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Friday, April 14, 2006

toxic exotic?

Announcement: it has occurred to me that maybe I am exoticizing India. This is a concept I have only a vague sense about, buried deep in my anthropology-minor past and discussions of "other" from museum exhibit reviews. But I want everyone to know I'm thinking about it.

This all came up becuase I noticed a common color palette on the covers of the books I've been reading. Pink. Terracotta. Sunny yellow. Elephants. Brush-stroke fonts. Mughal-looking architectural elemetns. And I genuinely like all of these things, find them gorgeous and interesting and always have - but then where do those concepts come from?

I really don't want to be a traveler who has stereotyped. I really want to be thoughtful, to take in all I can on its own terms, to engage with what I truly do find, not with what I think I'm looking for. I know perfectly well that India is no more like Bollywood than here is like Hollywood. That's an easy thing to get past because it's so obvious. But what if I've filled my head up with other careless or frivolous expectations? And how does all of this fit with being aware of and sensitive to cultural differences?

My head hurts.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

homework schmomework

(That's for Michael Marcus, although I don't actually know if he reads this.)

Usually a huge stack of books waiting to be read fills me with glee - "Looky, there are so many great books in the world! All for me!" - but right now I feel like I'm slacking on an assignment. A library copy of Maximum City showed up in my mailbox at work yetserday (not because someone stole it and mailed it to me - the university library will mail you your books - how fantastic is that?), and my order with the Rough Guide and City of Djinns came the day before that, and I'm still not done with Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God and haven't even started the Rushdie novel someone lent me. Out of control!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"lie" 1, "love" 0

[modified cross-post from Beth Loves Bollywood]

I'm listening to my Teach Yourself Hindi CD,

just the first bit, with a keen-sounding man pronouncing the 12 vowels and 34 consonants. Much to my delight, the sounds are pretty familiar to me, after 79 movies. (Yes, I have a spreadsheet. I have many a spreadsheet.) And I recognize quite a few of the words he's using as examples, like...well, I feel guilty about writing them out in roman characters now that I have a devanagari font installed and a book right in front of me that says which letter (are they even called letters?) is which sound. Oh, but I don't know how to type with it yet. Ha! Anyway, in addition to "lie" (as in "That's a lie!" Remember, what I know I know from movies), I heard the words for "one," "two," "three," "five," and "friend," among others. But not any of the four words for "love." Isn't there something really great about a language that has at least four words for "love"?

This is fun but a little overwhelming. This is my fifth start of a foreign language (bah! fluency is for the single-minded!) (and I shouldn't count Latin, because after a semester I ran away screaming, and probably breaking my Roman historian father's heart) but the first with a non-roman alphabet. So fun!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

cures what ails ya

I have a serious case of the doldrums and no amount of email from friends is helping, so I had to take matters into my own hands. I've never been a big practitioner of or believer in retail therapy, but in this case it's highly purpose-driven, and that purpose is noble, so I feel okay about it. I have just bought The Rough Guide to India,

William Dalrymple's City of Djinns,

and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy.

I've just realized that if I could somehow construct a world so that every view I had, whether at my desk or out my window or anywhere else, evoked the feelings I have when I look at that Rought Guide cover, I'd be very happy indeed. Bright swirling colors will always move me.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

advice column

I'm going to put this post on the sidebar (look! over there!) so anyone who wishes to give me India-related advice or share India-related stories can do so in an organized sort of way.

Today my friend Jenny, who has traveled all over, including India and multiple long-term stays in Indonesia, told me "Be sure not to drop your glasses down the toilet on a train." Someone she was traveling with in India did this, and it was bad indeed, requiring, for reasons that are unclear to me, going all the way to Delhi from somewhere not conveniently near Delhi to replace them.

I am very fond of this advice because it is cumulative - it just gets better and better as it goes along. Let's break it down:
  • "Be sure not to drop [x noun]" is good advice. Dropping things often leads to breakage and/or hazardous shards and/or sadness.
  • "Be sure not to drop your glasses" is very good advice, because you probably need them to see, and if you drop them you can't use them for seeing. Plus if you really, really need them to see, like I do, dropping them also means you can't see well enough to find them.
  • "Be sure not to drop your glasses down the toilet" is universally true, I think, no matter the state or location of the toilet. Dropping anything down the toilet is probably bad.
  • "Be sure not to drop your glasses down the toilet on a train" is better still, as train toilets involve lurchy motion at the least and are open holes at the worst, sending your glasses skittering down the tracks.

my kind of town, even though we'll be far from Devon

Our pre-trip orientation will be at the University of Chicago! Which means an easy 2-hour drive for me - or, more correctly, for one of my very nice friends, who will surely be thrilled to drive me from Champaign to Chicago, right? And I even know Hyde Park a bit. Not an exotic start to the trip, but not stressful either - and a nice chance to get a lake breeze before the monsoons.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

pyaar, pyaar, pyaar, aur pyaar

I have a sneaking suspicion I am going to fall head over heels for India. I will be soft-hearted and eager and fall blindly past some stumbling blocks, and I will love facets of it I never expected, and I will be grabbed and shaken by things I never expected, and I will be challenged and maybe devastated in ways I never expected, and I will be frightened out of my wits, and then I will rebuild and be all the better for it. Like the person I never expected to love.

I am so ready for this - not "ready" as in "prepared," but "ready" as in "it's time I do something scary and complicated and messy and challenging that will bust holes in my brain and make be a better person, able to share and embrace more, once I have time to catch my breath." I need it.

Monday, April 03, 2006

guidebook #1 (not to be confused with Hero, Bibi, or any other assorted nouns #1)

Went out and purchased the Eyewitness Travel Guide for India.

It seemed heavier than the other one the bookstore had, but I was enchanted with all the shiny pictures and simply had to have it. I also got a "teach yourself Hindi" beginner set, with book and two CDs. Here goes!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Me. Hrithik. Cinema hall.

It has just occurred to me that I might very well get to see Krrish in the theater!

90 days and counting

Approximately, anyway - too excited to be precise.

My head is spinning with things to read, things to pack, things to buy before I go (e.g. new digital camera), finding the lightest possible cotton clothing - plus my usual travel worry of how many pairs of shoes to take. I am not a shoe horse by any means, but I am always afraid that I won't have the right pair of shoes or that something really awful will happen to whatever my current favorite pair is and I'll be stuck.

Tonight I'll officially get going on my reading. I am partway through Jonah Blank's Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God, an amazing book that I started in the fall but put down in the midst of distractions.

This is the kind of book you want to read with internet access handy because there are so many fascinating details to investigate further. Like the Imambara in Lucknow, a palace with a maze on the top - how cool is that! Also in my queue are a concicse history of India, I forget by whom, and three books on Bollywood that have been sitting on my shelf for six months (dang distractions).