Wednesday, January 31, 2007

sweet home

so its moving day. not without the general headache of getting ANYTHING done in this place, but it is happening. the new place, officially called "Sweet Home", still needs a bit of work but the landlord assures us it will be done by "tomorrow".

ahhh tomorrow...

So we are leaving the guest house and this means we are leaving wireless internet access behind for a while. let's hope we can get it up and running soon!

so the address is:

1 Benson Road
Sweet Home, Flat 3A,
Benson Town, Bangalore
India 560046

Let real life begin!


check us out in our aforementioned action against eve-teasing! we drew quite a crowd once again.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


there are many things here that are familiar to me, and would be familiar to anyone who's lived consciously in a developing country: those whiffs of burning trash, raw sewage, frying food, body odor; public displays of belching, nose picking, blowing snot on the sidewalk; chaotic traffic, total lack of right of way, and a dearth of sidewalks and pedestrian signals; families of four or five on a single motorcylce or scooter; waking up to neighbors hacking up a lung; abysmal music in bars and clubs, invariably including "what's going on" by four non blondes and "one more time" by daft punk; the laid back approach to time and punctuality; neglected dogs, often traveling in packs; the glaring discrepancy between rich and poor, light and dark skin; etc.

things i've never seen before: so many young children who are homeless and made to beg; decorated cows hanging out in the middle of the street or lying on the side of the road (it's a criminal offense to hit and kill a cow); and the extent to which public spaces are male-dominated.

today i decided to treat myself to an ayurvedic oil massage in honor of my birthday. (special shout out to my mom who did the hardest work that day 32 years ago!) it was quite an experience. i wouldn't describe it has relaxing per se, since i had to sustain some uncomfortable positions while oiled up and sliding around on a plastic massage table. two women worked on me, one on each side, both sets of hands vigorously rubbing the length of my body, perfectly in synch, and leaving not one millimeter untouched. we're talkin' boobs, butt crack, they really went for it man! the day ended with my dear surabhi taking me to a very yummy and fancy italian restaurant.

lastly, greta bought her ticket today. yipeeee!

Monday, January 29, 2007

the shape of work

so, i recently realized, that i came here to work. like i have a job. that i have to go to most days of the week. even sundays sometimes.

but to be fair, people have a very humane approach to the work day in india, as in many other places in the world, i am sure. we work long days but there are leisurely lunches and regular breaks for tea and coffee. lots of public holidays and very flexible timings. and for me, the work is exciting. already i feel engaged in community level processes in a tangible way. people have been really eager to integrate me into activities and introduce me to their realities.

basically i am supporting one study that is on going on improving couple communication as a strategy for reducing gender based violence in the home. the basic intervention is a series of training modules focused on participants thinking about gender roles, masculinity, femininity, and questioning them. thinking critically about relationships and the kinds of connections they want to foster in their own lives. this work is happening with an NGO called SAKTI way on the outskirts of south bangalore in an area called Kanakapura.

the other project that i am going to be initiating during my time here, is also on gender based violence but more focused on community-based responses to the problem. so it entails working with community members, police, local women's groups and other organizations to begin mapping out the resources available in the area and exploring what kinds of structural responses might be effective in improving women's health adn safety. this project will be in collaboration with the primary health clinics in the Robertson road area, which is more in the heart of the city.

highlight so far i think was going to meet the police commissioner of bangalore with my boss yesterday. what a trip man, right out of bollywood. armed guards outside. big desk, phone ringing off the hook, random men sitting in chairs along one wall of the office. despite all this macho framing, he was actually really receptive to the idea and believes that it is an important issue to address....let's see where that goes.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

found a flat!

here is a picture of a street in our new neighborhood, called benson town. we decided to go for the big, fully furnished, quiet flat in a beautiful building. there is plenty of room for visitors! the neighborhood is very mixed hindu/muslim/christian, and quite posh, though it seems we got a great deal. we had tea with our new landlord last night and he and his wife are incredibly sweet and accomodating. we move in on the 31st. what a relief!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

oh brother

in case you were wondering, the biggest news in india since we arrived has been the bollywood star shilpa shetty's misfortunes on the british reality show big brother. even hindu-muslim tensions and subsequent riots in bangalore didn't overshadow it. ?!?!?

meanwhile, bangalore is a beautiful, beautiful city. aside from the traffic and heavy pollution, it is a quite pleasant and interesting place to be. a german woman i met last night, upon hearing that it was my first time to india, said, "oh, well this is india 'light'." that and everything else a friend from bombay was saying made me a little nervous and strangely compelled to visit other big indian cities. compelled because i've already witnessed some pretty extreme acts of abuse (even surabhi concurred) in the first week of being here. on day 3, while in a rickshaw stopped at a red light, we noticed a man on a two-wheeler pull up to the curb next to us. even though the light was red, and he couldn't get much further, he tried to get past a very young crippled girl (4 or 5 years old) who was sitting on the curb. he spat on her and yelled for her to move out of the way. she had nowhere to go, as she was backed up to the railing and was physically unable to walk. he started threatening to run over her and began ramming the front wheel of his scooter into her legs. at this point i started sobbing uncontrollably, and surabhi yelled at him in kannada to leave her alone. the rick driver chimed in, too, saying, "look what you've done," and pointed to me. to draw attention to me instead of to the terrified child speaks not only to my privilege as a foreigner and a person with money (i.e., not a beggar), but also to the enormous amount of oppressive and insidious conditioning it takes for us as people to be able to treat fellow people (not to mention children) like rats.


i'm trying desperately to figure out how to upload video to youtube and then link to it on the blog. have some snippets which i'd like to share. sunila, help?

