Friday, December 28, 2012

What I Saw in India

This video contains clips from: Rishikesh, Haridwar, Udaipur, New Delhi, Varanasi, Chennai, and Mahabalipuram. Please watch this Full Screen for maximum enjoyment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Friday, December 18, 2009

Madh Island

I took these photos with my Nikon D80 and 105mm while observing a film shoot on Madh Island just outside of Bombay. Madh Island is a popular location for luxurious house sets.
[flickr-gallery mode="photoset" photoset="72157607325324498"]

Friday, February 6, 2009


One of the the things that I marvel at about Indian society is how intimate people are with each other. By intimate, I mean the way in which Indians, family members especially, stay physically close to one another.

While taking a long drive to Colaba one night, Niraj told me that until he was in college, he never slept alone. For as long as he could remember, someone in his family would always be sleeping near to him. He recalled a time in his high school days when he travelled away from his home to stay over at a friend's house. The prospect of sleeping in a guest room alone filled him with so much anxiety, he eventually made some excuse to join his friend.

I think for Indians, the sound of silence is eerie and uncomfortable.

Day and night, life is filled with the movements and chatter... even the breathing of sleep... of loved ones. My Indian roommates would marvel at my desire for privacy or my ability to be quiet for so long. They must have imagined that I was a very lonely person. After spending a month with my talkative and non-sensical roommate from Chandigarrh, I began to miss her sometimes when she wasn't around in the room.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hindi and the City

Snapshots of my first experiences with the Hindi language.

When we arrived in Bombay for our film program, neither Zoe, Becky, or I could speak a lick of Hindi. We looked for lessons we could take together, but didn't get much help from our program coordinator finding a tutor. Our only lead, an online advertisement on, turned out to be far too expensive for anyone who wasn't on an expatriate package.

So every now and then we'd ask our daily handler, Mukesh, to teach us some phrases. I remember the first phrase he taught me was "khana kaya?" which meant "have you eaten?" He also taught me the word for "twenty" which was "biis". I learned twenty first because it seemed to be the most common denomination of rupees we used. Later, while passing time in a rick, he taught us to count from one to twenty.

After four weeks when our program was over and Zoe and Becky left back to their home countries, Hindi suddenly became much more important to my well-being. There was not a soul in the entire city who would care where I was or what happened to me; I was completely on my own.

Through the internet, I found housing at a women's hostel in another part of the city called Andheri. I'll never forget its name, "Asha Kiran". Most of the women living there were either young professionals from far-flung regions of India, or retired Aunties living without family.

I learned to say "cold water" quickly. A bottle of Aquafina or Bisleri in the hot 93 F Bombay weather was essential. And on my walks to places, I learned the words for "where is" from overhearing people asking the autowallahs for directions.

Hindi came ever so slowly through my only teachers, the rickshaw drivers. I first learned how to say "straight ahead" to them. One day as I was walking alongside the road, I learned how to say "stop" from overhearing a local person in another rick utter the phrase. Sometimes when I asked a rick drive to take me somewhere, he would burst out a phrase I couldn't understand. Eventually he would shake his head and drive away.

The children on the set of the Guerilla Flicks production spoke with me in Hindi, asking me my name and where I lived. I was able to respond back to them in Hindi with their help. To direct them, I used some Hindi that I learned on the spot listening to other directors on set. "Piiche! Piiche!" I would constantly say to them to keep them out of the frame.

But the little words I'd learned weren't enough. Until I could speak or convey that I understood Hindi, that I was an insider and not an outsider, the locals would always perceive me as fair game for the taking, which for some inexplicable reason, I felt to be a very dangerous thing. If you are not personally connected to the person who is doing business with you, the chances of Indian 'friends' working together to take advantage of the situation is almost certain.

Two months into my "independent" time in India, I entered a strange state where I could not leave my room for 3 days. I, who had traveled and lived with no fear for years in much of Asia! I could only lay in bed and fight an extremely intense desire to leave the country. And finally, I could no longer hide from my situation as a foreign woman living alone in Bombay. I went to the Crossword Bookstore at the InOrbit Mall in search of a Hindi language book. The book I found was called 'Colloquial Hindi' and I bought it because I remembered that it had been used by my university. I spent the next two days studying the book with a desperateness I had never known.

A week later, I reconnected with Gopi and other Bombay friends who'd come back to town. Gopi was nearly fluent in Hindi (at least to my ears) and whenever we rode in the rick together, I listened with intense and rapt attention to whatever she said to the autowallahs. Once, after she had been dropped off, I mimicked the sounds I had heard to the driver, "Signal se left karna."

and he understood.

