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Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16


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    [post_content] => “HAAARAA, HAAARAA!”

We’re off for my service site’s annual picnic, 113 people crammed into buses which should have held about 70. I’m sitting sideways in the cabin of a bus with five others, my back against a window and my face towards the driver. Looking back into the bus, I see that most of the “three-person” seats have four or five occupants, and a couple people are standing in the aisles.

The bus driver growls something at me in Hindi around the paan in his mouth, but I can’t make it out. Prakash, the boy sitting next to me, pulls me closer to himself, pointing to the mirror behind me: “He can’t see.” Oh, that’s great. The four of us on the bench squeeze closer. This is going to be a long ride.

As the bus precariously navigates the narrow alleys of Banaras, its progress continuously interrupted by scooties and cows in the way, I begin to talk to my cabinmates, especially with Prakash. He’s in class 9 at a school I haven’t heard of, and he comes to Ashray for after-school coaching classes. At first, I’m initiating most of the conversation, practicing my Hindi with questions like “Do you play cricket?” and “What movies do you like?” But as we continue, he starts to ask about my family, about how I find India, about things in the U.S. His English is decent, and he seems to enjoy using it. We end up talking for most of the two-and-a-half-hour ride, he in English and I in Hindi.

We arrive at Sitamarhi around lunch time. Sitamarhi, I find out, is a common destination for school field trips, the groups coming to look at the 108 ft Hanuman statue and the Sita temple. It’s a very pleasant place, and the next several hours pass enjoyably with a picnic lunch, visits to the holy sites, and a game of frisbee. Up to this point, Prakash has been addressing me as “sir” or “Kenji sir,” something I’ve gotten used to with Ashray students. It’s felt a little weird since Prakash is only a few years younger than I am, but I haven’t thought too much about it. After playing frisbee for a while though, he asks me, “I can call you Krishna bhaiya? (My Hindi name, Kanhaiya, is an alternate name for Krishna, and bhaiya means brother, a common way to address men).

“Yes, of course.” I answer.  “Then can I call you Prakash bhaiya?”

“No no, you are older!”

“So just Prakash?”

“Yes, Prakash.”

As we begin the journey back to Varanasi (“HAAARAA, HAAARAA!”), he asks, “Krishna bhaiya, you enjoyed the picnic?”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.”

As our conversation continues, he tells me about his friends, and we talk about Christmas. After a while, he says, “I have a party in February.”

“Who is the party for?” I ask.

“For me.”

“For your birthday?”

“Yes, it will make me very happy if you come. You and your friends.”

“I’ll have to see if I’m free. I would love to come, Prakash.”

“You can call me Badel. Prakash is my shubh (good) name. Badel is my nickname. All my friends call me Badel.”

At the end of the evening, we exchange phone numbers and say good night. Walking home from Ashray, I think about my new friend and smile.

P.S. Prakash means "light" and badel means "cloud." There has to be a metaphor there, but I’ll let someone else figure that out.
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

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Making a New Friend

Kenji Cataldo,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

“HAAARAA, HAAARAA!” We’re off for my service site’s annual picnic, 113 people crammed into buses which should have held about 70. I’m sitting sideways in the cabin of a bus with five others, my back against a window and my face towards the driver. Looking back into the bus, I see that most of the […]

Posted On

02/16/16

Author

Kenji Cataldo

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    [post_content] => Of all the unanswered questions that coming to India has raised, perhaps the most immediate and pertinent on a daily basis is: how does one stay healthy in Banaras? Since arriving in this city with an upset stomach, life in Banaras has been an uninterrupted roller-coaster modulating between “feeling okay” and a vast array of health tribulations. But that’s sort of just life, not necessarily specific to Banaras. What is interesting is the city’s strange tendency to magnify the mood induced by the current status of health. When health is good, Banaras is a vibrant city with friendly people and lots to offer. But when illness strikes, suddenly the roads are covered in potholes and cow poop, the shopkeepers are charging too much, and the air is thick and barely breathable.

During periods of good health, the task of existing in Banaras is like a fun challenge: engaging, thought-provoking, and valuable. But this task becomes frustrating, tedious, even demoralizing in the face of a cold or upset stomach.

