Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Hinglish for Beginners - Part Two

One of the big surprises of my time in India is the utmost curiosity (UTSUK) about stuff we kinda tend to keep private back at home - age and details of marital status.
Oh, yes - and since I was involved in the diabetes project - body weight.
No darling PSI team, I will not be the subject of the body fat calculation. Not today. More on that in a minute (note to self - time is a stretchable category in India - a minute could easily take half an hour!).

Given my good genes and a sunny demeanor I'm always happy to answer the "How old are you?" question (AAPKI UMAR KITNI HAI?) with "MAIN 46 SAAL KI HOON" (which is true: on the inside I'm not a day over 26; my left shoulder is 66... The package is 46 indeed!)

But when it comes to the question of SHAADI - marriage, I tend to grab my little photo book to the rescue and proudly present my husband and three handsome sons conveniently skipping my personal marriage statistics, let alone the fact that the only thing that I ever needed being arranged for me was that nasty first divorce. 
The above picture is no joke, and I take full credit for snapping that newspaper out of my friend's hands in order to have the marigolds in the frame as we were just about to depart in order to catch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. We made it there in time! 

Meeting Mr.Right in India is an elaborate process riddled with controversy of casts and religions - marrying up or marrying down - that is often left to parents and matchmakers and can begin pretty much as early as toddlerhood. The new generation of educated and more empowered women fueled by the on-line world is beginning to slowly shift the need for so much assistance. Still, seeing the extremely low divorce rates I wonder whether that is the right thing to do?
One of my friends told my puzzled face with a smile, as a comment to her own arranged marriage: "I love and respect my parents so much that I know they will choose better for me than I would have chosen for myself". What started with an exchange of photographs and has been arranged, indeed turned to be real, true love for a very long time now. When I was trusted to arrange my own first marriage at age 24, the prevalent criteria was my then extremely low self-esteem. Having my wise mom and my good dad point out at least a smarter direction let alone an actual smart man, would have been both helpful and welcome! 

On that note, Canadian single ladies - I met a few terrific bachelors while here - young, educated, with impeccable work ethics and handsome enough to model for the cover of the GQ! You know how to find me! My only ask is that you remember to invite me to your big fat Indian wedding. I'll help you decorate your house!
And also sit with you for hours applying henna from the tips of the fingers all the way to the elbows. What an extraordinarily beautiful and bonding way for women to celebrate their friendship and femininity and the upcoming forever love!
That Indian minute is up so I will go back to the topic of body weight that is oh, so taboo in North America. 
Fact number one - at 5'6" (157cm) I'm really tall - I'm towering over most women and men in group photographs! 
Initially devastating to my body image, on my first day in India, my shopping for the colorful long shirts (KURTI) ended up in the L-3XL section! #shocking
At home I'm a medium, for crying out loud!
Fact number two - being a bit chunky is considered attractive in India! It suggests health, wealth and prosperity. Who knew!?
Lakshmi Narayan or the Birla temple in Delhi requires visitors to surrender their smartphones and cameras otherwise I would have placed right here a photo of a beautiful statue of the Hindu Goddess Durga - the Mother Goddess also known as Shakti (a powerful word that means life force). It is confidently showing her belly button section that - seriously - looks just like mine, those 46 years and three pregnancies later!
Fact number three: body-shaming is a man-made disease that doesn't spread this far! It's a myth. Women of all generations rock wearing their Saree's, their middle section sometimes fully exposed - it's kind of liberating to recieve a permission to be you, wearing your own flesh and skin, regardless of color, age and shape. Revolutionary!
I'm committed to be getting there: to fully and unconditionally love my body and consider it a sacred temple for my soul.
In the meantime a group of Indian girlfriends from work helped me put on the Saree for the first time today, giggling because initially at home, I've got it all wrong despite a handful of safety pins. They totally ignored me as I begged for full coverage. The result?
I have never felt more beautiful -SUNDAR!
(to be continued...) 

Monday, 24 August 2015

Hinglish for Beginners

I'm in India.

My heart is on fire. 
My tastebuds are awake. 
My sense of belonging to one giant human family has never been more palpable. 
Here is why:

Like many travelers before me I too had that somewhat shocking first experience of getting out of the Delhi airport only to be slammed with the heat (GARMI) & humidity (HUMAS) and the non-stop soundtrack of honking traffic (PARIVAHAN) - after all, the colorful back of every truck politely requests "Horn Please!"

The weather app prepared me for it - it's August at the tail end of the Monsoon season in Northern India. 
What I wasn't prepared for is what I discovered when I met the real India.

KHANDAN - Generations

Unlike North America, where grandparents visit only on Thanksgiving, India has the watchful eyes and the tender hands around their little ones all of the time. People live in close quarters and kids are free to run around with their siblings yet always return to that one safe lap waiting for them. 

BHAIYA - Big brother

He is 15, his sister is 1 - and just as if she was the rarest of flowers her big brother carried her and proudly showed her to me when I visited, bragging she can already walk. And she has no diaper!!! 
This 7 yr old friend of mine, who followed our group all throughout his rural village, tucked at my sleeve then ran away with impressive speed - knowing we will pass by his home. Then just as we walked by he presented me with all the glow of the big brother: the royal highness his baby sister! He abruptly woke her up from her nap - hence the grumpy look - so that I can hold her in my arms. It is considered good luck.
And finally - my own big brother in India: 
World, meet Ashwani - my big brother. And a driver who picked me up from the airport at almost midnight of India's Independence Day. And when he folded over in Iaugher seeing my dumbfounded face as I attempted to sit at the front right seat forgetting that's where the stirring wheel is - I knew we would get along just great. No - better than great!
Far from his village of birth in the mountainous Himachal Pradesh, driver-ji - the nickname I coined for him - is a genius at what he does: navigating the Indian traffic as if motorcycles and trucks and an abundance of seemingly suicidal pedestrians and ignorant cows were not interrupting his path every single second. If I had to drive here I would have stayed at the first intersection for about a month. Then ran over someone within the next 60 seconds, guaranteed. How on earth did Ashwani see in pitch dark a black cow lying on the Delhi - Jaipur highway as we conquered the "golden triangle" in 2.5 days - his three still alive and greatful passengers will never understand. His art is driving (GADI CHALANA) and he is pure genius! 
Thank you (DANYAVAD)!!!

Perhaps this is a good time to tackle what everyone knows will be waiting for them in India - witnessing extreme poverty and slums (JHUGI JHOPRI). 
My most heartbreaking moment was when we passed by one of Delhi's biggest slums that lies a busy highway across from the mountain - stray dogs, cows and pigs roaming up its very top in search of food. And the sinking feeling when driver-ji rolled down the window and the eye-watering stench overtook the last cubic millimeter of air and I realized it is not a mountain at all - it is an insurmountable pile of garbage. And people live mere meters away from it. And that is where their kids play. And all their kids will know. Forever. Tears.

But then again - in the midst of ruins and piles of broken bricks and dust and potholed roads and black slushy canals...
all I saw was smiles (MUSKURANA) and happiness (KUSH). Somehow - I don't know how - but living conditions or amount of rupees in the pocket doesn't seem to matter - regardless whether we were in a rural village...
... or in the more urban setting.
All I ever saw was joy (ANAND) - smiling, happy people. 

My heart is on fire. Now you know why. 
(To be continued)