That moment changed everything for me. It was the dawning of my empowerment, the moment I felt that I *could* make it in Bombay. That I could be the driver and not the driven (please excuse the obvious metaphor).

I came across a phrase in the Hindi book and it dawned on me what the autowallahs were saying to me those many times they would refuse me a ride. They were asking "malum hai?", which meant, "Do you know [the way there]?". They didn't know the way there themselves, so they were asking me! No wonder they drove off when I didn't respond. :)

My production manager began teaching me the meaning of phrases, especially one he'd say a lot which became my favorite, "aramse" ("take it easy", "relax").

And just when I felt that I could stay on a little longer, that I was finally taking control of my situation, the time had come to leave.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai Crawl

People are staying in. No work is being done. Offices, schools, and colleges are closed. Rumors spread and then are quelched. This afternoon, the production office suddenly closed due to rumors of gunfire at VT Station, which ended up not being true. Everyone is talking about it and people's moods are all over the place.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai under Attack

The area of Mumbai under siege is known as Colaba. It is the most popular area for tourists to visit and I admit that I was there myself twice in the past week.

The new batch of film students and I had decided to visit Elephanta Island, which is reached via boats departing off the Gate of India dock. Having arrived early, I holed up in the lovely air-conditioned lobby of the Taj Hotel and then met them in front of India Gate for our time on the island.

Our boat ride back to India Gate gave us exquisite views of the Taj Hotel from the sea, likely the same view held by the terrorists who arrived by the same route. To refresh ourselves, we rested in the Taj's beautiful lobby; I remember paying some attention to the serene and graceful staff.

After leaving the Taj, we went around the back to go eat at Delhi Darbar, allowing us to walk through the main street of Colaba, which included Leopold Cafe. I was on a little bit of a Leopold's kick from reading 'Shantaram', so I made sure to take a photo of the restaurant and also point the place out to the group. It was packed full with foreigners.

Leopolds several days before the attacks

Last night, Aaron, Luann, Rina, Kavika and I got together at the ISAC apartment to have a little party. The apartment is in Goregaon, in northern Mumbai, and a full hour's local train ride away from Colaba. Around 10:00, the phone calls began to come in. They insisted that I stay there overnight. We didn't sleep until 2 am.

In the morning, I knew I had to leave to go back to Andheri. It was a hard decision to ride the auto back, especially with the cook, Lalita, telling me not to go and showing me the headlines in the morning paper. I'm just glad I didn't know at that time that a grenade had been thrown into an autorickshaw the night before in Ville Parle, the neighborhood just "under" mine. Riding back, there was VERY little traffic. Two white police jeeps were on patrol and sections of the roads were barricaded for random checks. Once I reached my place, I suited up my video camera and set out to catch some interviews. Most people I interviewed expressed an indifference about it all, saying they were used to it. However, I don't think they realize just what a big impact this particular incident will have on their society and economy.

Aaron called later on in the day to make sure I was safe. A reporter interviewed me and today, several local YWCA staff said they saw me on the news.

Monday, October 20, 2008

His Holiness

As I lay in my wooden bed trying to shrug off the congestion and aching of my 3-day-old cold, my father bursts into the room and nearly shouts, "The Dalai Lama is coming this afternoon! They are hanging up flags and getting ready to welcome him out on Temple Road!"

I muster up all the strength I have in me, down vitamins, tylenol, and antibiotics and suit up my video camera for the event. We leave around lunch time for the unknown time when His Holiness will pass through McCleod Ganj. Around 3 o' clock, the sides of the street leading to the Palace began to fill with more and more of the town's local residents. Many of them held either a Tibetan flag or a white kada.

At 4, the sound of the horns filled the air and everyone stood up and bowed down (except for us foreigners). His Holiness was in the second car in the entourage. When I caught my first glimpse of him, I had the sudden impression that I was looking at Santa Claus. His Holiness had his hands together and was nodding vigorously in response to the crowd's offerings of kada and prayers.

In less than 30 seconds, his entourage had passed, but everyone appeared pleased and content.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Taj Mahal

The sky was still dark at 5am when we awoke in our little room at the Hotel Kamal. As I splashed water over my face in the bathroom, I heard a morning call sung by a lone man, in what I could only guess was meant for those of the Muslim faith. His call out into the silence reminded me of a call I heard at dawn in Kumbum, Eastern Tibet, two years earlier.

We walked out into the dark, down a narrow alley, being pointed by local men in Her direction. After some minutes, I saw the silhouette of Her large dome faint against a dark sky. I drifted towards it in a marvel.

