Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dynomite

Well, Here’s my version of a quick update. Since mid january we’ve been in India, and when we’re in India it means that, on average, half of us are sick. So I don’t remember much of Mysore, but I did get a good look in to the ugly belly of the beast that is Bangalore. Don’t get me wrong, while I’ve been here in India I have absolutely loved how fascinating and engaging India is. But everything in India is a love-hate relationship, as, I suppose, many of the most intense relationships are. But it’s all really too much to go into here – India is its own world. If every country of the world was absolutely, fully and completely examined, save for India, by sociologist and anthropologist, the textbooks would still only be half-filled at best. And what was written, half of it that pertained to Asia wouldn’t make any sense without first understanding India.


What makes the nation all the more perplexing is the fact that, really, no one knows how to describe adequetly the subcontinent. Just about every guidebook leaves out most of what will stay in your mind after you leave India. For example, they don’t tell you about the monkeys. Maybe that’s because, in India, monkeys fill the same roll as squirrels do back home. They’re pretty much everywhere, and if you really want to see them, all you need is to be around food,or garbage, for that matter… or just leave you’re window open for an afternoon and you’ll have a simian visitor, for a least the few seconds it takes them to bolt in from the outside ledge, grab whatever cookies or fruit you have lying around and swing back out. Exactly none of us still think monkeys are still fun. Also, monekys are just one of themany variety of animals that chill daily with you in the city and act as an informal garbage disposal service. In Dharmasala, the tibetans, seem to have brought a fondness for dogs that have led to a mass of strays all along the spectrum of health. The cows are also present here in Dharmasala, and they’re slightly more healthy and well fed than their compatriots that we saw in Karnataka province.

Perhaps this is because, due to the wealth of tourist and tibetans in the area, the garbage is slightly more fattening and nutritious than in the south. Also, maybe, here in the Tibetan refugee enclave, the cows have patrons who take better care of them, perhaps hoping for better tasting meat, as the Tibetans have no qualms about eating beef. Waterbuffalo, donkeys and some horses also inhabit the streets.



The guidebooks also do not mention the Metalhead bar in Bangalore, where it’s cool to be pale because megadeath and metallica were pale. The beers were exspensive, but the cliental were among the most friendly we’ve encountered. Once we picked up the choruses of whatever scandinavian death-metal anthem they were playing, and started singing along and thrashing our heads, we fit in more than we’ve fit in anywhere since the trip started. Of course they thought we were scandinavian ourselves, but when we told them were from seattle they gave us high fives and played nirvana. Awesome. Conversation was akward, but if you ever hit a slow spot you could always look at the giant projection screen that showed the video for the song they were playing and make the “rock-on” hand gesture and they’d go along with it and go back to the music. In fact, mostly what anyone did in the bar was just sit and stare at the video on the projection screen, the music was just too rocking to allow any sort of conversation beyond exclamations of how hard this or that rocked.



Guidebooks also do not mention the hippies. I don’t understand this one. In a land where 400 million live on less than a dollar a day and probably over twice that don’t have running water – the people who most desperately need new clothes and a shower are the dreadlocked european tourist in dharamsala and goa.



India, I suppose, just seems to be home for those who really don’t have a home. Dharmasala is just one of many enclaves for Tibetan refugees who’ve fled the country since the onset of maoist religious suurpession in their homeland in 1959. The hippie-tourist culture have blended into the mix, though, and along with scores of outdoor enthusiasts who make the town a first stop on a Himalyana tour to give this Indo-Tibetan town a flavor similar to aspen of crested butte or anyother liberal colorado ski town, except you can live on about two dollars a day here.


I did get a chance, though, to experience the truly tibetan tradition of Losar, or new year. Since we’ve been in Dharmasala we’ve been staying with tibetan families. My pala (host-father) works for the Tibetan government in exile

exile as a driver for the Department of Information and International Relations. He’s told me he thinks there are way to many westerners in his town, which is slightly paradoxical since he appears to be contributing to the cause by giving me a cheap bed to sleep on every night, but I believe he might have ulterior motives. Since I’ve been here he’s shown me two videos describing Tibet’s oppression and two rather political works urgently pleaing for aide for the tibetan cause. I suppose it IS the job of the Dept. of International Relations to get people from the west on their side. My Amilya (host mother) works in the Tibetan Handicrafts collective, another industry monetarily supporting the tibetan cause by pandering to the tourist. She seems to be a pretty traditional tibetan host and in keeping with this has made it her mission to see that I am as caffeinated as humanly possible. In my first 24 hours staying with them, I downed about 10-11 cups of tibetan tea, which, guessing from her offers, was about 30-40 cups too few. Tibetan courtesy seems to hold it polite to feed your guest until he or she is literrally ill, or literally hides his her plate. We were implored by our director that it is absolutely imperitive that we do not waste food, as most of these families are dramatically poor. I, in keeping with this, have quickly seen to it that my plate is devoid even a few grains of rice and hidden away in the kitchen before amilya inevitably places another 2 helpings on my plate despite my firm and repeated protest. I guess Americans have a reputation of being fat, and my host family would hate to see me defy our nation’s expectations.



This came to haunt me last night, as I was fed the traditional tibetan new year’s eve meal of Takla. This meal is a soup, or stew, that contains scrumptious dumplings, good spinach, fair potatoes, strange himalayan apricots and a variety of cow parts that fell below the above categories. Beef is exspensive though, and I wanted to impress, so I got to eating all of it the best I could, fearing the gastronomical consequences of what was to come. I soon saw, however, I had jumped my guns. We sat along side two small figures made out of raw dough on a plate right next to the stew pot.These figures, I learned, symbolize what we wanted to leave behind with the old year and we were oblidged to give it any of the various tendons and organs, not only I, but my tibetan family also found nausiating. It seems like its okay to waste a little food on new years, it’s a traditional tibetan offering. My stomach only wishes, however, that I had maybe found this important fact in a guide book so that I could’ve known earlier that I didn’t Have to eat that.