Tuesday, 15 July 2014

My Experiments with Racism

Caught your attention didn't I? It might be a taboo topic in most countries, not in India it isn't! Its no coincidence that my title is inspired by M.K. Gandhi's autobiography, My Experiments with Truth. While his book spoke about the apartheid faced by the Black natives in South Africa and how the way he was treated by the White South Africans changed his strongly ingrained ideas about racial superiority, my post is going to be more about the blunt bias against brown Indian girls in India.

India is obsessed with Fair skin. Turn on TV, youtube advertisements or street hoardings-  fairness is the USP for every beauty product(clearly with nothing unique about it). Anti-aging cream? Here! And you get to become fairer too. The task of buying a moisturizing cream at a super market is made arduous with a million options all claiming to make you fair, even if all I really want is a regular moisturizer to keep my skin from becoming dry! And as if that's not enough the new fad is Deodorants for Fairer underarms! The ridiculousness of the statement does not hit you initially when you see women flashing their under arms at the screen until you realize that's a body part you can't even see most of the time!

I distinctly remember this one incident as an IDEX fellow at my placement school. While I was taking a class I saw a group of students at the back distracted. when I walked up to them I found the girl on the last bench crying and the boys on the last two benches giggling. Turns out the most notorious(brahmin and by extension fair skinned)boy of the class had called Lakshmi, a demure 8th-grade girl, a nasty name. The Telugu equivalent of a "black witch". I was furious when I found out and I also had a sudden dejavu moment. It reminded me of my childhood where I myself was called names of all imaginable permutations with the word black in it. I thought a South Indian girl growing up in North, East and West of India had it tough but here was Lakshmi with tears flowing down hear cheeks, and I realized it's never easy, no matter where you are from. This is why counseling against incidents shattering the self-confidence of teenage girls at their prime of building their personalities, becomes important.

At the risk of sounding condescending, I find how staying so cut out from the world can make someone so narrow-minded, very bemusing. I recently went to a funeral and one of the ladies walked up to my mother and asked her if I was the younger one? My mom smiled and nodded and her immediate reaction was to shout out loud "What happen to her? She used to be much fairer!" #Ishoutback-Iplaysports. Social etiquette aside it's for garrulous, senseless comments like this one, that I do not like to attend family functions and this is not even the worse I've heard. What tops the list is the sarcastic "Oh! you have two daughters?" #pityface Or "you have two negatives?" The code name for daughter is "negative" as "positive" refers to boys (like we are a set of batteries)! This one time my mom was even advised to save up a lot of dowry since both my sister and I are so dark! I feel like I am not doing enough justice by translating these comments to English because they sound so much ruder in Telugu with the tone in which they are said. Also, it goes without saying not all my relatives are like that, but this would be an apt generalization of most of the Andhra population mentality and that of most Indians as well (and by most I mean 90%).

Well, to be fair (pun intended) there is racism in every country. Just like there exist Black jokes, Jew jokes, Blonde jokes, we have our share of Mallu jokes, Gulti jokes(that's me) and the timeless Sardar jokes. It's like we cannot coexist without constantly offending each other. Sure that one funny forward text message makes our day more lively but at what cost? What is funny about a north eastern boy being publicly murdered in the capital city for the way he looked or a certain cast being denied of relief work supplies post an earth quake or holding someone not guilty in-charge of a crime only because of their skin color? Where does one draw the line?

Indians are not prone to Xenophobia being the diverse mix we are. Yet we are very selective about whom we extend our celebrated hospitality towards. I personally encountered instances where organization leaders preferred to have white exchange volunteers instead of black, only because they believe there will get more "positive publicity" for their organization with white volunteers! It sounds appalling, doesn't it? But I don't see how this is any different from when we jokingly tease a friend in the friends group with origin rooted nicknames? Maybe it's fine because your friend is laughing along, but by doing so are we subconsciously making our minds immune to the idea of demeaning others based on race and thus making us more tolerant of racism?


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Feminism - Starts at home!

As I was greeted by my Google Doodle today on the 215th birthday of Mary Anning, I couldn't help but wonder, would she have been taken as seriously or given the credit she deserves if she was not so conservatively dressed in the 17th century?

I am clearly NOT a Fashionista, if you have caught anything from my blog so far (I have my sister to thank, for all the lovely pieces I own in my wardrobe). So what made me talk about clothes all of a sudden?

