E-mails from India
by: Jennifer Polan
This page documents some of my trials and tribulations, exciting and not so exciting moments of my stay in India through saved e-mails sent to friends and family while I was there. Hope it is interesting reading.
To: My Indian friends in USA
Subject: [boston_chai_party] it is happening!
Date: Mon, 02 Aug 1999 21:30:59 PDT
hi all
Guess what? I got my visa today and my flight ticket! I am leaving Tuesday (Aug 3) by Lufthansa from Newark.
I know it is really without warning, but there was no choice for me. Friday I went to the consulate with my passport, filled visa application and admission letter, but they would not give a visa. They said MA in social work was a research degree and Delhi has to give a letter for that, which takes 3 months. It looked pretty bleak, but I called the HOD at MCC and she helped me in all ways possible. I wrote the letter which she used and signed and faxed to me, so I took that today and was so nervous. I sat there just waiting for more than 2 hours without any word of anything (You will not believe how hard it is for an American to get student visa for India!) but finally they said they can issue it today if I show them a flight ticket, so I went and got one, just like that and it was a decent deal.
So it has all just happened in the last 16 hours! It has not hit me yet.
talk to you soon,
Jennifer
To: My Indian friends in USA
Subject: [boston_chai_party] making adjustments in India
Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999 00:51:01 PDT
Hi All,
One more general email:) I am not really having culture shock, just frustration at all the restrictions. :)
Anyone can send me postal mail, about anything. :) Checking email here is hard to do regularly.
I am studying MA social work, so I am seeing Indian conditions first hand. So far we have visited a children's village. It is an orphanage type set up where one mother raises up to 15 children. Then we went to a children's hospital in a small village outside Tambaram called Mappadu. For the children, we put on an Independence Day celebration (August 15 is Indian independence day!).
Otherwise life in ladies hostel is so restrictive here in India. Some rules I can live with.. in by 6:30... as women out after dark is not safe, but you can not stay outside on school night... they think if you stay at your guardian's on the week night then you will skip class the next day. If you go out you have to sign a book.. in and out.. and if you want to spend the night out, you have to sign a permission slip with the address and phone number of place your going and hostel warden has to sign also. The thing I don't like too much is if the hostel has functions all the residents (about 50) HAVE to attend - you have no choice. We also cannot receive local calls after 9pm. There is one phone for all 50 girls, and we can only receive calls, to make calls you have to go to the PCO (local), ISD (long distance in India), and STD (international call) booth outside campus between 6am and 6pm only. Also, due to the water problem we have open tap only 7-8 in the morning and 7-8 at night. And because meal times are signaled by the ringing of a bell, I feel a bit like one of Pavlov's dogs! When the bell rings, we are salivating!
Girls from all over India stay in the hostel. They come from Mizoram, Delhi, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Himanchel Pradesh, and mostly Kerala (neighboring state).
The few Tamil girls are teaching me Tamil. The story goes that one time a girl taught another wrongly. The girl teaching Tamil said that if someone asks you in Tamil "un payer enna" (what is your name) to answer "yen payer kadhali" (my name is lover) and that girl was in a lot of trouble.
The next thing about being here is deciding what to wear. Girls have to dress very conservatively. There are no shorts or tank tops here at ALL, or else you are in trouble. It even states these things in the hostel rules and regulations guide the warden hands to all girls when we are admitted! For instance, the dress must cover underarms, legs under the knee, and not show midriff fully, except the sari. There is no wearing transparent of shirts or skin tight clothes. That is ok for me since I love to wear Indian clothes mostly.
In Madras you have to be very careful if you are a girl. Firstly, girls do not go alone anywhere, and it is especially not good to meet a boy alone. This is especially true in our college, since the college is in the jungle (forest). There are many vacant dirt roads. Actually this year before I was admitted a girl went alone through the college in a lonely path, and was murdered (and raped as I heard). So, it is true to say that being here, I have lost most of my independence. Here, I can come to realize, one's independence lies in another's dependence.
As for food, I have adjusted. Hostel food is good, but I cannot take (drink) water, milk, or curd (yogurt) inside the hostel. Milk and curd are watered down with local, unboiled water, so I have bought a 5 liter distilled water, as most other girls have, also.
Feeling homesick sometimes. It will be good to hear from you all.
Jen
To: My Indian friends in USA
Subject: [boston_chai_party] maybe madras can become more Americanized....?
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 00:36:53 PDT
Hi all,
I have a few pieces of interest to you.
In Tambaram I sit and watch all days go by, but some times I am lucky to see how Madras has changed, and sometime we may be able to reunite here and do things as the old Boston chai party used to in US.
Last weekend I finally got to see this infamous bowling alley, the one in Nugambakkam called Snow Bowl. It is near to the Landmark bookstore (Gemini Circle). It is a small place, with only four lanes. The thing which makes it totally different, though is that the ceilings are REALLY low, and you don't have to rent or wear shoes while bowling. Most bowl barefoot or with socks. The annoying thing, is that it is really crowded on weekends, and have to wait in line for a long time to get your own slot. However, you join others (whom you don't know) to make a group of five. And the time we went, they would not let us play more than one game, if we wanted to play a second game, we would have to stand in line all over again! It is also quite costly for Indian standards - as it is about the same cost as US (Rs.150 per game on holidays - or almost $4). However, a neat thing about the alley is that they have all these 'fundas': if girls get exactly 75 and boys exactly 100 points a free game pass is given as a reward. And as scores increase, more prizes you get.