So, what to do?

I have yet to find a convenient fix to the sickness slump phases in Varanasi. But I suppose, when looked at objectively, a flux between the ups and downs of challenge is indeed worthwhile. Things that are ordinary struggles of the day may sometimes seem extraordinarily grim, but the converse of this is that the ordinary (or the previously-taken-for-granted) can create so much joy and fullness. Existing in Banaras, which takes much more effort than existing in the States, has pushed me to notice the specialness, the spark in the seemingly mundane. Whether it’s struggling in a particularly tough Hindi class, looking at the moon at night, doing some decorations for the program house, or simply eating an orange, I’ve found myself suddenly and unexpectedly overwhelmed with joy. In these instances it is as if I am noticing for the first time the inherent marvel in what is going on, in living.

As humans we get so easily accustomed to our respective predicaments. We’re especially keen on failing to notice the delights of day-to-day life. Although I had to travel halfway across the world, I am extremely glad to be starting to realize the innate joy in the experience of living.
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

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Spark in the Mundane

Suraj Kushwaha,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

Of all the unanswered questions that coming to India has raised, perhaps the most immediate and pertinent on a daily basis is: how does one stay healthy in Banaras? Since arriving in this city with an upset stomach, life in Banaras has been an uninterrupted roller-coaster modulating between “feeling okay” and a vast array of […]

Posted On

01/25/16

Author

Suraj Kushwaha

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    [post_content] => The Bridge Year India cohort had quite a diplomacy-filled day on Wednesday: Richard Verma, the US Ambassador to India, was visiting Varanasi and decided to include us in some of his programming. The day began with a buffet breakfast with the ambassador’s North India coordinator, continued with a press conference at Banaras Hindu University, and concluded with a nighttime boat ride on the Ganga (see the Bridge Year Instagram for evidence, and the included photo).

Though I thoroughly enjoyed each part of the day, I found the press conference at BHU particularly interesting. The ambassador started with a speech about the relationship between India and the US, comparing it to a roller coaster with a series of ups and downs (we are currently on an upward slope, in his view). Citing both historical and current events and expressing his optimism for our countries’ collaborative futures, he expertly catered his presentation to his predominantly Indian audience. And he was the perfect person to do so: born to Indian parents and raised in Pennsylvania, he was able to fluently and authentically represent both cultures in a way that clearly pleased his audience. Especially to someone who, like me,  wouldn’t ordinarily think of India as one of the US’s closest allies, the speech was an important primer for the rest of the discussion.

After this introduction, Mr. Verma moved on to the focus of the press conference: the recent climate change convention in Paris. He spoke extremely favorably of the leadership roles taken on by the US and India and both nations’ commitments to reducing their carbon footprints, once again communicating his hopes for their continued cooperation. The outcome of the climate talks, however ambiguous or inconclusive it may seem, was portrayed by the ambassador as revolutionary, inspiring, something the US and India should certainly be proud of.

Overall, I was quite impressed by Mr. Verma’s skill as a public speaker and even slightly encouraged by his optimistic outlook, despite my usual cynicism. But even though I was in a room full of college students, technically my peers, I had no idea how his comments would be perceived because, as I sometimes forget, I was on the other side of the world.

As it turns out, the BHU students seemed no different from many of the American college students I happen to know: inquisitive, passionate, appropriately skeptical. Many asked questions about the climate talks. One wondered how the US plans to help India meet its emission reduction goals through technological development; another asked how American lifestyles had changed in response to growing concerns about the state of the environment (the ambassador was applauded for his descriptions of elementary school field trips to recycling centers and Americans’ increasingly negative attitudes toward littering). Others were more curious about non-climate related topics, including the US’s ban on certain heavy metal-containing Ayurvedic treatments. And my favorite question: why hasn’t America had a female president? Hearing this from someone who lives in India, a country I don’t immediately associate with gender equality, was somewhat humbling; like the other questions, it made me wonder if my own perceptions of my home country are at all aligned with how the rest of the world perceives it.