Times are changing and the middle class Indian women today are top notch executives, bearing the title of the most beautiful women at the global/universal level, Statesmen in other nations, career oriented single mothers(and doing an excellent job at it), motorbike club owners, single female backpackers, living alone in the big city, doing as good if not better than men in every aspect, blah blah blah...... I've been hearing this all for over two decades now! The REVOLUTION! The FEMINIST movement! Yet after about a 100 dozen rape cases in the past 3 years(both accounted and unaccounted), mothers are still scared to send their daughters out, not with the fear of the lecherous men who pose the main threat out there but the garrulous old women who cannot stop with their caustic comments, which thunder twitter around in the family circuit before you can say the word "Cosmopolitan"! (with a lemon swirl on top).

Why is being loquacious, a gossiper and just plain bitter a side effect of being wrinkly, old and jobless?
Is targeting the younger lot her way of lamenting her bygone youth. Am I going to become the same 40 years from now? :O I don't think so. I think I will be more like my own grand mother. Angelic, kind and extremely tolerant with the most broad minded perceptive of things and ever so considerate of people's feeling. What makes her so different from her contemporaries? Maybe its because of her travels around the world in her youth or maybe she is just nice because she is!

The problem, though one of the biggest assets of Indian culture, is we are taught to respect our elders even if sometimes some elders take undue advantage of that while being absolutely wrong in doing so.

So while an adolescent boy hanging from the bus, staring into my car window, as I drive back in my sports shorts, from Sailing session makes me indigent and infuriated; it is nothing compared to the gamut of feelings I felt that same day, when I went to a older family relatives's house to deliver some home grown fruits and pleasantries.

I write today because of her one in the series of abrasive comments, about my NOT-SO-SHORT-AT-ALL shorts, that my mother approved of before I stepped out of the house BTW, that left me feeling embarrassed, lachrymose, guilty, naked to my-eureka-moment to angry and enraged, yet held back by my deep instilled value of respect towards elders (all in that order). I shouted out (in my head of course) 'Wait A Minute! Didn't you just see me less than a month ago at a family function fully clad in the traditional Indian Salwar?' Humbug!

So this piece is specially dedicated to all the Aunty-jis who are capable of shattering the confidence of even the most over achieving, independent and self assured young girls with their one critical statement on the way you dress when you go to visit them.

Its so funny! When I was in Colombia people always thought I dressed too fully covered all the time and much like a boy with my over-sized sports wear and here in India even that is less. :/ Oh dear High Heels! *Sigh*

The fact is we are far from feminism, when there is so much women on women attack on the she-dressed-to-invite-it-argument, we can definitely expect far less from men.

In retrospect this post was written in sheer rage and I never wanted to make my blog my personal diary for penning down my frustrations, so in a more objective view, the real problem is that there is a tiny percent of Indian youth influenced by all that we watch on TV(guilty, me included), who feel we live in New York and not New Delhi, where as the majority of India: made by our archaic generations and rural India, are alien to the concepts of feminism and metro-sexuality, let alone homosexuality. There comes the great divide! Someone needs to be adjusting. So with my deep instilled value of respect towards elders I am gonna ignore the fact that I am ten times more caring, virtuous and productive to the society in the casual-dress-i-wear-to-meet-friends than she is with her pretensions whiskey chugged insinuating acetic words and her Saree on!

Don't judge a book by its cover goes both ways! 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Do the Doodle!

I met a girl on this train journey I took across India, who was just amazing at drawing! She would just set ground any where on the platform or under a tree and doodle away.

Inspired by her I decided to do the same. So from then on, for my every travel trip my back pack always has three things. My tiny pink book, a black waterproof pen and my chotu water color set. I am no artist but I love how holding a brush makes me feel like a kid again. I love doodling every special moment into my sketch pad. 

Cotopaxi - Ecuador
15000 mts above sea level while on the 2nd highest active volcano in the world!  

Its like a picture but instead of clicking it, I scribble it in less than 5 mins with my 20 rupee water color set and hold it very close to my heart. :) Its like my version of the memory and every time I look at it again, it makes me feel the exact same way I felt when I was there.

Here are some of my favorite memories: 

Tiger Temple - Thailand
The thrill of hugging these majestic creatures.

Phuket - Thailand
The turquoise oceans that made me almost run outta blue.

Red Fort - Delhi
The impossible task of capturing the architectural details of 
the Shah Jahaan era, in less than 5 mins. So I took 10. 

