It settles out?

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In Rajasthan, two boys in the 8th standard fill their father’s cart with water from the village naadi, or pond. It takes around an hour and a half for them to complete this task daily, and provides just enough water for the eight family members, 10 to 15 goat, a cow, and a bullock. The quality of their water becomes less important when quantity is a concern.

I’ve been working frantically for just over a week on putting together a piece for this year’s edition of Flux Magazine, only to learn at the last minute that my story was cut because I’m not an active student. If I have time next week, I’ll finish up what I was writing and publish it.

In the news, ending 28 November 2008

A few stories especially of interest in the past week:

Is Kashmir key to Afghan peace? – Christian Science Monitor
Raises the question as to whether solving the Indo-Pakistan dispute will help resolve the situation in Afghanistan. Significantly more attention will be paid to this region in the coming months.

Police issue slew of citations at party with alcohol near UO campus – Register-Guard
Extended coverage of what happened at the Campbell Club.

Paani- Coca Cola and Water tables in Rajasthan – Shekhar Kapur
Kapur argues that groundwater exploitation in Rajasthan is not a failure of the multi-national corporations, but rather government policy.

via Publish2

Glimpses of a subcontinent

Two months after the fact, I’ve started processing images from my journey around the Indian subcontinent.

Festivities

No particular rhyme or reason to what I’m putting up at the moment, just whatever catches my eye.

Debate

I think, when I’ve worked through the body of a few thousand images, I’ll compose more of a narrative to weave the story together. Until then, enjoy the visual tour.

Curiosity

Chai man

These past few weeks have been ones of reflection. Having photographed the regions I initially outlined for my project, I’ve been bumming around, trying to find another story to pick up, reading Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series, and thinking.

Moving some too. After Rajasthan, I continued north to Amritsar, holing up for two days with a fever, visiting the Golden Temple, and then, finally, trucking on to Jammu. I recuperated further and then took an amazing Jeep ride to Srinigar, the capital of Kashmir.

There I tried to launch another story comparing Kashmir and Ladakh, and how occupation in the 21st century by the Indian security forces affects the people’s daily lives. Snow in the pass killed the idea so, after a week based in a houseboat, I journeyed on to McLeod Ganj, location of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Many stories, of course, and many experiences to share. One, from a few days back, had me drop everything to write it in my journal.

***

On the bank of the sacred Dal Lake, there is an chai and omlette stand. Well… not quite on the bank but on a road leading off the main and so close I can justify calling it the banks. I drop down to the basin after hiking some kilometers from McLeod Ganj. Having had no lunch, I spot the modest carton of eggs casually on the small sill and amble over.

“Omlette?,” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, pointing to the eggs and a loaf of cheap white bread.
“Two piece egg, two piece toast. How much?”
“10 rupees.”

Wow, a steal I think, and readily agree to the deal.

As he cooks, I become lost in my thoughts, hastily scribbling down ideas which came to me during my walk. One page filled, I move on to the next. I am in lala land often, daydreaming about this and that, and what I might do in the near future. Impervious to the outside world, and distracted by a vivid desire to create concepts. Many people are, I believe, but I won’t personally draw judgement as to whether it is good or bad. It just is.

Yesterday, I met a man named Klaus at my “Tibetan cooking course.” An astrologer from Denmark, he seemed quite normal with his feet on the ground. For me, he became a person of interest, someone who occupied a number of brain cycles, because he had just finished a ten day mediation course. Conducted in complete silence. No talking, no conversation, just listening to your thoughts for hours on end. If you ask me, it sounds like a gnarly way to discover yourself. I would go insane after day two. And yet, shortly after our exchange about his experience, he pulls out a cell phone to see if he has any messages from family back home. The same addiction I left the States with. I think we only try to escape it, and can never succeed.

The omlette is ready. The chai man brings it out to me, I’m sitting on a simple wood bench, the type which would break if your weight is too much, and I’m struck by how generous of a portion it is. On a simple white plastic plate, the kind from my childhood, the omlette takes up so much space that the two small, square pieces of toast have to be piled on top. I cut the egg into two pieces, divy up my toast, and dig in. The meal is delish.

Watching me from his quilted stoop inside the telephone-sized stall, he asks, “Israeli?”

I’ve been getting more and more of this recently. It might be my stubble of a beard, but I can’t be sure.

“No, United States,” I reply.
The chai man looks at me confused, obviously not understanding.
“Amerika,” I add, emphasizing the “k” which seems to me the trick at the beginning of anyconversation.

“Oh, America.”

A couple of moment later, he asks another question. “Chai?”

It’s been my goal for the last few weeks to cut back to one cup a day. If I drink too much, I only sleep five or six hours each night and wake up at four AM. With my mind racing about where I’m going to go, what I’m going to photograph, and which emails I’m going to send, it’s nearly impossible to get back to sleep. Plus, it’s bad news for whomever has to be the recipient of those emails.

But heck, I’ve fallen in love with this guy’s stand so I think why not. “Yes, one cup,” I say, and see him move his pan off one single burner to make way for the pot.

