Monday, September 18, 2006

BRAT, chai, don't drink the water, and call me in the morning

In my last post, I definitely said I would right again the next day. It has been 5 since then. During this incredibly timeless 5 day period, I have battled with the enemies of every traveler. I had some bad water, and as a result of my bout with "Delhi Belly" have been on the BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Apples, and Toast) diet for 2 1/2 of the last 5 days. I am thankfully better now.

There is so much to tell! I don't even know where to begin. Yousuf's family is wonderful. Umma ji is like a real grandmother to me, and today I was very sad to have to say good bye to her. There were only enough home stay families to have half the group be hosted, so we split up along group lines and Spirit was first. Before I left, she told me that i am like a child of hers and always have a home in Mussoorie to come back to. She also told me that i will stay in her du'ahs. She said that she has been praying for nothign but good for me and to trust in Allah that I will achieve the things I am working towards. I told her that she is my grandmother in India and inshallah when my hindi is better i'll be able to call her on the the phone and talk to her. Now that she is older and a bit more infirm, she is very lonely and laments having no one to talk to during the day. I will be visitng her after school in the afternoons of this week. The boy who is replacing me speaks very little Hindi, and is a boy, so she wont be able to really get very close to him.

I love Mussoorie and want to bring everyone I love here. It is incredible-the Himalayas surround us, the people are welcoming and friendly, and the monkeys are really scary. Since my initial warning about the bandurs, I have been chased by a few, and in constant fear of them. I was walking through landour bazaar (down the mountain) when I noticed a group of very close monkeys sitting along the high stone wall across the street from me. As I looked at them, I noticed them looking at me. I noticed their steely stares; they started to run down the power lines crisscrossing above my head towards me. I screamed and jumped into the post office, which I had been standing in front of. I met up with two girls from my group there and as soon as they were done I half ran half walked down the street to outrun the monkeys. They eventually lost interest, but not before they have made me permanently fear monkeys of any size. This fear is fast becoming a well developed paranoia/neurosis.
Hindi school is getting harder and harder, and I have not had the chance to review what we've been learning since every night I go home exhausted and then have dinner and chit chat time with my family. Staying with them will be one of the most enriching experiences of my whole trip. Their house is a modest multipurpose building of which they occupy 3 stories. The front most room of the house is on the street and serves as the tailor shop that the family owns and runs all day, morning to night. This family works so hard...it is amazing to see. It is also sad to me.

As my stay has lengthened, I have learned more about this family's history and the way Partition affected them. Yousuf, my teacher, and his brothers’ grandfather had been a member of the congress party during partition. He had been assured that Muslims in the party would be safe and able to stay in their homes, not forced to trek into Pakistan. Mussourie is very close to Pakistan, and although we have not talked about it, the little I know about partition makes me think that Mussourie might have been an area, like many others that was not clearly going to India or Pakistan. I will have to find out. His grandfather made no arrangements to leave or sell anything or even pack because of this assertion. Then, as Yousuf tells me, the killings began. Muslims in the area went missing, were being attacked and killed in a systematic and obvious way. His grandfather, who was the oldest of his family and a skilled tailor, sent his 2 younger sisters and 1 younger brother in a caravan to Sarumpur, a mostly Muslim community a few hours from Mussourie and planned to leave the next day on the train. They (grandfather & grandmother) could only bring the clothes on their back, their 1 year old son and a bottle to feed him with. His grandmother wasn’t even able to bring her bridal jewelry, which was her only source of wealth. They had to leave all their belongings in the house and went to the train station to wait for the next train to Pakistan via Saharmpur. They hid in the woods while they waited to try and stay alive as long as possible. When the train arrived earlier than expected, they could see people working on the train. They watched as people washed it; it was covered in blood. The train conductors and employees were washing it off so that the desperate fleeing people would get on it, none the wiser that they were simply filling the very marked shoes of the people before them. The train would go from Mussourie through Punjab and then into Pakistan, making all the people on it sitting targets for the killing that was sure to come. His grandparents fled into the woods at this point, waiting until the train passed through where they were. Under the cover of night, they jumped onto it and arrived in sarumpur. When they arrived, they discovered that his grandfather’s siblings never arrived. After partition, he spent two years in Pakistan searching for them to no avail. They have never been found.

