Thursday, December 29, 2005

high tech toilets

on route, the asiana folks dropped us off at a hotel outside seoul for half a day to rest up. while i can't say i can see much of korea, i can say america is way behind in its bathroom technology. this hotel room is a serious gizmo force. it took me about 5 minutes to learn how to operate the toilet. i was a bit worried about pushing all kinds of buttons with phrases like 'rear cleanse' without making sure a rear was available for cleansing. the last thing i need is to be staring inside this toilet while i learn whether the massage feature is jet spray driven (it is).

the first thing that comes to my mind upon leaving india and entering a new western land is innevitably how clean it is. i've been to india so many times i can't count; i would expect this epiphany to fade, especially given that i'm so conscious of it. nonetheless, wow, its so clean out. i am staring out the hotel window looking down into an empty lot strewn with trash, and all i can think is wow, its so clean. this room is so clean. i get to drop my stinky shoes and change into cute little slippers on entering our room. ananya can roam freely and i don't have the usual paranoia driven urge to rub cleansing solution on everything.

i often spend time thinking about what actually causes the dirt in india. i've come to the conclusion that the causes are so multi-factorial. you have the obvious stuff: the fact that everyone throws their garbage out the window, the fact that pigs, cows, dogs, peacocks and people, being without access to massaging hi-tech toilets, take advantage of the roads and side walks. and of course there is the climate itself, brutal sun, sandy dirt, etc. the more time i spend in india, the less i want to think about this particular issue, mostly because i've thought it to death, and the topic gets so tiresome. but when i'm stuck in a taxi mulling over the choice between: staying inside with a driver that has not discovered the freshness of old spice, the waft of urine stenched air driven by the public avoidance of the even fouler public restrooms, and leaving all of our luggage unsupervised ( a definite no-no), its tough not to.

night air

well we're back in seattle. we got in yesterday morning after a brutally long journey.

i woke up from one of my many naps, disoriented and lucidly waxing pseudo-logic; i was convinced it must be really late, since the neighborhood was abnormally quiet. it was 6PM and cars were returning home from work.

i've been staring into the night for hours now waiting for the sun to show up. it's raining, and i'm standing outside in our front yard just completely in awe of the quality of air i'm breathing. it strikes me that our impressions of the world are so relative to our experience. i'm sure 3 weeks from now, this air will seem slightly polluted and far inferior to the fresh breeze up in the mountains.

Monday, December 19, 2005

painting away

art: here are a few photos from the past few weeks. they're all taken on masi's cotie where we've been painting.


sukhi and gurpreet paji took me to a little buffalo house in a field of dirt with buffalo dung scattered about. i wasn't quite sure why. we walked in, and i saw many sadhus clad in orange robes, orange turbans, and long beards. for the uninitiated, sadhus are holy people, typically old men, that have left there families and all material possessions to wander from holy place to holy place.

we chatted with one of the sadhus for a while, then wandered into the buffalo house. one of the sadhus was wearing a white outfit and had no turban. gurpreet paji introduced me as the cousin from abroad, and said i had a deep spiritual question for the baba. then he and sukhi both started laughing. basically, i was left to put together the situation on my own. the baba breaks out in perfect english and says, "why are you here? is this a joke for you?" i stumbled for a bit trying to recover the situation, then asked him the first spiritual question that came to mind. basically i said something like "many religions: christianity, sikhism, hinduism, islam, have some notion essentially saying "God is everywhere and in all things." so, if this is true, then it means God can be in evil as well as good. is this true? he thought for a moment, went on a bit of a tangent, then i asked the same question again a few times. eventually he said something like, God is in you, that is the most important thing to focus on, purify yourself, and you will find God. that is the only path to God.

we wandered back to the open field area where lungar was being served to about 10 poor kids from local villages. my cousins introduced me to a rather large and old baba. he smiled and said, roughly translated, wonderful little one, what a great thing that you have come. this is a phrase that old people in villages often repeat over and over again to any young visitor. anyway, the main baba (holy person), smiled and walked away, then a few moments later, returned and said to my cousins, this means he is sant's sukha (true) nephew. we all nodded, then he got very excited, hugged me repeatedly, and started ordering everyone to get me milk, give me food, get me a manja to sit on, put parshad in my mouth, etc. sant mamaji (my mother's brother) and his father, my grandfather, gurbachan singh, had been going to this baba for many years. it turns out these sadhus, and this baba are rather unique, they are followers of sikhism, but also are devout hindus. many sikhs, and adherents to the later gurus, reject hinduism with its idol worship, and well, practice of asceticism. it turns out, the baba was given this land by someone many years ago to live in. he visits with villagers and they feed him and feel honored that he showed up. once a year, a group of sadhus from haridwar spends 14 days with him on route during a pilgrimmage to, i believe, rishikesh; but the details are foggy since my punjabi is not that hot, and i lose things when people are talking really fast.

