Sunday, August 12, 2007

Punera Gamana Yuchuh (I will return)

Here is my final post before I leave this, my temporary home. If it feels sudden to you, I know what you mean. I haven't the time to summarize my final week properly. I haven't wanted to stop moving even for a minute. Today (Sunday) I left Phaltan at 9 am. Right now, I'm pausing in Pune, but soon I'll move on to Mumbai (where it is pouring). I leave for America, via Amsterdam, at 1 am India time. In a speedy 24 hours I'll be back and then I will sleep for a few years. However, when I awake from hibernation, I'll regale you all with more tales of the play, KNB, Maxine, and my lovely host family. If I'm lucky, I might even get to tell some of you in person.

For now, India, I will miss you terribly.
America, I'm looking forward to seeing you again.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Reality break

Manju Nimbkar (the principal of KNB and all-around amazing person) took me to see the exceedingly poor Mahar neighborhood where Maxine started her first school back in the '70s. The Mahars are the local caste that was formerly considered untouchable. We developed a small following of children as we walked through the streets of huts. They and their parents were delighted to host us for even a few minutes and one young woman who works at KNB showed us over to her home. It was a cement house, smaller than any dorm room, which housed and fed a full three generations of her family at one time.

You might have noticed that I haven't spoken much about poverty or hunger on this blog. That was a choice I made early on, partially because that wasn't the tone I wanted to create and partially because I didn't know how to begin. Poverty is everywhere here. The slums of Phaltan are not hidden, and even more importantly, are not a huge step down from the rest of the housing and amenities in town. Five-year old girls carry bundles bigger than themselves, and their only response to a smile is to stick out their hands for money. It's ingrained into their muscles because they need it to survive. I see the same two girls pass the house every day, but I'm not ready to speak for them.

After I have some time to think I might have the words to describe what I have seen here. Perhaps then I can let myself feel the full impact of their shacks and the overwhelming smell, but I'm not there yet.

KNB countdown

My work here speeds up as we count down the days until I go home. I've gone into the 9th standard class twice to answer questions and I'm still working with both the 8th and 10th standards. The 8th kids spent a week trying one of three jobs in the Phaltan area. They worked at either a tree nursery, a poultry farm, or at a company called ARTI (Appropriate Rural Technology Institute). If any of you are interested, I'd be happy to tell you all about smokeless chulas (stoves) powered by cow dung.

The kids spent the last week starting a brand new KNB bulletin (see ealier posts for info on the first one). The news items this time are:
--The bulbul bird that Pratamesh found and which is now living in the principal's office
--The water problem in the front of the building. [The next-door neighbor built an illegal wall which cut off the drainage system]
--The district volleyball tournament
--the play
--their work experience
--The Palki
and again
--me. This time on my return to America.

This is the other 8th standard teacher, Raman Balkar. He is awesome and about as enthusiastic as the kids. Also he saves my butt in translation emergencies daily.

The play is going very well. They've learned their lines, painted a backdrop, and are busy collecting costumes for a sari-draped mayor and businessmen in Gandhi caps. None of them have much acting experience, and particularly not in English, but they are throwing themselves into their parts. One of the narrators, Moulik, is new to the class, and a very serious little student. He had his lines down the day after I assigned parts, in spite of the fact that he speaks for most of the show. After we run through the show and I'm slowly giving notes, I can see him mouthing my words to make sure he understands.

Here's Moulik (on the left) and Milind (my favorite monkey) on the right.

A sweet, shy girl named Akshaya is playing the village Mayor and is clearly relishing her part. As soon as I told her to act much more important than all the other characters, she puffed out her little chest and started striding across the stage like a miniature Napoleon Bonapart.

I was so proud.

"Would you like to meet my palm reader?" --quoth Ari

In my last post, I only touched on the range of our trip. Here's a few more highlights:

-In Jaipur we met Ari, our tour guide, who immediately told that not only was he a member of a 85-member joint family, but that it was truly a "small piece of heaven." He also enjoyed telling us about his blissful life with a woman he married when he was seven and she was three.

One of the first sites we visited in Jaipur was the ancient observatory full of fascinating instruments for telling time and days of the year. I could only describe them as gigantic gadgets for very wealthy boys. This included the world's largest sundial, which loomed over the yard like the stone sail of a ship headed around the world.

--At the Jaipur Palace and museum we confirmed that India's largest carpet is long enough to decorate a football stadium and that Indian men have always dressed well. We also learned that the easiest way to keep the Maharajas straight is to refer to them, as Ari did, as the "skinny one," the "fat one" and the "very good-looking one."

