Saturday, December 22, 2007

Farewell - Part 1 of 3

The end draws near and it is time to start the difficult task of separation. For all the challenges that the experience has brought to me and my family, we are all in awe of the shear beauty that India has shown to us on so many levels.

On so many of those occasions it has been in the company of Dr. Sharma's two daughters - Virajita, or Veru (or VEE-you as Evan calls her), is the elder and Vipanchika (or Veer - CHEEKA as Evan prefers) is the younger. Both girls have been instrumental in helping us to assimimlate into our lives in India.

Every morning and afternoon I accompany the girls to and from school in an auto rickshaw for about a 10-15 minute ride. On most days I receive Hindi (and on rare occasions, Telagu) lessons from Veru, my language guru. Those have been some of my brightest moments here - watching the busy life of average Indians whiz by from the leftmost seat of the rickshaw, veering around cows and crater-sized potholes and huddling under the canvas doorflaps during the heavy monsoon rains. There are many moments, in the crisp, sunny, and warm Indian mornings where I tell the girls how beautiful the weather is today - "aaj ka mosam bahout acha hai" - only to see their quizzical, sometimes blank replies (maybe it was my accent). If only they had suffered through one New England winter of darkness and cold they would understand. The commute was never boring - I seemed to learn something everyday about Indian society, either from the just watching or directly from the girls. Veru would often explain something without prompting if she spotted me staring - she is a natural teacher.

My language lessons on the commute were often interupted by a few belly laughs from the kids. I think my mispronunciations have been a source of amusement for hundreds, if not thousands.
The presense and friendship of these girls and their amazing mother, Sudha, will be sorely missed. And I can feel it coming.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Streets of India

Let's be frank - from the perspective of an American, the streets of India are amazingly chaotic. For starters, everyone drives on the opposite side of the road and the road is shared by quite a mix of vehicles, people, and animals. The roads themselves are often in rough shape, with debris, potholes, and what seems like the overuse of speed "breakers" or bumps if you're from the US.

But somehow it all works and people are able to get where they need to go amidst all the chaos.

My mentor teacher, Mr. GS Reddy took me to school one day on the back of his motorcycle (I usually took an auto rickshaw). I used the opportunity to video record the adventure...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Erin's Dance

Fellow Fulbright Teacher Erin McGraw was able to take Indian dance lessons for the duration of her exchange. Since I have seen a handul of Indian dance performances I can say with some authority, albeit extremely limited, that her performance was outstanding. It seemed authentic and everyone in attendance was delighted to have the rare opportunity to see a foreigner demonstrate some mastery of something uniquely Indian.

Although I love the traditional dance costume, I couldn't get over the thick, black hair extension which had been woven into Erin's golden-blonde braid. In some ways the braid represented the contrasts of our home cultures - Erin could weave herself into Indian culture but she would always stand out as a foreigner. I am of course commending Erin - in fact we have become quite close friends. She is the epitome of the "intrepid traveller" - and I admire her on many levels. In this case she demonstrated the confidence to perform and integrate into her host culture as best as she could - one of the hallmarks of the cultural exchange mission.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nayanika and the Veena

Nayanika is not a student in one of my classes, but she has been a very important part of the exchange for me at KVT. She is one of the brightest students in the 12th grade (the best student in each class is called a "topper") and has routinely engaged me in various aspects of the cultural exchange.

Nayanika agreed to record herself playing the veena - a distinctly Indian stringed instrument - so that everyone back in the US could see what it looked and sounded like.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Morning Assembly

The morning assembly at all central government schools in India is quite different than how most American schools start their day.

For starters everything is done outside. I made it a point to greet at least one teacher or student each day with "Aaj ka mosum bahout acha hai!" - which is Hindi for "The weather is very good today!" Indians don't know how good they have it.

The assembly begins at 8:30 AM with each class getting into neat rows while standing in front of a large stage. They start with a prayer which includes some mantras spoken in Sanskrit - the mother of all 28 Indian languages. Soon they switch into Hindi, the national language, and pray for open-mindedness and the willingness to learn. The prayer is followed by a pledge, which is spoken either in Hindi, Sanskrit, or English, depending on the day.

I took a video of the morning prayer which I then had translated by T. Virajita, the elder daughter of Dr. TAV Sharma, my exchange partner. She is 13 years old and a student at Kendriya Vidyalaya Tirumalagiri - my host school.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Warangal & Palampet

My parents arrived in India after touring the some areas in the north. I picked them up at Rajiv Ghandi (Begumpet) Airport in Hyderabad on Saturday the 15th of December. We didn't waste any time, given that this would be last weekend while teaching at KVT, and decided to hire a Toyota Qualis (SUV) and driver and head out to explore some temples north and east of Hyderabad in the areas. Erin, our friend and US Fulbrighter from another KV school in Hyderabad, joined us for the trip.