After seeing the ambassador in action, I appreciated the opportunity to spend some time with him outside of his more formal diplomatic duties in the form of an evening boat ride, complete with cookies and a selfie session. It seemed that just as I was starting to feel impossibly far from home, the US State Department came to the rescue, bringing me a day packed with government-organized fun. But as always, in Banaras, stranger things have happened.
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View post

The Adventures of Bridge Year India and the US State Department

Caroline Castleman,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

The Bridge Year India cohort had quite a diplomacy-filled day on Wednesday: Richard Verma, the US Ambassador to India, was visiting Varanasi and decided to include us in some of his programming. The day began with a buffet breakfast with the ambassador’s North India coordinator, continued with a press conference at Banaras Hindu University, and […]

Posted On

12/22/15

Author

Caroline Castleman

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    [post_content] => “Oh, wow!” My breath catches as I look at the illuminated steps, all lined with hundreds of diyas or earthen lamps. The orange glow casts eerie shadows on the walls, the irregular flickering locking the shadows in a never-ending dance. Groups of families huddle together near the riverbed, ready to float their candles onto the Ganga. The ghats, usually quiet in the late evening, are packed with people, the atmosphere filled with unrestrained excitement.

Children giggle as they run around with kites. Groups of women crouch around a slab of stone, carefully placing vibrant powder to make intricate rangoli patterns. A sadhu looks out onto the river, his solemn posture a stark contrast to the noise and chatter around him. A group of young men pat each other on the back, laughing boisterously, clearly enjoying the late night festivities.

It’s Dev Deepavali—the festival of lights of the Gods. On this day, the gods are believed to descend to Earth to bathe in the Ganga. All over Banaras, the streets are alive with lights, firecrackers, and processions. Houses are decorated with colorful patterns and adorned with flowers and pictures of deities. Women, dressed in their finest saris, head out of their homes, balancing clay vases on their heads in order to scoop up the holy Ganga.

It’s magical. There’s no other word to describe it. The river is filled with specks of light floating in the distance. Boats filled with passengers glide by lazily, in no rush to reach its destination if there is one. The sound of chanting, drumming, and people singing in the distance swirl around me as I wade through the thick scent of incense and sandalwood.

Here, I can feel the pulse of the city. The echoes of an ancient past persist into the present, clinging with all its might in the music, dancing and feasting of the celebration.
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

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The Festival of Lights

Diana M. Chen,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

“Oh, wow!” My breath catches as I look at the illuminated steps, all lined with hundreds of diyas or earthen lamps. The orange glow casts eerie shadows on the walls, the irregular flickering locking the shadows in a never-ending dance. Groups of families huddle together near the riverbed, ready to float their candles onto the […]

Posted On

12/3/15

Author

Diana M. Chen

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    [post_content] => There are several definitions of “acchaa.” The simplest one is just “good,” but it can mean something similar to “oh” or “really?” depending on the context. In our inaugural Hindi lesson, the word was translated as “good,” so when Hemant ji informed us of the word’s versatility, we were certainly skeptical.

Once we encountered acchaa in conversation, however, it immediately and irrevocably became the only Hindi word worth knowing. Indeed, knowledge of acchaa granted instant, and complete, fluency:
  • How are you?
  • Acchaa.
  • This is my house.
  • Acchaa.
  • We’re having samosas tonight!
  • Acchaa?
Then, as our understanding of the word deepened:
  • Where are you going?
  • Acchaa.
  • Excuse me, but you’ve stolen my hat.
  • Acchaa.
  • How much did that dupatta cost you?
  • Acchaa.
  • Oh, we've dropped Esti's birthday cake (as pictured).
  • Acchaa.
  • Wonder what that roadkill was thinking the instant it died…
  • Acchaa.
As with many things in Hindi, the inflection is everything. When responding to a question, comment, or concern that is either in Hindi or heavily accented English, a properly executed “acchaaa” will always suffice. “Acchaa,” possibly the most versatile variant, can be used as a quick signal of agreement; the questioning “Acchaaa?” is a perfect expression of skepticism or, with practice, sass. When we first came to India, we thought learning Hindi would be all about memorizing definitions. But with acchaa, and her brethren, we realized that a few words can go a long way once we picked up on the rhythms of the language. [post_title] => Acchaa, Acchaaa, Acchaaa? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => acchaa-acchaaa-acchaaa [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-12-04 12:58:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-12-04 19:58:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://wheretherebedragons.com/?p=128474 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 113 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-india-2015-16 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 113 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 43 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.10003 [cat_ID] => 113 [category_count] => 43 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-india-2015-16 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-india-2015-16/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16 )
View post

Acchaa, Acchaaa, Acchaaa?

