Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Week 5 (Monday 6th November – Sunday 12th November, 2006) : India-trotting

I had planned to leave Kolkata for good this week. I went to purchase a few Hindi movies and some gifts for my family. I met this odd guy in front of Music World (the DVD store). At first he appeared as lost as I was, but then he claimed he had his own software company in Washington DC, and that he had been visiting his grandfather’s house here, and was a little lonely. He got my phone number, and sent me an SMS message ten minutes after I had left him. He sent me another one a few minutes later. Then he called me also. I was a little worried by then. Then he sent me a text saying I shouldn’t worry because he wasn’t weird. Hahahha!!!

As I had already bought so much stuff for my family and friends, I wanted to mail them before I left. The next day (Wednesday) I went to the DHL office to send the things to my family. After I had left the office, I got a phone call from this same guy from the day before (I think his name is Rony) and he asked me where I was. I asked him why, and he said he could see me, that he was behind me. It was one of the creepiest moments of my life. He said he just happened to be doing something in a building near the DHL office, and that I shouldn’t think he was following me or anything of the sort. HA!!!

I also had to resolve the matter of my ticket to Jaipur. What was I going to do in Jaipur, you may ask? And what the hell is Jaipur? LOL! Jaipur is a lovely city in the Indian state of Rajasthan, and I was flying there so I could get to Ajmer a smaller town also in that same area. I was going to visit an organization called Aasra, that worked with rural women and girls, and led the drive for increase in female literacy. One of the founders works with my dad, and he suggested that I go up there since I was in India. I was also getting a little tired of being in the same place so I wanted to move. However, all those plans were modified a few days before I left for Jaipur. I was informed of a conference, the India Social Forum (ISF) in New Delhi.Delhi is about six hours by bus from Jaipur. Everyone I spoke to said it would be a good experience, and a nice way to meet other organizations working against domestic violence across the country. I changed my flight date from Saturday to Thursday, booked a hotel in Delhi (which was pretty expensive), and got ready to leave.

The flight, on Kingfisher Airlines, to Jaipur was wonderful. As always, the food on the various Indian airlines is to die for. I got to Jaipur around 2pm and decided to take the bus to Delhi immediately, especially since I hadn’t booked a hotel in Jaipur. I called the manager at my Delhi hotel and asked if I could come in a day earlier. She agreed, so I got a taxi to Jaipur bus station. The city is quite lovely. It’s called the pink city because sometime in the 1800s ( I think) the Maharaja at the time painted it pink to welcome a member of the British Royal family, because pink is the color of hospitality in that culture. Anyway, on my way to the bus station I saw my first camel. I was beyond myself!! Even though Jaipur is such a lovely city with a lot of modern accoutrements, camels, cattles and horses vie for space on the main streets along with cars, motorcycles and rickshaws.

I got to Delhi around 10pm, and haggled with an autorickshaw driver, who agreed to take me to my hotel (City Center Hotel) for half the original price. I checked in, ate some crackers and went to bed. I got up the next day and found my way to the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium where the ISF was taking place. I walked around pretty aimlessly for a while, then made my way to the place where the event on the new Protection against Domestic Violence Bill was being held. I saw Anu (Swayam’s director) there, but she didn’t stay too long. The event was pretty disappointing. Let me explain. It started out with the organizers leading the group in a song. I couldn’t sing it, but I enjoyed it. I was also happy that there were men as well as women at the event. There were also other foreigners in addition to me. After that, the main speaker asked how many people understood only English, and there were only two of us. Thus, she suggested that people sitting next to us translate from Hindu to English. That worked out for a little while, but as always, you know that a lot is being left out when something is being translated. We finally moved to another tent as more people had come for the event. There other people came whose first language was not Hindi. As such, each speaker had to speak first in Hindi and then in English. I quickly realized that it might be a bit of a problem for me to attend programs if they were all going to be conducted in Hindi.

When I left the ISF, I felt a little despondent, but I resolved to shake that feeling off and enjoy myself. I stood at the stadium gates for a while but couldn’t stop an auto-rickshaw because there were so many people also hoping to catch one. I decided to cross over to the other side to see if my luck would be better there. It wasn’t. Then a random man stopped near me in his white private car and asked me to get in. Okay, he said it in Hindi, but I could tell from his gestures that he wanted me in the car. I declined politely and walked off. To my surprise he followed me in the car. I ignored him and kept walking. He stopped the car, got out to pee on the side of the road, and then kept pressuring me to get in the car. I kept walking, he drove slowly behind me. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I crossed the street to the other side. Luckily, a kind Sikh auto-rickshaw wallah saw me and stopped for me. His name was Titu. He was such a blessing in disguise. He could speak good English (not that speaking Hindi or Bengali is bad, but it made it easier for me to communicate with him), and he took me to a fruit stand and a good place to get mughlai food to go. The food was very good and the price was also quite reasonable, for Delhi. I stayed up late watching movies on TV (the hotel had cable…I watched this movie called “Bunty & Babli. I think it was some kind of Bonnie and Clyde story.) and on my computer.

The next day I got to the campgrounds around 3pm, in time for the program I wanted to participate in, but it was all in Hindi. My disappointment was so heavy I felt I was being crushed under it. I bought some gifts from the stands at the forum and left for my hotel. I decided then and there that I would leave for Ajmer the next day (Sunday).

I took the 9:30am bus from Delhi to Jaipur. Our bus broke down fifteen minutes away from Jaipur, and we had to flag another bus down. At the Jaipur station I met an Indian guy, Rahul, who had been living in Nigeria for the past 12 years. It was quite cool, especially because his English definitely had the Nigerian intonation. LOL! He wanted my number but I got his instead, and left on the bus for Ajmer.

I got to Ajmer 6:30pm. I didn’t know what hotel I was in and where it was located, so I had to call Mrs. Mathur to ask. It was Hotel Chitvan, and it was about 10km from the town center. The rickshaw wallahs I asked didn’t know where it was and kept insisting on other hotels. I finally found one who knew where it was, and we set off after haggling over the price. I couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief yet though. The hotel WAS quite far from town, and as we went farther and father from town I got a little scared. I think the rickshaw driver was also a little worried, because he kept stopping to ask for directions. Finally we saw the hotel sign, and I breathed a little easier. At the hotel I met Zulficar, a friend of Akshay Mathur (the guy who works with my dad.). He had actually just gotten married, which is why Akshay had come to India.He helped me settle into my room. And that was my first night in Ajmer.

PS: The camel picture was taken in Jaipur, and the other two were at the ISF program in New Delhi.

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