Thursday, August 30, 2007

29 August 2007: Food, Glorious Food!

Pooris for breakfast. Dough is also wheat flour, water, salt, but a little denser than for chapattis. Same process of breaking off an amount and rolling it into a ball. Instead of using flour to roll them out (like for chapattis) Dr. Srivalli dips the edge in the oil, which has been heating on the stove in order to deep fry the pooris. She said they are supposed to be round, but to make it easier, she just cuts each rolled out disc (thinner than pie crust) into 4 wedges. Two wedges fit into her pan of sunflower oil, and they puff up quite quickly – a quick turn and they are done. She places them in a colander lined with newspaper. A while into the cooking process, the (now oil-soaked) newspaper is a little too close to the flame on the stove and catches fire. I am thinking, “great! Oil fire!” but she calmly blows on the flame, using her slotted spatula to knock off the burning paper, no problem. We eat the pooris with a stew of potatoes, carrots, and maybe cabbage. I have already forgotten how to say “I like it” in Kannada, but I did! (Apologies to my Indian friends reading this who can probably make pooris and chapattis in their sleep!)

Dr. Srivalli invited me to go to a wedding with her tonight. (Unlike American weddings, there is not a strict guest list at Indian weddings, no seating chart – the more the merrier I guess!) Well, it was the first night of the wedding, anyway (traditionally, they are three days), dedicated to the bridegroom and his family. It was her co-sister (wife of her husband’s brother)’s sister’s son’s wedding. We arrived around 7:30 or 8, and were greeted by the family as we were ushered into a back room to meet people. The activities were already in full swing. The bride was under a structure, with some rituals going on, while the bridegroom tended to family members, greeted guests, etc. Many people we seated and milling and chatting in this hall; evidently it was not important to witness the ceremony going on. Then we went into the dining hall, where places were set with large banana leaves. Upon sitting down, we dribbled water from a waiting cup on the leaf to clean it, rubbing it around the leaf and then shaking off extra water. Then men dressed only in the traditional cloth, ends folded up, and a string wrapping around from left shoulder to right hip and back again (Brahmin string?), came around and served the dinner, a different dish from each man. Some dishes, like paisa (tapioca, cardamom, nuts) were served with a ladle, while other rice dishes were served by hand. For dry dishes there were potatoes, cabbage, one of those raw spouted bean dishes, and another carrot-y thing; plain rice (“anna!” called the little girl next to me), dal, some sambar, a rice dish with pieces of pappadum in it, pappadum, a bird’s nest looking thing of crispy noodle things, another sambar I did not take (so much food!), that orange sweet… I think that’s it! They came around a number of times offering seconds. As we left the dining hall, they were already cleaning to make room for the next round of people, who were eagerly crowding around the door. Afterwards we all went to a long communal sink with many faucets to wash our hands, and people also rinsed out their mouths once or twice (this must be what the woman wanted me to do in Ghantaprabha!). Then we chewed betel nut with a leaf that had a pink paste rubbed on it and then was folded up small. I didn’t realize I was supposed to keep chewing it for a while, and swallowed it pretty quickly. It makes your mouth all numb and tingly, but has a refreshing taste. Dr. Srivalli says it’s supposed to be good for digestion.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

28 August 2007: Nanu Kannada kalliute dene.

Tonight after my Kannada lesson (during which I recited the story of our picnic the other day!) Dr. Srivalli and I made chapattis. Well, mostly she made and I watched. First she took chopped onions and potatoes and I think a green chili and mixed them with water in a blender. She had me chop onions and baby eggplant, which she fried in oil in a pot. She added the onion/potato mixture to the eggplant to make a sambar. Turmeric, hing (I think) and some other spice, a bit of salt, and I think some sugar at the end seasoned the stew. For the chapattis, she mixed wheat flour and a touch of salt in a food processor with water to form a dough. She had me make balls of about 2 inches in diameter, which she flattened a bit, folded in half, applied some oil, and folded in half again. She then rolled these out to a thin 8” circle, and fried them in a heated skillet until they started puffing. When I turned the chapatti over, I was to add a teaspoonful of oil around the edges. Voila! Simple, quick and delicious! We enjoyed our dinner over Kannada soap operas. The main one we watched kind of looked like a Kannada version of General Hospital. During the commercial breaks, we switched to a Hindi soap opera, featuring excellent crisis music and dramatic close up shots of people in a fire which had evidently broken out at a party – there were balloons everywhere. I finished my meal with one of those orange Indian sweets. I’m almost afraid to ask what makes it that color!

27 August 2007: Krishna is Naughty

Having already finished (though by no means mastered) the short piece about Ganesha yesterday, today we started the third piece I will learn with Krishnaveni, a javali (think teen romance movies) about Krishna. Krishna has come to the gopi’s house late at night, and she scolds him “I know all about you, you naughty boy. You can’t come here to my house now. Go on, go!” I also continue to learn the padawarna, which is quite a substantial piece. I practiced for about an hour and a half this morning, supported by my notes and a tape recording of Krishnaveni singing the songs. I’m not used to both practicing and taking class everyday. Even when I was younger and playing instruments, I never was much for practicing. Too lazy! So now I’m in a situation where I have to practice so it is a good challenge for me.

After class, Krishnaveni offered us some food (Ninage uta beka?) and I found I was quite hungry. This is festival season here, so she had many delicious dishes prepared. In fact, she kept coming back to the table with more and more food, until I really couldn’t eat any more, and in fact couldn’t even finish what was on my plate. The festival today is the one in which Brahmin men re-tie their string, which goes over one shoulder like a sash. As we were finishing lunch, little girls started arriving for class – probably 25 of them at least, half squeezed into her front room where I have my class, and the rest overflowed into the living room. I stayed and watched them as they did their namaskaram and adavus. They ranged in age from four to perhaps thirteen, and appeared to be beginners, though some clearly were more experienced than others. It was fun to see the similarities and differences between their class and what I know.