Caroline Castleman and Sammy Prentice,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

There are several definitions of “acchaa.” The simplest one is just “good,” but it can mean something similar to “oh” or “really?” depending on the context. In our inaugural Hindi lesson, the word was translated as “good,” so when Hemant ji informed us of the word’s versatility, we were certainly skeptical. Once we encountered acchaa […]

Posted On

12/2/15

Author

Caroline Castleman and Sammy Prentice

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    [post_content] => There are several definitions of "acchaa." The simplest one is just "good," but it can mean something similar to "oh" or "really?" depending on the context. In our inaugural Hindi lesson, the word was translated as “good,” so when Hemant ji informed us of the word’s versatility, we were certainly skeptical.

Once we encountered acchaa in conversation, however, it immediately and irrevocably became the only Hindi word worth knowing. Indeed, knowledge of acchaa granted instant, and complete, fluency:
  • How are you?
  • Acchaa.
  • This is my house.
  • Acchaa.
  • We’re having samosas tonight!
  • Acchaa?
Then, as our understanding of the word deepened:
  • Where are you going?
  • Acchaa.
  • Excuse me, but you’ve stolen my hat.
  • Acchaa.
  • How much did that dupatta cost you?
  • Acchaa.
  • Oh, we've dropped Esti's birthday cake (as pictured).
  • Acchaa.
  • Wonder what that roadkill was thinking the instant it died…
  • Acchaa.
As with many things in Hindi, the inflection is everything. When responding to a question, comment, or concern that is either in Hindi or heavily accented English, a properly executed "acchaaa" will always suffice. "Acchaa," possibly the most versatile variant, can be used as a quick signal of agreement; the questioning "Acchaaa?" is a perfect expression of skepticism or, with practice, sass. When we first came to India, we thought learning Hindi would be all about memorizing definitions. But with acchaa, and her brethren, we realized that a few words can go a long way once we picked up on the rhythms of the language. [post_title] => Acchaa, Acchaaa, Acchaaa? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => acchaa-acchaaa-acchaaa-2 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-01-20 11:01:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-01-20 18:01:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://wheretherebedragons.com/?p=128474 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 113 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-india-2015-16 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 113 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 43 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.10003 [cat_ID] => 113 [category_count] => 43 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-india-2015-16 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-india-2015-16/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16 )
View post

Acchaa, Acchaaa, Acchaaa?

Caroline Castleman and Sammy Prentice,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

There are several definitions of “acchaa.” The simplest one is just “good,” but it can mean something similar to “oh” or “really?” depending on the context. In our inaugural Hindi lesson, the word was translated as “good,” so when Hemant ji informed us of the word’s versatility, we were certainly skeptical. Once we encountered acchaa […]