I entered into the courtyard of Her gates. And within minutes, beheld the dawning sun touching a thing of beauty. An Exquisite Monument. Stately Tomb. Eternal Testament to Love.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Indian Helping Hands

Every time my classmates and I run into trouble with a taxi or auto-rickshaw, it seems that a concerned Indian citizen will just happen to be nearby and ask, "Are you having a problem?" Afterwhich, they will take the time and trouble on themselves to help us. It's an amazing gesture which I never fail to appreciate deeply.

Last weekend on my birthday, Becky and I had arrived at the Infinity Mall with a taxi meter reading of 99 Rupees, almost double that of the Zoe and Katy's rick, which had left with us. A gentleman in his fifties stopped to ask about our troubles which we promptly explained to him. Though I didn't understand what was being exchanged in Hindi between him and the driver, he told us to wait in the rickshaw. Very promptly a policeman arrived and, on hearing the situation, sternly ordered the rickshaw driver to pay us back 40 rupees of the 100 I gave him. With the problem settled, the Indian gentleman wished us a good evening.

Another time, I was finding no success in hailing an auto-rickshaw to take me home from the Inorbit Mall (the distance being far too nominal). Two gentlemen, who had just stepped out of their own auto-rickshaw, asked me where I wanted to go, and after hearing the driver object to my destination, simply dropped a handful of rupees into his hand so he would take me home. They, also, modestly wished me well and went on their way.

Even on my first weekend in downtown Mumbai, I was asking an ordinary woman for directions to the Churchgate station, when we nearly got run over by another woman who had just exited a fitness club in her car, but was clearly wanting to help me.

These are the moments that come to my mind when I think of Mumbai. It's not Bollywood stars like Kirron Kher who have kept my faith in India intact, but people like these who are willing to help a stranger in trouble.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Finding Kirron Kher

With half an hour until Sudipto's private screening at 9pm, I showered, piled on makeup, put on a silk FabIndia shirt, jeans, and a pair of brand new Charles & Keiths. I had no idea where the others were, but I in no way intended to miss the screening.

Just as I put the finishing touches on my makeup, Mukesh, our handler, walks in and informs me that we would NOT be able to attend the screening. No big surprise given that his handling of affairs is usually disappointing.

This information was not going to stop me in the least. Several minutes after Mukesh left, Becky walks in and I inform her of my plan to crash the screening. She agrees to come on what I called "an adventure".


After 75 minutes of aggravation, confusion, riding about unknown places, and lots of shouting at our auto-driver, we never found the venue for Sudipto's screening. Becky and I decided to find a place where we could decompress so we repeated the words "Cinemax" as many times as possible to the driver. Predictably, we pass the Cinemax by a block and end up at City Mall where we saw a great hubbub out front. It was the premiere/red carpet walk for "Saas Bahu aur Sensex", including all the actors walking in and getting tons of attention from the media.

Becky and I spoke to a young Indian woman who was associated with the opening and had tickets in her hand. We almost gave up until Becky decided to just asked her for tickets and the woman gave them to her!

We walked down a red carpet full of photographers and right up to the security area to have our bags checked. I casually make a comment, "They don't do this in the United States." And a voice immediately retorted, "Oh yes they do. They check shoes, bags, everything." I turn to look at the person speaking and it's Anupam Kher! The look on my face must have said everything. I rambled something before going on inside to the elevators which took us to the cinema floor where photographers milled about looking for the stars. Anupam Kher, on seeing me again later, asked "Did you check your bags?" What a clever man, and I had not the wit to reply.

The highlight of the evening for me had to be having a photo with Kirron Kher. Of all Bollywood actresses I've seen, she is one of the few who I think can act. I love her work. I asked her for a photo and she graciously agreed. Afterwhich, I thanked her and told her she looked beautiful. She replied warmly,"Thank you."

Never could I have dreamed that stepping out my apartment for "an adventure" would lead to a night like this. Becky and I were on Cloud Nine.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bombay Adventures - Malad Train Station

It was our first time to go out without our handlers. I managed to look cool and uninterested as I told the auto-rickshaw driver, "Station". A five minute journey later, he stopped and waved his hand, simultaneously signaling we had reached the train station while also pointing in its general direction. I handed him ten rupees and walked towards the ticket hall.

The way to the station involves walking up a dozen stairs and over a railway overpass, all the while passing vendors selling all manner of items of the easy-to-break variety. 

The day before, Mukesh had shown us the way and it was then that we watched some trains whiz by beneath us. I was amazed to see men hanging out of every train door, watching ahead and obviously enjoying the thrill of speed and the wind in their hair. We even saw a figure or two atop the train. One man was curled up in a fetal position and attempting to get some sleep and another sat in the most relaxed position, one knee up with an elbow resting upon it, watching the scenery go by.