Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Durga Puja revisited, in song

Posted by Chris on May 18, 2008

Last year, when I was in Kolkata, India, one of the most interesting cultural experiences was the Durga Puja holiday, which I blogged about several times. You can click the India tab and search for those posts.. I’d make a link but they are really jacked up right now because of the blog-host-switching– all the links are to pictures at the old site, which no longer works, and I have not fixed that yet. But you can read about it in my posts.

Something else I’ve blogged about: Pandora radio, You put in an artist or song name, it produces streaming radio of songs which share some of the 100s or 1000s of musical facets Pandora has identified.

One of my stations: Panjabi MC. It’s an Indian MC with one song that I like, called Beware of the Boys, mainly for the beat– the bass line from Timbaland & Magoo’s “Clock Strikes” with Indian string riffs over top of that and him chanting/singing. The rest of the music that comes on is slower, more typical of classical Indian music.

After listening to Beware of the Boys, a song came up called “Durga Puja.” So of course I had to listen. Pretty straightforward Indian music. Just thought it was interesting. Even more interesting is that the artist is Algerian but has put out different kind of mixes based on world music. See more about DJ Cheb i Sabbah and listen to a sample of that song at Pandora’s site.


Posted in India, music | 2 Comments »

What I learned from being robbed

Posted by Chris on May 16, 2008

A little over a month ago a man stole a significant amount of cash from my wallet. The details aren’t important, except to say that, I was not robbed violently but it was very personal. I was in the room, but not looking, by a stranger for whom I was trying to do a favor.

There are different kinds of lessons to be learned: about being careful; appropriate reactions; whether or not to call the police; the truly fleeting nature of worldly possessions; etc… However for me it was really a reminder of a particular day in India and an entirely different lesson altogether.

There’s really only been one time in my life that someone tried to steal from me directly. One Saturday in Kolkata I came into the city in order to attend a gathering for Christians throughout the city. I was running a bit behind and planned to get some food so I bought 3 chicken egg rolls (not like a Chinese-American egg roll– much bigger). Two for me, one for a needy person I might encounter but did not want to spend the time to take them somewhere to buy them food. As I walked, I saw people who I’m sure would’ve liked the roll but because I was in somewhat of a hurry I was really just waiting for the inevitable person to approach me. (the rightness of this thought I am not defending– just re-telling the story).

At one point, I saw a destitute family of mother and children. Moments later, someone tried to grab something from me. I was surprised and in my reaction I jerked away my hand, whatever was in there, and turned around in a bit of shock/dismay. I saw a little boy from that family running away, with only a piece of paper from the covering of my egg roll. It was so frustrating, as I said to myself over and over, “All you had to do was ask! This was for you!”. I considered going back and giving it to him but I didn’t really think that I should reinforce the means by which he got my attention.

That event brought my mind to this particular day– the lesson learned came later. I go to the worship service. Right before it, I gave away the roll and had a guy come up to me with a baby and ask about something but I was right by the entrance and said that I needed to go there. More may have been said, I can’t remember. But, when I left later and was speaking with a man who worked at a call center, I noticed the same old man sitting on the sidewalk, looking at us. As I said goodbye, he came up to me again. Was he waiting for me?

He communicated to me that he wanted milk for the baby and toddler that were with him, so I followed him. This is about 8 o’clock at night, and I was never out in the city much at night. I was definitely not scared (I was never scared there– I was too big!), but, perhaps a bit more tense, which I feeling I usually had. The old man carried the baby and directed the toddler to grab my hand. There I was, walking down AJC Bose Rd, walking with my 3 year old friend wearing his rag around his waist, next to an old man with a baby. The preciousness of my 3 year old friend… I cannot describe. As innocent and guileless and undeserving as a human can be to be living in these circumstances. At a major intersection, we had to cross the road. Instinctively, I picked him up and he felt natural in my arms and even seemed to cling to me.