Posted On

12/2/15

Author

Caroline Castleman and Sammy Prentice

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    [post_date] => 2015-12-02 13:34:49
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    [post_content] => BBuddhist philosophy and the idea of "truth" were some of the most poignant points of contemplation for me over the past months. For what is "truth?" So many religions, including science (which seems to me a belief system sharing many of the attributes of institutionalized religion), preach "truth," and convince people to see their dogma (or empirical evidence) as the "truth" above other truths. Being an adherent to a belief system means buying into that system most of all as the "truth." And after buying into one of these "truths," it's really difficult to see it as equally non-absolute, as equally surrounded by quotation marks as the other "truths" out there. Science is a religion that, for me, is easy to see as "the truth." Yet science assumes a lot which shouldn't be taken at face value: for example, that the Universe is mechanical in nature and consists of many individual parts. More broadly, science bases its "truth" on what we as humans can perceive with our senses. It does not entertain the imperceptible. Really science can be doubted as much as any other religion. It is not impossible that there are things well beyond our perception that could be influencing us and our world. Who is to say that the world is not a unified substance from which different formations are constantly arising, changing, and fading? Buddhist philosophy emphasizes this kind of impermanence and lack of an enduring core. In this philosophy, the universe/reality/truth is a unity from which all formations, mental and physical, arise. Since nothing lasts forever, it makes sense that there might be some universal truth/law that governs the constant dynamic of existence. I get even more confused when I try to fathom the matter of the soul. According to the Buddhist ideas of Karma and reincarnation (of the Mahayana tradition, the same principles as Theravada with an added aura of mysticism and ritual practice), the soul can inhabit a new formation once its old one has left the realm of existence. But if there are over seven billion people now, and fewer people earlier in humanity’s history, where do the new souls come from? Perhaps the realm of the soul is another imperceptible dimension in a unity universe. In that case there is one soul, which lives in all living things, arising and fading and everchanging, but rooting itself in the same quintessential substance of the universe. The way I visualize this philosophy is by picturing a line or surface of water. This body of water is the unity universe. From it, all kinds of formations can arise: waves, drops, varying undulations. During their existences these forms will change. And they will always fall back into the same body of water. The unifying power of this philosophy appeals to me, because it is more conducive to compassion than is a the view that everything is made up of individual parts. Why should I care about something that’s not a part of me? But if everything is inextricably connected, coming from the same universal material, then suddenly compassion is the default setting.

    [post_title] => What is Truth?
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

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What is Truth?

Suraj Kushwaha,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

BBuddhist philosophy and the idea of “truth” were some of the most poignant points of contemplation for me over the past months. For what is “truth?” So many religions, including science (which seems to me a belief system sharing many of the attributes of institutionalized religion), preach “truth,” and convince people to see their dogma […]

Posted On

12/2/15

Author

Suraj Kushwaha

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    [post_content] => Buddhist philosophy and the idea of "truth" were some of the most poignant points of contemplation for me over the past months. For what is "truth?" So many religions, including science (which seems to me a belief system sharing many of the attributes of institutionalized religion), preach "truth," and convince people to see their dogma (or empirical evidence) as the "truth" above other truths. Being an adherent to a belief system means buying into that system most of all as the "truth." And after buying into one of these "truths," it's really difficult to see it as equally non-absolute, as equally surrounded by quotation marks as the other "truths" out there. Science is a religion that, for me, is easy to see as "the truth." Yet science assumes a lot which shouldn't be taken at face value: for example, that the Universe is mechanical in nature and consists of many individual parts. More broadly, science bases its "truth" on what we as humans can perceive with our senses. It does not entertain the imperceptible. Really science can be doubted as much as any other religion. It is not impossible that there are things well beyond our perception that could be influencing us and our world. Who is to say that the world is not a unified substance from which different formations are constantly arising, changing, and fading? Buddhist philosophy emphasizes this kind of impermanence and lack of an enduring core. In this philosophy, the universe/reality/truth is a unity from which all formations, mental and physical, arise. Since nothing lasts forever, it makes sense that there might be some universal truth/law that governs the constant dynamic of existence. I get even more confused when I try to fathom the matter of the soul. According to the Buddhist ideas of Karma and reincarnation (of the Mahayana tradition, the same principles as Theravada with an added aura of mysticism and ritual practice), the soul can inhabit a new formation once its old one has left the realm of existence. But if there are over seven billion people now, and fewer people earlier in humanity’s history, where do the new souls come from? Perhaps the realm of the soul is another imperceptible dimension in a unity universe. In that case there is one soul, which lives in all living things, arising and fading and everchanging, but rooting itself in the same quintessential substance of the universe. The way I visualize this philosophy is by picturing a line or surface of water. This body of water is the unity universe. From it, all kinds of formations can arise: waves, drops, varying undulations. During their existences these forms will change. And they will always fall back into the same body of water. The unifying power of this philosophy appeals to me, because it is more conducive to compassion than is a the view that everything is made up of individual parts. Why should I care about something that’s not a part of me? But if everything is inextricably connected, coming from the same universal material, then suddenly compassion is the default setting.

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Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

View post

What is Truth?

