Holy Moly

Holy Moly

On Sunday morning Shweta was not going cycling on Marine Drive, so I decided to make my morning productive regardless. I had been wanting to take pictures of the Gateway of India without the crowd, since it’s always swarming with people, and Sunday mornings are the quietest you’ll ever find Bombay, so I set out on a quest.

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The typical Sunday Morning. Are you jealous of the Happy Cycle Shop on Third Pasta Lane, or what?!

I am just standing there at the entry way where there is a good view of the structure, fumbling through my bag. Fairly oblivious to the happenings around me, suddenly my wrist was grabbed, my hand was flipped over, palm side up, and there appears in my hand this mysterious, white rock candy and a marigold flower. After staring at and contemplating this weird business in my hand, I look up slowly to find standing in front of me a drug addict* holy man.

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I had been ambushed.

And there was no stopping it.

*Please note that there are real holy men in India and like this man, they wear this white cloth tied around their legs like a saggy, adult diaper, and they wrap their heads in warm colored fabrics and paint their faces with an array of stripes and dots on the yellow-orange spectrum. They are usually found at temples and holy sites, sometimes I see them on the trains. This guy was a holy man impersonator, again, with a suspiciously long pinky finger nail (just like the mail man), but it gave me a thrill, so I didn’t mind. 

So I look at him, and I say, “No, no, no, I don’t want it. I don’t want to pay for it. Don’t do it.”

What does he do?

In about eight whirlwind seconds he wraps a thread around my wrist while chant-mumbling a prayer, paints a red dot on my forehead and says, “TKay*, now you live long life, very long life now. You have money?”

*Tkay is the Hindi way of saying Okay.

I just laughed at him, shook my head, and said, “I don’t have to pay you because I told you no and I didn’t ask for this, butI kind of want to keep this bracelet, so I will give you ten Rupees.”

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Not only was I able to document the Gateway of India, but I was also able to capture a very hippie picture of myself being poser Indian in front of the structure. I wish I had met a fraud holy man before I saw the Taj Mahal. 

He seemed pleased enough.

He was happy, I was happy, and now live long life.

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I sat here after my big Indian life-lengthening experience and felt stupid as everyone who passed me by, eating my French toast was like, ohhh, one of those tourists, trying to be all spiritual and stuff.  I later licked my finger and erased the dot using the reflection of a car tented window. Knowing my luck, there was probably someone in there. 

Moral of the story? Though I no longer consider myself a tourist in Mumbai because I have been here for two months, Istill look like one. I am constantly harassed by people who are trying to get any bit of money they can from me because I am foreign.

Just today at the train station Ihad an adorable, old man with  a Santa Claus beard ask to draw my portrait. I told him I didn’t want to pay for it and I had a train to catch. He said, “But you’re from America, you have money.” And I said yes, but I don’t want to buy a picture of myself.” And then he said, “But I’m a real artist!” And I said, “I’m sure you are, but that’s my train!” And I got on the train. If I had time I may have actually sat with the guy just for the heck of it because he was kind of endearing. But alas, I have no portrait to share as of now.

Posts coming in the near future: Matrimony in the newspaper, my slum tour, puri delight, and hopefully many more. I have a lot of things to squeeze in here in the next few weeks!

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Confessions of a Protestant Girl

Confessions of a Protestant Girl

Since I’ve been in India, a country with EXTRAORDINARY religious diversity, I have been trying to indulge in understanding each one of them as a means of better comprehending the culture I’ve been dropped into. Religion is very important here, almost everyone practices one, and thus necessary for gaining an adequate cultural context to every day experiences.

While I could go further about this, I will save it for later because right now, I have some confessions to make about my own cultural upbringing and faith.

I’ll just admit it; I’ve never sat through a full Catholic mass. I’ve been with friends as a kid a time or two, but even then we did not sit during the entire service. It’s not that I am the type of person to get fussy about denominational divides like this, it just simply is because that’s how I was raised.

So let’s lay out the facts:

  • I am from Missouri.
  • Missouri is in the bible belt (Yeah, true, Kansas City may not be so bible-ish-ey because it’s a city, but have you been to Branson? Exactly. BIBLE BELT.)
  • Or, if you prefer, wikipedia says: 

Or, if you prefer, wikipedia says: 

The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the south-eastern and south-central United States in which socially conservativeevangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation’s average.

  • I was born and raised in a protestant church. (Shout out to the Disciples of Christ!)
  • Result: Jennifer is not well educated in Catholicism, end of story.

The thing is, most of the Christian churches here happen to be Catholic also. Although Christians are a minority in India, many of the schools that children in the cities attend are private, catholic schools, regardless of their own faith.

The reason?

Public education offered here has a poor reputation as being insufficient so people send their children to private schools. My guess is that the catholic trend is a remnant of the European colonization of India, especially since Bombay was the hub of the British rule.

What does this mean?

Well, I am confessing (I know, very Catholic of me) that many of the Muslim and Hindu children running around Mumbai know more about how to behave during a Catholic mass than I do.

Why is this important?

