Week One: Delhi and Mussoorie
Entry #1: Sikh temple
Description: Everyone had their heads covered. From turbines to colorful saris, there were no tops of heads visible. Visitors entered the main entrance, which was decorated with silver engravings and red carpets, and walked to a spot they could comfortably sit. Many visitors put their hands together in front of their chests and bent down toward the book in the center of the temple as soon as they entered the domain. A young couple and baby boy was sitting behind me watching me curiously. I was watching a couple near the entrance wearing the orange scarves that the temple office handed out to foreigners. This couple was taking flash photographs of each other in the temple. On the other side of me, a teenage girl wearing a black sari and jeans was curled up in front of one of the marble pillars secretly whispering on her cell phone. One hand was grasping the device in her hand, while the other is holding her ear to hear through the loud voice and instruments that were echoing rhythmically throughout the temple. As I left the temple, I saw the various visitors arranged in no particular order listening quietly to the hymns spoken through the loudspeakers. Outside, a line formed to receive a brown treat in our hands. More people were outside the temple than in. Those outside were in circle talking and laughing, washing their hands and feet in the pool, or sitting peacefully with each other.Reaction: That was a fascinating experience! The temple was pretty crowded with about 200 people circumventing around and throughout the temple. It seemed so different from church ceremonies in the US since people would pop in at all times during the day to worship and there was no structured organization. Families and groups of friends went together; sometimes you would see school kids in uniforms socializing in groups and laughing with each other. They acted in a way that implied the temple space was for social gathering. Inside the temple, the decorated dais that sat in the middle of the temple was encased in a glad box and covered with beautiful fabric. It resembled a baby’s crib in some ways. Much attention and admiration was given to this tiny, tangible object in the middle of the temple.
Devout volunteers sat perpendicular from the dais and played music and sang mantras to the gods and their visitors. All of my senses were touched when I listened to the prayers, touched the rug with my bare feet, tasted the glee that we were given outside of the temple (which melted in my mouth like a piece of chocolate), smelled the people and food around me, felt the warm water by the pool, heard the rustle of clothing, listened to the pitter patter of bare feet on the carpets, and saw all the colors and actions of the visitors around me. Even though I did not understand any of the prayers, the sounds of the instruments brought a refreshing sense of energy to me. I could feel the power and influence that the temple environment brought. There was constant movement surrounded by pockets of stillness in the silence of the meditating Sikhs. To me, the temple symbolized a safe haven and place where humans could feel equal in their pursuit of the sacred.
Analysis: India contains a dynamic and diverse culture based around temple visits. In some ways, the temple visits represent a frustration with the human situation. In other ways, they symbolize a paradigm of looking at life. These types of spaces form an illusion and truth that Indians find within their lives through the prayers they offer God. The practices in the temple show a type of culture that is not as visually prominent in my life back in the U.S. Instead of the gym, it seems Indians prefer to spend time and meet people here. The temple was a comfortable place to be with its lush carpet, warm environment, and friendly atmosphere.
More specifically, the temple is not a place of only ancient practices and ethics, but has progressed along with the changes in society as seen through the use of microphones, cell phones, international visitors, and Western attire. This space brings people of all backgrounds together to appreciate god. Though the temple visit and the meditation that ensued in this Sikh temple were felt differently with the various visitors, there was a sense of united energy. Also, the glee that was provided at the end of the visit provided people, especially those that could not afford to eat much, with a little bit more hope and energy in their day. Not only is the temple a place to unite with a higher being, but it is also a space of spiritual heritage and culture.
Entry #2: Flower Market
Description: Cars whizzed by. The flowers were spread out in a space of about 30 by 50 feet. Buyers shuffled through the litter that covered the ground. Once in a while, someone would bend over to get a closer look of the flowers they were looking to purchase. There was no order to the lay-out of the flower market and at times there were not paths to connect one part of the market to the other. The plain clothes of the sellers matched well with the bright greens, blues, yellows, oranges, reds and pinks of the flowers. Most of the sellers—who were all male, in fact not a single woman was present at the market— were talking with their neighbors and watching what was around them as they prepared their display. Others were reading newspapers. Most men held a stern expression, in which the bags of their tired eyes could be seen. Few men were laughing. As we approached each row of flowers, sellers flung their arms out in desperation to sell their goods.