London - U.K.
The piping hot Telephone booths of London.

La Casa del Arbol - Ecuador
My very own wall paper moment. 

What's your travel idiosyncrasy? :)  

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Every thing from Indian Stereotypes to the Indian Super power

As an Indian abroad, your initial amusement at the world perception of India soon turns into peevishness with an over dose of Indian stereotypes and at times blatant exaggerations of partial facts.

As a self proclaimed ambassador of sorts representing my country (which I believe every citizen abroad is) I obliged to clearing all doubts about India I was asked; some of my favorites being about the sacred cow, the significance of wearing a Bindi, the elephant god, why our gods had so many heads and the need for 330 million gods. Also of the eclectic mix of over 8 prominent religions we have in India and how one is essentially different from another. As a beef eating, athletic, non Bindi wearing tomboy, I probably was not the best example of a Traditional Hindu Indian girl. But I most definitely did justice to portraying the varied shades of India by giving an unbiased picture of things, sporting a Kurta to work everyday, having Bollywood movie and dance sessions, engaging in countless debates on broad issues from women safety on the streets to why arranged marriages work for us to racism and also as the delivery boy of local news(Homosexuality was made illegal in India while I was in Colombia). Objectively talking about all these problems brings to it fresh light and you learn more about your self in order to take the right stance.

All this made me think of The Elephant, The Tiger and The Cellphone, an eloquently written book by Shashi Tharoor about India covering a myriad of topics from politics to pizzas and our country's innate Soft Power capacity. Its one of the few books I've read and if you can't get your hands on a paper back copy of the book, I strongly suggest you catch the two chapter extract of it in the form of his TED talk here.

In this globalized age, our soft power is fast spreading, since chicken Tikka masala is known as Britain's national dish today. There are Bollywood movies with Spanish subtitles played in domestic transit buses in Argentina. My host brother's university has Yoga as a part of his Physical Education class  in Colombia. I was most surprised when I came across two travelers from LATAM, completely unrelated to each other, both with Lakshmi tattoos on their arms, ending up together with an Indian girl in an Ecuadorian hostel. The whole thing was like a bizarre yet serendipitous play by gods telling me to learn the Laxmi Strotra again from childhood while the two strangers were so excitedly talking about the Goddess of Opulence and her Indubitable beauty. And while all this is being made popular out there I believe the real credit goes to Apu from The Simpson's and Rajesh Kutrapally of The Big Bang Theory for doing such a great job in bringing about awareness about Indian culture abroad. (On a side note: Simpsons in EspaƱol, Hilarious!)

In spite of all this we have the other ignorant bunch, who still confuse the middle east with India. If you walk the streets of Ecuador you ratify the abundance of Indian Population with the countless Indian restaurants all around.We Indians are in every corner of the world and obviously more so in the country with the most liberal visa laws in the world. But with big posters of Bollywood actresses and Shawarma places with signs of Indian food you start to question the Indian-ness of it all. Mainly because Shawarma is not Indian food! Its Lebanese. It is only recently becoming popular in India. But I don't blame them since we do have heavy influences of Turkish culture due to the Persian conquest thus, inducing Mughalai food. Still it is heart warming to see our Pakistani and Bangladeshi Brothers running Indian restaurants and grateful for being Invited in by their families, to my first real Indian food in months. Bliss.

One of the other annoying assumptions about India that got me indignant was every time some assumed we all know magic and can make our selves float. I was asked a couple of other absurd stuff but let me sum it up for you. "No I do not ride to school on an elephant. Belly dancing is not from India, only Kartina kaif does it. India is not in the middle east, try south east Asia! It's closer". Here is a mnemonic that might help: Arabian nights? No! Jungle book? YES!" And the clarifier for the most annoying one of them all! "Yes, we speak English! We were a British colony for about a 100 years and English happens to be our second official and business language." Thank you!

Is there any thing cuter than a bunch of 2nd graders doing Yoga? :) 


Monday, 3 March 2014

Travel Tips Top 10

A backpack and a few dollars in the pocket is all you've got? In shoestring budget travel, every penny counts! So here are some budget travel tips for you folks and mind you, some of these can be very frugal.

