October 2005
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Tuesday, October 25

I don’t know why everyone is always going on about medical tourism. Religious tourism is clearly the way to go.

I stopped by the Akshardham Temple on my way over the trans-Yamuna Bridge. It’s a temple to Lord Swaminarayan that has been five years in the making – apparently it was his dream to construct a temple on the banks of this stinky, fetid river. NRIs from London and the US have contributed lots.

The temple is going to be inaugurated on Nov. 6 and officially open to the public on Nov. 8. But for the last eight months, devotees of Narayan around the country have been signing up for pre-opening tours. Someone told me that eventually there will be about 20,000 visitors a day to the temple, which is apparently modeled on Cambodia's Angkor Wat and various Hindu temples.

While I have to question the urban planning behind the placement of the access to a popular temple in the middle of one of only two bridges that connect Delhi and East Delhi, the level of organization for the pilgrims is amazing. It’s sort of like Lourdes, but a lot cheerier.

There are 6,000 volunteers who speak Gujarati, Marathi and so on. And pilgrims have been allotted passes with a visiting date and half-hour slot. There’s a huge parking lot with lots of colorful tour buses parked there and lots of official types with easily identifiable clothes emblazoned with the temple committee's acronym "BAPS" and IDs who are very helpful. Plus lots of tents with more volunteers and refreshments. And no hawkers.

If only all tourists could be so lucky.

My mother hates the temple -- she thinks it looks like a giant mammary. But I think it looks quite nice all lit up at night. Probably people thought St. Peter's was very tacky when they first saw it.

So that was the highlight of the day, which has been marked by household difficulties. I can never find anything in the house – between the moving in and the activities of the help – and so spent half an hour searching for a corkscrew. Eventually decided to use a utility knife, but it had a very short corkscrew, and the cork broke and I cut myself in the process. I didn’t realize right away since I thought it was spilled wine. Then I put on a bandage but couldn’t get the backing entirely off so I tried to trim the bandage with scissors, which was not an easy one-handed process and so cut myself again. Okay, I didn’t really cut myself the second time, but close.

In an unrelated, here is a photograph of our elevator call button.

And a query: Are Haryanvi Jats the Italian-Americans of India?

Thursday, October 20

My life at the moment is dominated by fashion shows.

Last night I went to one on swank diplomatic premises, hoping to "network" and drink wine, both of which I accomplished to some extent. After the rigors of life in East Delhi, it was delightful to eat bite-sized servings of lamb satay and spackled (?) chicken offered by an abundance of waiters -- they were coming to you instead of you circling them as often happens when free eats and drinks are to be had -- while waiting for the show that was to introduce us to the marvels of this season's "summery 'oolly 'oollens." (The key presenter had a tendency to drop w and turn v's to b's.)

mr. india and me

Mr. IndiaDuring the show I shared a table with Mr. India 2000. Or was he a runner-up? He used to be a model as well, but had to give it up because it wasn't very lucrative. Apparently this is the one industry (all right, I can think of another one) where women earn more than men. You can see more pictures of Mr. India here. I cast around for things to talk about ("Wow, it really doesn't look like wool, does it?") but not very successfully. Why is it that stocky, balding men are often wittier than tall dark and handsome ones? Still, even though the conversation faltered, I felt quite pleased to be sitting next to Mr. India. Not to be vain, but I also sort of think he might have been hitting in me. But then, I do have a tendency to go from thinking I have no friends to thinking everyone I meet is in love with me. I should probably strive for a more balanced outlook. Anyway, I took his phone number, for future story ideas you know.

I spent the morning Googling some of my other acquaintances of last night, most of whom were fellow journalists. One of them has several anti-tributes to her on the Web, on blogs written by IT professionals who've taken affront to her pieces on the IT lifestyle. The other, a frighteningly well-informed personage who claimed to be a nonentity at a well-known weekly news magazine, has untold amounts of bylines on the web on some very interesting, well-researched stories. Grrr.