Today is Friday, and I am bunking (skipping) class to see an agency. This is also really the first time since being here that I am going alone somewhere. I have come to Chetpet. Next to this expensive (Rs. 60 per hour) e-mail center, there is a nice food court. I ate there, and it is amazing and so westernized! They serve varieties of Indian, Mexican, American and Italian food like pies and milkshakes. I got sundried tomato pasta, a vanilla milkshake and chocolate pie. It came to a whopping Rs 150. But I did not mind the cost, as it was the first non-Indian meal I have had since coming, and I really savoured it. I was also shocked about that place because it was VERY clean, they serve you the food, and after you eat, they give you a customer comment card! The best customer service in India is here!
This internet café I am in now is an expensive, especially since ones in Tambaram (Velacherry) are 1/3 this cost, but the connection is great. This is a true internet café, because here you can also get some food while surfing. They serve things like salads - very uncommon in India (Rs. 40), fish on a bun and french fries (which are called finger chips here). You can also get cool drinks here, but they are also twice as much as they are right across the road!
So when you come to Madras, let's go out for dinner then bowling. ;)
Ok, then talk to you all later,
Jen
From: "A Chennai born Indian friend" in USA
Subject: [boston_chai_party] Re: maybe Madras can become more americanized....?
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 07:22:02 PDT
hey Jen,
Nice hearing from you after a long time! hmm.. Having been away from Madras for 7 years, and visiting twice in between for few weeks each, I think I am pretty much a stranger to many of these new things back home! It does sound like lot of fun, and looks like you are having a great time there. Maybe when I come home next time, you can be my tour guide, huh? What do you say?
So, have you gotten used to the college life over there? How is school going? Heard that it is raining there, how are the roads and stuff in that weather?
Anyway, it was nice to hear from you. Do keep writing!
--friend
From: An North Indian born Indian friend in USA
RE: [boston_chai_party] Maybe madras can become more Americanized ....?
Date: Mon, 1 Nov 1999 10:50:07 -0600
Jen,
Someone should collect your emails and chronicle them as memoirs of someone traveling though India (ok at least Madras!:).
How are you doing? I hope all is well. I love the descriptive emails you send us. It is hard to believe how Americanized everything in Madras seems. I am going back to India this month myself and I will be seeing for myself how much things have changed. I am ready to be a bit shocked and unhappy but I guess that is the way things go right?
take care and keep writing..
-- friend
To: My Indian friends in USA
Subject: [boston_chai_party] HAPPY Y2K /Telugu wedding
Date: Fri, 31 Dec 1999 23:04:42 PST
Hi everyone!
I did not go out for the new year. Today I am getting the photos of our friend's wedding developed. I don't know how many of you have been to a Telugu wedding, but it is really nice. The ceremonies are basically same as Tamil, but in different order and the actual sign of being married, the ' I DO', is very unique. I really enjoyed the wedding, and though I had a big language problem with his family, I talked a little in Tamil and it seems I got my point across. His family are really nice. I even got to take part in the ceremonies! I felt honored!
Now he is married! Do you believe it?:) Well, it seems our friend can never stop thinking of geek jokes, after his thread ceremony one family member asked him, "Why did you decide to have the wedding only 2 days before 2000, you could have had it on Jan 1, and had the first wedding of the new millennium in that place?!" You know what his reply was? If you really think you know him, you will know, else read.
He said, "I did not want to do that because it could have created a y2k problem!" That guy, I tell you1!!!:)
Ok, then chalo,
Happy new year!
Jennifer
From: Me to American Friends
Re: Clinton's trip to India, just a few comments...
Date: Sat, 25 Mar 2000
Hi,
Just wanted to add my few cents:) or rupees...;)
"A community of 8,000 people, Nayla has no paved roads, few jobs and chronic water shortages. But with electricity, schools, a medical dispensary, and 70 telephones, it is better off than many of India's 600,000 villages. And, for a while, it was graced by an American President."
This village is MUCH better off than the one I visited in Tamil Nadu which had only 41 houses. They had a better situation with water, but not many houses had electricity and there were no schools or medical facilities for 10 km (Although a health worker lived there.) and NO telephones or direct postal service. Although a bus passed thru not many could afford to use it, even buying every day things like veggies is a problem there. It is 5kms to market which means the women have to loose one days (rs 10) pay. Mostly in villages people are non-veggies.
Interestingly, my mother said that Clinton came here (to India) to 'waste taxpayers dollars'. Maybe she is right as even my classmates and teachers say they think Clinton is (was) here just to 'have fun'.