1. Always keep a digital or photo copy of all your Credit/Debit Cards and ID cards.
I believe one should do this even when home and not just while on travel. I had to go through this unfortunate experience of losing my bag with my wallet, my credit cards, my debit cards, my IDs, drivers licence, my phone and a lot of other precious things in that bag which had higher sentimental attachments than their monetary value. Step one is to block your credit cards obviously. But how can you do that from all the way across the world? Always keep your bank's help desk number/email id handy or Mummy, Pappa are always to the rescue! You can only block your cards on providing details like your mother's maiden name and ID numbers. That's how I managed to get outta this situation. Also luckily western union money transfer only charges 1.80$ for any transfer above 80$. But you cannot send money from India to other countries but can only receive it. So my grandparents from the states ended up salvaging my __. Bless them.

2. Never exchange your currency at the airport.
The airport exchange rates are the worse. They have a 21% commission on top of the transaction charges and you are bound to lose out on close to half of the original amount you could have got otherwise. Either carry the currency of the country you are travelling to before hand or exchange just enough to pay for a taxi ride till the Hotel/Hostel and then exchange the rest of your dollars out in the city at a trusted place.  

3. You will ALWAYS need LESSER clothes than you pack.
This tip is especially for all you girls out there. Step one: Pack your bag. Step two: Now take half the clothes you have in there and put them back in your cupboard, nice and gentle, neatly folded, so that you can wear them when you come back from your trip. 

4. Universal Adapter! Always travel with one.
I did the mistake of sending mine in under carriage after check in and turns out that this particular Airport did not have Universal Plug points, before the security check in area so I couldn't use my laptop for almost 2 hours before boarding. Whats the use of free Airport Wifi huh? 

5. EGGS? Hmmmm... YUM!(makes a face)
Now we all know eggs and bananas are the cheapest and the easiest to make travel foods if you have access to a hostel kitchen, but eventually you are bound to get bored of it. There was a running joke with one of my travel buddies where he went like "Whats for breakfast?" And I'd go like "Eggs!" and he is like"EGGS? Hmmmm... YUM!(makes a face)" with the most sarcastic tone ever. This was us after eating eggs for breakfast continuously for about two weeks. Now I am sure there needs to be a little more nutritive diversity in your food than just high cholesterol food. So Cereal with Yogurt is a great substitute for a eggs(for a little while) and a cereal bar instead of a chocolate bar for healthy snacking. What we usually forget is our Vitamin C while travelling since fruits can get expensive. This one time, the hostel travel group of girls took a trip to the local market and got super ripe fruits for a steal! We much enjoyed the fruit punch that afternoon. Something you can try. 

6. Even if you are travelling alone, buy things for two or find yourself a travel buddy!
Travelling alone can get real expensive. It is almost twice as expensive as travelling in pairs. Common sense will tell you to buy a 250 ml pet bottle for 40 cents than a 1$/1 liter bottle, since you are buying it just for yourself. But think again and look beyond the cents Vs dollar and let you brain make the less impulsive and more logical choice.

7. If you have a smart phone, make use of all its smartness!
Most smart phones have a tracking system in case it is lost. Active it right now if your haven't done it already before you continue reading!!!!

8. Never keep all your money at the same place.
Always split it between all your bags so in case you lose one bag, you always have some reserve in the other. Also keep a note of how much is kept where. It always helps to be organised.

9. Choose Supermarkets over Mini-Marcados.
There are always these mini markets right around the street corner which sell just about everything you get at a regular super market at a slight price difference of 10-15 cents more. Though it might not seem like much, the cumulative sum when you buy a lot of things makes a huge difference compared to when you buy the same things at the super market a few blocks away. Walk it out!

10. Tours and guides.
Though tours are the easiest way to see sights there is always a cheaper way of doing the same thing (except for Macha Picchu which can't be one without one). If you think the "free" lunch included is a compensation then that's one really expensive lunch you are paying for! There are no free lunches. Most tours make a 15% profit off of whatever you are paying, after paying off all the stake holders; so always work down how much you could have done the same trip for on your own. It sure is convenient to be picked up at the pick up point and driven to where ever, but for a more authentic experience ask the locals! They know best.

Some people learn from other people's mistakes and some insist on making their own mistakes. I hope you could learn from mine! 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Travel Productivity Log

You are bound to change as a person when you travel, for good or for bad. You constantly learn, meet new people, learn about the kind of lives they lead, so different from yours, exchange perspectives, cultures, philosophy, experience things you never had.... and even if you are not making an effort to learn you are still constantly learning! You return feeling different, rich with all these experiences which shape you as a person. Reminds me of this quote from the movie Motorcycle Diaries which is about two friends biking through South America.

