THE INDIA FILES – 26/10/06

well…we got back from our trip to Bangalore and Mysore in Karnattaka on monday morning, after a 16-17hour overnight train journey, and i am sorry, due to holidays and power cuts i havent had 2 minutes to write to you until now! i am greatful for all your support, however, thanks so much!so…Bangalore and Mysore, you must be thinking that all we ever do is go on holiday! we were lucky to get another last minute holiday while all the girls had exams, but thats the last till christmas so its all hard work for the next 2 months! Bangalore is much more developed, thanks to the British taking a shine to the much more pleasant, cooler climate and so they built lots of parks and nice big stone buildings (proper buildings!) and also thanks to its successful software industry. it was great to see the more developed, cosmopolitian side of India; in contrast to Andhra’s random settlements, where makeshift shacks become reinforced and everything looks a bit chaotic, Karnattaka is more wealthy and the houses are mainly built more like ours and they’re a bit safer. For this reason I found Bangalore a hopeful city as I felt that it would develop and with that laws, social welfare and child/worker rights in particular could also develop. It’s harder to believe this will happen where everything looks so chaotic! this is largely superficial though, isn’t it?We met up with a girl from a website called in Bangalore and ended up staying with her, after a speedy exit from our very seedy hotel at 4am in the morning, where a man was erm, ‘pleasuring himself’ in front of us..unfortunately this was the 2nd time that day this had happened and i was fortunate not to see it either time (little miss observant me) but Kaite did and i think it kind of weirded her out a bit. Bangalore was exciting though! Having been there less than 24hours we had already walked round most of the parks, seen most of the city and its Temples, been to the shopping areas, had a glimpse of it’s cafe-longe culture, got on the guestlist for a great bar-lounge ( you don’t club or drink in Bangalore, you lounge…) and been welcomed by the english manager, been to a house party at a house rented by about 10 Germans ( so we had a chance to talk to people from all over the world, all mainly working in software in Bangalore) and of course had our little encounter at the hotel!so by the time i went to bed i think I’d been up for about 48hours (thanks to the overnight bus journey, straight from teaching!), buts its all an experience isnt it?! Gayle, the lady we stayed with was a great person to meet; she was incredibly kind and friendly to us, nothing was too much trouble! we had our first experience of riding on the back of a motorbike with her and she showed us sides to Bangalore we would never have seen just as tourists. Her and her flatmate were refreshingly independent women, with thriving careers and living without male chaperones, in different states to their families. er boyfriend was english and was also very kind to us. So in Bangalore we got to talk to lots of different, interesting people, which we loved!Mysore was a different experience and we spent longer here. We traded Bangalore’s late nights and late mornings for early nights (its not a pleasant experience being an 18 year old girl out after 9pm in India…) and early mornings, taking us all over the countryside around Mysore. Our injection of countryside was well needed after Vijayawada’s grey, tree-less-ness! we saw Palaces and art galleries, Hindu Temples, Muslim mosques, Buddhist monastries/temples, and catholic cathedrals. My time in India is becomming a bit of a study into religion, in which I’m realsing how similar religions are. from what I’ve seen, they all seem to believe in some kind of Divine spirit/god as well as powers of good and evil, an afterlife of some sort, and they all promote a ‘good’ way of living. something else i find interesting is that there is always an intermediate, someone half immortal who brings enlightenment of some sort to the people. In India, theres a huge emphasis on images and decoration in the various places of worship too. Anyone who wishes to correct my 1st impressions, please do. I’m aware that its not just the catholic faith in India that has deviated from its original ideas.So, we went to Chamundi Hill, which was very touristy, but we had a nice long walk down and about a 4 or 5 km walk to Mysore. We did lots of walking, because, since the climate was better, we could and we needed the excercise! the best place we went was to some lovely Tibetan Settlements 3hours by bus from Mysore. it was a lovely place; completely untouristy, where we met some really friendly, welcoming people and didnt even get ripped off my the auto drivers, but instead found them to be quite friendly and pleasant! usually, we dred autos, because its depressing knowing you’re being ripped off just cos you’re white. We went to a few places where we had to pay ‘foreigner prices’, (100Rs instead of 5RS) which annoys me. Its hard not to let it make you feel that we’re being exploited and like its a very ungrateful thing to do, since we’re working unpaid