A Bittersweet Ending

Wow.. I’ve already been on my adventure for 6 weeks!  I have less than one week left with my amazing family and NSLI-Y friends. This makes me feel extremely bitter sweet. While I’m excited to go back to the US and share my amazing memories with everyone and get ready for my junior year of high school, I’m also very sad because I have to leave this amazing place and all of the amazing people that I have met. I feel as though there is so many more things that I’d like to do in India.  Already, I’ve done so many cool things. In the last three  weeks, I’ve gone shopping in historic markets, visited Hindu temples, practiced Indian dances, music, art, and games, started my yoga training, visited 2,000 year old Buddhist caves, participated in a pilgrimage, learned to cook all sorts of Indian foods, and all sorts of other cool things.

Here are some photos of my adventures:

My sister and I eating one of my favorite foods- Pani puri. Pani Puri is a crispy fried “ball” that is filled with spiced mashed potatoes or chickpeas, onions, “shave” (some sort of crispy noodle), and water that is boiled with green chilies. You eat the whole thing in one bite, and it is an explosion of flavor in your mouth.

pani puri

A view of Pune from my window

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My family and I at the Karla Caves. The Karla caves were carved over 2,000 years ago by Buddhist monks. The caves show an impressive knowledge of science and symmetry, and are truly beautiful and amazing.

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Me, learning to try on a sari.

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All of the NSLI-Y students and their host siblings at Choki Dani, a mock cultural village from state of Rajistan.

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Riding a camel with my friend Maja.

custard apple

My favorite new fruit that I’ve tried- Shareefa/ Cetaphil. (known in English as a Custard Apple) The white flesh that surrounds the seeds literally tastes like custard- and it is absolutely delicious!

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Photos from the Palki pilgrimage that I participated in. This is definitely one of the highlights from my trip to India, and it was totally a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Palki is a 200 km pilgrimage for the Hindu god Mauli. The pilgrimage has been going on for 700 years, and attracts a rough estimate of about 700,000 people.  It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, rich or poor; everyone walks with the same determination and devotion, and everyone is viewed as equal. The pilgrimage lasts for 21 days, and is truly incredible to see. While I only walked for 33 km of the pilgrimage (21 Miles!), I was so glad have this amazing opportunity.

*Note- Even though I come back to the US in just 5 days, I still plan to keep writing on my blog for a while. One of the big things that I have been planning is a series in which I share recipes for many of the delicious Indian foods that I’ve learned to make! Thanks for checking out my adventures!

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Gratitude in India

When eating a meal at my house in the United States, the words “please “and “thank you” are said every few seconds. These words are not only commonplace, they are expected. From the age at which American children start talking, their family and friends repeatedly have them practice the “magic words”- please and thank you. It becomes expected that you tell your sister, “please pass the bread” when at the dinner table, or your ask your mom, “May I please go to my friend’s house?” The “magic words” become the simplest way for you to show your appreciation to others, and, to me, they are a particularly important part of being a kind and pleasant person.

Before I traveled to India, I assumed that showing gratitude would be similar. I assumed that the first words I would learn in Hindi would be please and thank you. In my head, I imagined myself perfecting the pronunciation and expressing my gratitude to everyone that I met. However, I realized that my idea of Indian gratitude wasn’t reality when I asked my Resident Director, Lauren, to teach me the Hindi “magic words”. While she was able to teach me the words “Danyivad” and “Shukreya” as ways to say thank you, she explained to me that there is no word in the Hindi language that means please. At first, I was baffled. How could a language that has been in existence for thousands of years not have a word for please?

My second idea of gratitude in India was shattered when I first entered my new family’s home.  My host sister opened the door and I responded with a smiling, “thank you”. She replied with, “Welcome, and just so you know, Indian families don’t say thank you to each other.” Again, I was baffled. In my head I thought, “They don’t say thank you to each other?  How do I show that I am appreciative?”

Throughout the first few weeks, I struggled with expressing gratitude. How could I show my family that I was grateful for everything that they did for me? I’d used thank you my whole life. While eating dinner or going out, I’d often say thank you, and my family would kindly remind me that I was family now and there was no need to say thank you. My sister would explain to me that no one in the family used please (beacause there literally is no word for it), and thank you, and I really didn’t understand.