My Kannada vocabulary has extended from nothing to a few phrases. Dr. Srivalli talks to me about simple things, and I repeat after her, noting down phrases when I have my notebook with me. Language learning is so much harder as an adult! Also, since I’m having to learn the Kannada alphabet at the same time, and how different combinations of vowels and consonants make different sounds, a dictionary is not of much use to me at this point.

26 August 2007: Surprise Picnic

Today we left the house before 7am to go on a day-long “surprise picnic” – a surprise in that only the guy who organized it knew where we were going ahead of time. We met up at a restaurant called The Veg Town, owned by Suresh, who was also the organizer of our day. Eleven of us piled into a vehicle (8 adults and three children) and set out on our adventure, food from the restaurant (here called “hotel”) safely stored in the back. I got a little tour of Mysore on the way out of town, with different people calling my attention to things as we passed, such as the University, the Palace, Chamundi Hill, and a busy Sunday market.

Once we were on the road, Suresh revealed to us our first destination: a 1500 year old Jain temple in Kanakagiri, a village perhaps a half-hour’s drive past the famous Hindu pilgrimage temple in Nanjanagud. No one among our group except Suresh had been there before, and this is definitely well off the beaten path, even for Mysore natives. It is only about 50 km from Mysore, but with the condition of the village roads (potholes when the road is paved, otherwise dirt), it takes at least an hour and a half to drive there. We were entertained by a selection of dance songs from Bollywood movies, which I quite enjoyed. On the way we passed through what Dr. Srivalli referred to as “interior villages,” which seemed to be populated by subsistence farmers. Bicycles are parked in front of fields, and sometimes are seen to carry large loads of weeds and grasses for the cows, goats, and sheep. Crops included sugarcane, rice, okra, and other things I couldn’t identify from the car. Many times we drove over just harvested grains spread out over the road, left there for the passing cars, trucks, and scooters to crush with their wheels, to make the processing of the grains easier.

When we were perhaps 20 minutes away, we got our first glimpse of the Jain temple, sitting high on a hill. When we arrived in Kanakagiri, we first had breakfast before climbing the stone steps to the temple. Some parts of the temple are quite new, but you can spot the earliest stones, and also carvings on the gopuram from the Hoysala period, in about 1300 AD. The views of the surrounding countryside are quite beautiful. Then we followed a path of small, salmon covered temples, which led even further up the hill to a rock topped with a column. Here we rested and enjoyed the clean air and expansive views, before making our way back down the hill.

Then we headed for B.R. Hills and a Hindu temple there, located in a wildlife preserve. Evidently there are elephants and tigers living there, but we did not see any. I’m sure they keep to the non-populated parts of the sanctuary. We did however see a mongoose run across the road, and we later had to swerve sharply to avoid running over a snake. We also saw monkeys, cocorans (which I think are a type of egret), parrots, and a kingfisher, along with the standard cows, oxen, goats, sheep, and dogs. At the temple, Dr. Srivalli paid a small sum of money to have prayers said for us. The priest chanted all the names she mentiond and then said prayers from the inner sanctum of the temple, while we stood just outside, and received the smoke from the flame of the lamp, red tikka powder, and water to sip and then swipe over our heads from crown to nape. As we bowed slightly, the priest placed an 8-inch high inverted cup on our heads, moving the boys’ heads to the correct position when needed. Finally he gave each of us a handful of flowers and greens, which he has taken from the garlands adorning the statue of the goddess. Near the exit are two large sandals, each perhaps two feet long and one foot wide. Dr. Rekha tells me that the story goes that two separate people had dreams telling them to go to this temple and make sandals of a certain size. When they both arrived at the temple with the exact same specifications, it was taken as a sign, and these sandals of the god were produced. A priest held the sandals from the back and tapped the front of them on each of our heads two or three times. Given my own relationship to my feet as a dancer, I was quite tickled to be blessed by some holy sandals! The views from the temple of the surrounding forest, hills, and farmland were quite beautiful.

It was a lovely day!

Monday, August 27, 2007

25 August 2007: Saturday Night’s Alright for Shopping

Had my first Kannada lesson today. Dr. Srivalli started by explaining the Kannada vowels and consonants, which need to be added to vowels to make different sounds. There are so many with slight variations: slightly elongated, tongue in different place in the mouth. She explained that in Indian languages the sound comes from the diaphragm and the throat all the way through the different parts of the mouth, whereas she finds in American English, that it’s all in the front of the mouth (lips) and nose, which fits right in with the mid-western nasal accent. She then explained some sentence structure, and used that to sedge into phrases that I wanted to learn. Later in the car, she asked Priti to get the bread out of the bag in the back, but I guess Priti didn’t hear her and so I got it instead, saying “Look how good a teacher you are – I already understand Kannada!” We all laughed. Of course the operative word in her sentence was “bread” so the rest was just guesswork.

Afterwards, she said they were going shopping, so I decided to go along. First we stopped at Udupi Sri Krisha Sweets to buy some traditional Indian snacks. They gave samples on squares of newspaper: rice powder with curry, some long whiteish thing about the size of chow mein noodles, but less dense, nuts. Then we went to a busy shopping area. Saturday night must be the big shopping time for Indians because all of the streets and stores were busy. We went to Fab City, which was indeed fab. Sort of a Target plus grocery store. I got a sarwal khemeez/duputta set and a long kurta and churida. Also picked up a couple of saree petticoats, a notebook for my Kannada lessons, toothpaste and a few small gifts. At the end, I was only out about US$34!

On the way home we stopped at a “mobile restaurant” with scooters lined up in front of it. Priti says it is more popular than regular restaurants, and Dr. Srivalli says that this one in particular is quite famous. Their mainstays are dosas – plain and masala. The man made six at a time on the griddle, reminding me of street crepe vendors in Paris. I also saw him make one of those “pizza” things with onion topping. We got them to go, and they were wrapped in banana leaves on newspaper, even the chutney! Reminded me of eating fish and chips out of newspaper my first time in England. They were really good and I was completely stuffed after eating 1 ½.