See the URL the pictures from the newspapers are really funny!
http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/2000/03/24/
http://www.indian-express.com/ie/daily/20000324/front.html
But Clinton said a smart thing:
One, when asked if US should relieve the tensions between India and Pakistan he said "India and Pakistan have to resolve their own difference, and US should not intervene." Clinton also did a few interesting things:
Secondly, Clinton visited a village to see a group of illiterate women use a computerized milking machine! There was controversy about him going there in the sense that either he go to the village (And see what I am studying in social work!) or go and see the royality of Jaipur. Of which the media said 'Americans are not fascinated with the royality of India" Personally, I am glad he went to the village.
And in Hyderabad yesterday after giving a polio vaccine to a small baby, and after a girl took medications he gave to her, he clapped!
I did not see the news, but my friends told me that, and I giggled.
Even Indian girls think Clinton looks good and charming! (Not that I agree!)
just my scatteed opinions...
Jennifer
From: Me to my American Friends
Re: Two Slum Stories
Date: April 10, 2000
Hi all. I have two stories. Actually they have been in a cue for over a month and as I begin writing, the first comes to me, the second I doesn't, so I hope as I write the first one I will remember the second one!

I am going for field work two days a week, to the slum area. Most of the people there supposedly are SC/ST (below the four fold caste system) except a few, the story I will tell regards one such person.

**Side note - the reason I know their caste is when we introduce ourselves to them as the agency protocol in asking for their background information the third or fourth question is 'Please tell your caste'. Personally, I never felt comfortable in asking, but this was our rule.
The first day going to the slum area one woman about 40-50 years of age approached me and asked, "How are you?" in English. Even her aura was impressive. She said she used to work in a government job and she can understand some spoken Hindi and spoken English, but reading is fully understandable. Usually in slum areas there are very few if any people who can speak or understand or read any other language beside Tamil. (Even a person who can read and write Tamil can be a hard find in older people.) Those who are illiterate sign their name by their thumbprint.
So I used to sit with her, listen, and try to learn Tamil from her.
I asked her why she is in the slum? She said heavy family problem, (This was her exact words in English - many say the word 'heavy' in English to emphasize things.) I did not bother her for any details at that time, that was in October. In December I came to find out that she and her husband own a house in native place (village) where her two grown sons live doing agriculture, but there is a problem with mother in law, a money problem, for that reason they moved into the slum. Then I thought she was ok with money, but not as I came to know later.
In January I was sitting in her one room tenement (mud house with a thatched roof) - one room only having a small gas burner --a luxury in a slum area-- a battery powered clock -- no electric connection in the slum-- a small drain at the side-- a big water problem in slum area, but most do not have a drain in their house, I think she also takes bath inside her house, a luxury as most take bath in an outdoor-unroofed thatched room with a bucket and mug) at that time she was going through some house bills, her house loan for that house in the village and at that time I asked her if she had an identity card. She showed me a passport! Well a copy of one! It had a stamp for Singapore. It seems that she had gone there some years back. it seems her father and sister live there, and her dad owns a tea plantation. Her family are rich there. One problem with Indian society happens at marriage. When a daughter gets married, she leaves to live with her husband's family, and her birth father should not provide for his daughter, let alone even see her (This practice is more common in villages.). He could give money to her for that mother in law problem so she won't have to live in the slum, but it is not like that.
So some more months went by, and in March I found out the most fascinating thing. Actually when I asked to see her ID I thought she would show a community certificate (CC), a CC is an ID which states that a person is SC-ST for special government privileges and they need it for getting into martriculation (11 and 12th standard - grade) school. She told me her family has a temple in the village they maintain. How can an SC-ST be in such a situation I thought! She is of higher caste, Mudhalir. She said out of 5000 families in that slum 1000 are high caste, no Brahmins, though. (*Side note there are many Brahmins in the slums of Mylapore in Chennai). She said some of these high castes are rich enough to buy mineral water which they use for everything, even bathing!
She told me her caste there are two sects of her caste - a vegetarian sect and non-vegetarian sect. She is of the vegetarian sect. I was shocked at this, that she keeps to vegetarianism as in the slums it is very rare to find vegetarians!
Really this story stayed with me. She is such a nice person, I feel bad for her situation.
Still the second story did not come to me!
ok until later,
Jen
From: Me to my American Friends
Re: Going to the movies
Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2000
HI all!
Well today I had an interesting experience! I went to see a Tamil film.
I told my friend if I go there I hope the theatre is air conditioned else I may get sick. She said oh yeah, since a few months it is there. (If a place has air conditioning the sign board of that place reads something like this: 'Vidhya Theatre a/c'.) Anyhow we went in after buying the ticket standing in the women only line. Since it was a/c it was nice and chill inside (unlike the 100+ weather outside) though ceiling fans are lined up on the sides of the hall. (Seating is on the floor and a small balcony, all tickets are Rs. 25 (about 60 cents).
Advertisements are played before the film starts, but not ads for new movies. They were playing ads for household goods like soap powders, detergents and the like, which is weird since most of the people inside were not house wives.
When the movie starts all the people inside shout and clap. This movie was called Alaipayuthey (sorry i don't know meaning) and the director Mani Rathnam, is very famous. (If you have ever heard of films like 'Roja' and 'Bombay' he also directed these films.) My friend told me that he is also the music director for this film, the first time he is doing that. Anyhow when his name comes up all shout, scream and clap. The hero for this movie is new, so no shouting for them! But if it were someone like Rajnikanth then forget it. I guess I would have gone deaf!
