Saturday, March 6, 2004 Travelogue: Excerpts from past impressions and experiences in India (see the first travelogue segment we posted)
Pushkar, Rajasthan, Northern India
In the past month, I have had a palm reader tell me that I was fit, and a yoga instructor tell me I would NEVER get fat. The palm reader worked inside the 16th century Jodhpur fort and with bifocals hanging on to the end of his nose resembled a university professor. Using more gracious phrasing, he called me a cheap indecisive double-checker who had the most “fit” health he’d read in years. The robust young yoga instructor suffered from attention deficit disorder and assured me that w/ my long and lean body type I could eat as I pleased. Good news from strangers, when every face is unfamiliar, is so believable.
We have been in India for nearly three months; a Hindu nation whose population is 13% Muslim. While in public, most Muslim women do cover themselves in black, some donning a burqa, oftentimes while shopping for brightly colored saris of which we outsiders are allowed only a bottom glimpse. The Hindu women have exactly the same habit; they also cover their heads and faces in public, but use their fluorescent beaded sari material to do so. It’s intriguing how the very same social tradition has become doctrine to the practitioners of two different religions. It’s reminded me that religion, even here, is mythological – a set of social rules disguised as a sacred belief system.
The Indian society retains so much history it is ready to burst. The practice of arranged marriage reminds me of political alliance matrimony during the middle ages – two people are brought together because it is best for their families, not because it is best for them. During our SERVAS home-stay in Jaipur, we met a young couple our age, Alok and Anu, married for seven years. “In your country,” the husband (Alok) said, “love comes first, then marriage. In our country, marriage comes first, and love comes after.” Hopefully.
In Indian culture, the marriage of two individuals literally brings together two different families. It’s called a joint family arrangement – and this structure is vital to society. Women, as second-class citizens, are rarely allowed to work; most are housewives, and in some cases the Muslim women do not venture forth from the home except to go to market. Their duties are in the home, and as the matriarch ages, she must have someone to replace her. Welcome the new bride – the son’s wife – to take things over. The work is just too hard for an elderly woman, and her duties are too important and must be continued. Every meal is cooked from scratch and can take hours to make (even the dog food); clothes are washed and sometimes made by hand; many homes have no showers so even bathing is time consuming. The children must be cared for, and Indian dads work 12 – 14 hour days, often from 10 AM to 10 PM. The streets are so congested that to get groceries w/ baby on a scooter, sari flying while trying to navigate one’s way through traffic (bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, men pulling carts, camels pulling carts, elephants, goats, auto rickshaws, automobiles, cows, dogs, pigs, bulls, water buffalo, monkeys, pedestrians sleeping on the streets and sidewalks, buses, BIG trucks, small trucks, motorcycles and hundreds of scooters) takes all hell of an afternoon.
Take care all of you. I’m sure I love hearing from you a bit more than you do me – so WRITE!