As time went on, I soon began to realize that family bonds in India are so close that there is no need for the “magic words”.  The “ magic”  is in the bonds within a family , not in the words. The culture itself places such a importance on love and respect for family that there is no need to express gratitude over the small things in life. In an Indian home, family always comes first, and your family will do anything to help you. Saying please and thank you is unnecessary, because your family already knows that you appreciate them.

After I realized that, I began to change my attitude. It was no longer strange to not say please and thank you, but beautiful. My family knows that I appreciate them, and I know that they appreciate me.  While I do still catch myself saying “Danyivad” on a pretty regular basis, I try to express my gratitude in other ways: complementing my host mother on her delicious food, having great discussions with my host father, or hanging out with my beautiful host sisters, and I try to focus less on using words to express my gratitude, and more on making memories with meri naya parivar (My new family).

  1. By American standards, most things here are pretty darn cheap. A dish in a nice reasturant is about 200 rs (about $3.20), a shirt I bought was about 400 rs (about $6), a simple check up witha doctor for a sore throat was 150 rs. ($2.50), and ice cream or a smoothie is about 30 rs ($.50).
  2. Most people in India speak at least three languages. Each state in India has its own language. For instance, In Maharashtra ( the state in which Pune and Mumbai are located), people speak primarily Marathi. The official government business and television is conducted in Hindi, so people also speak Hindi, and English is spoken in many school and workplaces. Some people speak more than 3 languages. For instance, my host father speaks 5 languages: Hindi, English, Marathi, Gujarati, and Kannada. (state languages of India)
  3. In India, stray animals are just a normal part of life. Street dogs lounge on the roadside, wild pigs run near my house, and wild donkeys graze in empty lots. These animals keep to themselves and don’t really disturb everyday life.
  4. Instead of taking a taxi or car somewhere, people in Pune use rickshaws. A rickshaw is a small, three-wheeled vehicle with no doors. It is about the size of an American ATV. For a twenty mintute ride, a rickshaw is usually about 200 rs ($3)
  5. India has 1 billion people. That is 3 times as many people as the US. There is an overabundance of people and not enough good-paying jobs. Because of this, there is a wide income gap between the lower and middle-to-upper socio-economic classes. For instance, almost every middle class family has servants. My family has one maid. She comes every few days to make the roti for meals and tidy up the house. Many families have drivers that drive them to where they need to go. Everywhere you go, there is always someone to serve you. Hiring people for these positions is viewed as providing employment for people who would otherwise have no source of income.

Day 6 : Education

  1. School in India is pretty different. All Students wear a uniform, and Indian teachers are more strict and formal. A lot of stress is placed on exams, and the best students grades are posted on a whiteboard in the lobby. Classrooms only have blackboards, and there two computer labs in my school of 3000 students. Also, there are 45-50 students in a classroom at a time. At New India School, students attend from age 3 to 10th
  2. High school in India only goes until grade ten. After, grade ten, a student goes to a 2 year junior college in their home city. In the junior college, they choose a course in commerce, science, arts, or technical studies. After junior college they apply to a four year university.
  3. Get into an Indian University is a very different process. Instead of writing essays, competing interviews, and trying to find a college that is the best fit, students in India simply take an entrance exam. Those who get the highest scores go to the best universities. Simple as that. Doing well on this test is EXTREMELY competitive, and children spend hundreds of hours preparing
  4. In India, there is a gap in educational opportunities. All middle class people send their children to private schools. Only those who cannot afford private school fees send their children to public school. These schools are severely overcrowded, and lack many resources. After tenth grade, public school students are only eligible for government universities. These universities are extremely hard to get into, and public school students face extreme competition from their often better prepared peers.

Day 5: More About Food

 