We have used the driver a few times in the past - he usually goes by the name Shiva. However during this auspicious time of the Hindu calendar, Shiva had transformed himself into a living god through a collection of cleansing practices and puja (prayer). For example he must rise early in the morning and take a simple bath, pray, and then take a completely vegetarian breakfast while sitting on the ground (tables and utensils are forbidden) - all before the sun rises. He must remain somewhat separated from his family and must never touch women - even his wife for the 41 day period. He, along with other mostly male volunteers, dress exclusively in black robes and decorate their foreheads in thick swaths of white, orange or red paints. For this honor they are only referred to as "Swamy" - one of the temporary incarnations of Hindu gods.

Swamy picked us up early so that we could reach Warangal and the 1000-pillar temple by late morning. Warangal was once the center of Telagu culture and the capitol of the Kakatiya Kingdom which reached the height of its power between the 12th and 14th centuries. The temples that they built are considered masterpieces of exquisite architecture and some of the statues that adorn the pillars at Ramappa could be considered tantric in nature.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The South Indian Food Guide

Welcome to the definitive source for south Indian cuisine!

Anyone who knows Jessie and I understands that we're huge fans of Indian cooking (I suppose food in general for the matter). I remember the fateful day when we began looking at the Fulbright exchange as a real possibility, and perusing the list of countries that US Teachers can go to. I won't hide the fact that we gave serious consideration to India not because of its insane diversity, warm and inviting people, magnificent cultural heritage, or astounding monuments - rather, we decided to come to India because our bellies would be perpetually filled with spicy deliciousness. India's trump card is its food - and we've rarely been let down since we arrived in August.

Did I say spicy? Chillies are like salt to south Indians - they put them in everything. And of the 28 Indian states, we have come to spicy kingdom. Menus in neighboring states have asterisks next to the words "Andhra style" - implying that the food is heavily spiced as is the custom in our home state of Andhra Pradesh.

Fellow US Teacher Paul Amstutz (he is the crazy math teacher from Yosemite, California who is currently in Bangalore with his family) once generalized Indian food as "loads of insanely spicy goo served over rice" and we have been laughing about it since. Paul's statement isn't entirely off basis, but what Indian cuisine lacks in presentation (from a western perspective) it more than compensates for in taste. The food in India, and I must admit to an inherent subjectiveness here, is undoubtedly superior to American cooking. To speak frankly, we've got nothing on these Indians. They make our food look silly. Really.

Our hosts Sudha, Virajita, and Vipanchika, as well as about every other Indian we have dined with aren't shy about telling us the truth. Fellow teachers at KVT chuckle at my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and boxed oatmeal as they whip out delicate chapathis (flaky wheat breads that look sort of like pitas), myriad of curries adorned with just about every vegetable imaginable, or my personal favorite - masala. Ah - there is nothing on planet Earth quite like a proper masala.

Eating south Indian style involves rice - and lots of it. Typically we sit and eat with only our right hands (to offer your left hand in any matter is considered rude, to EAT with you left would be considered kind of gross) - no utensils. Eating rice with your hands does take some time to get used to, but Sudha has guided us well on these matters. To do it well involved preparing the rice by sort of kneading it with your fingertips before mixing in your dal, rasam, curry - whatever it is. This way the rice absorbs some of the flavor and becomes more easily formed into little balls that you can lift into your mouth.

Some regional dished include the incredible Hyderabadi biryani (a spicy basmati, or long grain, rice served in a small brass pot over chicken, mutton, or vegetables), haleem (a Muslim dish popular during Ramadan - wheat is mixed with mutton (with bone!) and pounded into a paste and then cooked throughout the day and served with raw vegetables), and a special bringal (eggplant) curry.

But south Indian meals don't stop at the main course - can you imagine incredible desserts without a gram of chocolate? Indians often serve sweets with the main course (OK, that part I never really got used to). They are often made with ghee (butter fats) and filled or glazed in sugar syrup (sugar cane grows in abundance in almost all regions of the subcontinent). The laddu (pronounced ladd-DOO) comes in hundreds of forms and is a favorite of Lord Ganesha (he is always pictured with one in one of his four hands) - my personal favorite is the dry fruit laddu which is customarily given for the birth of a child. Not far behind is the juicy kaja and kovapuri, as well as halwah (with cashews, almonds, carrots, you name it!).

Here is a video of a south Indian "buffet" served at our school on the occasion of a three-day regional track and field meet.

For those Americans who haven't tried Indian food - you have no idea what you're missing.

Map of India

Map of India

About the Exchange

"The Fulbright Program, the U.S. government's flagship program in international educational exchange, was proposed to the U.S. Congress
in 1945 by then freshman
Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. In the aftermath of World War II, Senator Fulbright viewed the proposed program as a much-needed vehicle for promoting "mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world." His vision was approved by Congress and the program signed into law by President Truman in 1946.

Fulbright grants are made to U.S. citizens and nationals of other countries for a variety of educational activities, primarily university lecturing, advanced research, graduate study and teaching in elementary and secondary schools. Since the program’s inception, approximately 279,500 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential—with the opportunity to exchange ideas and to contribute to finding solutions to shared issues."

Newsfeed Salad

a mix of Indian and US national and local news, and of course updates on Team India Cricket and the Boston Red Sox.