Reflections in Ahemdabad

by thetanvi

As I write cover letters to jobs, I feel proud of the work I have taken on and I feel my personal commitment should make me more employable though I am a fresh graduate. These entry-level jobs aren’t all that appealing, but still the descriptions are looming- am I even capable of taking a real job on? I’m careful to recognize I’m not accustomed to rejection when I do applications. Out of 7 colleges I applied to, there was only one rejection. Since then, most of the jobs I’ve taken were simply me finding something I wanted to do, and applying to only that for the summer or semester and luckily securing it without a backup plan. Apprehension about what this process is going to do my already battered egos hangs.

India, to be truthful, is also a slap in the face for me. Incapable of everyday tasks and interactions I feel embarrassed of how little I know- from how to get hot water using the geyser or igniting the gas stovetop. So much is unfamiliar and intriguing sometimes it’s like being a child again. I’m not pretty enough or pleasant enough and without the confidence here that I have in the openness and safety of home. Arriving first to the materialism of Mumbai was overwhelming, but here in Ahmedabad with just my mom and grandparents around and a quiet calm routine I am finally beginning to adjust though more lonely and alienated without others around my age and interests. Others make arrangements and I generally can’t keep up with conversations in Gujarati so I resign being taken along and often finding out the plan as we arrive at a shop or friends house.

Heated discussions inevitably erupt daily to decide every little thing, bickering, interrupting, loudly, punctuated with laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, the stubborn insistences with the best intentions. I mostly try to stay out of it.

Maybe the best part… the food. The food is incredible, fresh wholesome homemade veggie based meals every day. Fresh to the freshest extent- freshly ground flour, freshly milked cows, freshly picked produce remains the norm. Vegetable vendors bring garden-fresh local produce around calling out melodically their wares, from our balcony we can say what from their cart we want, send down a cloth bag on a rope and pull up the food.

I’m learning about the names of spices and vegetables and how homemade yogurt and butter is made, among other dishes. Also the properties, if you eat this or that and in what order and with what spices will have what effect on your body. I get to chop and prepare veggies now and then but most of the actual cooking on the stove is done by the cook, or someone who knows what they are doing; with me hovering around pestering with questions.

Produce in India is so very different from the large, colored, flawlessly smooth strangely tasteless stacks of fruits and vegetables that arrive from all over to our American grocery stores. Generally much smaller, deeper richer colors, and poignant flavorful flesh and knotted and spotted skinned, the produce is clearly grown and distributed very differently. Articles appear in the local paper about the Bt Bringel debate- genetically modified eggplants in layman’s terms- I clip them and wonder what I’ll be doing organizing a conference on it within a couple weeks- knowing so little.

There is a tailor in the living room right now and it’s 3am at home- here, we’ve picked out some striking fabrics and are getting Indian clothes stitched. Getting measured is an odd thing, if I got that done often, and clothes made to fit, then I’d probably be as conscious of my size. Both of my grandparents are retired and the days stretch on long, waking at 5:30 am to take a walk around a park, with the traffic later on the day we’d have to catch a rickshaw for the quarter mile distance to the lush green park filled with old timers in the early hours. There are lotus and lily pad filled ponds, lit up foundations, a ‘senior citizen library’, and a group that routinely practices yoga at the same time where are there.

I still haven’t matched up my circadian rhythm with the new time zone, disrupted with frequent napping and sleepless night; getting restful undisturbed sleep with the open air with my light sleeping isn’t easy at home much less here, with shared space and open windows and the noises of the downtown apartment. We are in the new section of the city, but the ancient walled core is even more jumbled and chaotic, but stunning beautiful and complexly fascinating. Last time we visited, two years ago, we took a ‘heritage walking tour’ focusing on the architecture, intricate and rich decorative styles are shockingly commonplace amongst the homeless and poor that line some streets with shacks, cows, and haphazard businesses.

Strangely enough I find the workings of the economy fascinating as I ponder the growing influence in India of corporations, shopping malls, and other modern institutions that dictate the terms of consumption back in the US. Countless small scale labor intensive businesses support the everyday life of people. The wealthier one is, the more people one supports through hiring, within your own home- Examples- a woman from one of the tumbling shacks woman that cluster outside of the guarded apartment complex does the laundry, cleaning and dishes by hand daily. In Mumbai, the laundry was taken from the house, cleaned and pressed then delivered back the apartment, err I mean ‘flat’*. Clothes are generally made by hand- choose your fabric, then design how you want it cut and necklines, sleeve lengths, borders and embroideries and theses plenty of manpower around to do everything by hand. Couriers deliver invitations individually. A man comes around doing rounds on his bicycle and prepares meals for ours and several other families also each day. Some of my family that lives in downtown Mumbai opt for full time servants that cook then serve at the table, nannies, drivers- who then sleep outside of the apartment in the hallway or on the roof or terrace- this is typical in crowded the urban centers where property is scarce and prices steep. In the US we’ve replaced manpower with machinery, and instead of meeting the needs of the immediate community with artisans, cooks, tailors and carpenters, people consume mass produced goods while seated at desks pushing paper or repeatedly assembling parts in a factory.

As we drove down a highly commercial street, my mom recounted what the same scene was when she was my age… so much has changed. With industrialization comes wealth- to those exploiting people and nature- and with that wealth, growing consumption. I recognize the obvious benefits to the growth and change, I have seen all the modern world has to offer and I plead the rest of the world not to simply follow blindly the western wor

There is a wedding celebration on the streets. The wedding we attended was held in a hotel hall catered with all the modern amenities but this one is more traditional and the tinkering of blaring music and crashing bursts reach our windows. The ubiquitous celebration has reached our home, the maid arrived with her daughter and granddaughter in tow decked out in wedding saris and jewelry and painted faces. Beautiful joyful women in cheap plastic bangles pausing from their revelry in order to sweep our floors. Unsettling.

*Most people here learn British English and if I speak my normal speed and clarity- which admittedly is fast and mumbling at home, no one understands so I must slow down and articulate which is fine, it’d just be nice to have a fast paced conversation now and then.