Alaipayuthey was like any other Indian film, a love story, but interesting since most was filmed in Tambaram, where I live. Whenever that guy gets close to the girl to touch her hair, all the guys in the theatre shout and when he would kiss her face (as you wont see mouth to mouth kissing in most movies) - I won't tell how it sounds!
And you know the funny part? As many know Indian movies are full of songs, and the songs for this were good. I really like Indian (especially Tamil) film songs and the picturizations were nice. Two were notable. One is of their 'first night' when they get on that bed together, all in the theatre are shouting and you won't see anything! I mean of course no nudity, touching or kissing, really. That song was called The second, September Matham (month), was some beach song and in this song one other girl is there wearing some transparent white bathing suit, and once the body parts start to show through, the camera person dimmed the light of the film and turned on the lights so no one can see that! Pretty strange, but that is India! Anyhow, all for the best, since that was the song I don't prefer in this film. And, of course, even during the movie the power went out, as it usually does.
To top it all off - I came to find out that they only keep the a/c on while all are entering and during intermission. (Since the film is 3 hours...all Indian films are.. they have an intermisison) So I was boiling and burning up inside!
And, in case you were wondering - yes the movie was in Tamil (with no English subtitles ;-)!! So, I came to understand through the generosity of my friend who translated a few scenes, as well as realizing the fact that almost all Indian movies have the same basic story, boy and girl fall in love and against their parents try to get married, with variation and at the end all are married and happy. So yeah I got that, but for dialogues, I missed alot.
Bye for Now,
Jennifer
To: My Family
Re: Hi from India
Date: July 6, 2000
HI all
Just wanted to say hi. I want to try and send one e-mail each week, not sure how it will go lets see. Anyhow this year college is from 8.30 am to 1.30pm. So I have most afternoons free, but I had lots of immigration and other work. I had a problem at that immigration office, so I got really mad with that guy there. In India women are not treated well in police stations, and unfortunately in the district I stay the 'immigration office' is in a police station. That man, I tell you was sexist and xenophobic, I really had it out on him. I have to wait to get a guy friend to come with me in order to go and be heard. You can not imagine how mad I got with that man.
As for school, it is ok, better this year, since I know how to interact with my classmates now. My fieldwork on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Basically we go into slum area and help women and children to better themselves by education, self help groups and awareness programs on health, sanitation, etc. The agency I am in now, it is much better than the last semester, but this year the agency and the slum area are very far away. It requires alot of traveling. One way is 1 ˝ hour to 2 or a little more depending on traffic. I leave that place early (4pm) I can make it to the hostel before curfew of 6.30pm. If we are late we get fined and so many late entries we may get kicked out of the hostel. The warden put so many new rules this year, dumb dumb ones. like we should not go in other girls room after 8.30pm and we should not sit on our beds. I think all the girls are afraid of the warden so much this year.
Last year the curfew was also 6.30pm, but the girls sit out front til the bell rings at 6.30. This year all come in by 6.15 itself! It is too much. But I think some girls did voice that the bed and 8.30 rule is too bad. Anyhow many girls are not following that. And to top that all off, we can only take two nights out a month. Either one night or one weekend equals one night out. I was upset about that since now there will be less time to see all my friend families here. (Last year I used to visit my friend's families houses every weekend.) And she is scolding all girls for eating in their rooms, going to others rooms and even sitting on your bed! I was laughing, when I heard this from the other girls. But, I have been scolded already. Can you imagine! well .. i am working on getting out!:)
In my field work agency each year some masters students come from Ohio University for a study program to learn about social work in India. So the agency invites two students from each social work school in the city to come and chat with them. They invited me to go with my classmate. One (American) woman was there, late 20's she was so funny. She likes India, I think, but she can't handle heat and spicy food, so she was so shocked that I am here and all. She kept following me around that building asking me all kinds of questions like how can you manage this
and that? What is this or that like here in India? It was funny cause it reminded me of a few years back before I came to India. Then I used to bothers others like this too by asking all kinds of questions! Anyhow that is all for now.. time soon for me to get back to the hostel.
bye for now,
Jennifer
To: My family (reply to above email)
Re: Hi
Date: July 8, 2000
Dear Family -
Hi. Hope you are well.
Their statement: "The authority over there are awful. If you said too much would be arrested?"
My reply: No, they can not do that, but they will just ignore you. You can't be afraid, even Indian women themselves are shouting at that man! Indian women can do a lot of shouting, you would be surprised!

Their reply "Can your guy friends really help you with them?"
My reply: Yeah, and I think my teacher's husbands friends is working there, so that man can help me. My teacher said in the police station they are like that to women. weird, huh?

Will talk to you soon,
love,
Jennifer
To: My family
Re: Hi from Jen
Date: July 14, 2000
Hi
Today is Saturday. I am staying in hostel mostly cause of the new rules, but it is ok, but a bit boring, so I came out to send emails.