Across the street, we arrived at a small shop where there were about 5 men standing around. The old man asked for two cans of milk and the owner told me it costs 650 rupees, or something close to that. I was shocked! That is about $16, which probably wouldn’t be outrageous in America (these were pretty big cans of powdered milk I guess, which might be $1 for a small can?) but is a LOT of money there. That’s easily 80 meals. Not that I thought it all like this. At the time, I mainly thought “That is way more than I thought it would be”, “That is way more than I want to spend”, and “I really don’t want to get out that much money in front of these people.” I did have the money- I usually carried 2 Rs 500 notes with me at all times for emergencies. The first and third thoughts may have had some validity, but: “want to spend?” I told the man I could only spend $200. Another man there tried to explain– he seemed annoyed by the whole thing, that the guy would expect me to spend so much. The old man said okay and smiled and was very gracious. I gave him cash. He walked with me a bit further and pointed out a store and said he would buy some Mithai. I walked off alone to the metro, alone.

Mithai are sweets. Very sweet sweets. No nutritional value sweets. Milk is, like, integral to a child’s diet. What have I done? How could I screw this up? Wasn’t this the opportunity I was praying for? Wasn’t this what I lost sleep over the first time I went into the city and met a destitute woman who wanted milk for her kids, hadn’t I been brainstorming about how to do this in my state of ignorance?

I’m not saying there was one thing I should have done, either buying both cans of milk, buying two, running back to him after I walked away. But I did not love him like Jesus. I did not make Christ my treasure because to some extent I valued a combination of my safety, pride, and money above pouring myself out in love for others. I screwed up. I can’t get that moment back.

So what’s the lesson learned? Paul said in Acts 20:24: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” The gospel of God’s grace at that moment says, “Chris- what a privilege that you have this money to share– that’s grace! What a privelege that you have been called to walk in the wonderful light of Jesus, that you would have a heart that wants to help others!” I would also consider that one of the specific tasks the Lord has given me is to help the poor. I don’t want to waste those opportunities.

I cannot ignore problems that are right in front of me. If I don’t help, you can bet that I’m not ignoring it. I’m thinking about it and choosing to do nothing. While I’m glad I am not calloused and desensitized, my inaction speaks louder at times. Getting robbed reminded me of a moment of inaction. Getting robbed was what I needed to resolve to do more to help, to act. I really don’t understand how so many people, and specifically, Christians, can walk around ignoring things. My challenge to myself first, and to others next, is to act at least in response to the needs that are in our face. Being proactive is even better. But, the next time someone asks you for something, ask them what they need. Then, meet that need. Do whatever it takes within your power. Pray for them. Wait with them for the police. Don’t just let them use your cell phone, buy them a phone card. Buy them a meal and eat with them.

In that past month I’ve had opportunities. The Lord has been gracious to me, taking me from a temptation to be hard-hearted when I tried to help a man who would steal from me, which was the first needy person I had helped in some time, to softening my heart and placing me in the right places at the right times. The timing of some of these have been amazing, where a decision to go or not go to a store, or a matter of leaving a few seconds earlier would have led our paths never to cross. I’ve done better. Even when I don’t know what to do or I don’t feel like doing, I try to remember the man, the baby, and my 3 year old friend. May God bless them.

Posted in about me, christianity, homeless/needy persons, India | 3 Comments »

Back in Urbana

Posted by Chris on November 13, 2007

I definitely meant to have put up some post-Kolkata updates and that has not happened. 3 main reasons: internet access, being sick/tired, being busy. I barely ate for the first 36 hours I was back and had major stomach issues (not from coming back, it was from the airport/plane food combined with the travel I guess) and then got a cold. I was very tired from hardly sleeping for 2 days and am finally feeling better but haven’t been able to sleep at what I would call regular times yet.

I�ve also been pretty busy, running around applying for jobs, buying things I needed, visiting people, etc.  I’ll also be moving into a house on Wednesday and then after a couple more days hope to be settled in over there.

I have one job thus far, delivering a free, weekly newspaper. It’s a one-day a week job, just a couple hours; not much money but I figure that I can easily fit it around whatever else and it’s nice to know that at least by next Tuesday/Wednesday I will have something, less than 2 weeks after being back.

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Posted by Chris on November 11, 2007

I returned to my room at the hotel today [this was on Monday, in Delhi, one day after leaving Kolkata and one day before returning to US] and decided to give the TV another try. I’ve been trying to either find some entertaining sports (my cricket attn span is about 5 minutes) or an English movie.  there’s a channel showing American movies but of course it’s been the fuzziest thus far.