Reaction: It never occurred to me that a flower market would be a predominantly male thing to do. The men at the market were socializing, setting up, reading newspapers, and catching up with each other, but most of them were just watching their surroundings. They noticed two American girls wandering through the market. They and we were very much aware of our physical differences.
Even though I felt a desperation to sell their goods from their body language, there did not seem to be a lot of buying and selling at the moment I went through. Furthermore, there was no distinct smell from the flowers that emerged because the pollution and trash of the city was too powerful.
I wondered what these flowers would be used for. There were hundreds of different flowers and it looked as if some had been dyed to preserve and highlight the color. Which ones were for decoration and which were for religious rituals? What other purposes could they have? The issue of origin arose when I looked at the array of flowers. Where were they grown and how long ago were they picked? What types of techniques were used to grow them?
Analysis: The market was unique in that instead of being in a peaceful, lush area of the city, as many markets I have visited in the U.S. are, this market was nestled in between two dirty, busy streets. Hygiene and sanitation seemed to of the least importance in this informal market. This market was a prime example of the type of economy that the majority of the Indian population lives by. The sellers work to live. They do not spend money on taxes or other luxuries because they are working for the basic necessities of life—food, water, and shelter. This is their livelihood—selling flowers in an informal market. They receive only the capital from the bartered value of their flowers. Moreover, these flowers are important in Indian society as pujas. Flowers can be seen everywhere from personal shrines, to large temples, to offerings on stage before a show. These flowers symbolize offerings to the sacred, yet are sold in a profane way as the sellers rely on the profit of these offerings.
Additionally, gender was an important element of this scene. When I walked into the market I immediately felt the effects of my gender. All eyes were locked on Hannah and me as we ventured through this masculine space. In some ways of another the flower market reflected the power men have in Indian society. They were meant to be the “bread winners” of the household through the selling and buying of their flowers. This market was a space of social gathering and a time to barter for a good bargain. Overall, the flower market altered my view on flowers in Indian society—they are more than just ornaments around the home.
Week Two: Mussoorie
Entry #3: Making money
Description: The man put one step in front of the other. His black pants were short enough to reveal his wore-out laced-up, brown sneakers. The sneakers were not brown naturally, but rather from the dirt and grit of his lifestyle. In one hand he held a roped- mesh bag loaded with silver cartoons that looked as if it weighed him down. The donkey that he was leading was also decorated with silver cartons on a beautiful, but simple saddle. The red and tan fabric of the saddle matched the gray of the donkey’s skin and bells that rang whenever the donkey stepped. The dudh-man stopped to take a breath from his hike and put his leg up on the side railing. He looked out at the clouded landscape and turned to smile to me. I could see the wear of his job in his eyes and his age in his wrinkled cheeks. The donkey’s bells started to ring and hinted to his master that he was ready to keep trekking.
Reaction: Wow, Dil Das is real. This man, who looked worn after a long day, represented a way of life that is harsh and rugged, but one that is connected to the land he lives on and with. When I first started seeing this milk man around town I was a little taken aback that milk is still delivered in this fashion. I assumed with all of the Mussoorie’s Western clothes, music and technology that the town’s milk would be brought by a delivery car to the mom and pop shops in the area. Instead, this man spend hours trekking up and down the hills to deliver milk.
It is strange seeing a method of milk delivery that does not involve a HOOD truck. Even though I may romanticize the life of a milk man, I believe that they represent the way of life that we need to move back to. A life that is lives with nature and not on. A lifestyle that uses technology, but does not necessarily rely on it.