One of my friend from US came to see me in the college today. We decided to eat out in a hotel (they call restraints hotels here), but since he has been away for more than 2 years, he has to be careful to take food outside, although I have gotten used to it. Even hostel food is not all that hygienic. But it is better in the hotel then hostel, so I ate there, and in the meantime my friend took small bites and was telling me his feelings about India. From his complaints, I can tell either one of two things, either he is too fed up with Indian conditions being away too long, or, two, he could never move back to India.. or yet another he just has to take time to adjust back to Indian conditions. I know he likes India, after all it is his country, his birthplace, but it is a whole new world here in India, not like US. But I laughed a lot. He just cannot believe that I can accept and adjust to all the differences. I guess so anyhow. So for the rest of the afternoon we went to the college, he met two of my friends... and then we went to other side of town to get something framed. Here mostly people do not buy premade frames for things like photos. There are small booths in the bazaar where they make it specifically for your picture and size in your specifications, you can have glass or plastic with frame border made from wood or metals colored gold or with decorations. We went to two shops. I finally got one for 60 rupees. That is US $1.50. That is a good price and much cheaper than the other guy would offer, or we bargained to pay! I have to pick it up today.
After that, I took him to one temple that I went with my friends last week. This temple is quiet and quaint since it is in a village. It is outside of the town, about 20 minutes and it is like villages out there. It is nice, not so crowded, and there the people do stare at me alot, but in village it is not like city. In villages people look with a genuine interest, not like in city where the most stares are from beggars or something.
One thing we saw, near that temple one grandma was using the toilet (relieving herself - there was no actual toilet there!) out in open space. I mean it is usually like this in village cause all the people go in open space and they don't look at each other, but it was weird at that place since it was kind of public by the temple an all, and it being a woman. Anyhow we visited that temple for about one hour and then went back. There we got fruits. I got mangos. It is mango season now, so you can get fresh and sweet mangoes. It is great, only 20 rupees (50 cents) for 4. That price is ok, a bit high though.
How is everyone there?
love,
Jennifer
From: Me to my American friends
Re: Vadapazhani Temple
Date: July 17, 2000
Hello.
I finally got the chance to go to that Siva temple in Vadapazhani! As you circle the temple premisises inside to the left of the exit as you leave is a tree there. It has a lot of strings tied around it with a lot of different snake statues there lined up. Girls also do that Kalayanam puja in this Siva temple, that is what all those strings tied there, are actually Thalis. The snake statues are used for similar pujas. The women come and bathe them in Milk and Turmeric and then adorn them with kum kum and flowers. Female devotees were in this process when I was there.
Also, another interesting thing. Sunday was the first day of Adi Masaum (Adi month) it is a Tamil month known for pujas to any form of amman (female goddess). They were having a procession at the temple that day for the 1st day of Adi Masaum. They carried a goddess, and those in the procession held small golden colored containers on their head adorned in flowers with milk inside. After they go around the temple they would go in and do milk puja to amman.
I did not stay for the whole thing as it is three hours. Yesterday was also the lunar eclipse. During these times women should be inside. There are alot of theories. Especially pregnant women should not move, just lie. It is said if the eclipse is going on and she say touches her body in any place, the baby will have a blemish (birthmark) on that part of the body. They also say one (female or male) should not take head bath (wash hair, though you can take oil bath, putting oil on your hair) or eat meals or any food at this time. Basically as I was told, you should not do any 'good things' or godly things at this time.
Talk to you later,
Jennifer
To: My family
Re: about my health
Date: Nov, 20, 2000
Dear Family
Hi. I hope I did not make you worry too much about me in that email. I am starting to feel better. The doctor told me to take complete rest this week, so I have taken leave from college this week.
I guess I have to finish this course. This will be the hardest thing I think I will have to do in my life because I am finding it more and more difficult to manage in this place day by day. But at the same time, if I give up on this degree, I cannot get it in US so easily, if we want to use that word, easily. But I have found one place I can stay as a paying guest with an older woman. She is a widow and has an extra bedroom. My local guardian is going there tomorrow with me to see the place and meet the woman. It is close to college. I hope it works out cause I really like it, and I think it would be 'healthier' for me to stay in that place. I get my own bedroom, with a bed(!), dresser, desk and chair and my own toilet, but the bathroom is shared. (Usually in India the toilet is in a separate room from the place you take bath.) it is nice.
There is a phone there, too. I will give that number if I move there and my new address. I am praying to god that it will work out cause I want to be more healthy. I still am scared of getting sick again.
Only 5 more months. You can believe that the day my exams get over I want to be on that plane coming straight for Syracuse!
Tell everyone HI.
love,
Jen
To: My family
Re: Long email
Date: Nov 26, 2000
Dear Family,
I am moving into that separate house tomorrow. I am looking forward to the change, a bit scared to get along with a new person, but I can adjust to that!
Yeah, I went to the doctor's, a good one to get a full body check up which included three blood tests, a chest X-ray and ultrasound for periods problem to see if anything is wrong. They tell results when all blood (and urine)tests are finished. That is tomorrow, but I can go on Wednesday since I have to move to that place tomorrow. I think most things are OK. All the tests cost Rs. 1000 (about 23 dollars).