I turn on something and hear English. there’s a woman typing on an internet chat. I’m like, “what’s this, the Bollywood version of ‘You’ve Got Mail?�'” Now, you may not know this about me, but that is probably my favorite movie 1a (Forrest Gump would be 1b). I can always watch those movies and they make me smile and sentimental and all this jazz that I’m man enough to admit.

I think I only missed a little bit and watched the movie and really enjoyed it. The storyline was a bit different: the woman was married with a teenage daughter. The person she chatted and was later reconciled with was her husband. The daughter and mom had a bad relationship, daughter moves out, husband and wife are distant, wife ends up being alone, daughter is beat up, comes home, convinces mom to meet the chat person, and its him.

It definitely was not as good as YGM. What could be? The acting I thought was very believable at times (the wife, man, she could cry and really communicate her emotional duress) but sometimes reminded me of an American soap opera (choppy and corny). Really, the internet and chatting is such a ubiquitous part of life now that we shouldn’t call movies that have them YGM-clones, as people are apt to do. Basically everything else in the story was different and I really enjoyed the movie.

Later that night, I went to a movie theater I saw near my hotel, to see saw movie that had a Hindi title. So I would finally see a Bollywood movie and I guess I was hoping it was one of the typical Indian flicks (the love story with singing and dancing). I get in there and find out that it’s Resident Evil: Extinction, in Hindi. So I was somewhat disappointed. The language was not much of a problem because killing zombies is a universal tongue, and there’s not much dialogue or plot.

Posted in India | 1 Comment »

Final post from Kolkata

Posted by Chris on November 3, 2007

This afternoon I am (hopefully) flying from Kolkata to Delhi, where I will stay for a couple days. I don’t know if I’ll have net access but if you have been reading this, either way there will be some more posts, whether I post them then or after I get back. Some pt soon after I get back I’ll finish putting up whatever I want to put up and then say, “I’m done.”


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A day of firsts and lasts

Posted by Chris on November 3, 2007

Friday I went into the city for the last time. I visited an NGO that has been working in the slums with children for about 15 years but also recently has been administering grants from a larger, international organization, enabling ultra-poor households to start a business. I visited a slum and was actually surprised that it was not as poor as I expectedthere are registered slums, part of the official city plan, which are going to be close together and small but household prosperity could vary. There, I met some of their beneficiaries who are buying leather from the factory, cutting out glove patterns, and selling back to factory. One woman told me she can cut out 1000 gloves in a day.

Later, we visited a squatter settlement. This was poor. Im sure they all areif you got more money, youd move; and if you move to the city because you have nothing wherever you were before, youre likely to be and stay poor. kids were literally playing on the train tracks; the homes, mainly thatched shacks, lined the tracks on each side. In a different area, the homes were better constructed and away from the railroad tracks, but the floor was below the level of the street, therefore they must flood frequently and badly. During a flood? They have nowhere else to go; they stay in the home.

Besides that, it was a day of other firsts and lasts. For the last time, I rode the metro and made the long walk down park street to the park circus area. I went to the post office for the first time. Nearby, a woman got my attention and talked to me in public, in English, for the first time. Besides beggars, only men have talked to me in public. She was happy because she had just gotten a job with HSBC bank at its call center. I guess she wanted to share that with someone in English.

With someone from FOCUS, I rode in a cycle rickshaw for the first time. I also took a taxicab for the second time (here, and, in my life). I finally saw a Dominos besides from a car, and had the cheese and tomato pizza. Umm, giordanos here I come, thats all Im saying.

Two boys were mocking or terrorizing the monkey that is always chained up behind the pole on Park St. there are now two other monkeys just a little farther down, they seemed much happier because they have each other (I have NEVER seen any person sitting with or taking care of these monkeys).

Kids asked me for chocolate instead of money. Ive barely even seen chocolate here, someone must have given to them at some point. Turns out, they would have been equally happy with the true contents of my pocket, a cell phone.

Finally, I saw some religious things that I will not go into here, Ill tell ya later as we say in the South.