"Yo ya no soy yo. Por lo menos, no soy el mismo yo interior."
 "I am no longer who I was. At least, I’m no longer who I was inside." 
So apt huh? For me the 4 months in Colombia and a month in Ecuador were the most productive in a while.

Things I learnt in my four months in Colombia:

1. Spanish!
Yes! I learnt more than just basic Spanish in four month and no it was not as easy as I make it sound. When I first arrived to Colombia I did not know a word beyond Hola! I had only heard before about how living a language is the best way of learning a language; now I couldn't agree more. My first one month went by signing frantically to my host mother in the kitchen while towards the end I managed to write her a good bye note in Spanish which made her weep. I spent a big chunk of my time reading all three PDF volumes of Spanish for dummies on my phone initially, which did not help me at all! The key to learning a language is practicing it not studying it. And unknowingly my Frisbee team was the biggest help, since I spent 3 hours a day every day training with them for a month and none of them speak any English! I think I did not too bad compared to BENNY THE IRISH POLYGLOT  , doing just a month more. :)

Mi primera cancion en espanol: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7EE74axAdM

2. Cooking Indian Food:
Yes I learnt how to cook Indian food outside India. I never really bothered to learn how to cook, while I was at home because cooking was never really my thing. So you can imagine the shock associated with an Indian girl at a marriageable age- not knowing how to cook! :O But when it came to representing my culture out side of India I had to step up. I was eating all this amazing food that my host family made for me all the time, so it came naturally to me to want them to have a taste of my cuisine. The biggest problem being the spices, was solved by my grandmother and aunt who sent all the basic Indian spices (and some goodies) all the way from Estados Unidos (the US) to Colombia! And thus began the saga of endless Skype calls to my mom in India at odd hours, with her directing me to cook, step by step, at times for 3 hours straight; coz Indian food can be quite a drag just like Hindi movies and Hindu weddings. My first time was fine, with my Parathas a little fatter and little harder than they were suppose to be, but soon I got really good and eventually I could just read a recipe of the net and make it perfectly. I don't know how I got so good at cooking Indian food but I was like a natural at it. And then I figured it was because my mom is an excellent cook! It came from the memory of watching her cook a zillion times and the way the house smelt of all the spices every time she cooked.
Anyway, by the end of the trip I learnt how to make Bngan ka Bharta, Chole Batura, Gajar ka halwa, Chicken Tikka Masala, Palo, Chaat, Kher, Rajma Chaaval, Saahi tukada, Gulaab Jaamun and my first attempt of Chicken Biryani and Butter chicken was as good at Pradise(This very famous iconic food chain in my city). If you have had enough of my boasting and don't believe me, maybe the pictures will help! :)

3. Salsa:
Man do Latinos know how to fiesta! I was never awesome at dancing. Especially pair dancing. After attending a couple of initial family gatherings and friends parties I understood what a big deal SALSA was down here. First of all, men don't dance in India. If you are out dancing in India, it is probably a girls night out and it usually involves men lecherously staring at you from the bar while you dance. Here in Colombia it is the men who lead in pair dance and its like everyone is born with the dancing gene! My initial embarrassment of having two left feet was soon overcome by personal dance lessons by a friend of my mine who is a pro dancer. By the end of a month's session's I gotta say I move like a natural when ever I hear the music!

4. Skateboarding: 
I always always always wanted a skateboard growing up but its not really a popular Indian kid sport. The first time I ever tried a skate board was in my first trip to the western world. I am a fast learner and have a knack of picking up things fast especially things involving physical activity. I believe if you are good at one sport you can pick up any other other sport much faster than an average person since you already have better developed hand eye coordination, fine motor skills and have a better understanding of the physics that goes into it. In my time in Colombia, I realized how big Skateboarding was since so many of my students were all over the place with the skate board and I thought it was the perfect time for me to pick it up again. After like a week's practice with a 15 year old sweetest kid teaching me how to do an Ollie; I FINALLY learn it!! (after don't ask how many falls!) So at 23 I finally satisfied my inner child. :) Your never too old to learn anything!

Skating boarding on a London sidewalk. 