in any event, i returned a few more times over the course of a few days. ameen came as well. we both loved it. i felt like it was such an incredibly authentic situation. there were only a few people in a field; there was no money, no press, no hope for anything bigger to happen, no drive to gather more people, convert anyone, or make this worship anything other than what it was.

i pulled out my camera one night - when the flash went off, the babas were all anxious. someone explained what was going on. they got incredibly excited that "the one whos returned from afar" was shooting pictures. someone had donated a car for the night to drive the main baba (the world leader of this group) to a prayer. on rare occasions they randomly show up at someone's house. they showed up at gurpreet paji's. everyone was thrilled, its considered a sign of good luck. i asked sukhi why - he said it happens on occasion - not many sikhs support them, and have houses free of meat, eggs and alcohol. he added while laughing, "well actually we have a few bottles lying around (for guests); we're just smart and keep them hidden."

Sunday, December 18, 2005


the past 3 days we've been in sukharan, my maternal ancestral village, staying with gurpreet paji (my cousin) and my mamiji (mother's brother's wife). it's been a blast and it appears nayan's intestinal friend is on its way out. sukharan is a small pind, about 70 houses surrounded by flat and fruitful farmland. we've spent a good part of the day chatting with all of our village elders about our family and the village history.

sukharan was started about 150 years ago by my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather himat singh. himat singh's father, fauja singh, lived in a yellow house in rotinda. i doubt the house was yellow some 200 years ago, or had a soccer ball water tank on the roof as it does now (we drove by the other day). anyway, fauja singh is the last of our lineage that my cousin sukhi can remember off the top of his head. without blinking, sukhi informs me of over 150 years worth of family lineage. he tells me that my grandfather gurbachan singh, had 2 brothers, one shiv singh, who's grandson is gurpreet. the other brother, banta singh, had one son charanjit singh, who's wedding pictures, all black and white, show photos of me, a spitting image of nayan at 5 years of age. his son is sukhi.

sukhi lives in another yellow house that himat singh first built when maharaja ranjit singh gifted him 500 acres of land for being a 'brave and fearless' brigadier general in the raja's army. for those who don't know, maharaja ranjit singh was the first and only sikh king to conquer all of the punjab, modern day punjab, haryana, himachal, much of kashmir, pakistani punjab, and lands into afghanistan. his reign rendered one of the few moments of calm in an otherwise violent punjab history, as much of the conquering was done via clever negotiation. after many more mukhi de rotis, our complete line was revealed: i.e., himat singh was the son of fauja singh, and father of mehtab singh (a colonel in the rajas army), father of gopal singh, father of inder singh, who was the father of our 3 grandfathers.

while writing this, i'm realizing this all reads like the introduction to a shakespeare play. anyway, over dinner, one of my mamijis reveals that himat singh's masi's (mothers sister) daughter was maharani jind kaur, the 7th (and i'm told most beautiful) of 7 wives of the maharaja. so it seems, her parents, after discovering a babe of a daughter, saw an opportunity to expand the family fortune. they convinced the maharaja that 6 wives was not enough, and that he should check out their daughter. well i guess it all worked out, since himat singh was made a general, and our family prospered. another interesting tid bit, himat singh, on leaving the army, and taking land in lieu of a pension for his service, left his home in rotinda, and travelled about 2 kilometers to build a house on his new land. he brought with him his faithful servants. the servants, now politically correctly referred to as 'aatarmi', or the oppressed ones, it seems have far outbred the jats.

we jats form the warrior caste (and farmers, since warring used to be a part-time profession) within hinduism. none of this caste stuff should matter since caste-ism is officially banned in both the indian constitution, and the sikh faith, but alas, it certainly does. nearly all the punjabi jats became sikhs beginning around the 15th century. i'm informed that now only 5 out of the 70 houses in the village are "ours," though nearly all of the land is. as i roam the village, everyone knows who i am. its a serene pastoral place; no buzzing scooters, sputtering auto rikshas, black cloud bellowing trucks, or skanky red paan stains. the local police are annoyed that there's "no money to be made in sukharan." translation: everyone gets along, no drunken fights followed by law breaking, and the need to bribe the police to get off. it's also true that i'm related to everyone (jats) in the village. we drink chai, and eat barfi at each of our 5 houses, the members of which all fit somewhere in the lineage down from himat singh.

sukhi informs me that in rotinda, all the jats are gosals. they're often called 'billean', or the cats, beacause nearly all have green eyes (a rarity in brown eyed india). only 1 of the gosal lines in sukharan got the bille gene. i am eating with one of my more distant mami's (mother's brother's wife) and i nearly jump out of my seat. i suddenly recognize her eyes, from 30 years ago. she was then veiled in black wearing garlic over her mouth, and red chilli peppers around her neck, screaching through the village chasing us children (its an old wedding tradition in our village). i was terrified. my sister, cousins and i lied shaking under a bed for hours.

