Fun Fact #11

Today’s fun fact: Dhobis and press-wallahs (that is, people you hire to wash and iron your clothes for you) don’t work on the 11th of the month every month.

I have spent three years of my life in India and still never knew or noticed that. It’s one of the fabulous, fascinating, and frustrating things about life here: there is so much to know I barely know what I don’t know.

Full power Goa

Acro yoga. Osteo-thai. Juice fast. Full power. Full moon parties. Leg warmers for the women, cloven-toed leather booties for men, even in the 90-degree heat. Someone’s bike is pasted with a sticker in rainbow-colored Hebrew. Another advertises a tattoo shop down the way. This one a crystal shop on the other side of the river. Tattoos on chests, backs, feet, snaking up torsos, of lotus flowers and many-armed Shiva types. DJs, American, Australian, German, playing sets at 5PM or at 5AM. Studded leather fashion utility belts. Sunburns and babies blonde from the sun and far tanner than I. A dress without a back, a man without a shirt, almost everyone without shoes.

We all gather one night at Matsya, whose name is written double on the sign: in English posing as Devanagari and English posing as Russian. Keep reading…

Le jao puppy

Two days ago we saw four puppies—three, maybe four weeks old—tumbling around outside a half-finished house on the Assi-Nagwa Road, where we walk every day. I stopped and oohed and ahhed. Andy picked one up, his hand wrapped easily around the puppy’s waist, and we scratched its tiny head. A woman leaning out from a doorway said le jao—take it. No, no, no, we laughed.

Yesterday we went back. There they were again. Andy clicked his tongue to call them over. A small, dirty dog across the street started barking. A neighbor boy appeared, pointing to the barking dog. “Mom.” Mom came over and kept barking, but without much force. Dad, slightly larger, came over too, barking, also insincerely. Now the boy pointed across the street. Keep reading…


Culture shock always surprises me with its subtlety. It would be easier, I think, if the signs were indeed as drastic as the word “shock” suggests they should be. But my experience is not so straightforward.

I’ve come home to a place I know very well, and perhaps the most shocking part about it just how familiar it is. It doesn’t surprise me to use tap water to brush my teeth or walk outside in tight jeans and a t-shirt that clings to my breasts. It doesn’t surprise me to get behind the wheel of the car and drive through orderly traffic on the right side of the road to go to Whole Foods. It doesn’t surprise me to see the aisles of goods, all packaged and labeled and government-approved, every one of them safe for my consumption. Keep reading…

A day’s blessings

The moment I keep coming back to is when we ran. Asha’s slimness, her yellow salwar kameez, her small, damp hand pulling me along behind her. Once or twice she glanced back to look at me; she was laughing just like I was. We were running simply because we could, and because it felt joyous to run. It felt like being a kid again. Like finally making it to the front of the line for a ride at the fair at the end of summer in middle school: a girlfriend next to me, some boys our age a few rows behind, the exaggerated way we burst forth, our relief and disappointment that the anticipation that something might happen was suddenly over. Keep reading…

Aesthetic Udaipur

Udaipur centre and City Palace, seen from Lake Pichola

Udaipur centre and City Palace, seen from Lake Pichola

I’ve been in Udaipur for two weeks. In two days I’m leaving, even though I’m sure I could happily stay on for longer. I told myself this would be the trip where I actually travel, rather than move and resettle, move and resettle, like I’ve done before. Still, if I’m so comfortable and entrenched here—and to be clear, I am quite comfortable and entrenched here—why am I going? It just feels like it’s time to go, if only so I can leave on a high note. I’m going to Bundi next, largely because Gabriella, an artist and new friend, told me she loved it there, and because I’m having a nice run with this accidental theme of visiting ruined temples, palaces, and forts. Keep reading…

Nature vs. nurture

IMG_2145What was most immediately amazing about Hampi, seat of the medieval Vijayanagar empire and World Heritage Site that A and I recently visited, was its sheer scale—everywhere you turn there are hills strewn with stone doors, pillars, temples, walls… and it stays like that for miles in every direction. This is not some isolated temple or summer estate used rarely by a royal family; this is a sprawling metropolis. Keep reading…

A town with no ghosts

Lavasa on the cover of The Times of India (on our first day there)

Lavasa on the cover of The Times of India (on our first day there)

Before we came to Lavasa, I tried to research it online. Lavasa is a new planned community in the hills above Pune in Maharashtra, the brainchild of a billionaire industrialist in the first phase of its development. Unsurprisingly, the project is under public scrutiny for violating environmental building codes—or for not lining the right pockets. Lavasa is also, I later learned, the largest construction site in the world, a city literally being built from the ground up. 23,000 acres, 12,000 workers, 600,000 trees felled. Future population: 400,000.

The information was scant. All I could find were a few spun phrases about this new idyllic community and a photograph of one row of brightly-colored lakeside townhouses, their lights reflected in the water. Keep reading…

Days in Banaras

P1010210Terrible heat, Auntieji says, too much. The beads of my sweat so big they feel like fat ants slipping down my neck. My top is two shades darker with soak when I arrive at Ramuji’s house. The electricity is out, as it is every afternoon. He turns on the inverter and we sit under the ceiling fan, set to high. The blades are a blur and the center shakes, looking dangerously like it’s about to jostle itself loose and fall. We’re sitting on mattresses on the floor covered with block-printed sheets. There’s a curio-cabinet across from me. The bottom corner is stocked with Ayurvedic serums and pure attars in silver bottles. The rest of the cabinet is filled with images of Ganesh, of every imaginable shape, color, and size. Ramuji has made lunch, but I can’t imagine eating yet. It’s too hot to eat. Keep reading…

Coming of age in my Indian family

Guru-ji (second from R) and students, Holi 2010

Even before I became a part of his family, I often thought of my Hindi teacher, Virendra-ji, as my grandfather, simply because the two reminded me so much of each other. Both have dedicated their lives to the service of others through their respective ministries–Virendra-ji in the classroom and my grandfather in the church. They are men of strong and practical tastes, and shy away from anything that resembles indulgence or flattery. Keep reading…