24 August 2007: Mysore

Since there were no rooms to be had in Bangalore for tonight (ok, at the two hotels I tried, but given that it’s a festival weekend – Onum in Kerala, Lakshmi in Mysore – it wasn’t looking too good for me to find a place. And anyway, I was just planning on sleeping, so I figured I might as well come to Mysore straight away. Here I am staying with my friend and Bharatanatyam teacher’s mother. Her sister and nephew also happen to be here on holiday from Dubai, where they live.

It is a festival for Lakshmi today, evidently not a big one (and not the same as Onum which is a big festival in Kerala at this time). It seems what happens is that people set up altars to Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) at home, and then neighbors and friends stop by to receive tikka (women placed powder on their Lakshmi necklaces which consist of two breasts – worn just for today’s occasion?) and everyone places it over the bridge of the nose, between the eyebrows. They are then offered Prasad, which consisted two houses down of a small plastic cup of a rice dish, a coconut, a lemon, and small banana leaves with something on it – a sweet? These people also had fancy plastic bags for everyone to take their goodies home. Then we went over to Krishnaveni’s house, who was my Bharatanatyam teacher’s first teacher, with whom I will be studying while I am in Mysore. When we arrived, we did the Lakshmi rituals. They had an electric mandala going on the altar, which was pretty cool, and “Christmas” lights which always reminds me of 6th St in New York. After most of the people left (these are pretty quick visits – say 15 minutes each), we got down to business. Krishnaveni says that I must come every day for 2 hours, for 15 days. She will teach me a Ganapatti piece, a padawarna, and a javali, which seems like a lot. I can record each day, and practice (in Aparna’s old practice room!), and at the end she will give me a recording of the full pieces. It will be a lot of hard work! She declared that we must start today, because today is a good day to start (I assume connected with Lakshmi). She had me pay her a nominal amount today, and present it to her on a banana leaf along with the tikka powders. Then we did namaskaram, prayers, and she started the Ganapatti stuti. Her daughter and granddaughter were there, and she had her granddaughter demonstrate for me, perhaps 10 minutes altogether. I was in a skirt, so aramundi was impossible. Prasad here was a small plastic cup of a rice and dal dish (very yummy!), a sweet, and small bananas. I noticed some people got a coin on their banana leaf. Then we came back home where two people were waiting for the Lakshmi thing. Here Priti’s son Arnava transformed into Mr. Ritual, dressed in traditional clothing and wearing the smears of sandalwood paste. He even rang the bell and circled the lamp like we did in that piece of Viji’s I learned. He was very cute, as you can see for yourself!

21-23 August: Northern Karnataka

Text coming soon...

20 August 2007: Rain, Icons, and Prostitutes

Today is the first rain I have seen, which is pretty good considering that it is still monsoon season in south India. Usually the heaviest rains are in July, but last month it just didn’t rain in Bangalore (sound familiar, Angelenos?). Meanwhile, of course, floods are devastating sections of north India and Bangladesh. I was heading back “home” in an auto when the rain started and I realized that they do not have windshield wipers! It wasn’t raining that hard, so it was ok. Now I am back and it is raining much harder – perhaps this will help with the dust on Hennur Main Road. Also, they did lay down a bunch of rocks today – maybe that is preparation for paving? Whatever it is, the auto driver was very unhappy with me as his vehicle lurched around, turning around to tell me “double the meter!” because of the road.

On the way into town today, I witnessed a touching interaction. As I’ve seen in Mexico and Argentina, there are people in busy intersections selling small items or doing acrobatics or juggling for money. The common thing for sale here in Bangalore is a set of those glow-in-the-dark stars that you stick on your bedroom ceiling. One of the people selling these sets today was a boy of maybe 12, and my auto driver stopped him and offered him water, and chatted pleasantly with him while he eagerly availed himself of the water. It was a small gesture, but very kind. After we started driving again, the driver turned around and asked me if I am a Christian (I said yes). “I am a Muslim,” he said, which I had known from the cap he wore. We both smiled.

So I’ve got to figure out how to answer these questions about my religious affiliation. I’m an atheist and an ex-Catholic (even though Frances Kissling keeps trying to tell me that there’s no such thing!), but even in the U.S. I’ll give different answers to the question, depending on the circumstances. For example, I worked for a faith-based pro-choice organization for many years, and in that context I would always introduce myself as ex-Catholic (which many then interpreted as UU). If the situation feels “safe” I’ll admit to being an atheist. Yet, I’m certainly culturally Christian. As a child I loved Vacation Bible School and would go to all the churches around where we lived. I went to Lutheran school (Missouri Synod if that means anything to you) K-2, and Catholic school 5-12 where I had all the sacraments through confirmation. I’ve read the Bible, well probably most of it, and can still recite John 3:16 from memory, King James version. (As I type this, Revita comes in and asks if I mind if she prays and lights the lamp, as the altar to Krishna is in the room where I am staying.) I started having my doubts about God in the 8th grade when a classmate was killed two months to the day after confirmation, and most of the nuns and priests dealt with it by saying “God wanted to bring Jessica home to Him.” Bull shit! I became an atheist in the 9th grade. The final straw was when my Old Testament teacher, Brother Paul (who was also the first anti-abortion protestor I ever met) couldn’t answer my question of why God favored David, who had – it says it right there in the Bible! – 300 concubines and thousands of slaves – whereas Moses couldn’t enter the Promised Land just cuz he got a little frustrated – 40 years wandering in the desert! Give the guy a break! – and struck a rock with his stick. So, I don’t believe in God, or that Jesus was the messiah, or in heaven and hell, or transubstantiation or original sin. But I do have an altar of sorts of Catholic items, especially Virgin Marys, and I buried a St. Joseph in the yard when we were trying to sell our condo, and I keep a St. Christopher in the car. So maybe the accurate answer is “Catholic but not Christian”.