Tonight (Saturday) I will go eat at Haji for the last time with my friends Rizwan and Tina. Then, the countdown to watching TNTs Thursday night NBA games can begin

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Some follow-up’s

Posted by Chris on November 1, 2007

I’ve reached a point where I don�t think you will be receiving any well-thought out, topical blog posts anymore. I am somewhat tired of the exercise right now (not just with blogging, but taking notes on NGO visits and organizing them, and some other organizational activities) plus I am trying to wind up some things to leave as a brief chronicle of my research with IITD.

So I think that whatever blogs I post during these last few days will just be some snippets of things. For one, the last couple days, really, the last week and a half, has been a very frustrating, but ultimately somewhat satisfying, trial of trying to purchase some of the jute goods from SHGs. I’m not going to go into the complications but they have surprised me from many different angles. But I do know for sure now that I will be getting some things. I definitely see this more as a one-time thing, if only for the reason that if it was so complicated here, how complicated will it be an ocean away?! Many businesses and organizations do this kind of thing, promote these products made in developing areas. I do think that I can add a valuable service in that since there’s not 1-3 middlemen, it can be less expensive and more personal. What I do think should be possible are more expensive, custom-made goods. I’ve got one that is SWEET (it�s mine, but you can look at it).

I am trying to do a couple things before I leave, that I’ve been trying to do for weeks. Do you know how hard it is to find, at the right business hours, a post office in Kolkata? Not easy. I’ve seen two of them now. I plan to go by both of them tomorrow, I want to send one god-forsaken postcard that I bought one week into the trip.

There are a couple things I’m trying to buy but have been stymied repeatedly. Such as tins or cans of mishti/mithai (Bengali/Hindi words), Bengali sweets. I’m told it is sold like this, in a way that preserves it and you can take it somewhere. But I’ve asked at maybe 10 shops in my area and nobody has.

To top off this political mess on Tuesday and Wednesday (which turned out not to be that crazy), it rained like crazy on Wednesday and Thursday morning. Loud, violent thunderstorms, the first I’ve experienced here. I was going to go play basketball today, and daggone, I had to get out of the indoors. So what did I do? Play in the rain. Well, by play, I walked around in for 10 minutes in my swim-trunks. I’m not really the frolicking, jump in puddles, giggling type. Some of the people here, well, I really think it might have been the queerest (odd not gay) thing they’d ever seen in their life.

Overall, I’d kind of like to stay around a bit longer. But leaving is the right thing, based on the other decisions I’ve made, financially speaking. It is allowing me to do some things both here and when I get back that I could not have done otherwise. It is also allowing me to be less at risk of a cash crunch while looking for work in IL. There are also many frustrations that I will be happy to put behind me, things I won’t mention here and things that you would not expect. But I can live with them and while I’m looking forward to working in general here I feel very relaxed and well-provided-for, sentiments that are like illegal or something in America.

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Last foray into the rural areas

Posted by Chris on October 31, 2007

Turns out that my trip last Friday was the last one I’ll be making out to a rural town/village. This week was interrupted by political things. I am hoping to visit with an NGO on Friday or Saturday, but it is in the city, and to do some other things I’ve been meaning to do in the city before leaving for Delhi on Sunday.

At this village, I heard from many SHGs. Three times groups of 4-6 SHGs were assembled, so there was say 15 groups all together, but I did not get as much of an in-depth view of each.

One unique aspect of the NGO work was that I met men from two different male SHGs. I have visited other NGOs which have male SHGs but did not visit a meeting or hear much about their activities. The other interesting, new thing was the each group welcomed me with a garland of flowers around my neck and dotting my forehead with a paste that i think is from sandalwood (and i believe this dot is called the tikka– the normal hindu one you would normally think of is a bindi).getting a garland, bouquet, and tikka (dot)– i was kind of embarassed by the attn, hence the weird smile.

Instead, I’m going to highlight more of the scenery. Before we met with SHGs, we visited a 1000-year-old Hindu Temple. this temple is over 1000 years old, and is still actively used. It is very tall and that is just open space, not rooms or stairs or anything. Not being a well-traveled person, this is the oldest structure or human-made thing I’ve ever seen. Pretty cool.

Second, I’ve posted a video that was taken from the motor-van ride. The village is on an island. There is a very new, very nice bridge, however the infrastructure surrounding it is not yet built up—there was a sand road leading to the bridge, thus only foot, motor bike, and motor van traffic is crossing. The road from the bridge, leading to the different villages, was a small brick road. Even if it could cross the bridge, our car could not have navigated the road.