for their country, but i know i have to be more understanding; most westerners do have the money and it is good that it goes into their economy, plus western companies have been exploiting india for a long time. one tourist place we went to, Srirangpatnam, we were constantly hasseled by beggars and auto drivers, and even had kids throw stones at us. The most horrible thing i’ve met with is having school children, who have families and are provided-for, comming up to you and saying very abruptly, “give me school pen / chocolate / 10RS / one of your english coins”. Its like we’re seen as a more cynical, twisted version of Santa. However, its ignorant westerners who have fueled this impression, as harsh as that sounds.on the train journey back there were a lot of real street children. i felt that i should be able to do something, since 8hours of my week are spent working with rehabilitated street children, and i feel very uncomfortable that theres nothing i can do! they are the humblest people of all. i want to be able to tell them how special and loved they are; they have such a low opinion of themselves. One boy took my shoe, which was lying on the ground, and hit imself on the head with it to show me that ‘he was dirt’. i sometimes give them money, and gave one boy a piece of paper with directions to SKCV’s night shelter at Vijayawada, but unfortunately i doubt whether he got there. we dont give money though; sadly the majority spend money 1st on cigarettes, then alcohol and finally on food, so its better to give food, plus i dont want to promote the awful image of westerners. its these times i really wish i could speak more of the language! although, these kids come from states all over india, so i’d need to know a lot of languages!Another interesting train experience was the transvestites patrolling the train with another sort of begging; its fairly innocent, but men are targetted and pay for a touch, or often just at seeing a man dressed as a woman. they have a hard life too; most are rejected by their families because they are different. we’ve heard awful stories and you may want to skip over this bit…that sometimes the offending part is cut off in a botched operation and tar poured over, of course many die. YOU CAN READ NOW… so they end up on the streets, and many in the sex trade. there are NGOs working for them too, though.theres so much i havent said, its been such a long 2 weeks!yesterday the Scricacalum volunteers came and told us we were invited to a Hindu engagement ceremony and would be picked up in half an hour, we were still sleeping when they came, so it was a nice suprise and a quick turn around. it was very similar to a wedding, we qued and sprinkled yellow uncooked rice on the heads of the bride and groom who we didnt know and stood for a photo, and then had lunch. lunch was lovely, it was held in a very posh a/c hotel, so the food was good, which made a good change from rice and brown sludge, which we’re now back to eating! While we were away we learnt the art of eating street food, and detecting which ones wont give you food poisoning. i am forever getting ill off the hostel food, with its lack of nutrition and high amounts of fat and greese, but didnt get ill once with the very cheap, very tasty street food! we splashed out (it cost about 3quid..) on saturday night before we returned, by having pizza and chocolate cake in a very american ‘diner’ aimed at middle class indians and tourists.its great eating western food….the degree students aren’t back till nov 6th so we have 2 free weekends. perhaps we’ll get up the hill we’ve been looking at the whole time we’ve been here, and hope to go to Scricacalum one the last 2 weeks 2 2nd year degree students have died. the first, the Princial refused to announce. she was killed instantly when, on the back of her boyfriend’s motorbike, he chickened out overtaking, slammed on the brakes and lost control of the bike. it was the shame that she was with her boyfirend that prevented it being announced, though it was in the paper, and no councelling was given to her friends. the second girl had a heart opperation and died a few nights ago. it must be a lot for that year group to cope with, and i’m concerned they’re not getting much some bad things have happened, and some great things have happened. teaching at SKCV is going great, both with the girls and with Radhika, the lady who runs the girls centre. We took some colouring books on tuesday that my grandparents sent and they loved them! in general, however, i feel much happier now in India. i think i’ve accepted whats around me, and that this is where i am now. the conditions dont bother me much, and most of the time i just find them, and the little indian ways, quite amusing. And my health is good, thank you to everyone who has asked. One of the girls down in tamil nadu has been quite ill in hospital and one of the scricacalum girls has had a visit to hospital too. everyone has been ill at some point, though!the concerning thing today is stopping katies cards and trying to get a new passport and visa, as she has lost her purse.

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