Today I was able to change my Bangalore – Kuala Lumpur flight a few days earlier so that I can spend a few days with my new Malaysian friends before returning to LA next month. I’ll be very happy to see them again, and to spend more time in KL than just one afternoon.

Then I spent a long time on the internet, catching up on email, tracking down contacts, and updating my blog so you, my dear readers, can stay up-to-date on my exciting adventures (watch Rosemary re-pack her bags! hear her make phone calls! see her read!). Since wifi has been elusive, I can only go online through internet shops, and given that I crashed my flash drive before I left LA and neglected to get another, and that I only brought a few CD-Rs with me, I’ll probably just upload my blogs once a week or so.

Since I’m always writing about food (you’ll see I take lots of pictures of food, too!), thought I’d share that I’ve done my part as an American Food Ambassador and introduced Rethy’s kids to peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which they very much enjoyed. (They had all the ingredients on hand – I just suggested the combination.) This after I sent my sister-in-law and niece back to France with one jar each of good quality peanut butter, which is hard to find there. Maybe I should hire myself out to a peanut butter company as their international spokesperson!

I leave in two days for Belgaum and Bagalkot district in northern Karnataka. Perhaps now is a good time to explain what exactly my research is about. I am researching contemporary devadasis, who are a hereditary group of women who are dedicated to the temple as a girl; “married” to the god or goddess, they do not marry men. Traditionally, devadasis were ritual specialists, including dancers and musicians, who enjoyed an independence not experienced by other Indian women, and within the history of Bharatanatyam, they are spoken about almost mythically. Though the devadasis filled an auspicious role in their communities, they were also decried in some circles as prostitutes because they were allowed to have sex outside of marriage. In the late 19th century, reformers, comprised of British missionaries and doctors as well as members of the lower caste “self-respect movement,” began a campaign to abolish temple dancing. At the same time, another movement sought to rescue what they regarded as the sacred dance from its soiled context; this "revived" dance was sanitized, codified, and re-named Bharatanatyam, which has since come to be hailed as the national dance of India. In the end, devadasis were thrown out of the temples, and with nowhere else to turn, many devadasis did indeed turn to sex work to survive. Dance scholars have attempted to locate historical devadasis (or traces of them) in the contemporary performance of Bharatanatyam, but rarely have they looked to the women who still call themselves by that name, many of whom live in the northern part of the state of Karnataka. These contemporary devadasis are universally described in public health literature as sex workers, often in relationship to HIV/AIDS. I am looking at the space of the disconnect between these two narratives to see what might be found. The idea is that the research I do here this summer will guide my Ph.D. work, which begins this fall.

Monday, August 20, 2007

19 August 2007: Going to the Theater

In the afternoon, I took a taxi to JP Nagar to the Ranga Shankara Theater to see play a suggested by a friend, Shakuntala, produced and created by Little Jasmine. Because Gedalahalli is quite far from JP Nagar (about 20km), Rethy arranged for a taxi to take me there and wait to bring me back. JP Nagar seems to be ground zero for the IT boom: Adobe, IBM, Oracle, Accenture, and Trilogy among many others, all stand in sparkling new buildings, with construction going on everywhere in sight. Ranga Shankara is a really great space, which kind of reminded me of LA’s Redcat in size and orientation, with a cute outdoor café (where I enjoyed a lychee juice) and small bookstore. Despite being a Sunday matinee, perhaps 150 people turned out to see the play, which included live guitar by the talented Konarek Reddy, kalari payattu by Anmol Mothi, video by Little Jasmine Films, and performance by Kirtana Kumar, who also directed the piece. This production retells the Shakuntala story of (from the program) “the hunter-King Dushyantha who falls in love with a girl in the forest – Shakuntala, and then…forgets his love. This was our starting point. Memory. It’s (sic) loss thereof. The departure of righteousness…” The play opens with wailing electric guitar and dates flashing on a screen: September 11, 2001. August 6, 1945. (etc.) Right from the beginning, the video was frustrating due to set pieces (large strips of paper and fabric) hanging down in front of the screen which prevented the video from being fully seen, which robbed it of its potential impact. Kumar’s opening monologue plays with the themes established in the program, suggesting the necessity of memory, but also of forgetting. Kumar switched back and forth among different roles, including that of Shakuntala. Mothi portrayed Dushyanta, employing kalari payattu to depict the King’s prowess as a hunter, lover, and ruler. Though I know nothing about this martial art form, Mothi did not grab me as a performer, though he does seem quite skilled. In fact, it was only Reddy who drew me in through his music and occasional speaking roles. The play seemed to want to say important things about gender and contemporary politics, but did not quite succeed. A video in the middle depicting Shakuntala’s journey from the forest to the palace to look for her missing lover looked like it was probably interesting, but again, the set pieces interfered with being able to clearly see the projection. I made out an image here or there (a contemporary young woman setting out with a trekking backpack), but was frustrated more than illuminated by the video. The culminating fight scene between Dushyantha and Shakuntala felt, well, staged. The passion that drove the creators of the piece, and the emotion felt by the performers was not transferred to the audience, and the lukewarm applause at the conclusion showed that I was not the only one who felt that way. Still I was very glad to have gone.

18 August 18, 2007: Cows, Chickens and Garuda

Woke up with a “persistent low-grade fever”: 99.9. Remembered a bizarre dream in which Tom Cruise gave up acting to manage Spielberg’s business interests. Guess he discovered he was a good salesman.

“99.9 Fahrenheit degrees
Stable now with rising possibilities”

Sad that everyone is having Friday dinner at Stump Sprouts as I make notes in my book, and I am not there!

For breakfast we had a traditional Kerala dish called putu (?sp), which is a red (unpolished) rice, ground up and mixed with coconut and steamed in a special cylinder. We ate it with a chole curry.