  1. Many Hindus practice vegetarianism because they don’t believe in killing animals. At every restaurant, at least half of the menu is vegetarian. Even if meat is eaten, only chicken, fish, and mutton are available. Beef is never available because it is considered holy. Considering the fact that I eat a lot of meat in the US, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that a vegetarian diet did not mean a lack of flavor or protein. Many Indians also practice pure vegetarianism , which means that they don’t eat egg. In my family, it is a personal choice. Meat is not cooked in the house, but my oldest host sister eats chicken when we go out to eat.
  2. Dinner is served sometime between  8:30 and 10:30 p.m. When I first arrived and was adjusting to the time difference, I’d often find myself falling asleep at the dinner table. Now, I’m able to fully enjoy my host mom’s DELICOUS cooking every night.
  3. In India, almost everything is spicy (masala). There is masala chai (tea), masala bread, masala drink, masala chips, masala cookies, etc… At first, I  had a hard time adjusting to the spiciness. Now, I find that my mouth is much more adjusted. However, I still feel the burn when I eat spicier dishes.
  4. Every morning, I wake up to a glass of warm chocolate milk lovingly prepared by my host mom. However, the milk isn’t the same. Its water buffalo milk and it is absolutely delicious. It is super sweet and creamy. My family buys a small bowl of milk fresh every day. They then pasteurize the milk on the stovetop. He milk is not kept in the fridge, but on the counter. Also, instead of butter, ghee is used. Ghee is boiled, clarified butter. It becomes a liquid at room temperature. Ghee is used as a condiment and It is poured over rice, dal, bread etc… To me, it tastes sort of like the butter used on movie theater popcorn.
  5. Sanitation guidelines are definitely less strict. At all food stand and restaurants, vendors touch their bare hands to your food. While this may seem cringe-worth by American standards, I prefer to view it as an immune system booster.

Day 4: Infrastructure

1. Traffic Rules? What are those? While there are actually traffic rules, they are definitely treated more as guidelines. A red light is more like a recommendation to stop, and carrying your baby on your moped is really no big deal. If a police officer does happen to stop you, I’ve been told crying, telling him that you’re old, or giving him 100 rupees ( $1.50) seems to trick him into pretending that it never happened.

2. Power outages are definitely more common. In fact, every Thursday the power is shut off during working hours for conservation efforts. While many places have backup generators, many things lack power. For instance, the streetlights in a country of 1 billion people don’t work. But, as stated above, it honestly doesn’t seem to make that big of a difference.

3. Waste Disposal is not really the same here. In my 3ish weeks here, I’ve maybe seen like 5 public garbage cans. Even in my school I’ve only seen one super-tiny garbage can. There is a pretty bad problem with litter, and people, mostly the underprivileged, often dump their trash on the roadsides. However, the country is working extremely hard to develop its infrastructure to suit the growing environmental needs. Many people also strive to be very environmentally friendly. For instance, reusable water bottles are huge, composting is fairly common, and water conservation is a pretty big deal.

4.In the US, most people drive cars. In Pune, most people drive two wheelers. A single road is covered with 100s of mopeds at any given time. People drive them because they are easy to get around on, they are less likely to get stuck in traffic jams, and because gas in India is very expensive.

5. In the US, people are just used to plugging in an appliance and having power. In India, every outlet has a switch. In order to receive electricity, you must first turn the outlet on.

6. Because so many people eat dinner late, go out late, work late, etc.. ,the streets are bustling all night long. Even at 2 am, the streets are crowded with people and cars.

Day 3: Culture and Diversity

 1. In the United States, you can’t really tell where a person is from based on their appearance, clothing or food. The opposite is true in India; It is an extremely diverse culture and each region has distinct differences.  You can often tell where a person is from based on their appearance: South Indians tend to have darker skin, north-west Indians tend to be fair, and north- east Indians tend to have eastern-Asian features. Every state had its own style of traditional dress, its own language, and its own tradition. People are extremely proud of their family’s  home region and there heritage shows through in their dress and traditions.

2. Seasons are also different in India. Instead of summer, fall, winter, and spring, India has summer, winter, and monsoon. Summer is from March- June, monsoon is from June- September, and winter is from November to February.

3. People in India speak British English because of the colonial influence on the country. I’ve honestly learned not only Hindi while here, but also British English. For instance, a container is a tiffin, a restaurant is a hotel, hiking is trekking, campaigning is canvasing, houses are bungalows, and a bunch of other strange British terms that are totally used in everyday speech.

4.Most Indian people practice Hinduism. Hinduism is an ancient religion that began from no specific person, but a way of living based on peace and balance. Hindus worship multiple gods and many people are active in their faith.  Anywhere that you are, there is a good chance that a temple is within walking distance. While Hindus do not have a specific day of worship, many people visit temples often. Also, many people have small shrines within their homes.

5. My American family celebrates Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.. In India, people celebrate festivals instead of holidays. Some popular festivals are Diwali, Ganapati, and Holi. Instead of spending time exclusively with your family like during American holidays, Indian festivals are celebrated by going out and celebrating as a community in the streets. From what I’ve been told, festivals are extremely colorful, busy, and fun. Festival season begins in September and is marked by numerous festivals within weeks of each other.