Yousuf tells me that Mussoorie used to be a fairly successful Muslim area; there are 4 masjids that surround the Landour Bazaar area I am staying in. After Partition, almost all Muslims had fled this area or been killed. After some time, Yousuf’s grandfather returned and convinced other Muslims from Sarumpur to settle here as well. Now there are hardly enough Muslims to fill one masjid’s congregation. Eid only lasts one day here. Even though Muslims live here peacefully with the many other people here, there are very few jobs and occupations they can do. They are not trusted. For example, if a Muslim wanted to rent out tents and pots and pans for use during weddings, no one would rent from them because the Hindus, Jains and Sikhs are vegetarian and wouldn’t trust a Muslim’s word that the pots were used for purely vegetarian cooking. I think even being doctors wouldn’t be accepted, although there is such a dearth of them here that maybe that would be an exception. All of the taboos that are carried within the caste system are prevalent here. Muslims would never get elected to office or even hold any good high paying jobs. Yousuf has been teaching at the language school for the last 12 years, and is still only paid on an hourly basis. The large, nicer houses in Mussourie used to belong to Muslims; they are now filled with Sikhs and Hindus.

On Friday we walked down the mountain to Mussoorie proper and visited a masjid, a gurdwara ( a Sikh temple) and an Anglican church. All were within walking distance of each other. When we were in the masjid, Nasir, Yousuf’s brother, talked to us about Islam. After his brief introduction, I ended up talking the rest of the time we were there and answering everyone’s questions as best I could. I later found out that both Yousuf and Nasir were very impressed that I knew as much about Islam as I do. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that last year an American Muslim girl visited the language school and knew nothing about islam. The second is that in India, according to Yousuf’s family, many Muslims don’t know a lot about their faith. They are mostly in Hindu areas, and grow up going to public Hindu schools, learning much more about the Hindu culture, religion and way of life than Islam. When not surrounded by much Muslim community, they don’t learn much. Often this is through a decision on the parent’s part to not teach their children, but often these parents are in this same position. Umma ji told me about a distant relative of theirs who fits in this category. Earlier this year when there was all the international controversy about the incendiary (incredibly distasteful, irresponsible, purposely hateful and fire flaming) political cartoons that depicted Muhammed (PBUH) as a terrorist going on, said relative turned to Umma ji and asked “Why are the muslims of the world protesting against these cartoons of Muhammed? Who was Muhammed? Why do they care?”

On the walk back up the mountain after the visits to the different houses of worship, yousuf told me how as I spoke about islam he tried to gauge how close to islam he really is. He said that despite having many close hindu friends, they never speak about religion. It is so sensitive still, neither side (hindu or muslim) ever uses their word for God, they simply both say “Uppur Wala” which means man upstairs. I thought that was both hilarious and sad as well. I explained to him how my friends are of all different religious and non religious stripes and how we talk about religion and spirituality whenever we can. He lamented how those sorts of relationships are not possible here. He started telling me about how he thinks yoga (basically the idea of physical worship) is very compatible with Islam; I want to talk more with him about this.

Living with a family completely without the advantages of modern conveniences is a very different and humbling experience. Asma, Yousuf’s wife, wakes up at 6:30 every morning to start making breakfast for the family from scratch. She also makes my breakfast and the kids’ lunches for the day. The 5 year old and the twin 3 ½ year old boys all go to school. (They take their lunches to school in large metal tiffins that they carry by the thin steel handles that only look smarter with their crisp school uniforms.) They have a fridge, but they only run it sometimes, when there is a need to keep food cold for a short time. Every electrical appliance is unplugged after use, including the tv. There are only a few lights in the house, natural light is used as much as possible. Clothes are all hand washed and hung on the terrace to dry. This is both convenient and bothersome; the terrace is the part of the house that gets the most light (duh, it’s the roof) but the monkeys terrorize the roofs, balconies and windows of all the area homes. Just last week they ripped one of Asma’s salwar kameezes and then ran away. Each meal is simple; usually rotis with some daal and some vegetable dish. They seldom eat meat, more on special occasions. Chai follows or accompanies every meal.
Side note: I’m drinking chai! And when I say I’m drinking it, I mean about 3-4 times a day kinda drinking it. I hope you’re proud Mom.
All showers are taken using a bucket of hot water (again; thanks for the training Mom!!! Felt like I was a kid again, it all came back to me) in a small standing only tiled area that is a bit lower than the raised, tiled, porcelain squat pot (which I now have no qualms about using; more about that later). The bathroom is only accessible by walking onto the balcony which means my nightly trip to the pot is a cold and monkey fearing event.
The family eats every dinner together and everyone except for Yousuf has lunch together as well. They put a table cloth down onto the oriental rug that covers the cement floor and all eat together. We have the tv on during dinner, which is around 8pm. We watch Mr. Bean whom the whole family loves, and old school Looney Tunes. After dinner I drink chai with yousuf and Nasir bhai and watch CNBC AWAAZ (awaaz means noise in hindi) to catch the day’s news in English before we switch over to the all hindi stations.
This is my favorite part of the day. I get to watch Indian tv and best of all, get to watch Indian commercials!!!! Did you know there is a Hindi Seasame Street? Or that most of the cartoons and children’s tv programming in the US is dubbed into hindi? Watching coyote chase road runner or Sylvester and tweety fight in hindi; it is priceless. The marketing here is crazy! Bollywood actors & actresses saturate everything. I am equally disturbed by this and the overt sexual nature of many of the ads. It boggles my mind how such a conservative place where dating and PDA is actively taboo has no problem with Bollywood folk dating and breaking up and doing sex scenes in movies and then suggestively selling everything from candy bars to Coca Cola. It is almost time for me to go to the Jain temple and learn about this peaceful religion, so this is me, signing out. Since I spent the last 2 ½ hours in this funky Sikh run internet cafĂ© listening to bhangra writing this, I fully expect plenty of lengthy comments. I’m still working on trying to get one or two pictures up. Till next time~
~Bilbo

