Category Archives: religion

Food for the mind, feasts for the eyes.

If I have trouble putting together a Real blog post, it’s not because I haven’t been soaking up the sights and thinking about so many things. Now that I am actually here, I have been reading about and discussing with Kate and Tom Indian history, language, politics, slums, and religion.

The night before Baby Raj was born, Tom projected maps of India on the big screen and gave a little talk on various of these topics — it was the best sort of lesson for me, the map presentation helping me to tie bits of knowledge together in my mind. Perhaps there’s a chance I will retain more than a smidgen.

My “studies” are interspersed with or carried on in the midst of Baby Immersion. Just being in a home where a newborn baby lives and breathes and will stare back at you with no feeling of awkwardness — it’s too sweet.

This baby will have Indian nannies as long as he lives here, so some of the first words impressed on his pliable mind will be from Indian languages. But which ones? Hindi is not the primary language spoken in these parts, and India has designated 30 languages as “official” languages of the nation. According to Census of India of 2001, India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages.

20% of Indians speak Dravidian languages, which are not even related to Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi. These and other non-Hindi speakers have fought against proposals to impose the Hindi language in southern India. The Indian constitution does not give any language the status of national language, but the authorized version of laws is required to be in English, and the business of the Supreme Court is conducted in English.

I’ve learned very few Indian words, mostly names of food. But I didn’t learn the name of the Diwali festival treat above before eating the last one in the house. Almost everyone I encounter seems to speak at least a little English, but sometimes I can’t understand one word in a whole sentence by the most fluent speakers, because of their accent.

Everywhere we go I feast on colors, and feel myself to be somewhat ghostly in appearance in contrast to the Indian women in their rich attire. I’m sure I will come home with a few new and bright, concrete items to go with the images on my computer and the imprints on my mind. New dishes are constantly being set out on this banquet table.

The cows are back.

Housekeeper Kareena went out to do the grocery shopping yesterday morning and came back empty-handed. The shops and produce stands were all shut up. It was the latest development in the strife between the Dalits and the Hindu Nationalists.

I can’t really say more than that without revealing my ignorance and no doubt also over-simplifying one of the many complex and interrelated issues troubling this country with so many cultures, languages, and religions clashing and blending and layering over the centuries. I know little about it but now I am living in it for a time. It feels like a lot of excitement for only my first week.

The photo above shows some Dalit demonstrators in our neighborhood, the only thing happening in the emptied streets. Tom took this one, and it is blurry because he didn’t want to get too close to the action.

He and I had been planning to buy lunch out before going to visit Baby Boy and his mom, but all of the  eateries were closed, too, so we ate some leftovers from last week, and then walked back to the hospital.

I had become familiar with this intersection from our trips to the hospital over the last couple of days. The same man was constant in roasting sweet potatoes on the corner near our apartment building, and at the side of the road across the street from the hospital, several cows always stood with their keepers in two groups, three cows and two cows.

But the sweet potato roaster was not to be seen, and even the cows were gone. Rickshaw drivers slept in their vehicles, shopkeepers slept outside their shops, and for the first time I had to walk around a man sleeping on the sidewalk. The street in the picture below is normally filled with hundreds of cars, rickshaws and pedestrians all flowing around each other in close and chaotic streams.

By the end of the day someone in power had met for talks with the police, and the Dalits called off further protests. I have been too busy holding a baby to read much about the situation (This is the article I am starting with), but we were all glad that last night the shops had opened again, and this morning the shopping got done and we now have spinach paneer and chicken tikka masala in the house, with fresh chapatis. The cows are back in their place.

On our walk home from the hospital after dark, the neighborhood church was in the middle of serving food to the poor. Its Light and its lights had not stopped shining for even one day.

ST church lights