In the morning I worked for a few hours, digging into one of the two dissertations I brought with me.

Lunch when the children returned from their Saturday half-day of school was mixed rice, spicy raita, and the curry from breakfast. Then in my first trip outside since I arrived at Mantri Splendor, Rethi, Rahul and I took an auto into the city. We waited about 10 minutes or so for an empty one to come along, enduring the dust clouds until then. Destination: Garuda Mall so Rethi could buy some gifts for her cousin visiting from Dubai. The mall could be located anywhere in the States, familiar layout and even some familiar stores like Marks and Spencer and Lush. The place was crawling with security, though, and I had to have my bag searched on the way in, and had to leave it in a coat check at the entrance to almost every store. The power went out a couple of times while we were there, but it seemed totally normal and people went about their business. We had a coffee, from a (Karnataka) chain. There was even the ubiquitous cookie stand, though this one was Australian.

We got an auto back, with Rethy offering the guy an extra Rs 10 to make up for the bad road. Autos careen down the street, seemingly heading for oncoming traffic, and swerving out of the way at the last possible minute. This would be bad enough if the autos weren’t also sharing the road with bicycles, scooters, trucks, tractors, cars, ox carts, cows, and even a donkey cart. Add to this pedestrians trying to cross the road, or just walking along the side of the road. I even saw a cow being milked by the side of the road. Rethy asked me what my biggest culture shock was and I told her it was definitely the cows in the city. She says you do not see that in other cities like Chennai or in Kerala, only Bangalore. I wonder why.

When we got back, our bodies covered in dust and sore from being jolted around (imagine the auto drivers!), we enjoyed some tea on the balcony, and then took a stroll around the grounds (“until you feel at home”) of Mantri Splendor. I have to admit, it seems a nice place to live with your kids – open spaces to play, lots of friendly neighbors. There’s even a small store in the basement where you can buy food. I discovered why the mosquitoes all came to bite me the night before around dusk. It is because the complex does a daily mosquito fogging (the chemicals!), and the mosquitoes go up to higher levels to escape. Watched pieces of some Hindi and Malyalam movies on tv before a dinner of chappatis (plain) and prepared spinach paneer.

16-17 August: Highs and Lows

Other than some major running around trying to get my phone to work, the major event on my day was a meeting with Asha from the Karnataka Network of Positive People (KNP+), a state-wide NGO empowering people living with HIV and AIDS and providing treatment. I wanted to meet with KNP+ because I knew they were doing work in the part of the state that I am researching, and that they have members who are devadasis. Talking with Asha, I found that my reading had served me well as I could engage her with intelligent questions, and knew many of the players she was talking about. In the most amazing moment of the day, Asha volunteered to take me to Northern Karnataka to meet their devadasi members and see a cultural program, and to translate for me. Additionally she would introduce me to key staff working with other NGOs! This is so unexpected and perfect and something I thought would take 4 weeks at least to happen! Asha told me that she is very interested in my topic and wants to help me. So awesome!

Some more phone backs and forths, too boring and silly to mention in detail, and it’s after 6pm and finally I’m in a cab on the way to my friend’s cousin’s place. It’s clear the driver doesn’t really know where Gedalahalli is (north of Bangalore’s center), so his dispatcher directs him until we finally reach Hennur Main Rd. Sitting in traffic (do I leave the window open for moving air or close it against the car exhaust? I can hear Germans calling for “frische luft, frische luft” in my head.) I see a sign on the back of a truck or bus that reads “If found driving rash, please inform…” along with 3 phone numbers. I also notice a sign that says “International Airport Link Road” and I am confused as we are heading north, and I believe the airport is east and a little south. Around Gracetown (not on my map, which looks a bit old anyway) the road turns to dirt with huge potholes. I start to think the driver deserves the ridiculous amount of Rs 400 for dropping me here in the dark and on this bad road. We call Rethy when the driver notices we have reached Gedalahalli, but it turns out we’ve already passed her apartment complex, Mantri Splendor. When we turn around I notice a sign that indicates drivers should be careful due to construction. As if no one had noticed the horrible dirt road and major holes! And did I mention the cloud of dust kicked up by the many cars? Later Rethy tells me that they are building a new international airport and that Hennur Main Rd will be the main access to the airport, so soon this road will soon be a very busy thoroughfare. This area is part of Bangalore’s sprawl, and Mantri Splendor (really, it is splendor compared to much of what I’ve seen – ha ha, how much can I have seen in 2 days? – with a pool, play areas, fountains, nice big apartments, etc.) only opened about 6 months ago.

Rethy is the wife of my friend Bindu’s cousin Ravi. She teaches English at a school nearby, mostly it seems to Korean children and adults. Evidently, Korean schools do not provide much English education, and it’s cheaper for Koreans to come to India that to the US to learn. She also does private tutoring at home. Her children, ages 15 and 11, go to an international school that is also nearby.

We had home-made chappatis last night (with cilantro and green chili in the batter), served with sambar, and I am in heaven. People can’t quite believe that I like Indian food, or that I’ve had iddli, etc. before. I’m sure before the end of 6 weeks I’ll have a hankering for pizza or french fries or something, but for now it’s great.

Then begins the Great Fever Saga. Well actually I think it began on the way back from the KNP+ office, sitting in the autorickshaw in traffic. I could feel my lymph nodes begin to swell in protest. All the running around about the phone didn’t help, and then the hot dusty drive… Went to bed with a fever of 100.3 (yes, I brought a thermometer because the list the doctor gave me said to!) which is very high for me since my temp tends to be about 1 degree lower than the average. Woke up Friday morning and it was a whopping 101.7! Scary! I think it was just a result of the long traveling, lack of sleep, overstimulation, and pollution that just did me in. I went back to bed, and got up at 3pm feeling better.