3 comments:

chip said...

PUTTY!!! ahhhh that was so exciting! i just realized that your living out a desi fic lol. so regretably this is the first blog that i've read (im in the library at the moment)but i fully intend on reading every single one! thats really creepy about the monkeys...how do ul ike animals now?!!?! it sounds like your having an amazing and enlightening expierence. im having a bunch of new ones myself im finally getting into the groove of work, school, and friends- im cutting my hours at the cookhouse from 30/week to about 18 bc with five classes it was just WAY too much. hmm im trying to fill you in with me really quickly and i cant think of whats most important! ahhh okay the legend is dying i need to look for a new car (dad found out ur car was gone when mine died and i was stuck) im going to DC this weekend thursday-sunday, im going to panic! at the disco concert!!! but not until november...i never get to work out anymore but hopefully ill have more time for that now that ive cut back my hours, and i love my drawing class (not the teacher so much shes kinda nuts) but the actual drawing makes my life :) as you know today is shreens birthday!!!!! im offically the only teenager left...lol but im sure ill find a way to cope haha i love you times a thousand million! stay safe dolly! oh and can i email you?! lol just so next time my comment isnt a book

all my love!!
chips :)

mujtabag said...

as salamu'alaikum Yazi!
wow! glad you're feeling better,
being paranoid about the water in India is a good thing,

sounds amazing

I'd love to visit Mussourie too, inshallah. Hope you somehow get to see Hyderabad too; it's another world.

BTW finally saw "Kill Bill vols 1 and 2" over the weekend: it's very well written. I hope he does a sequel with Vivica Fox's daughter coming to get her. Sadly relevant today, and reminded of it by your comments on partition.

be safe

Anonymous said...

hello my darling! im happy to report this is my 4th comment tonite due to a self alloted "yazi time" that i have been missing a lot lately. im proud to report ive read almost every blog entry, there may be 1 or 2 i havent completed. as much as its trying, life will not get in the way of my following ur writing!
ur host family sounds so great, the type of people that will remember you forever and that you will inshallah see in junaa one day. it is ramadan here, today is day 5 and i've fasted 3 days so far which i am proud of :) i've bin coming back to my apartment to pray and made a yazi&shreen-worthy salad that i took to class for iftar during my mon. nite block class (i'd list the ingredients but i dont wana make u homesick and u remember our salads ;)
today i spoke with my academic advisor about designing my own major- a mix of sociology, anthropology, and law & society. Law & Society alone is not fulfilling me. On other fronts living with Sarah is going well, so far my friends Jen and Alex girl have cooked iftar dinners for Sarah and I, and being in a semi-culturally sensitive environment where almost every non Muslim I encounter knows about Ramadan and fasting is SUCH a breath of fresh air. I think im growing a lot in your absence. ALSO, so far i've made 1 chicken curry, 1 chicken fried rice, 1 kicharee (which tasted and looked nothing like moms) as part of my cooking repertoire. mussourie sounds so amazing yaz, i think you are exactly where you should be :)
525,600 kisses!
<3 always, Shreen