This was, I believe, the motto of the principle characters in the cinematic classic Talladega Nights. It’s also quite appropriate to describe the experience of being thrown and jostled around in a rickshaw in 45 degree dry heat as the wheels churn up a not-exactly-crispy coating of dust to powder your sunscreen and sweat. You feel like you’re bouncing around in a faulty blowdryer at 20km/hr rather than racing on a NASCAR speedway, but minor detail, really…. Suffice it to say I am getting around a bit more but would happily avoid the rickshaws if I could.
[I realized I didn’t post on the last weekend, June 16/17, as well as the most recent past weekend, June 23/24, so I’m combining those two weekends in this post. Sorry for the choppiness, and Happy Father’s Day and St-Jean Baptiste.]
On Friday (the 15th) I went to a party at a colleague’s house where I had Indian wine that actually wasn’t too bad, surprisingly. I met some interesting people and did some interesting talking. It was really hot (surprise!) with no AC. I know, people actually live like this. Anyway, even though it was physically uncomfortable, I’m glad I went. It’s reassuring to find out there are so many people who have gone through the exact same uncertainties and reservations about the country and living in a place that isn’t really “home.”
On Saturday, we had hopes of going out to do some sightseeing, but I wasn’t feeling great. No, I didn’t drink that much and I wasn’t hungover. It’s interesting how much you can drink (we’re talking water and a couple glasses of wine here – I’m pretty careful) and not have to go to the bathroom because you’re sweating so much. It’s just the after-effects of heat that makes you unwell. I’m finding we all actually have to build Recovery Time into our weekend schedule. Basically, if you spend a certain amount of time outside in the heat, you have to factor in recovery from heat exhaustion. It does take a while, and it really does feel like you’re sick. I was all set to go out, then stood up and my legs just wouldn’t hold…
So instead, we went to the Ghandi Memorial Museum on Sunday. It wasn’t very big, there was a large house which had been converted into the museum, and the garden where he was assassinated. There was a long poster aisle detailing India’s road to independence. I was surprised at the language in some of the posters that described the history of Indian revolution. It still seems very openly resentful of the British. For example: “Unfortunately, the men who had kidnapped the English woman were caught and hanged.” We always say history is written by the victors and in this case, India did eventually gain its independence, but it doesn’t seem like they write from any sort of magnanimous victor’s point of view. In the museum, we saw Ghandi’s personal effects including his glasses, his prayer place, his room, and his last walk. There was an interesting multi-media exhibit as well; the only thing is they don’t really explain in signage what’s going on with any of it or what the significance is of any of the items. I’ve been trying to do some research on the museum’s website to flesh out this paragraph and there’s nothing useful there either. We had actually wanted to go to the National Gallery of Modern Art, but we were getting jerked around by rickshaw drivers the whole time so we didn’t get there – and I hadn’t brought my camera that day because I knew they weren’t allowed in the gallery, so that’s why there are no pictures of the Ghandi Museum.
This past Saturday, I went to a TEDx event. TED, for the uninitiated, stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It’s a non-profit that promotes, as they call them, Ideas Worth Spreading. They have conferences a couple times a year and record the talks and you can watch them here for free: http://www.ted.com/. I highly recommend them, the quality of the speakers is excellent and it’s good brain stim. Topics are all over the map so you’re sure to find something interesting. Anyway, outside of the regularly scheduled talks they have the TEDx events, where x=independently organized TED event. The one I went to was on the topic of street children in India: http://www.tedxyouthatummeed.org/.