Still figuring out the Indian bathroom. My instinct that the kitchen spray looking thing is for cleaning of the private parts is correct, but according to LP, it is the equivalent to toilet paper rather than a bidet, as I had thought. I’m cool with that, but am still clumsy with the after spray part – how do you not drip all over your clothing? They kindly gave me a towel last night, I assume for post-spray drying purposes. And the ubiquitous Indian bathroom bucket which my friend Anisha has blogged about, here with accompanying small scoop – is it in addition to the shower? Instead of the shower? Not sure.

My late afternoon (post-fever saga) breakfast was banana cornflakes and iddli with sambar. Dinner, fixed especially for me since the all went to a birthday party at – wait for it – the Pizza Hut (!) was dosas, rice, sambar, eggplant cooked with chili powder and turmeric, and a yellow thing with a few pieces of tomato, which I thought was dal, but was cool and a little sour. Yum.

15 August 2007: First Impressions of Bangalore

During my Rs 200 pre-paid government taxi ride to my hotel, I saw a cow walking down the city sidewalk. A bit strange, perhaps, but Indians do love their cows, right? A short time later I saw another cow, this one running down the sidewalk!

Today is the 60th anniversary of India’s Independence. The Times of India headline reads, “60 & Getting Sexier” and “Celebrating 60 Years of Independence. LIVE IT UP INDIA.” I read the Bangalore Times section while eating my delicious complimentary breakfast of chai, iddli, sambar, those donut things that I always forget the name of, coconut chutney, and a grain dish (not quite a porridge) with small dried berries and perhaps cashews. The section focused mostly on “Young India,” reporting that 94% of young people (16-24) would want to be reborn as Indians, and that they rate their freedom in India as a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.

My bags are reorganized, I’m fed and (a little) rested, wearing clean and not too wrinkled clothes. I’ve been serenaded by the symphony of honking all morning. It’s time to leave my room and step out on the street!


I accomplished the things I needed to do today, including getting a cell phone. Who knew that you need a photo and copies of your passport in order to get one? After many trips back and forth to the shop, I was finally set. In the process I located a small internet service (the ones in Lonely Planet didn’t seem to exist anymore, but no matter, there are small internet services everywhere). With that mission accomplished (she says wryly – will that phrase ever be usable again?), I wandered around the MG Road area where I am staying. There were lots of people out and about, presumably off work for the holiday. I went up Brigade Rd. and turned left on MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Road. Well at least that’s what I assumed I did, because I can’t for the life of me find any street signs in Bangalore. Occasionally, a business will list its address on a sign, which gives reassurances that you are indeed where you thought you might be. There’s a local map in Lonely Planet which seems pretty accurate, but the LP Bangalore map and the map in the City Info booklet provided by the hotel don’t really match up. Or rather they show different things. And of course none of the places I need to go over the next few days show up on either, so I will have to hope that the autorickshaw drivers recognize the addresses. I turned left on Museum Street, and then left again on Church, tracing the boundaries of the neighborhood. I quickly discovered that there are many excellent bookshops in this area, and that I needn’t have brought books with me to read, because there are many excellent selections here. My favorite was Blossom (address: opposite Amoeba, Church Street), with three floors of used books. There I picked up the amusing little volume, Learn Kannada in 30 Days Through English. Wouldn’t that be great if it could be true! I am here to take Kannada lessons, among other things. The book will probably end up being a good reference for me, but the letters are printed so small that I would need a magnifying glass to really see the differences in the characters. Still the book claims to provide phrases with “maximum possible commonness of Indian languages and Indian culture,” offering helpful phrases such as “My name is…” “Where is the stable?” and “I am a virgin.”

I was prepared for the chaos that is Indian streets through stories from friends, but actually trying to cross the street myself was an adventure. An intersection with a traffic light is a real treat. My method so far is to notice when a group of people are waiting to cross and following them.

I passed the Karnataka Office of Pollution Control on Church St. – evidently a needed agency, given that my eyes are full of gunk after only one day.

14 August 2007: Kuala Lumpur

Transited through Taipei this am (Hello Kitty area which was under constuction last time is now open!) before arriving in Kuala Lumpur around noon.

Discovered through the in-flight magazine that 2007 marks Malaysia’s 50th Merdeka, or anniversary of independence (August 31) from the British. My travel agent had booked me into the Empress Hotel for the day, but rather than sleeping the day away, I decided to take an (overpriced) tour of KL. I do hope to have a few days here on my way back to visit my dancer friends I met in Bali, but just in case that doesn’t work out, I wanted to see a little bit of the city. Took the tour with 7 NRIs, 5 from LA and 2 from Chicago. Our tour guide was himself the son of Indians who migrated to work in the rubber plantations of Malaysia. He drove us first to a view of the King’s Palace. You can’t go in, but can look at it through the gates. He said that sometimes the King comes down to say hello. Next was a whirlwind trip (“10 minutes!”) to the Kerajaan Malaysia Muzium Negara (National Museum), which consisted mostly of mannequins in the clothing of the major ethnic groups in Malaysia, Malay, Chinese, and Indian. Next we drove by Independence Square (featuring the tallest flagpole in the world – the Malaysians do seem to love their flag, which looks like a US flag, with a gold crescent and star replacing the 50 white stars) the colonial railway station to the National Mosque. It had been really humid all day, and here it started to pour. It’s not yet monsoon season in Malaysia (it begins in October, just around the time the monsoon ends in India). It was just about 5pm and rush hour in KL, so we sat in traffic on our way to see the Petronas Twin Towers in a posh area of town that includes all the 5 star hotels and many embassies. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in Putrajaya, a new-seeming development featuring all of the governmental departments, the Prime Minister’s office, a mosque, and picturesque bridge (evidently used in lots of Bollywood-type movies).

Though my friend Helen has standards for defining what constitutes a visit to a place (her quest to visit all of the 50 states involves I believe a 2 night stay over), I think this qualifies as having “been” in Malaysia. (I do agree with her that airports don’t count, so, for example, I would not say that I’ve been to Taiwan even though I’ve spent hours in the Taipei airport on three occasions.)