The man’s business is the quintessential Indian chai/omlette/samosa shack. I can’t put it any better than that, as the beauty of the moment struck me like a lorry. It’s painted bright yellow, similar to an STD point, and the side is emblazoned with “Lay’s Potato Chips.” There is a sill in the front at chest height with forty or so eggs, that loaf of bread with flies buzzing around it, several samosas in a pan, and a small bottle of red-ish, ketchup-y sauce for whatever you’d like to put it on. Sure, the stands come in many shapes and sizes on the sub-continent, with different types of foods, drinks, plates, and cups, but at this moment I notice it in its entirety. To me, the stand is a profound statement of my travels. This is India, and this man sells omlettes and chai for a living.

As he’s heating the chai, I suddenly want to capture the process. I whip my camera out of the bag, spilling another set of notes in the process. As I peer through the viewfinder, though, I see I’ve been inspired at the end of his work. He pours the drink through a strainer to my cup. The chai is ready.

Near the end of my caffeine and sugar elixir, I talk with a man from Delhi. We cover the basics, and then I rattle off the whole list of places I’ve seen this trip. The businessman appears disinterested this development of the conversation, but the chai man speaks up. “Chamba?”

I repeat the question back at him, not understanding its nature.

Then I do realise and ask, “Chamba Valley?”
“Yes,” he replies.
“No, not his trip. From Jammu to McLeod Ganj.”
“Oh…”

I finally understand why he asked. “Are you from Chamba Valley?”

Whatever connection we made when I first arrived at his humble stand is magnified, enhanced. He gives me a “yes” with a broad smile and proceeds to show me a picture, worn and weathered, of him on the bank of Dal Lake. He is standing in front of a sign, and looks quite proud in a blue and red vest.

“Dal Lake,” he points, indicating something in the picture. I obviously don’t understand why he’s mentioning this. Again he says, “Dal Lake. In Hindi.”

I look closer and can see he’s pointing at script on the sign. Ah, that makes sense. It says “Dal Lake” in Hindi.

Putting the photograph down, he rolls up his sleeve to show me something else: a tattoo on his forearm. I glance at the body art and the side of his stand he points to as well. Both say “Krishan Chana.”

Ah, his name. That make sense too. “I’m Daniel,” I forward while holding out my hand.

He has one last tattoo to show me, the holy Om on the back of his hand. I don’t recognize it at first, but then I do. I pull out my Om, the one Kip brought back two years ago, from under my shirt and show it to him. “Shiva,” he says, pointing at my neck.

“Yup.”

And that’s the magic. That’s who he is, or a part, and that’s who I am. Or a part. Our conversation is limited because of language, but we’re both eager to learn about one another. India, although rapidly “modernizing,” is still about people. It affects me, irrovorcably I hope, every day I’m in this country.

Having finished my chai, I pay the six rupees and wander on.

Chai man

Mr. Bachhuber goes to mumbai

On 5 February, less than a month from today, I will be heading back to the great land of India for nearly ninety days. If I manage to survive the aggressive monkeys and crazy elephants, it will be the longest trip I have ever been on. Why are you going to India for such a lengthy time, one might ask? Well, Curious George, there are a couple key answers to this question.

One is that, thanks to some voodoo magic and an absurd number of classes last fall, I have enough credits for junior status. Although people are quick to point out that such a situation won’t necessarily make me graduate any faster, something or other about my major, I think it’s justification enough to take the winter and spring terms off. Worst case scenario is that I have to take summer school.

Secondly is that, and this is the primary reason mind you, using frequent flier miles doesn’t guarantee you specific travel dates. In fact, the airlines don’t even really let you pick your vacation when you’re using a free ticket to get to a foreign country. Upon the surprise of learning the earliest day I could return to the States was May 3rd, I thought, “err… I’ll take it?”

My parents aren’t exactly ecstatic about that decision, but you’ve got to take the opportunities as they come!

The itinerary for this trip, at this point, is a rough draft. I know for sure I will be working in some capacity on Whitman Direct Action’s Sadhana Clean Water Project for the first month and a half. The conference will put me in Mumbai on and around 19 March 2008. Other than that, I have two specific goals. My first hope is to parallel the WDA project with a one of my own. Involving photography. And a critical eye. Ideas in my mind I have, but I need to get them together pretty soon so I can get spec letters out. My second wish is to see Northern India, the entire half I missed during my first trip. Potential stops include Rajahstan, the Taj, and Dharmasala.

My itinerary as it unfolds (which may be not the best choice of words) will be published for everyone to see. And most important, I’ll be blogging every step of the way!

Some logical, if not brilliant, advice I’ve gotten so far:

  • Keep your camera in sight at all times
  • Baby shampoo can be used as toothpaste and shampoo
  • Put dental floss in your sewing kit, it’s the most indestructible thread out there
  • Keep a copy of your passport in your webmail

From the way it looks so far, India 2008 is going to be one epic journey.

Update: You can now keep updated on these adventures (or lack there of) by using my subscribe page or joining the Facebook Group.