Monday, October 16, 2006

Day 4

Ran out of churidar pajamas so I improvised a “fit-in” dress – white kurta and jeans. I am always in a dilemma about the “proper” dress – I don’t want to stand out so much that the women feel either intimidated or alienated. But then I don’t want to fit in too well either. My separate-ness, I think, makes them want to help me out and in a away allows them to open up with me without feeling threatened.
They all ask me the same questions , “Are you here ALL alone?? Aren’t you scared?” or “Are you not married yet?” and the one I like best “After your 'daktary', are you going to be a doctor like Madam?”

It’s 10 30 am, and the clinic is as crowded as it was the first day. Madam is doing good business again. I think my big shades sitting pretty on my head is attracting too much of attention. Time to take them off. This was the third time someone asked me which country I am from. Now I’ve stopped getting offended. I have the same color, similar clothes and similar dialect but somehow I can’t convince them that I am an Indian. Maybe it’s my incessant scribbling. I should stop.

For some reason the women and the nurse call the surrogates “cases”. And it seems I am getting obsessed with getting as many cases as possible. Every chubby looking woman seems pregnant and a possible case. And every woman in jeans or a sober salwar kameez is a possible hirer of these women.

I also realized that I am unconsciously being racist in my own country! Isn’t it a well researched fact that we have a tendency to club all “others” together, blurring all differences between them and at the same time exaggerating the differences between them and us? Just think of the example of Koreans/Chinese/Japanese/Blacks. How MANY times have you heard people say “All of them look the same”..

I confess that a lot of Gujarati folk look very similar. All men are very emaciated looking compared to North Indians, most have long curling moustaches. And all the women have a pinched look about their faces – as if they haven’t had enough to eat. No, even the ones who come to hire the women, come in a Honda with their high tech cells and what-nots.

Dairy Blues

I am so sick of eating no real food just dairy that I was just about to start howling. To prevent that embarrassment (I am in a library and a howling researcher wd have caused quite a stir!) I decided to write down my woes instead. The last proper meal I had was 72 hours ago. Bah.

And in any case am doing nothing constructive here – paid 20 bux to come here and there is an AC so I am moping around on the library chairs. Otherwise the day was fruitful- got a lot of interviews and am hoping to get a couple more tomorrow. Technically I should leave this place tomorrow but my damn tix are booked for the 15th. BAH BAH BAH. Maybe I shd check for last minute flight tix? Ok gtg and pretend that I am really interested in studying to the librarian. He is my self appointed moral guardian and looks at me very disapprovingly if I take a break or want to leave the library too early. I think he is under the illusion that I flew down from the US just to use this library…

Monday, October 09, 2006

From the Non-Ball-scratching Belt

Semi- Field notes from the Non-Ball-scratching Belt
October 9, 2006

Staying at this place called the Dairy Guest House – I think anyone who is vaguely VIP-ish gets to stay here. That could be a govt official, a local politician or a journalist – I qualify as none of those but whatever. The room, on first look, appeared very depressing. Two narrow beds with pink bed spreads, some awkward looking patchy brown sofas, pink walls with the paint peeling off and a huge bathroom where nothing works. But now that I have had a very sound sleep I can’t complain.

I decided my survival strategy is to not tip but to be extra pal-ly with everyone. There are several reasons for this decision. I never have change at the right time, nor do I know how to cleverly pass on a crisp 10-20-50 Rs note without making it look like I am doing something evil. The last few times I tried to tip at small cities I was snubbed pretty badly.

My favorite tip story is of Spiti – where Pranav and I had a “grand” meal at some so called Italian joint (where they served Pasta/boiled doughy noodles in maggi sauce), chatted with the owner-cum manager cum cook cum cleaner and while departing tried to leave a nice friendly tip. The man got heavily offended and returned our tip with a big NO THANKS. That day onwards, we got so scared that we would always ask the waiters “do you mind if we leave a tip”. Most waiters thought we were completely retarded!

The other time was when I had gone to Bombay and R asked me to give a healthy tip to his Man Friday – this sweet little Bong boy who had become my friend. The boy dropped me to the airport and I dutifully tried to pass on a 100 Rs note. He was so offended that I had tried to commodify our friendship that he nearly started crying. Bah I felt like a classist bitch. So there you go, a LOOOONG detour on the perils of tipping!