13 August 2007: Head to Head

In a head to head comparison of LAX to Taipei flights, Eva Air comes out the winner versus Malaysian Airlines so far.

First of all, Eva confirmed my vegetarian meal right away, and everything was so delicious! The seats also seemed bigger with more room between aisles, but that may also be because Eva uses Airbus planes and the Malaysian Airlines planes are 747s. The best thing about Eva, however, was the wonderful apricot facial mist to be found in each lavatory. Every plane should have this! It was so refreshing, and really helped with the dehydration and static-y hair. So far, Malaysian Airlines is unbearably hot and the seats feel smaller, and they didn’t have my order for vegetarian meals (though the staff did go out of their way to scrounge one up for me). But they do have extensive movie selections (I watched Waitress, The Hoax, and to continue the Howard Hughes theme, The Aviator, which was much better than I expected.) Malaysian Airways also has – genius! – a self-serve water dispenser.

13 August: Destination Unknown

As Missing Persons sang in the 80s, “Life is so strange…”

As I write I’m in the Malaysian Airlines boarding area at LAX, waiting to get on the first leg of my multi-day trip .

Destination: Bangalore, India, via Taipei and Kuala Lumpur.

Destination: Nilgiri’s Nest, an “overpriced if it weren’t so centrally located” (according to Lonely Planet India) hotel recommended by a friend.

Destination: Research for a summer mentorship grant from UCLA. If I’m lucky, this will provide direction for my dissertation down the road.

Destination: Let’s be realistic. My destination is actually unknown. But that’s kinda the point, isn’t it? The big departure sign in LAX actually listed the destination of a number of Mexicana flights tonight as “unknown.” There was a flight number, and a boarding gate, but where each flight was headed was anybody’s guess.

We’re in the air now; guess I’m really going! I’ve said a tearful goodbye to Karl and the kitties. I’m on my own, left to depend on the kindness of strangers. And cousins of friends. And friends of my advisor. And friends of friends of friends. (The world is really very small!)

Oh no, now I’ve got “It’s a Small World” in my head. But this is no gentle boat ride through Disney World. In fact, I don’t anticipate any boat rides in India. Planes, trains, buses, taxis, autorickshaws, maybe a motorbike or two.

It’s 2:45am in LA, 5:45pm in my next two ports. I’m safely in liminal space, countless clichés, lyrics, Star Trek lines running through my head. Guess all that’s left to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Workers without bosses face eviction

Here's an update on the worker-run hotel I stayed at in Buenos Aires...

ZNet Commentary (more online at
Hotel BAUEN: Workers without bosses face eviction August 09, 2007
By Marie Trigona

Inside the BAUEN Hotel, one of Argentina's worker-run workplaces,
janitors, repairmen, receptionists and maids sit in an assembly with
worried but determined faces and sheets of paper in hand. Each of the
workers, some of whom have been working at the hotel since it was
built in 1978, hold a court ordered eviction notice, a judicial
document notifying the workers they must abandon the hotel or police
will force them to leave.

After four years of successful worker management, a federal court
issued a 30 day eviction notice to the workers of the hotel on July
20. However, this is the first court ordered eviction that the workers
cooperative has had to fight. Argentina's recuperated enterprises are
mobilizing to fight this new attack against workers' determination.
If the workers do not successfully block the eviction order legally or
through political actions the hotel could be lost and 150 workers out
of a job.

After the hotel's 2001 closure, left with no other option, on March
21, 2003 the workers decided to take over the hotel to safeguard their
livelihood and defend their jobs. Since 2003, workers have operated
the BAUEN cooperative hotel, a 20 story building in the very heart of
Buenos Aires. The BAUEN cooperative, like many of the recuperated
enterprises was forced to start up production without any legal
backing whatsoever. The BAUEN Hotel workers' cooperative currently
employs more than 150 workers, all working without bosses, supervisors
or owners but instead within a democratic workplace.

Starlit inaugurations and fraudulent bankruptcy

The BAUEN Hotel was inaugurated for the 1978 World Cup, during the
height of the military dictatorship. As the military dictatorship
disappeared 30,000 workers, students and activists inside a network of
clandestine detention centers, Argentina celebrated the 1978 world cup
victory. Hotel BAUEN's original owner, Marcelo Iurcovich, celebrated
as well. He received more than five million dollars to construct the
20-story hotel, with a government loan from the National Development
Bank (BANADE), with the military dictatorship's blessings.

Iurcovich, never held the hotel up to safety inspection codes and
never paid back state loans. He ran up debts and committed tax evasion
while making millions of dollars in profits and acquiring two more
hotels. In 1997, Iurcovich sold the hotel to the business group Solari
S.A. The Solari group followed in Iurcovich's footsteps, never paying
the BANADE debt. With little interest in the profitability and
maintenance of the hotel, the installations at the BAUEN deteriorated
until the Solari group filed bankruptsy in 2001.

On December 28, 2001, after the management began systematic firings
and emptied out the hotel, the remaining 80 workers were left in the
streets in the midst of Argentina's worst economic crisis and when
unemployment hit record levels-over 20% unemployed and 40% of the
population unable to find adequate employment. Gabriel Quevedo,
president of the BAUEN cooperative says that the workers created jobs
when investors and industrialists were fleeing the country. "The
workers took on responsibility when the country was in full crisis and
unemployment over 20 percent, where workers couldn't find work. The
workers formed a cooperative and created jobs, when no one believed
that it was possible."

New working culture

In the aftermath of the 2001 economic crisis, more than 180 factories
and businesses have been recuperated by the workers and today provide
jobs for more than 10,000 Argentine workers. Arminda Palacios is a
seamstress who has worked at the hotel for over 20 years and was one
of the key people who decided to cut off the locks on a side entrance
into the hotel on March 28, 2001. She defines the BAUEN hotel as
simply more than a cooperative that defends jobs. "Socially we have
proved to the people that workers can run a business. This is one of
our main motives, because people believe that the capitalists are the
only ones who can run a business, and we are proving the contrary
especially since we've created 150 jobs."