A couple of weeks ago I was encouraged to go the Rosary Church down the street to check it out. So I did.

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Rosary Church from the inside. It’s a bad picture because I was trying to be discrete and because I am a bad photographer. BUT, what you can’t tell is that those mural paintings up top, they are indeed, Indian because they depict women in saris, just like how our Jesus is always very white, I am sure.

 ImageOh, hey ominous Jesus statue and your shadow! Isn’t that wild? Also not that I photographed this, but there are A LOT MORE Jesus statues in churches here than I have ever seen in my life. Another one of those things that left me wondering if it was a Catholic phenominon or an Indian cultural one influenced by the Hindu idols–I don’t know.

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This really bad photo is one that I took from a distance of the entry, where to the left you can see the Jesus statue mentioned below. I was trying to be as not rude as possible, while still photographing it. 

What resulted was me staring down people as they fondled the Jesus statue and kissed its feet and me being stared down by others as I:

  • sat when I was supposed to stand
  • stood when I was supposed to sit
  • and tried to cross myself in the wrong direction.

I kid you not when I say that I  walked in and wondered why there was a foot rest in front of all of the pews. Whoops! That’s not a foot rest, it’s a kneeling bench—it’s good to know, FYI, if you are attending mass.

ImageThe first time I went this was on the board and I liked it. The preist actually gave a very important sermon calling attention to the issues of rape, abuse and molestation. 

Mostly I stumbled away in a haze thinking two things:

  1. Was I confused about that whirlwind event because that was Catholic or because that was Indian? Like, is this syncretism of religion or am I just really dumb? Answer still to be determined. I’ll have to attend a mass back home and get back to you.
  2. You know what they say, fake it till you make it! I wanted to do this so I could participate and not draw more attention.

And then it hit me was texted to me by James: a revelation!

I was going to be in India for Ash Wednesday and Ash Wednesday (today!) also marks my half way point of  being here, and furthermore I am flying home on Good Friday, just in time for Easter!

It’s as if the stars had aligned for me here in India and my whole life made since.

That’s when I decided that I need to learn this stuff (being Catholic) because I WILL participate in Ash Wednesday festivities.

My steps to get there?

For starters I walked to the church yesterday to check the time for the mass service only to be stampeded by hundreds of kids and their parents. How was I to know that school gets out at 6pm? So I took a walk, explored the area, and then circled back nonchalantly  like I had meant to do that all along and saw that mass was at 7pm.

This evening in a tizzy I texted James asking him how to cross myself because after working summers at a Catholic daycare, he IS well-educated in the practices. He then referred me to the internet.

Tonight at 6:45pm I marched/strutted (learned that from all the chickens I see here) confidently to the church, crossed myself as I entered (forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder, thanks, Google!) and I plunked my rear-end down, of course after kneeling. I got wedged in-between women who showed up by themselves. At first I was nervous they would be on to me, but then I realized, everyone is so no-nonsense  and introspective. I am used to church serivces where nobody shuts up and people socialize a lot. While I wouldn’t enjoy the rigidity at home, the meditative attitude is ideal for me here because simply put, I am not talked to, nor am I expected to talk to anyone.

Don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t ask me if I am faking being Catholic so I can get ashes on my forehead and I won’t tell you that I am faking it to get ashes on my forehead. Don’t ask me if I am Catholic while you stick that communion bread in my mouth for me (I have never been fed my communion, but let’s just say, I didn’t hate it. Was I supposed to let him do that? I digress…) and I won’t tell you that I am not Catholic as I accept your motion to put that bread in my mouth for me.

I did it like a pro, and I felt great about it! Through the formality in his voice, the echoes and  the thick Indian accent I could make out that what the priest said is that Lent should be a season for pensiveness, reflectivity and joyful waiting in “bright hope.”

And so starts my lent, giving up America (obviously) and taking on a go-getter attitude during the final half of my stay here.

Good Friday will have never felt so good, as going home is, thanks to my weirdo lovely family, always good, just in time to celebrate Easter!

I can already smell the vinegar of egg dying (which will likely be done at midnight due to jet lag), feel the bunny sweater that I will be wearing that Lynn painted in the 1980’s—it looks better now than ever, taste the sugar cookies we will make (and feel the subsequent stomach ache from consuming half of the dough), see the beauty of the sunrise at the 7am service, and anticipate the joy of spending a day in celebration with family. Oh, and a belated birthday bear hug for Grandpa Frank, too.

I can truly say that Lent has never been so symbolic for me! I am having way too much fun with this.

Image Another, golden gem of a selfie. End result: ASHES, ASHES, WE ALL FALL DOWN!

But until my return to the bible belt, I look forward to being awkward at more Indian religious events, accumulating my reservoir of creepy photos that I’ve taken of elderly people with red hair and spending my days teaching the cutest kids alive, all the while in an endless pursuit of milkless coffees.

ImageThis humiliating closeup was an attempt to capture the fact that when I got home I realized I had been walking around with ashes on my nose. I look like one of the dogs when they get into the litter box…