Yesterday evening was quite strange. Everything felt so new. This is definitely not the first time I’ve been in a new place alone – I arrived in Amherst all alone, knowing nothing about the ways of life in Amreeka. But somehow that was less strange. No, let me put it differently. The first few days in Amhrest alone were new, scary and lonely. Somehow here, in Anand, it was strangley more interesting and exciting.. I know that sounds bizarre. I mean, in Amherst I expected everything to be new and in anticipation I was scared, here I didn’t expect anything to be too new but it was and I was excited.

The town is a strange mix of modernity and filth. There are the usual small city open dustbins, pigs, cows, rotting food and stinking burst sewage pipes. But then, there are these high tech internet cafes offering net phone, STD ISD in every second shop, corner stores selling toilet paper and women wearing short tops and tight jeans whizzing by on their bikes. You can tell that America has had quite an impact in this town, when suddenly amidst the rubbish heaps springs a “dollar store” where funnily all the things are for Rs 99 (although a $ technically = Rs 45 at the most) and in a half finished looking resedetial area a “New York” Salon lies squashed between two garish looking yellow and pink houses.

The people speak differently, they all look a bit different – slightly emaciated, all men have moustaches, their body language is not like Delhi-wallas. And ofcourse, the men don’t whistle or make smoochy noises. Ahhh, what a pleasant surprise that was! The man at the ISD booth (that’s going to be my oft-visited joint for 92 reasons!) was a pleasant looking chap in his mid twenties, with, believe it or not, hair streaked blonde. He started giving me tips on where to get good gujju food and ended up offering his services as a driver and escort for my dinners. Unfortunately, this is India (even if the not the ball scratching belt) and I had to reluctantly refuse. After I left him disappointed, I was rethinking my decision and almost felt like saying “If you have a motor bike and not a car I ‘ll come” – Somehow I feel more in a control in an open vehicle.

Well, couldn’t find any gujju thali so ended up eating an Amul Shikhand for dinner – something I’ve been waiting to have for the past 10 years! It was crazy sweet but yummy.
Morning – I woke up at 5:30 – not surprising, as I had gone to bed at 8. Found a thhela waala making tea and sat down on his one rickety chair. The man was very enterprising – a master at perfect competition. He had three kinds of tea-serving uetnsils – the usual dhaba style thick glass, a couple of steel ones and for the “special” customer (I qualified as one) some cheesy looking tiny china cups. He charged accordingly as well, Rs 2 or 3 for the tea in a glass and Rs 5 for the special china!

My first day interviewing women went off more than well. But i wont gloat cos as soon as I do something goes terribly wrong. So we will be superstitious and pretend it didn't go that well! One of the surrogates loved me so much that decided to take me home for lunch. They have been given this pretty cool apatment by a couple from he US. TV, cable, AC - the works. The wall is filled with pics of their son, (God) Krishna and the firangi couple. It almost seemed like they worship the couple who hired them - both hub and wife talk of them almost reverentially. It's a really intesresting story why they decided to do what they are doing - very filmy-ishtyle indeed. But I might be breaking some ethical whatever so I won't post it here! Whoever is interested pls email me (wink wink I am such a stud !)
more later
need some more Gujju stuff in my tummy

Saturday, October 07, 2006


So I am going at last. The amount I've built this field trip up I know it will be an anti-climax. As long as I can get work done I don't care how boring it is! Gujarat - haven't ever been to this part of India. Baba has fond memories of it - he was packed off to this "relatively harmless" post during the Emergency (his editor assumed he couldn't do too much union-baazi from such a remote place). He remembers the people, their friendly nature, broad secular thinking and the sweet veggy food! A lot may have changed, probably has, since the riots. Anyhow, this was not supposed to be a morbid philosophical post - just a cathartic one. I am a nervous traveller esp when I travel alone and want to be distracted for another hour!
A - who worked on a rehabilitation project in Bhuj after the earthquake, has even fonder memories. I suspect given a choice he wd want to settle down there! He talks of the people, the food and the fresh cool breeze at nights.
I don't know what to expect.
Anne- if you are reading this, take care and give love to the Penguin!
Bing, wish me luck. I believe, ball-scratchers are rare in Gujarat so I may not have to kick too many asses...
And ofcourse, 92.
oops gotta run. Last minute hysteria time

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