When the workers first occupied the hotel, it was in ruins. It wasn't
until nearly a year after they occupied the hotel that they were able
to begin renting out services. Before the workers took home a single
paycheck, they reinvested all capital back into the hotel. They have
invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the hotel's
infrastructure: renovating the front café, hotel rooms, fire proofing
salons and reopening the pool area.

Elena is a receptionist in her late 20's, who says she and her fellow
workers have sacrificed a lot to defend their jobs. "They didn't have
to throw us out into the streets on December 28, 2001, because the
hotel had enough business, but the businessmen allowed the hotel to go
to ruins and we had to leave. We have renovated the hotel and
successfully opened up a hotel that was closed. Now that they see that
the hotel is successful, they want to take it away from us."

In addition to creating jobs, the BAUEN hotel has become a key
organizing space for activists around the city. During an assembly on
July 23, workers from all around the country came to show their
support. "Without the BAUEN, our internal union commission wouldn't
have formed," one worker from the Buenos Aires casino said. Dozens of
other workers representing emerging rank and file unionists stressed
the importance that BAUEN has had on organizing and coordinating
workers' struggles. On a local level, BAUEN Hotel has become a prime
example of coalition building and development of a broad mutual
support network. In the midst of legal struggles and successfully
running a prominent hotel, the cooperative's members haven't forgotten
their roots. The 19-story worker run hotel has become a political
center for movement organizing and a modern day commune.

Current fight against eviction

The court ordered the eviction notice in favor of the Mercoteles
business group, which claims to have purchased the hotel from Solari
in 2006, when the BAUEN workers cooperative was already inside the
hotel administering services. The president of Mercoteles, Samuel
Kaliman, is Iurcovich's brother in law. In court last year, Kaliman
was unable to provide the court with Mercoteles' address, board member
names and other legal information.

Legal advisors and the workers suspect that the Mercoteles is a ghost
business group with little legal legitimacy and ties to the Solari
group. According to Isabel Sequeira, in her 11 years working at the
hotel under a boss she had seen many questionable administrative
changes. "Mercoteles is a ghost company. When I worked at the hotel
under bosses there were many sneaky administrative changes. We had
many 'bosses' that changed on a regular basis."

The Hotel workers also face another bigger challenge, a newly elected
right-wing mayor, Mauricio Macri. Macri, a business tycoon and son of
privatization, won the city-wide elections in June. As part of his
campaign, he has promised to clear out any 'okupas' or "squats" in the
city. In the week that the BAUEN hotel received the eviction notice,
more than 12 housing squats in the city were forcefully evicted.
Macri, will take office in December.

When the eviction notice came, the hotel was booked for winter break
vacation. The notice couldn't have come at a worst time. However,
workers and supporters have mobilized fast. In front of the Buenos
Aires central courts on August 5 nearly 2,000 came out to defend the
hotel. The workers cooperative presented an appeal and will continue
to lobby for the definitive legal right to the hotel.

"We believe that fighting within the legal system isn't enough. That's
why we are prepared to fight in the streets, where we are stronger,"
said Fabio Resino, a legal advisor at the hotel during an assembly.
"We ask social organizations to take on the fight for BAUEN as a fight
of their own, because the BAUEN hotel belongs to the people."

The BAUEN workers' cooperative has embarked on a national campaign to
defend their hotel and jobs. The campaign is gaining steam as the
eviction date nears in late August. Groups have planned a series of
concerts and rallies with rock stars and other television
personalities supporting the workers for the legitimate right to
defend their livelihood.

Marie Trigona is a writer, radio reporter and filmmaker based in
Argentina. She can be reached at To watch a video on
the BAUEN struggle visit

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Backstreet's Back!

Or backing into me, at least. Saw Kevin Richardson yesterday, late of the Backstreet Boys, at Samy's Camera. He was with his wife and newborn baby, and nearly backed into me with the stroller while we were all waiting to get on the elevator. K & I ended up taking the stairs, and were treated to some classic rock 'n roll photos by Jim Marshall.

I'm on fire with celebrity sightings lately, or maybe it's just that I'm actually out and about in LA, rather than stuck in my home-UCLA-home rut.

Today we had lunch at the Vegan Joint, where the breakfast burritos and hash browns were very tasty, but the service left something to be desired. Afterwards, we had delicious homemade gelato at the adorable Gelato Fantasia (I had pistachio, K had coffee and hazelnut). While there we heard the funniest song ever. The chorus goes something like "my heart is an icebox (I'm so cold, so cold, so cold)". Turns out it's a song by Omarion. It really made me giggle! I haven't heard anyone use the word icebox since my grandmother passed away 9 years ago. (actual lyrics can be found here)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Spiderman at Bourne Ultimatum

At our favorite movie theater tonight for Bourne Ultimatum ("awesome"), and spotted Mageina Tovah on our way out... Just discovered on IMDB that she played "Jonesing Girl" on a Buffy ep in 2001, "Pink Haired Girl" in a 2003 Six Feet Under ep, and a prostitute, Farrah, on The Shield. In addition, of course, to Peter Parker's building manager's daughter. If she had only been on Deep Space Nine, she would have been on all my favorite shows!

The Ladies' Man... yeah!

Stood in line with Tim Meadows and Will Forte, of Saturday Night Live fame, at the Santa Monica Urth Caffe. Having recently seen Talk to Me, I bet that Meadows' Ladies' Man character was based on Petey Greene. (As a side note, I had the bread pudding with carmelized bananas and chocolate sauce. It was to die for, and I couldn't eat afterwards for 24 hours! But so worth it...)

Saw David Marciano AGAIN, this time buying meat at a butcher's shop in the Farmer's Market.


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