Tuesday, October 11

Okay, it’s confirmed. No one loves me. Only one person (my ex-boss) e-mailed me to see if I was affected by the earthquake.

It’s true that I was not physically harmed, and that Delhi was quite far from the epicenter of the quake, but still.

The building I was in shook from side-to-side – even though we are 700 kilometers (500 miles) from where the quake hit -- and it was quite scary to realize that what seem like terribly stout bricks and mortar are not. Except when they’re on top of you.

Apparently if there ever is a quake near Delhi, the building in East Delhi where I currently live on the top floor will be razed to the ground. First of all it is in an earthquake-prone area, across the Yamuna river. Secondly the soil around here is supposed to be sandy and that makes high-rise construction very unstable. And finally, our building is built on stilts to make room for parking underneath.

I guess you can’t expect a city that is ranked 108 out of 121 cities in term of livability to have coherent building safety standards.

Tuesday, October 4

I’ve noticed that people aren’t particularly polite to women when they ask questions related to cars or gadgets. When I went to look at fridges and air-conditioners with my mother and I asked for a brochure so I could look at the technical specifications, the salesman said, “What? Are you doing an MBA?”

Today I went to have a rustproof coating put on my car because I scratched the paint off on my way out one day. Joginder, the sardar car mechanic said he would take care of it and when I asked him what he would do, he said, “How will I explain to you?” When I asked if he could rustproof it without painting it, he scoffed at the suggestion and told me to go home and find some nail polish to match the car and paint over the rust myself. But when I said that I had no idea about any of this and that the car was my father’s and my father was insisting on not painting it (he thinks we should do all my future dents and paint jobs at once), he became much more cooperative and offered to apply a clear rustproof coating.

(un)boxing day

With the arrival of 200 boxes of my parents’ baggage, I am now swimming in fish sauce, canned palm hearts and teeny tiny hotel toiletries, which seem to make up the bulk of my parents’ possessions.

I’ve always laughed at my mother’s various orders any time my sister and I have come to visit her in India – tea bags! – or other places, but it’s true that there are some things, or lack thereof, about living in a place that you only discover when you run a household.

There are a lot of hidden costs, for one thing, which for want of another name I’ll call taxes since many of them pay for goods one would expect to be provided for by the government. The two main ones are an inverter and a water filter. An inverter is a column-like appliance, which provides back up electricity when the power goes, as it does most days. The water filter, called an Aquaguard after the most popular brand, is hooked up to the tap and allows you to dispense with the tedious task of boiling water for twenty minutes and then cooling it so that it is potable. Unfortunately, it can’t do anything about the taste of our water, which is a bit stale since it sits in tanks where it is stored in the few hours of the day when water is actually running. The start up cost of acquiring these two items is about Rs. 35,000 or close to $1,000.

the cultural significance of beds

my cotThe other big lifestyle change for me is that from having my very own queen-sized bed, I am now sleeping in what seems to me an extraordinarily small cot. It is 6-feet long, which is standard in India, but my old bed was 6’8,” which I think is standard in the United States. My mother says these extra-large American beds are a sign of how Americans just want to consume and become larger and larger and take up more space in the world, starting with their beds. She thinks everyone should be happy with a 6-foot bed. I don’t know about all that, but personally, I feel my cot is a marker of how I am regressing in my (social) life.

sashay, shante

model at fashion school graduationI was sharing a room for a few weeks with an 18-year-old model (female) who invited me to the graduation ceremony of the modeling school she was attending, where was learning to catwalk, dance and speak in public.

I was very delighted to attend the program, since I'm always reading about models here -- if someone isn't in IT these days, then they're likely to be a model. The show consisted of a salsa performance, a short play about arranged romance that included a spoof of the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and three ramp sequences.

I went with my 8-year-old cousin who liked the play, because it had a fight sequence.

To see a video of the dance performance, click here.