I really want to come home too, but I should finish this course. After all it is valid in US, and to do this same course in US would be good, but very difficult to get into a good school. Some previous graduates of this college have good jobs working for the US government in DC. Weird, huh?
I am thinking when it is time to come back (April end). I am coming straight home, no stopping at anyone's house. I will land in Boston or somewhere then take another plane or bus to Syracuse. Where ever you are I hope I can stay with you for some time. I will rest and readjust to US before I will start looking for a job. I just don't really know what I want to do anyhow. Maybe after I come back, I will have a better idea.
A friend of mine is coming to US. Could you get send me a few products through him. I looked them up on CVS.com. Or you can also send him money to buy the things and that will save postage. What ever you get me probably will be available in any shop anywhere.
Here is the list of things:
Johnson and Johnson head-to-toe baby wash 15 ounces $2.99
Johnson's baby wash Ultra Sensitive 6.75 ounces $2.09
(these are online prices, it said that in store maybe different.)
The doctors advised me to get these baby products for my skin since it is always breaking out. I can get bar soap only here. I got one small bar for almost 50 cents (it is expensive, I think) they don't sell the baby washes or liquid soaps here. It is good for my skin and the water is harsh too.
They get HBO here now. I saw that movie, The Mirror has Two Faces. It has Barbara Striesand. I don't know if you would like that movie, it is kind of odd, but it is like I would like my life to be. I always wanted to see that movie, it was quite good. She is a nerdy person, a teacher, and goes out with one man for a few months, they don't even kiss during that time. She and him like each other for the people that they are and are both interested in each other as people not sex objects. He proposes to her. Even on their first married night they don't have sex or even kiss. Then 3 or 4 months go by and she tries to have sex with him, but he seems not interested. They actually break up. She goes to live with her mom, and during that time, that man realizes it is OK to think about sex, anyhow he knows he loves her as a person and not as a sex object. Of course at the end they are back together.
Ok, not exactly do I want this, but something like this. It is utopia not to worry about sex before marriage in US. And sex before marriage creates so many problems. At least I feel this way. What do you think? I know I am weird!
Love,
Jen
To: My family
Re: to my family
Date: Dec 20, 2000
Hi Everyone!
Hope you are doing well with Christmas coming up. Just writing to tell you about my last week.
So we had to plan a Christmas programme for slum children and someone asked me to be the 'Christmas patti,' I asked what that was. Actually patti means grandma, and since there was no boy to be Christmas thatha (grandpa) then I was the next best spectacle dressed up and white (skinned), on top of it all. Actually i came to find out Christmas thatha is how what call santa claus! Then to them, it is like Christmas grandpa!:) But I did not do it.
I have settled nicely into my new place. Basically, I live with a woman the age of my mom, who is a widow. She takes care of me like a daughter. It is really nice, she speaks English well so no problem in that, and is pretty much a vegetarian, so that is also nice for me. Getting nice (Kerala) foods like coconut vegetable stew. It is so nice. Actually she is from Kerala, the neighboring state, and there they make almost all their foods with coconut milk or some variety of coconut. She wants me to call her aunty or amma (mom) but somehow, and I feel bad that I still haven't addressed her by these. I don't know why I am so reluctant when she is so nice to me.
She introduced me to her Christian friend. Her son is married to an American girl. She and her husband just came back from an eight month stay in the US. It is nice to go to their house. And also kinda funny since they have decaffeinated teas, and You Can't Believe It Is Not Butter, reminds me of home! I talk to her a lot, she is a nice person. Actually, I am not telling any of these new people how I worship god cause they will talk me out of it, so I actually went to church with her the other day. I thought that since I am only here for 5 more months, then i can go home and be with god as I like. Anyhow, God knows how I feel, and he is there, so he won't mind if I worship him in a church, temple, or home.
This last week was exhausting, I had to write up 50 pages twice with 30 graphs by hand. since I moved in to this house, my house mother has been seeing me only studying so she thinks I am too studious! But really, in my course, (in most college arts courses in India) it is not like this. If not for this assignment, I would be cooly checking email all the time! ;)
The weather here is cool (about 80 degrees F), and I love it.. but of course no snow! I can feel the difference this year! I love riding my bike to college in the morning. On one side of the road are the homes, private homes with cement fences around them, some with cars, some without. Then on the other side is the college - a six foot tall wire fence keeps the jungle and most of it's animals inside the college compound. But it is so cool in the morning - the sun creates shade from that side of the road and it is so pleasant. The road is blacktop, which makes it really easy, since the road I live on leads to the air force base. Hence, we also are deafened several times a day by overhead planes. Anyhow, as with most beautiful things in the cities or suburbs of Chennai, one thing is there that must be ignored to realize the beauty of the place - the roadside (road shoulders) which are used as public toilets for the animals and the people.
This week is christmas, I may go to my friends to celebrate. It does feel weird not to be with people at this time of year. And the funny thing is my house mother's Christian friend has a fake Christmas tree. She said she wants to put it up this year (since I am here) so I may go there to help her decorate it.