sukhi says the gosal line moved to rotinda about 450 years ago. he's going to rishikesh this summer, where our family pundit can track our lineage back many more hundreds of years.

haveli and barbecues

so the kooseriah showed up again today asking about whether my cousin's had a son. ameen said yes, so even more drama ensued. ameen misunderstood them, and thought they were referring to veena's ( our cook) daughter's son, who indeed was born the day before.

today has been a relatively uneventful day. we painted in the morning for a few hours, then went to niko park, a local little kiddie park.

last night we went out to eat at haveli and rangala punjab. i suppose if anything represents the progress of india, it might be this place. some local entrepreneurs decided to make a restaurant w/ decor typical of old punjabi villages. the design work was extremely well done. they had handmade munji's that many of us remember from our pre-capitalism visits to india. the restaurant was so successful, that the founders expanded the company to reproduce an entire village. they went to villages and bought bricks and doorways from old houses being demolished. they also created a complete village using clay and other interesting materials. it has a bunch of random stuff thrown in, like the monkey guy that has 2 monkey's that do this ridiculous but engaging rendition of a monkey wedding, a magic guy, an entire bazaar, camel's and horses, bangra dancers, and my favorite, a parrot that predicts your future. what i thought was great about haveli was the quality of the execution. in punjab its pretty rare to see someone meticulously create a service business that doesn't eventually have the equivalent of duct tape everywhere, i.e. wires strewn about, decaying concrete, 70's foam ceilings, paan spit, bands of dudes staring blankly at you. here the bazaar was well done, the items for sale were all handmade crafts that are a dieing trade and tough to find, surdars serving food (an absolute rarity in india) with a smile and really great customer service. the place was also hopping w/ people.

of course it was topped off only by nayan screaming that it was a terrible place and he wanted to go home (we made the mistake of waking him up from his nap). the tantrum lasted well into this morning. it ended only after we brought out the usual "cops here beat little kids that cry with really big sticks." trick. to which he replied, "there's a cop, bring him over here, i want to barbecue him." after our driver, while laughing, agreed to go get him, nayan declared that he was just joking. so, it appears, our certain-to-psychologically-impare-our-son tactic of using the police threat to stop tantrums, appears to still work.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


i haven't gotten a chance to post anything in a while. i do have a number of blog additions though. some are in long hand in my journal, others on my laptop. its such a pain to transfer them up. anyway, spent the day painting. nayan is finally off his antibiotics. things seem to be holding up, though he now seems to have come down with a cough, thankfully nothing serious. the baby is fattening up quite impressively. we're now on our way to mohalon to visit my thiaji as well as my cousin and family from the states.

its amazing the number of random people that show up at my masi's house during the day. the other day it was the 'koorah wallah' who wants cash for picking up the garbage. we also had the chonkidar show up demanding money for protecting the house; after repeated vists and much gafawing, we managed to convince him that no one lives in the house. the toy seller dude lingers sometimes for an hour in front of the house, blowing this dying goose sounding horn in an attempt to get nayan to start whining for a plastic gun. today the 'kooseriah' showed up demanding to know if my brother had a son. the kooseriah are the local eunach's, snipped and transvested, they arrive on the birth of a son to offer good blessings if well compensated, and threats to dance in the street naked if the cash is insufficiant. the dollar amount is amazing, like 500$ US, which is well over the average annual income. urban legend has it some of them cruise the streets in loked out mercedes. anyway, we managed to convince the kooseriah that i was not related (which is of course a lie, the father at issue is my cousin, which here certainly qualifies me to pay up), and that no son exists. we successfully convinced them only after repeating over and over and over that my cousins wife just got to the US a few days ago, so the requisite 9 months of baby incubation time had not passed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

the kids

wow what a pain to post a picture with this brutally slow connection. anyway, here's a picture from the other day at wonderland. this would be moments before nayan was to encounter his intestinal friend which is sadly still with us, though fortunately not slowing him down much.

Monday, December 05, 2005

painting and nana devi

art: just got back from masi's. spent the morning painting. pretty happy with how things are turning out. i got inspired by a francis souza painting. was an abstracted cityscape with heavy black outlines - bright and colorful inside the lines, lots of scratching and textural contrasts. i can't seem to find an electronic copy of the painting (its on the back of this month's art in india magazine for anyone motivated) - here's a link to some of souza's other work: since the subject matter is pretty convenient, i've been painting a lot of building facades borrowing a similar style. 3 paintings are nearing completion. still waiting for more of our canvases to arrive. a bunch of them were warped so we had jan bhai, our local art contact, redo them.

on other notes, it gets pretty cold here at night. the lack of heat and marble floors makes it more pronounced. its such a contrast from our hot days of painting outside on the cotie. we went to mohalon, my dhaadkes for a few days. we also cruised up into the himilayan foothills to visit naina devi. the road was terrible, but the views amazing. nayan had a great time w/ the many many monkies, though he learned quickly to stay close to us - they're extremely aggressive.
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