Suraj Kushwaha,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

Buddhist philosophy and the idea of “truth” were some of the most poignant points of contemplation for me over the past months. For what is “truth?” So many religions, including science (which seems to me a belief system sharing many of the attributes of institutionalized religion), preach “truth,” and convince people to see their dogma […]

Posted On

12/2/15

Author

Suraj Kushwaha

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    [post_date] => 2015-12-02 13:14:19
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    [post_content] => Feet. Every day starts with them and ends with them. Unlike in America, feet are not just body parts that carry us from one place to another but instead play a significant role in the way people go about their daily routines. Hindus believe feet are the dirtiest and unholiest part of the human body making even accidentally touching someone with your foot an insult requiring many apologies. That being said they are also the most cared for with almost ritualistic washing several times a day. Learning these different uses and meanings of my own body challenge my own customs and previous notions of which actions are or are not acceptable.

My days in Varanasi always begin with feet. The first activity of the day occurs when I exit my bedroom and touch my Mata Ji’s (mother’s) feet followed by touching my own head and then chest as a demonstration of respect. When I first arrived in India, I slowly began to understand this concept of feet being unholy. Then, as I was brought to my homestay i was told I should partake in this custom of touching my parents’ feet daily. Bringing myself to essentially kneel down before my parents in order to touch what is considered the unholiest part of their body has been one of my more humbling experiences. I never thought of myself as someone who kneels down before others; however, swallowing my Western sense of pride allowed me to more easily integrate into my new life, into my new family.

The day continues with a bucket bath where I take special care to thoroughly wash my own feet in preparation for the dust filled day they are about to encounter. My feet then carry me from my home to the program house, a twenty minute walk, for breakfast where before I can enter my shoes must be removed and carefully placed to the side, symbolic of removing one’s feet. This same action occurs when entering most buildings including different stores, restaurants, homes, and most importantly places of worship no matter the circumstances. On our visit to the mosque in Old Delhi, my feet began their own transformation as I slipped off my shoes and my feet met with the scorching stone floor. I hopscotched my way through the mosque trying to take in as much as I possibly could while attempting not to focus on my blistering feet. What I  did not realize was that maybe i should have been paying more attention to my feet. Maybe i should have focused on the heat that was creating a stinging sensation that no Indian seemed to be bothered by, maybe this was a pain to endure with grace, to accept without question and push through.

Not only do I pay special attention to my feet when entering structures but also anytime I sit with elders or guest speakers I contort my legs to sit in a way that will not cause my feet to point at them as this is extremely disrespectful. Normally, I would never take such care with my positioning but India has made me recognize the importance of body language as a means of communication. A communication that I feel has been lost in the Western world as no one at home would ever notice my outstretched leg, my hand over my chest, or the bobble of my head, two other body movements that have significant meaning here but not at home.

After my walk home, I help with the kitchen work subjugating my feet to the different items that pollute the kitchen floor: water, oil, vegetable peels. To end the day, I make my nightly trip to the bathroom where I untangle my hair, brush my teeth, and lastly wash my feet, rinsing them of their souvenirs from the places I visited and preparing them for the next day’s adventure.

I think many times people tend to overthink culture. We assume it all comes from religious festival, social structures, and tradition. But in reality culture can stem from the smallest tasks: removing our shoes, sitting cross legged, touching elders’ feet. Sometimes these seemingly minuscule tasks are where we learn the most about foreign cultures and it is in these small tasks, these details where I find myself connecting to my new home the most. So, I’ll start where I began by tucking my feet into my bed and calling an end to the day.

    [post_title] => Enlightenment of the Sole
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

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Enlightenment of the Sole

Estibaliz Matulewicz,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

Feet. Every day starts with them and ends with them. Unlike in America, feet are not just body parts that carry us from one place to another but instead play a significant role in the way people go about their daily routines. Hindus believe feet are the dirtiest and unholiest part of the human body […]

Posted On

12/2/15

Author

Estibaliz Matulewicz

WP_Post Object
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    [post_date] => 2015-12-02 13:11:25
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    [post_content] => “Baitho! Baitho!” Manisha smiles innocently up at me as she ignores my command to sit. Losing interest in this foreigner trying to tell her what to do, she looks out the window again, resuming the task I’ve so rudely interrupted. I walk over to her and squat so we’re face-to-face. “Manisha,” I start. Her eyes swing around to meet mine. “Manisha, main ne kya kaha?” (What did I say?) No verbal response, although the widening of her smile tells me she’s understood. “Baitho!” That unsuccessful, I take her hand and resort to physically guiding her to her spot. By the time she’s seated, Ritika and Manshi have also run from their spots to the window.