Monday, January 22, 2007

riots and resistance!

well india is certainly showing its colors, and promptly. day 5 and there are riots in bangalore. no, no, not because we came. because some hindu fundy fest got out of control ostensibly in reaction to another violent rally on friday where muslim groups were condeming the hanging of saddam. surprise surprise. we were unharmed, as we were nowhere near the violence, but saw the debris on our way home. scary indeed. hopefully the first and last such experience.

but the better part of the day was our evening participating in a piece of public art/action. We joined a group of feminists challenging the sexist norm of "eve-teasing" where idle men hang around on busy streets and watch women without any self-consciousness - and trust me it happens in epidemic proportions. so this project is called BLANK NOISE and in this particular campaign, Action Heroes, women take up the space usually occupied by men along the railings of Brigade Road - a very commercial area in Bangalore that is evidently ideal for gazing at the ladies (especially in jeanspants) and harrassing the hell out of them with no repercussions.

So in this action, the heroes hand out letters that chronicle familiar experiences of sexual harassment to other women passing by and just casually take over the space. when the heroes identify one or more really disgusting or irritating eve-teasers, they quietly approach and surround him/them. the result is brilliant, ranging from a panicky expression and immediate escape to fearful anxious laughter to typical aggressive reactions. The art of this action is in the performance of dominance over these leering, jeering, lecherous men and in the synchronized action that the group takes in challenging them - all the while silent. meanwhile, the male allies with us were also following up with other men to share information. it was a powerful experience and an amazing group of women and men to share the process with.

other than that we have been eating well - spent a lot of time with my family in south bangalore this weekend - and it looks like we have finally kicked the jetlag. And tomorrow is my first day of work! wish me luck!

Thursday, January 18, 2007


As we were preparing to leave and gathering information from friends and family, one of the most common reflections people had about their experiences in Bangalore was about the traffic. I brushed off these warnings as just exaggeration.

well, i was wrong. yep, you heard me right...i concede. this is one of the most congested and polluted places i have been. and there doesn't seem to be any plans for making it better. the increase in indivdual wealth is so evident in this city, but the chanelling of those resources to improving the collective good seems absolutely remote from the minds of the nouveau riche.

but that said, the city is alive as ever, bustling with activity and an odd congruity of modernity and tradition. the northern part of the city where we are looking for flats to live in, is a loud diverse mix of people from all over India, where the native language of kannada is rarely heard. it is also where ex-pats tend to land as this area was once the heart of the British settlement during the colonial period and is organized much like a european city. the southern part of bangalore where most of my beloved family lives is the home of more traditional Kannada, Hindu communtities. These neighborhoods are more like strings of well developed villages and towns that have merged together boasting some of the oldest buildings and homes in the city.

it is a vibrant city of young people and i think will prove to be a perfect place for us to get comfortable. We are meeting a broker to look at flats today and hopefully we can move out of this service apartment by the end of the month. Paige is, of course, being her superstar self and easing herself into the chaos that india invariably throws at you. i can tell. it is going to be a great year.

we made it

after an amazingly wonderful and teary send-off with friends and family who caravaned to JFK, we had a relatively easy journey to bangalore. aside from not sleeping, all went well and we were even picked up at the airport at 5 am. it is really good to be here. the weather is gorgeous, and i can see that exciting things lie ahead. we were able to explore some of the city, which seemed big to me, but i realize it was a very small part of bangalore that i saw. we traveled by auto-rickshaw, which, as expected, was a bit unnerving. surabhi has been amazing, rocking her kannada and hindi, and making it all happen. i look forward to the day when i'm able to tell the driver in hindi or kannada where i'm heading. the pollution has been hard on the sinuses, and i can't help but wonder what the prevalence of asthma is here. i'm having a lot of feelings and reactions to the begging and extreme poverty (of which i've seen very little relative to what exists here), but i'm not yet able to articulate them. know that i'm thinking about it a lot and will try to include my reflections in upcoming entries.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

there's no place like home

so, i officially moved out of brooklyn 1 week ago and it is still taking its time to sink in. i am leaving in 10 days. been staying with the rentals and it is remarkably cozy. i guess things can change.

So first things first, why am i going to India? A question often asked and too infrequently answered. here's the story. one lady researcher stumbled upon my biodata through a colleague and old friend of paige's and she felt it was a match made in heaven, you know how these things go, she read our charts and insisted that I be interviewed. lucky girl i was, i tell you, underqualified and all...or i did something right, somewhere along the way.

Hence, i am suddenly employed by the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, Deparment of Obstetrics and Gynecology in an exciting little outfit called the Women's Global Health Imperative. the name is good, no? lends a sort of urgency to the matter.

Most of the research that WGHI undertakes, whether clinical or social science, explores the relationship between poverty and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. I am supposed to work on a project related to gender-based violence, but let's see what happens once i get there, these things are often unpredictable.

In the meantime i am struggling to keep track of international shipping costs and finding affordable service apartments and NRI Accounts and consolidating phone numbers and email addresses into a practical arrangement...who knew relocating would be so complicated? Oh wait, I did.

Thank god for daily doses of amma's exquisite food in these hectic days.

T-10 and counting!


p.s. don't forget to come to Beat Bazaar and party with me next Friday, Jan 12!