Analysis: The dudh-man represents a different type of hard work and dedication that humans endure. Instead of academically challenging oneself in a classroom this man confronts the physical and mental challenges of life—another lifestyle. He is the provider of one of the most important khannas in India: milk. As mentioned by Aster in Dil Das, “milk has powerful significance, and rich nutritional value, because of being, all at once, a valuable commodity, a key symbol, and a highly condensed substance” (111). Milk is a vital component in gastro politics and rituals. The milk man and his donkey help symbolize the natural, wholesome, pure, and nutritional value that this white substance holds because of his presence in the community, especially for the school children.
Furthermore, Alter points out that “somewhere in the mix of meaning, money, and metabolism, relative value gets lost in translation” (111) . The milkman reminds me of the some disconnects we have in the United States. He is a local provider that directly bridges the land, animals and the people. He is a cultural symbol for this area. Without his dedication, milk would lose its meaning and become disconnected from the origin in which it came from.
Entry #4: WOOF and MOO
Description: The cow lies lazily on the road. Not flinching when the cars honk or when a motorcycle strays too close to its body, he takes up a whole traffic lane. A dog appears on the scene hunched down, sniffing the road and cow that lays ahead of him. The brown dog is scruffy and scrawny. The dog stretches out to sniff the other large animal in the road alongside him. The dog is not interested in what that large, horned animal has to offer and so trots back to his fellow comrades lying on the side of the road. One of those comrades is a female dog that has loose teats from allowing her pups to drink her milk.
Reaction: Coming from a place where dogs are treated like children it is always difficult to see stray dogs wandering the streets. I especially noticed the large quantity of bitches (female dogs) around as identified by the loose teats. Due to the large quantity of dogs around there seems to be no push to sterilize the dogs in the area. Yet, the dogs in Mussoorie seemed to look much healthier than those found in other cities. They appear more muscular and well-fed with not as much homogeneity as the dogs in Delhi. Unlike other cities with large amounts of stray dogs, most of the dogs here are very timid and scared of people and cars that pass. Especially when vehicles approached the stray dog, it would hunch over with fear in its eyes and try to move out of the way. Indians that pass by the street do not notice the dogs as much as my peers and I do. Most of them have grown up seeing dogs roam the streets, whereas I am not used to coexistence of humans and dogs in a wilder manner.
On the other hand, the cows that are seen relaxing in the middle of the roads not afraid of cars or people. They are perfectly content with soaking up sun while mayhem ensues around them. It is different seeing cows roam the streets freely. It seems that this would be a violation of the health code in the U.S. Every once in a while I will see a cow eating through the trash, which to me almost reveals a more complete cycle of living. The trash that we throw out is eaten by the cow, whose manure can be used to fertilize vegetables. Living with dogs and cows seems to be more of a natural way of living.
Analysis: Even though, Mussoorie has paved roads and modern cars, there are aspects of the town that still function as a developing nation. The presence of stray dogs roaming around the streets, pooping, and barking during breeding months, as well as the existence of cows in the bazaar is still a surprising thing to see. It is curious that owners allow their cows to be brought into the markets, since it seems that they have no “proper” food to eat, besides trash, and are in danger of being hit by cars. Cows represent not only the agriculture dependency much of India still had, but it also signifies the importance of kindness to others. Hindus believe that cows must be treated with respect and kindness. This type of kindness transfers, as Gandhi noted, should transfer over to all things and people. Cows play an important role in the religion of Hinduism and cow protection is a key tenet in many followers’ eyes. The Hindu belief in the protection of cows represents the belief in the sacred (with cows as an aviator of Vishnu) and karma (the process of reincarnation). Therefore, cows symbolize the emergence of sacred and profane.
There are not enough resources that can be used for rescuing stray dogs. The people of Mussoorie have so many other concerns that they cannot spend resources to address the feral dogs. The dogs can survive through the large amounts of edible trash available on the streets and allowance of visitors. Thus, the stray dogs represent the lack of resources and time to spend to neuter dogs and put them in kennels.