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Posts Tagged ‘Personal’

I should probably preface this story by saying that I’m not a princess.  You can use a lot of other choice words to describe me, but “princess” would hardly be accurate.  I rarely flinch at the sight of a cockroach or moldy fruit, and if the only “bathroom” in sight is two pieces of cinderblock atop strangers’ decaying feces, I’ll hold my breath and make do.

My relatively relaxed, sab chalta hai (everything goes), attitude has been very handy when traveling throughout India.  It’s allowed me to sample delicious peanut chutney in northern Karnataka, freshly ground in what I decided were “clean enough” conditions.  It’s allowed me to stubbornly complete surveys in a Delhi slum during monsoon, when the air was dripping with rain, flies, and the wafting smell of clogged sewer pipe.  It’s even allowed me to keep smiling when I realized—ex post facto—that my bath water in a Maharashtran hill station was full of unidentifiable brown particles (the bathroom lighting, needless to say, was sub-optimal).

Once in a while, however, certain events have really forced me to question what is “cool” versus “irritating,” what is “a story for a grandkids” versus “pointlessly miserable.”

Two years ago, I had decided to travel to Haridwar, Uttar Pradesh to practice yoga/meditation in an ashram for a week.  It was a trip I had wanted to take for years, and I was looking forward to temporarily trading my stressful job for fresh mountain air.

I arranged my overnight journey to Haridwar with a travel agent in Delhi.  “The bus will be very comfortable,” the agent assured me, his gaze firmly affixed on the busty Bollywood posters behind me.  “It may not have air conditioning, but—as you can see from this picture—the seats are very roomy.  You’ll be glad the train and all other buses were sold out!”

The guy was a used car salesman in the making. (more…)

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That's me! Or rather, was me.

“Oh right, you’re vegetarian.”  People always seem to forget this about me.  “Wait, that means you don’t eat chicken either?  How about fish?”

“Nope.  Nothing that ever had a brain,” has become my standard reply.  “Eggs are cool, though.  And milk products.  Can someone please pass the salt?”

Wait for it, wait for it.

“So wait, why are you vegetarian?  Have you always been this way?”

The inevitable “have you always been this way.”  Hey kid, nice skin disease, have you always been this way?

For a long time, I was unable to answer this question properly.  I’d fumble terribly, and by the time I’d finish speaking, everyone would look a bit confused and someone would quickly change the topic.  I’d sink into my chair, burning with that feeling you get after telling a joke so bad that it doesn’t even warrant fake laughter.  Meanwhile, the new conversation would, with my luck, sound something like, “So, where do you guys stand on the gender-neutral bathroom debate?  I think it’s important insofar that it allows us to break down the hegemony of the post-performative dialectic.”

I don’t do well with social embarrassment, but I fare even worse with post-modern (po-mo?) discussions.  To avoid both, I eventually decided to rehearse a few solid sounding answers to the dreaded “why are you vegetarian” question.  Thankfully, most seem to get the job done.

In truth, I am sometimes unsure of how to present my vegetarian philosophy to adult audiences.  Unlike most of my friends, my vegetarianism hasn’t quite resulted from concerns for personal health, factory farm conditions, or the environment.  And unlike many Indian-Americans, my religion—Hinduism—plays at best a latent role in my decision to avoid meat.

Rather, I became vegetarian because of a bet I once made with my imaginary animal friends.

Not my parents

My upbringing certainly made it easier to sustain my decision.  My Indian parents have been vegetarian for their entire lives.  They don’t have ardent philosophies against eating meat; it’s just how they grew up and how they continue to live.  Today, they would never cheat on their vegetarianism, but they certainly wouldn’t start handing out “Eating meat killz” buttons to our neighbors, either.

When my sister and I were born, our parents decided that it wasn’t practical for us to be raised vegetarian.  In grad school, my father had survived on a steady diet of uninspiring potatoes and soggy greens, and to him, there was no reason for his daughters to suffer the same fate.  Besides, we were in a new country, with new customs and traditions; who were they to impose Indian dietary restrictions on their American daughters?  My mother would continue cooking vegetarian food at home, but there was no harm in us eating meat outside. (more…)

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When I googled "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," this is the first image that came up (it's from http://www.idiomsbykids.com)

When I arrived at Mumbai’s international airport in July 2006, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Wait, scratch the “bright-eyed” bit.  Before leaving home, I somehow decided that half of my books were “too precious” for check-in luggage, leaving me to run through the airport with the weight of a baby camel on my back (don’t you love short layovers that force you to sprint down endless corridors?). On the first leg (New York-London), I was seated next to a loud and pungent Russian woman, and on the second (London-Mumbai), in the middle of a rambunctious Punjabi family.  I don’t remember exactly what happened, but there was definitely some bad singing and spiked orange juice involved.  In any case, I arrived at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport anything but bright-eyed.

But oh, was I bushy-tailed.

I had big plans for India.  I was so earnest about living and working in the Motherland, I get embarrassed just thinking about it.  Over my proposed two-year stint in management consulting, I was planning to “develop the toolkit” required to “address the most pressing social issues of our generation.”  I would learn everything about economic development from the private sector, after which I would infiltrate the social justice world with orgasmic insights.  Basically, I came to India to solve poverty.  And maybe injustice too, if I decided to work weekends sometimes.  And in the process, I was going to love and cherish India like no one ever had.  I was going to become one with with my surroundings — and not in the leathery hippie kind of way.

Well, we all know what they say about the best-laid plans.  Anyway.  Back to the airport.

It was 3am Indian time, and I had finally gone through immigration and found my bags.  It was time to search for the Auntie and Uncle who were to be my hosts for the next three days.

Ordinarily, I would have stayed in my company’s guesthouse, but for some reason, it was fully booked for the first three days I arrived.  In retrospect, I should have just rebooked my ticket.  But no, at the time, I was adamant about coming on the day I had decided in my head.  I boldly told HR that I would “figure something out” for those initial three days.  I don’t really know what I was thinking, since I had no family or friends in Mumbai.  Hell, I had never even been there!  My family tried to talk sense into me, but I wouldn’t hear any of it.  “But-but-but,” I whined, “don’t make me start my new life three days later than planned!”

Several frantic phone calls later, my parents found someone to take me in.  I’m still not sure what the connection to this family was — I think they were my aunt’s father-in-law’s college roommate’s best friend’s dogwalker’s niece, or something — but I was grateful that these perfect strangers had an extra sofa where I could sleep.

As soon as I met them, I got the sense that they weren’t quite normal, but I was so tired that I let the feeling pass.  At any rate, I was concentrating more on how overwhelming my new surroundings were.  The pre-monsoon air was sticky and thick, and I had forgotten what a shock India can be on your olfactory nerves.  Taxi drivers were energetically vying for our attention with an out-of-tune chorus of, “Madam, madam, madam.”  I felt like everyone was staring at me (which, in retrospect, they probably were, since Indians love to stare).  I just needed a moment for it all to sink in.

(more…)

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