The motor van was a vehicle I had not yet seen. It was like a cycle van, which is a bike with a flatbed behind it, but motorized. I was told it was assembled from a variety of parts, like a water pump for the motor. These vehicles are not licensed to be used on real roads I think?! But here, no one’s saying anything. Our trip was approx 10 km total, about 5 which was done on the motor van; it was a pleasant ride.

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New videos and political turmoil

Posted by Chris on October 29, 2007

I’ve posted 2 new videos– one below this post and one on the Durga Puja picture page.

Tomorrow, Oct 30, it has been planned to be a day where everything closes down due to some kind of strike or something– i think it involves the union of hte public transport drivers. Now, apparently, there will also be some kind of agitation on the 31st as well. i dont really know if i’ll be able to do anything or buy anything on these 2 days… so i stocked up on supplies tonight. some fruit, some sweets, a big dinner.

the government which rules this state, West Bengal, is communist. it’s kind of weird. not so much because of the effect of the political philosophy (Henry Paulson, i think US Secr of the Treasury, was just here Sunday hobknobbing it w/politicians and promoting business stuff), which is not that much– it’s still democratic, relatively capitalist– but the political relations are a bit tense. it makes me uneasy to see communist flags. it makes me uneasy when this state’s govt is very much against this nuke deal with the US and for basically anti-US reasons.

so, in the cold war terminology, i will be going into my bomb shelter the next 2 days. pray for my sanity. i’m guessing however, that, before the 2 days end, i will see people out walking and i can at least go around in my area.

This video is from Durga Puja, walking up to a pandal. In it, you see the juxtaposition of all these different elements of life here: art, religion, beauty; poverty, begging, pollution; globalization, increasing standards of living, and brand awareness. I have no pride in my camera work but had no idea i would see all this as i pressed record. i think this more than anything can explain a lot about life here in less than 2 mins.

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Posted by Chris on October 28, 2007

The complementary post to food. Tea and water are ubiquitous. Tea is sold at little stands all over the place, but I’ve never bought. I don’t actually know how much it costs, I’m sure 5 rupees or less. The tea tastes more like coffee to me, it comes with milk and sugar already in it and is light brown in color. It’s made with Indian leaves so that also gives it a different taste than what I’m used to in America. In other words, I kind of like it. (if ya didn’t know, I’m like the only southerner who dislikes tea, even sweet tea).

I don’t ever buy because w/o doing so, I get tea an average of twice a day. Always at breakfast here and occasionally will get again at IITD. Then, when I visit NGOs, there is almost always tea—sometimes more than once. One day, I had 5 cups of tea, between IITD and 2 NGOs.

The tea is sometimes served with biscuits, small cookies. I bought a packet myself last night, biscuits that have choc crème on the inside and little sugar granules on outside—8 crackers for 12 rupees—nice.

That brings me to a major thing to understand about food and money: there is a significant cost difference between packaged and unpackaged items here, or, a slightly different nuance, between something bought in an indoor store or restaurant and something purchased on the street. A 600 ml soda, which I think is slightly less than 20 oz, is 20 rupees—50 cents; whereas most foods are less than half the price of comparable US item. The nice thing with the sodas is that you are not paying a premium to get it cold—in the US we pay the same for a cold 20 oz as for a warm 2 liter. Here, the shop just keeps some in its small refridgerator. 2 liters therefore cost about the same here. The branded items are often actually about the same price. Like KFC is about the most expensive food I’ve seen in all of kolkata.

So anyway, beverages: because the packaged ones cost more, most folks stick to water. I buy a “cold drink” (read: soda) maybe twice a week. Otherwise, I always carry around a bottle of water from IITD’s filtered water system. I have heard that you can find juice, and I’ve had some kind of juice on a few occasions and see stands that are squeezing lemons and other fruits in the city, but overall juice is not common. Liquid milk is bought in small bags, seriously. People buy powdered milk or don’t drink for the 70 years after they are weaned I guess. I’m considering buying a half gallon of milk in Chicago and seeing if I can take that in giordano’s to drink with my pizza.

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