5. Xbox - FIFA 2014: 
You can't be in south america an not follow football. Even if you are least interested in it, you can't help but be updated on who is playing against whom and whose match is it next, since there is no conversation in a day that goes without a mention of football. Living with a a host family with two boys has its own pluses. Not only do you get to accompany them to the foot ball field for a game occasionally when they are short of players; you also get to up your  Xbox skills because that's they do all day!! You know you are getting better when from 11-0 you finally manage to score a point against your host brother one fine day! That's when you should retire!

My host brother and I with the must-have Colombian football Jersey's 

6. Ultimate:
Colombia is world number #4 in ultimate ranking and I was lucky enough to get to play one tournament while I was there.  Right from training for it till actually playing at the tournament you get to see an exceptional level of the game! You are surrounded by such amazing players and for me it was all the more exciting to see all women teams! (Its hard to find female players playing ultimate in India) You see a phenomenal improvement in your own game level when you play with people better than you. Handling in an all girls team gave me the confidence that I much needed.

My first all girls Frisbee team

Things I learnt in Ecuador: 

7. Metal Smithing and Hand bands:
I've always been good with my hands an a fast learner. And being an eager learner makes me wanna learn everything! (Like literally everything I see!! which is not always a good thing) So I picked up metal smithing from a french man who was an excellent teacher. It basically involved turning thin wire into accessories using a cutting pliers. I believe its a wonderful way to express creativity, make personalized gifts for people and make use  of your time while travelling.

Hand bands are the next best way to make use of your time travelling and better still you get to sell them an make easy money. I think Ecuador has got to be my first connect with the hippie way of life with all the kind of people I met and the kind of things they did. My mom is a skeptic to see me embracing the hippie way of life but I feel its nice how in this digitized and mechanized world people still have the patience, time and energy to make hand made things and there are people who appreciate hand made things enough to buy it.  

Remember how I told you I am a fast learner? Theory proved. I learnt how to stand on a surf board on my very first session, on day one, the very first time I tried how to surf! :) So that's something right?

9. Guitar: 
Its impossible how amazing these guys are with the guitar in south america. Almost all of them know how to play one instrument or another. We would just break into live music sessions in the dining room while others cooked or group singing after dinner session. You do pick up an instrument faster with  friends than at any music classes. I definitely bettered my Guitar skills in just a month's time more than the whole time I've been playing the guitar in my life.

10. Working in Spanish: 
From reading an entire case study in Spanish about sustainable travel to doing door to door marketing of Eco tourism, my voluntary experience in Ecuador made me exercise my newly learnt Spanish skills. Not just that, I believe I learnt a great deal about marketing and understanding the Latin market.

So, I believe every kind of travel is productive whether you are an active learner or not. You always learn something, sometimes its measurable and others immeasurable. It has a profound effect on your life; mostly in a good way.  

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Working and Traveling

One of the very few things I admire about western way of life is the way they bring up their children to be independent and responsible. They are forced to make choices from a very young age, be it for what they want to wear to what they'd like to eat. As Indian kids we are too used to being spoon fed from our classrooms to every other aspect of our life; maybe that's why we stare at the menu for a little too long, to make the decision as to what we want to order, even as grown ups.

Having part time jobs as kids or growing up is one such western concept that I like. Out of all my Indian friends I have only ever known two friends who ever did that during college. Where as out of all my non-Indian-expat friends, almost all of them always have had super interesting stories to tell that started with, "This one summer when I was working as a lumber jack... " or "This one time I was waiting at a coffee shop, when.." Being a camp consular, painting houses, cutting grass for the neighbor, being a life guard at the pool one summer, being the basketball coach assistant or just a guest blog journalist. It doesn't matter if you are from a well off family an even if your parents can afford to buy you a car for your sweet 16, part time jobs are a norm. In India if you are working as a child it is probably out of compulsion or poverty. You see kids working at a Chai shop or cleaning boots on street side to add to their family's income. Child labor is punishable by law because it leads to exploitation children for cheap manual labor. In India its rare to see kids coming from the middle or upper class families doing jobs that have monetary out comes.

Why didn't I work at a Mc'donalds growing up and did unpaid volunteer work instead? As much as I wanted to, working as a teenager or in college is a rather new concept in India and as a society we do not encourage our children to work. Upper and middle class children are only encouraged to study hard and get a cushy job instead of doing trivial work which is considered demeaning. And if you are not able to get a job or pass out of college, you still have the option of living off your parents till you "grow up". Indian kids are just used to having their parents pay for their education and more often than not, even after bagging a job post education; be it for the apartment rent deposit or a few extra bucks for a foreign vacation. 