Well, i will go for now.
bye,
love,
Jen
To: My family
Re: My Christmas story
Date: Dec 26, 2000
Dear everyone,
Hi. Hope everyone had a nice Christmas, I actually had a nice Christmas.
My house amma's friend, invited me for Christmas. She has another daughter in Thailand who is married, her two twin daughters (15 years) came with their dad. So Christmas eve morning, I went with them to church (as well as on Christmas) I know I am not known as a church- goer (and later when my other friend's amma called and asked what I did that day and found out from my house amma I went to church, she said "But I never knew she went to church!"), but I went for a familiar feeling.
I really, really felt homesick. The night before Christmas eve was so hard for me. This has been the third year in a row I am away from home during this time of year. You really never know what you have till it's gone (as an old cliche and song by one dead rock band goes). But I mostly miss more than the religiousness of the holiday, was the spirit of the holiday. The only spirit you find here is on Diwali, that is like the Indian Christmas in Oct-Nov. People give gifts (usually new clothes, the reason for my over-over stock of saris;), make a lot LOT of sweets and family come over, and they decorate the house (some people) and burst firecrackers (something I can't really get used to cause of the noise it makes). But even Christians here are not so spirited as Americans. At least in the same way as I am used to.
On Christmas eve, after church, I went to the neighbor's house, we all ate breakfast together, then we put up the Christmas tree! It is not a metal one like we had at home, but a plastic one that the branches kind of fold down, so when you put it away it looks like a big rod.
WE also decorated it, me and those twin girls. They were really nice, they made me feel as though I was really at home. I got to put the star on top, since the angel did not fit. The tree was a bit shorter than me, about 5 feet. And unfortunately, the lights did not work, but it was enough to satisfy me.
We spent about 2 hours on that, then we got ready to prepare lunch.
During lunch a funny thing happened. Remember how I told you my neigbor's friend's son is married to an American. Well, we look nothing alike, but that my hair is about the same color. But she asked me something, then called me by her daughter-in-law's name. It made me feel good, I mean that she called me that, cause I felt more comfortable there.
I was mostly looking for anything familiar. I was really feeling lonely, but they took that away from me. I told her on Christmas I would help make lunch. She said, you are the guest, I can't let you cook. But I said, I want to participate, I will feel better, so she said ok. But she told me the menu for tomorrow (Christmas) would include meat. I said that is ok, but I will skip that!
So Christmas Eve, night, I went back to my place, and watched a few Christmas movies and then went to sleep. Christmas morning, again I woke up early, at 6, and dressed in a new sari given to me on Diwali by my friend's mom, a white cotton one with gold criss cross and a red border with with small squares on their sides like diamonds. I came late to the church, so couldn't sit with them. The church was nicely decorated and fully packed of people. It was decorated in the center with gold and silver 6 and 8 pointed stars and down the sides, some glittery garland. There was a small tree in the front, but it seemed more like a branch to me, and there was no decorations on it. The message of the service was the spirit of Christmas. How fitting.
I never sing at the church, but I will read along the Bible passages. If one out of many things India has taught me is really all God is One, and I can go to a church or a temple and it is all the same, I am really worshipping god. But one difference in the spirit of Christmas here in India is that people focus more on the religious aspect of Christmas. As the movie I watched the previous night was about the spirit of Christmas (in America), and Jesus or god was not mentioned even once, which is something that in India would not happen. Neither is good or bad, but just is.
So, after church, I went back to my house and my house amma's daughter and granddaughter were there. They are not Christians, but they have holidays, so they have come for a few days.
At 11, I went back to the neighbor's house with a box of Jello no-bake cheesecake, which I had purposefully got in US for Christmas in India. (To which my Indian friends in US said, when they saw in my suitcase, asked me, How can you think of Christmas in June?) So, I helped them make Christmas lunch (not dinner). During the session, both myself and their family took pictures of cooking the lunch. The meat item was chicken biryani (or chicken rice, a more fresh version of rice a roni;) and then, plain rice with korma (a vegetable stew) and racam (herbal soup), and then side dishes of mashed potatoes (yes, the twin girls idea!), a few vegetable dishes, and a few other things. After eating the food, they all tried the cheesecake, for their first time, and loved it. It is not easy to find cheesecake here in Chennai.
After lunch we heard some classical music. This was one thing I found odd, they did not continuously listen to Christmas songs. Even on Christmas eve, I searched for some carols on the radio, none were to be found. So we heard such classics, as moonlight sonata and fur elise. It is better than some other things, I guess! And out of my surprise, I got a gift from them, a nice Thai fabric wall hanging and a nice bracelet (actually this morning also when I woke up my house amma gave me a nice gift, a card with a few thin gold colored bangles).
Then we took rest, I took a nap there, then after we had tea and sweets, one nice Vietnamese sweet. The twins father had gone there a few weeks ago. The sweet was made from something like lentils, dried, but tasted like peanuts. It tasted a lot like one Indian sweet I really like, but can't remember the name of and a bit less (a LOT) sweeter! Then at 5, I started to walk back then my house amma and her daughter and granddaughter were coming to visit them. It is so funny, In US on Christmas I don't remember if we felt comfortable 'bothering' our friends like this. Anyhow I walked back again, and we stayed there til 6 or so then went back home.