Lower kindergarten (LKG) is a hard class for me. About four or five years old, the twelve LKG kids are adorable but have an immense capacity for trouble, their cute exteriors hiding vast stores of mischief waiting to break loose. Today, two were gone, but the present ten more than made up for their colleagues’ absence. In particular, the aforementioned Manisha, Ritika, and Manshi, precocious masterminds all, conspired to bring class to a crashing halt. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning...

I’m looking forward to my classes today. Last time, we started decorating cards in preparation for the annual concert, so the plan today is just to finish them up. After the disorder of passing out the unfinished cards, pencils, and erasers, the kids settle down to draw. Every minute or so, someone walks up to me and says, “Color, color.” I bobble my head in affirmation of the crayon selection, and he or she sits down. Relative quiet prevails. As they start to finish up though (“Kenji sir, ho gaya!”), a draft of rowdiness blows through the room, although I miss it at first.

“De do!” I say when I see someone finish, holding out my hand for the completed card. As I receive each card, I ask for the student’s full name so I can write it in the corner. One problem: I don’t remember how to say “full name” in Hindi. (The following exchanges were in Hindi.)

“Ritika, tell me your name."

“Ritika,” she sweetly responds.

I write out “Ritika _____” and point to the blank: “Two names, right? Ritika what?” No response. "My name is Kenji Cataldo. Two names. What is your second name?" Still nothing. I decide to try someone else. “Amit, come here. What is your name?” The look he gives me says, “What are you going on about? You just said my name!” After a couple more attempts, I give up, just writing down their first names.

By now, the kids have gotten really restless. Four or five have run to the far end of the classroom to look out the window, distracting the others with their chatter. I tell them all to sit down: “Sab log baitho!” A couple of them look over at me before continuing to examine the activity in the street below (it’s an understandably distracting view--one day there were even two bulls fighting on the bridge right outside!). They only start to move when I walk over to them, doing my best to look angry. But instead of returning to their seats, they collapse into a big giggling pile. Trying not to laugh with them, for it’s as entertaining as it is frustrating, I begin to pull them up and point them to their spots. Thus begins the great battle.

For the next fifteen minutes, Manisha, Ritika, and Manshi, the Terrible Three, take it in turn to run back to the window. Desperately, I pull the curtains closed and stand in front of them, trying to lead the class in “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” They’re unfazed. Manisha runs to the window on my right. “Mat karo!” (Don’t do that!) As I fend her off, Ritika and Manshi make a break for the other side. Suddenly, I find that little Aman has taken inspiration from these miscreants and joined in the fun.

I finally can’t take it anymore: my limited classroom Hindi vocabulary exhausted, my patience frayed, my temper rising, I pull Ritika and Manshi to the door and hand them off to Damyanti-ji, the teacher right outside (Manisha got off the hook because I only have two hands...). She speaks to them and then brings them back in and lectures the entire class. Ashamed that I can’t control my class, upset that my Hindi is such an obstacle to doing my job well, and exhausted from trying to counter their antics, I half-heartedly resume “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” Like an angel bearing news of salvation, Sadhana-ji comes to the door and tells me the period is over. What a relief! Tired and angry, I collapse into my chair as she leads them out. But as they exit the room, the kids look up at me with bright little smiles and say a cheerful “Namaste, sir!” I can’t help but smile back.
    [post_title] => A Day in Lower Kindergarten
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Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

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A Day in Lower Kindergarten

Kenji Cataldo,Princeton Bridge Year India 2015-16

Description

“Baitho! Baitho!” Manisha smiles innocently up at me as she ignores my command to sit. Losing interest in this foreigner trying to tell her what to do, she looks out the window again, resuming the task I’ve so rudely interrupted. I walk over to her and squat so we’re face-to-face. “Manisha,” I start. Her eyes […]

Posted On

12/2/15

Author

Kenji Cataldo

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