The issue of street children is just tragic, and that is not a word I usually throw around. They are completely left to themselves to survive, picking garbage, begging, or working if they can (and yes, sometimes stealing). They sleep in the streets, train stations, gutters, or wherever they can. They’ve often fled abusive and/or neglectful home situations, or their parents may be dead or in prison or have just abandoned them. The government and NGOs reach only about 7%. There are an estimated 50 000 street children here in New Delhi, but obviously it’s impossible to actually count them. Ummeed is a residential home and school for boys… there’s a girl one too but I can’t remember the name. This event had former street kids doing talks on topics such as child marriage, drug and alcohol abuse in families, police brutality (police actually beat – to death, sometimes – street children), Right to Education (20M kids are not in school here), and minorities/discrimination towards Muslims. They also had a panel discussion with the kids, where they all sat cross-legged on blankets on the stage with a moderator who asked questions. Unfortunately for me, this part was in Hindi so I didn’t get much out of it. There were a couple moments during the night that I particularly wanted to share with you, though:
- During the panel discussion, one of the teenage boys broke down and started to cry a bit. The moderator, who was also a leader at the centre, said something in English at that point that really stuck with me. He said that one of the things he was most proud of in these kids was that they had still kept their softness. That despite all they had been through, they were still gentle. Of course, in reading the background info on Ummeed, it’s not like they’re angels or anything. They’ve lived in horrible situations, are so vulnerable, and have no reason to trust anyone, so why should they play nice? They’re also teenagers, which isn’t an easy time for anyone coming from the best of circumstances. But holding on to the ability to feel, when the easier thing would be to shut down and turn off that side of yourself shows they’re still open to hope. I was impressed.
- A band called Swarnbhoomi was the featured entertainment. They’re seven pieces (only six that night) with no lead singer so they partner with various people/groups for the vocals. They did one song with a bunch of the kids, and usually I don’t like children’s choirs that much because of the institutionalized cuteness, but these kids were good! I could tell that they had practiced hard, and they weren’t really playing to the audience, they were engaged with each other and the band. At the end of the song, the littlest boy had a solo and when he finished he backed up from the mike and just about ran off stage, it was so funny. He definitely wasn’t waiting around for the applause! There was one boy about 14 or 15 years old – they call the youth who spoke “the Dreamers” – who wants to be a singer. After the choir, he came on to do a song with the band by himself. You could tell he was really nervous, he was sort of rubbing his stomach, swallowing hard, trying to steady his breathing… the band started playing the intro and I saw the singer (his name is Suraj) give the sitar and tabla players a sign and they repeated a couple bars to give him a few more seconds to steady himself. He came in, and from the first note, you could practically hear jaws dropping throughout the auditorium. He was SO GOOD!!! It was an Indian song, so had those sustained, warbly notes, which he could sustain SIGNIFICANTLY. I think he felt a little awkward at first, then he started to get into it more and started moving and dancing a bit. One of the things I really like about live music is watching the way the musicians communicate with each other during the performance. It’s very subtle and doesn’t distract from the music at all, but I like the way it adds to the idea of music as communication, even though they’re not communicating with me as the audience. When you know how much it takes to put on a live performance and try to stay together and keep a hundred other factors in mind, you appreciate the necessity of on-stage communication! Anyway, the tabla player and drummer were on opposite sides of the stage and had to really crane their necks to see each other around some of the equipment. The lead guitar was really good about standing pretty close to the singers (Suraj and the choir) and looking at them instead of the audience which I think gave the kids moral support, and he gave them little signals to come closer to the mike or tilt their heads up more. But my absolute favourite moment was when the guitar and keyboard players, partway through Suraj’s song, shared this look and little, satisfied smile across the stage as Suraj really got into his music. You could just see that triumphant “We got it!!!” expression, even though they were playing very much as a backing band. They were happy for him, not for themselves. It was like witnessing this boy’s dream come true, and as much as it was a special experience for me, I can imagine it must have been very rewarding for the band to have been a part of that.
Unfortunately, the event was over an hour behind schedule and we were unsure of exactly how we were getting home, so we had to leave early and missed the talks from the adults. Still very much worth it though, and I really recommend checking out that site. One of the video talks that was shown was one by Richard Wilkinson who spoke about economic disparity and it’s relation to countries performing poorly on just about all indicators – if you have time, that’s a good talk to start with! He’s an epidemiologist, so clearly worth listening to 🙂
On Sunday, we went and successfully found the yoga studio! We did the free trial class, which is quite different than what I’ve done previously in Canada. Lots of breathing exercises and chanting and, yes, “oooohm”ing. I’m pretty out of shape after not doing much for the last two months, so I’m definitely sore today… we signed up for classes starting next week. On the way home, we bought a watermelon at a cart, went home and ate the entire thing. A Sunday afternoon well spent!