Part of the reason we underestimate our self worth is all the jobs we did as kids were unpaid and we did it as favors to the society, friends, family or a relative. Maybe that's why our system works on favors.The work will be done faster when you know someone who know's someone, and they'll do it for you as "a favor".

Part time jobs as kids teaches one a lot, such as the value of hard earned money, self reliance, gives them a sense of Independence and most of all teaches them dignity of labor. With Dignity of labor one learns that no work is big or small and that work itself is dignity. India does not understand much of this concept. This is seen by the way people doing menial jobs are treated at restaurants, public service laborers or even the way people treat their own maids.
One of the best parts about travel is the amazing people you meet who are doing really cool things in life. This was also my first introduction to the hippie way of working and travelling. I met tons of talented people earning bucks in innovative ways while travelling and practically eating their meals for free.

Cristi: She is just an amazing singer and her golden voice clubbed with her peppy guitar numbers make her a big hit! This one time I saw her make 40$ in an hour of singing, restaurant hopping.

Like Christi there are so many others! Almost everyone travels with an instrument. I'm doing my Euro trip with my Guitar for sure!

Ben: This French man not only has an entrepreneurial streak but is also an excellent teacher. He is an amazing metal smiths who initiated me into buying my own player and wire and I did not quite bad for my first time. The best part was to hear a french man and an Indian girl communicate in their newly learnt Spanish. 

My first earring :) 

This cute couple sold trinkets they made outta metal and thread and did a pretty neat job of it too! They were like the power couple of the hippie world!

The treasure chest:

A little something I learnt how to make:

Las Malabaristas(The Jugglers): If I had a penny for every juggler I met I'd have been the one eating my meals for free. For these guys their day starts at the semaphores and on a good day they can earn about 30$ in a 4 hour work period.

The little Bakers: Seriously? An 86% profit margin with the initial investment of  4$ for the raw material to make 30$ in one afternoon's work. The have some amazing marketing and aesthetic sense and always make their products look good. 

If money is the biggest criteria keeping you from travelling, here is the quick fix solution. So, go ahead and head out with your backpack and your guitar! 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Spell bound

If you can't decide between the beautiful blue water costs and trekking high mountains, Qilotova, Ecuador is the place for you. A giant blue-green water filled volcanic Crater 4500 masl, it has a 3 km wide caldera you can hike down to.

Once you are down there you can kayak, camp and even take a dip in the mineral rich freezing cold lake. Don't forget to take your bathing suit in case you want to do the craziest thing of your life!

It takes about 25 mins to hike down and about an hour exhausting hike up. There is an option of hiking back up on a mule back for 8$. But if you are an animal lover like me, then take it as a personal challenge and hike up. Trust me the feeling of achievement hiking back on foot is worth it! There are breathtaking views every step to keep you motivated to continue.

There are also a lot of hostels in the vicinity you can stay the night in case you want to wake up to a spectacular view every morning.      

You can't help but feel over powered by nature's beauty, at peace with yourself and humbled by everything around.

The fruit of a cactus.Tasted kind of sweet and mushy. If I had to compare it with another known fruit it would be combination of a passion fruit and custard apple as it has edible seeds like a passion fruit and the consistency of a custard apple

A traditional  Quechua mountain house, And the flag which resembles a gay pride flag is the state flag of the region and can be seen on almost all houses.

We were invited inside and it was really interesting to see how architecturally sound to fight the cold. There is a mud bundh all around made with a mixture of a lot of things including urine as an adhesive. The thatched roof  is water proof and the floor has hay all around with Guinea pigs every where. The whole family sleeps together in a row thus exchanging body heat to keep warm, along with the guinea pigs . The guinea pigs serve two purposes, help keep the house warmer and when the family is hungry they just take one, roast it and eat it. 

The kid trying his hand at photography and doing a good job of it too. :) Notice how pink the cheeks are. its the same for all mountain kids due to the cold and excessive sun burn.

The gang! :) A diverse mix thus making interestingly intense conversations about existence, religion, world politics, Life! 

The mini Andean Grand Canon. 

Can't really go wrong with any of these pictures with such a perfect background. 

You don't need a reason to post cute things. :) 

You meet the strangest people on your journeys. My favorite American, Ecuadorian Sai Baba Devotee whom I met on the other side of the world, with immense knowledge about the Indian culture made me want to re read through Indian mythology.