchen is the warmest place in the house and so I guess the family felt it necessary to eat in there (even though it was not really that cold out… it was around 70F).  We discussed singing and Sham revealed that he could not sing when he was in the bathroom because he had too much work to do while there.  What a funny man!  We then went over to Sheel and Phool’s room to watch a music competition (mein ghar ghar…):  Punjab versus West Bengal.  It was similar to American idol except in an Indian classical style. The filmatography was fantastic since they There made sure to us slow motion as much as possible and zoomed unbearable close to the judge’s and singers’ faces.  There was some intense drama going on in this competition, since one of the singers forgot the lyrics…


Sat, Nov. 21st: BIRTHDAY!

The packing had begun.  Today the birds were singing and the sun was shining and I knew that I needed to pack.  Today was also the day recognized as my “birth day”, but I was a little apprehensive about the matter.  In some ways I think it is strange that a person finds the need to celebrate him/herself on this one day, but in other ways it seems to make sense because it “can” be the one day for you and “about” you.  People need that every once in a while…  But I don’t understand the way that you are supposed to act.  It seems that some people the way in which you are supposed to behave on your birthday troubles me.  I understand that you should be grateful and such, but

With a late start, Mridula took us on a drive-through of the old part of the city, the pink district.  It was an entertaining two hours because we literally rushed through the city palace, the jantar mantar, a few temples, etc (I am talking drove up to them, got out of the car to take pictures and then hopped back in the car).  We got stuck in traffic on the way back from the tour and at one point I was talking to Marissa and Mridula when I saw a shadow in the corner of my eye.  A boy was asking for money and was plastered to the car window and was literally 2 inches from my face. Good thing that I had the window up.

When we got through the traffic, Marissa and I were dropped off at Anoki café, where the gang was waiting for a miny birthday celebration.  We had two beautiful cakes: banana bread with chocolate and carrot cake with icing.  They were delicious.  It was so sweet!  I felt like a princess!  They wrote me a poem and bought me gifts.  I was so heart-warmed.  This was the last time we would see the group before everyone went off for their week long break. 

On the walk home, I took a detour with Kim and Anna through the park.  That was the last time I would go through that familiar park.  At home, I was surprised to see our home-stay cousin and Harvard graduate, Kuch, who lives in Gujarat.  He had come to visit because he wanted his family to meet his new fiancée/girlfriend.  Apparently, for the last year he had been chatting with a girl online and had been dating her for a few months.  Her parents were pressuring her to get married and so he decided to pursue the relationship and take the next step: marriage.  They had met a few times and so now were going to officially stop seeking other mates.  Kuch had been keeping all this information secret and so this was all new family gossip.

In the early evening, Marissa left the family to catch an overnight train to Deepoli’s parents’ house in Madhya Pradesh.  It was a very emotional time for her since she had felt so comfortable with this family.  She let out a few tears (which Mridula later described as being weak… ha ha… she was just kidding, but you had to be there to hear her say it… it was funny).  So, we all took pictures and Marissa left for the train station.

After I bathed and put on my new gifts (shirt, earrings, and scarf), I went into the Pareek courtyard for the last time ( I will be back in December) and hung out with the gang (Mridula, Sheel, Phool, Deepoli, Jhoti, Sam, Anand, and AJ).  It was a low key evening and the family spent most of it playing with AJ.  They had missed him (he had gone to Deepoli’s family house in Madhya Pradesh for the week).  

            That night I was also lucky to experience aarti with Krishna at the temple.  Since I had bathed I was allowed to enter the temple and so I went in and was amazed at the hundreds of pictures that lined the tables in the room.  They have around 50 pictures of their saint and then framed pictures of Hanuman, Sita, Ram, Shiva statues, etc.  The evening ended with some special mango ice cream to celebrate the bday… aka obviously artificially sweetened and colored mango ice cream.  Yum!  It was a grand contribution to my Indian baby (of food) that is growing. 


Overall, I believe that Jaipur is a nice city and enjoyable experience with an extended family.  I was fortunate to have the central Park nearby because that place was somewhere I could get some excersize and relieve some stress.  Here is an email I got recently that was really sweet:  Hi Karina,  I found your blog in a randomly- I went on the NY schools India abroad trip in 1998, and stayed with the Pareek's in Jaipur- your photos of the family made my day. Mridula (Chimmy Bua) and all the aunties treated us so kindly, and I have wonderful and funny memories of that time. Is the dog (Woolfie, the rottweiler) still around? If you are still in Jaipur, please say hello to Chimmy, Krishna, Kamal chachi, Sheel bua and Phool bua. And Sonal, Krishna's daughter. They won't remember me, it's been too long- but I remember them. And Geesi and Gita, whose parents care for the cows? The girls may be so old they've left home by now. Anyway- have a wonderful time there- I've been back to India several times since 98, and I love it more each trip. Good luck! Ann


A Word from Not America By Marissa Biondolillo :   You know what’s great? Host families are great.

     This is the leg of my journey I was most apprehensive about. I’ll be staying with a host family in Jaipur for 6 weeks. I thought it was going to be so awkward to impose myself on some random Indian family, but it’s turned out to be really amazing.

     Yes, it’s a little weird sometimes but in very small ways. For example: Dear host mom, I don’t want to be rude but… the fridge doesn’t work. That’s why I won’t eat anything from it. Love, Marissa.

     I’m glad I got that out. It was eating me up inside… or maybe that’s the parasites.

     Other than mild food qualms, I really like it. It makes a huge difference to stay in one place and live with a family after living out of a suitcase for so long with drama drunk college kids. Families feel more homey.

     The best part though, is how insanely liberal my host family is. My host mom is a 60 something year old, unmarried doctor. Two of her sisters also didn’t get married. They all have careers and live together in this house. If you don’t realize how radical that is, let me fill you in. When my host mom was growing up, a woman was expected to be illiterate, void of opinions, know how to cook and to have babies (male ones). If she didn’t, she was considered a bad wife and, therefore, a bad woman. On top of that, domestic violence and marital rape were (and are still) the norm here. When asked why she never got married, my host mom replied, “Why would I? Men here treat their wives like servants.” (I should mention that when I say “here” it means Rajasthan, the state I’m in, not all of India. Rajasthan is slower than most when it comes to liberal change).

     I am completely astounded everyday to live in the company of these revolutionary women. Think of the stigma of being a spinster in the US and now multiply that by how many cats you imagine them to have. That’s what I imagine it was like for them.

     Granted, they were lucky enough to have liberal parents that didn’t force marriage on them and actually supported their education. Certainly not every woman has the opportunity do what they did. Even so, it’s encouraging to see women who believed in their own self worth enough to take the risk and do something radical. 

     Here’s the moral I’m taking away from this: if the social structures available to you don’t fit your liking, subvert, subvert, subvert!  For all my feminists back home, there’s a little upbeat update from abroad.

Miss you terribly.



“I’m spending these weeks with a wonderful 15 person host family and a quirky roommate, Katrina. The greatest part about these past few weeks has been watching my host family cope with Katrina’s brazen sense of humor. Example: Katrina to our 27 year old host-cousins, “You two are twins?? You don’t look anything alike! Are you sure one of you isn’t from the milkman?”  Or, Katrina trying to come up with a sentence in Hindi, “… sorry, I’m having a brain fart.” Or, my personal favorite, Katrina to my gynecologist host mom: “How was work? See anything weeeeird?” She keeps life interesting” – Marissa





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