I slept early. Now it is the next day and I am sending you this email. Hope you enjoyed it.
Talk to you all again soon.
Love,
Jen
To: Friends and Family
Re: Earthquake in India
Date: Feb 4, 2001
Hello everyone
I hope everyone is well. I am sure you all must have heard of the earthquake in India. Fortunately I am very far from that place, I am ok. But I have a request. I would never ask unless it was for a good cause. My classmates and I made one collection from the neighborhood and got about 10,000 rupees (250 dollars) in contributions of food and provisions to send to the victims. (This money goes a long, long way in India, over 15 medium size boxes of things were collected.)
We are starting another collection of items and sending in a few weeks. I was hoping maybe some of my family members can make contribution. Even 10 dollars goes a long way here. Can one person be the ring leader?
When we send the items next time I think it will be things like blankets, tents cooking vessels, etc. They have absolutely nothing there. They don't even have water to drink.
I hope that you will help the victims of the earthquake. I donated 10 dollars and bought with that 20 large candles (one candle lasts one week), about 10 lbs of flours, 2 lbs of tea, 10 lbs of grams. It goes a long way here.
thanks hope for your help.
Jennifer
To: My American friends from me
Re: Coimbatore
Date: Jan 28, 2001
Hi everyone!
Sorry I haven't written for a long time! You can imagine how busy and un-busy I have been! (Un-busy in the sense, like traveling from one place to another here is common so often we are traveling, but wasting time! 2 hours one way here there, etc.) Anyhow it is cool!
A few days ago I went to a place called Coimbatore. It takes 8 hours by train from Chennai. They had a cultural programme there. Culturals are general and specific. It is basically a show for college students to have fun. There are competitions for variety show, dance, skit, etc. Then per the subject you are studying there are special topics, like we had paper presentation, crisis intervention (one person gets a crisis situation you have to tell how to deal with it), case analysis, quiz (general knowlege) and debate. My classmate and I presented my paper in 3 minutes! You won't believe it. We won first prize for 2000 rupees (50 dollars..) Our college won first place over all.
That city is really nice. It is so clean. That college we attended the programme at was called GRD School of Science. It is a rich place, they had such a modern auditoruim with folding vinyl plush chairs and AV equipment everywhere. The tv stations were all there since a famous politician (Vaiko) was giving introductions there. It could be possible I came on TV since I won a prize!
It also seems the police patrol that place after 10. My classmates and I were standing on the road side and a police van passed slowly, so I asked what is the matter. They told me that they even got 'caught' last night. The police patrol to make sure youngsters (up to age 30 plus) are inside and also to make sure the liquor shops all close before a certain time! Actually the previous night I came it was quite funny.
We reached very late, only at midnight. Our classmates did not come to receive us at the station, so somehow students of that college found us there by mistake while waiting for another train. When they took us back to our accommodation, it was 1am by then, way to late for the women's hostel to open their doors for me, so I had to stay in a paying guest house with some girls (I did not pay). Six girls sleep in one room. Actually there was no room! All cots were lined up in a row!
Gosh, that place was also cold! (Compared to Madras, not to New York! ;)
I went to Mahabalipuram last week. That is the place with the temples dug from under the sea. A funny thing happened there, actually two things.
Just recently the governement announced a scheme where all foreigners have to pay 10 US dollars (460 rupees, which is a LOT of money in India) to go inside the premises of shore temple and the other temple. These temples used to be under the ocean for sometime, a great landmark. I came to see this place when I came to India the first time, then it was free for all. The problem is that the definition of "foreigner" in India anyone with white skin or basically non-Indian features. (They don't check passports and visas so even if you're an Indian but born in other countries you don't pay 10 dollars.)
However, I went with a smart (Indian) friend who said, "We will get you in as an Indian, don't worry!"
So he got the tickets, 6 ten rupee tickets. (One for each person present.) The first gate was not a problem. The gate keeper asked, "Indian,aaa?" and he said "ammam" (yes in Tamil) and that fellow did not question . Then the next one was a bit of a problem. That man started shouting at my friend in Hindi! But they showed my student ID card, so he let me in. For 2 minutes of badgering and shouting I saved 450 rupees! ($9.75)
It was great fun.
Then we went to a hotel to eat. Lots of foreigners come to this place cause it is a tourist town. (hotel means restaurant) So we watched these boys eat dosai. Dosai is like our hungarian palachenta, but different, more greasy and crunchy. Also it is eaten differently. You keep it flat and this particular one is rolled up with spicy potatoes in it (masala dosai) but you eat with your right hand tearing off pieces and then scooping up the potatoes inside of that. These boys were eating it like a burrito! It was so funny! They rolled it up, closed one end and dipped into chutney (coconut mix) or sambar (like a vegetable stew) and ate it! Then how they serve it is on a plate with a banana leaf on it. Instead of washing their hands with water after eating, they removed the banana leaf off the plate (you actually eat off this leaf, so it is dirty with the food) and wiped their hands on it! We were laughing like anything!
We all enjoyed there. Now back to school for me tomorrow!
talk to you all again soon,
Love,
Jen
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