--In the Bahratpur Bird sanctuary, buffalo sometimes wander down the main path like southern ladies taking an evening stroll. The monitor lizards, jackals, antelope, deer, kingfishers, turtles, and cranes were less accommodating.

-- The owner of a carpet shop gave me a free sample and told me to convince my father to buy a pure silk carpet for my dowry. Oh Daddy!

--Even after visiting the India Gate, Ambedkar's tomb, the site of Gandhi's cremation, a 12th century mosque, The Amber Fort, and riding a camel, I was excited to take a shower instead of my usual bucket bath. Sooooo excited.
[Here, we are at the jeweled and mirrored lady's rooms in Amber Fort.]

Friday, August 3, 2007

Wallowing in Tourism

Hello and welcome to the Cliff notes edition of the Carroll family rush through the "golden triangle" of India. In five days we covered Agra, Bahratpur, Jaipur, and Delhi and managed to stay alive and mobile for a good portion of that time.

Our trip really began in Delhi. [I won't discuss the flight we almost missed getting there.] As we left the airport, a man about five foot not much and holding a “Rachel Carroll” sign, perked up and started moving towards his car. I pointed in his direction and he gave a kind of sardonic smile as if to say, “well, duh.” Over our time with our lovable driver I would come to know that smile very well.

We drove directly from Delhi to Agra, where we met our first enthusiastic guide. That also happens be the point when we figured out our driver's name. Up until that point we were trying to decipher the difference between the name on our vouchers and the one he told us, but when we met AgraDepak, DelhiDipak (the driver) piped up with a helpful, "Dipak and Dipak. Same!” complete with pointing and a big smile.

Agra is a city which completely revolves around the Taj Mahal, thanks to tourists like us, and the great building does not disappoint. As we entered through the main gate I heard a British woman order her friends to keep looking down so that they could see the whole Taj in one stunning piece. I followed her example, starring at my Chapals through the final red stone until Dipak told me to stop and I brought my head up slowly. This is what I saw.

Here's a shot of my mother as I remember her for most of the trip. Our tour guide even commented lightly, "lots of photos," and this was at the Taj of all places.

Here's Dad posing in Fahtepur Sikri, the abandoned city between Agra and Jaipur that Akbar originally wanted to use as a capital city. The idea failed thanks to a lack of water, but it must have been a happy place for him while it lasted. He used to play a giant game similar to backgammon on this board and
used his courtesans as playing pieces.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Playing to the crowd

I just gave a lecture at the college! They sent me an official invitation about a week ago and then, after about fifteen minutes of very formal thank yous and introductions, I gave a short speech to the third-year English students, about five current profs, two retired profs, my host family, and the principal of the entire college. No pressure, especially when my talk was preceded by the presentation of a flower bouquet and a coconut. Most of the hour-long lecture was a well-planned question and answer session with the students. I can’t explain how much fun this was or how nervous I was beforehand. They asked almost forty questions ranging from my life ambitions to the status of women in America. Plus (and you are going to enjoy this one) they got me to sing. At first I only had to read a poem and I thought I was off of the hook, but then they asked for a song and I managed to perform a little bit of “Shalom Rav” in Hebrew. Public singing is much more common here, so I think they found my hesitation pretty funny.

After the lecture the students surrounded me and actually asked for my e-mail and autograph! That part of the day was amazing but awfully surreal. They all kept asking about my favorite moments and the Marathi I knew, and then several girls asked if I would come over to their house right away for tea and a meal. Luckily, I had to get back to KNB after lunch for the 8th standard class after lunch. Together they and Maxine keep my head from swelling completely out of control.

As before, pictures will arrive when my pen drive feels better. Please wish it a speedy recovery.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Back in my little town

Hi everybody!

I just got back to Phaltan after a week-long whirlwind tour through Agra, Jaipur, and Delhi with my parents. They spent about half a week in Phaltan visiting the school and trying to get over jet lag. As if that wasn't enough, everyone I know wanted to host them and feed them enough sweet, fried and spicy Indian food to down a small rhino. They held up remarkably well, particularly at the school where they got attacked by the insane balls of energy known as the sixth standard. They all caught a glimpse from a distance and their little eyes all went wide. I could almost hear them thinking,

"Wow, the American was cool, but it has PARENTS?!"

Sadly, the pen drive which has allowed for all the pretty pictures on the blog is having temporary issues, so I'll get you all up to speed on the Taj Mahal and the Jaipur Palace when I have my technology back.

Back at school, I've hit the ground running with the new realization that I only have two weeks left. In that time I need to give lectures in the ninth standard and at the college, write two articles, continue work with the 8th and 10th standards, and put up an entire play.

Oy, but this is fun.