Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dancing and Dosas

This morning marked my first lesson in Kathak dancing, a traditional north Indian dance that is used to tell a story.

On my way to my lesson, I finally got a photo op with some elusive langur monkeys.  There are two types of monkeys here: the langur and the rhesus.  Rhesus monkeys are big, bold, food-stealing bullies.  They are more prone to attack women and children (yes, literally attack), so it is advised to avoid eating while walking and to avert eye contact at all costs.  The langurs are a bit more classy.

There were only 3 of us in the 10-10:45 beginners’ class.  Turnout was probably low because of the rain.  Monsoon has definitely been making its presence more known in the past 24 hours.  Last night, on the way to dinner, water was cascading down the extensive set of stairs we were all trying to climb.  I felt like I was walking up a waterfall.  Or at least like I was in the game Jumanji. 

This morning, I felt like I was in an Indian Juilliard.  Our Kathak teacher is an older woman.  Her favorite catchphrase is, “If you go faster than my count, you are wrong.  If you go slower than my count, then that also is wrong.”  I now have a little bit of perspective on why students who come to Woodstock straight from an Indian school are a little scared of the teachers.  Our instructor is a very nice woman, don’t get me wrong, but she’s not afraid to call you out (“no, no, no, no, no!”) on your mistakes! 
I am so thankful that nearly-individualized dance instruction is only 300 rupees a month (approximately $5).  The school pays for the rest, probably classifying it as a type of professional development.  Cultural development?
After Kathak, I went into the bazaar with Melanie and Chris, a couple of other new staff members.  I was in dire need of some fruits and veggies.  Luckily, there’s a stand (or 25) for that.  I bought all of the following for lesson than $4:
(Potatoes, beets, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, mangoes, bananas... and a coconut.  I’m hoping to give coconut butter another go tomorrow.)
While buying this scrumptiousness is easy enough, eating it poses a particular challenge.  Fresh produce needs to be washed with a potassium permanganate solution before it can be eaten raw, which is an annoyingly inconvenient process that I’m still a little confused about.  Saut√©ing the vegetables eliminates the need for washing, but I miss the crunchiness!  Also, lettuce is hard to come by L  I haven’t haggled for anything yet.  That, in addition to the assumed “skin tax” imposed on Westerners, means I was probably overcharged for the veggies.  I think I’m okay with that.
Buying something here is always an adventure.  I purchased a green and pink salwar kameez during one of my first trips into the bazaar.  I really had no intention of purchasing clothing right then, but the tailor was a smooth-talking, chai-providing mastermind of retail.  I really like the outfit, though.  The pants are like genie pants.  I could gain 80 pounds and they would still fit.  I’ll wear it to school on August 15th—India’s Independence Day.  There are no classes, but everyone wears traditional Indian dress (or traditional dress from their nation of origin) and celebrates with various activities at the school.
Another shopping experience of note was when I bought my food processor.  I was debating between a full-fledged processor and a simpler (and less expensive) mixer/grinder.  The store clerk said that he had the same mixer/grinder at home, and that it was very sturdy.  Unbreakable, actually.  (When he said that, my mind immediately quoted Titanic—“Unsinkable!  God himself could not sink this ship!”)  As if he sensed that I didn’t believe him, he proceeded to take the mixer/grinder out of its box, set it on the floor, and stand on it. 
Both feet. 
We’re talking entire body weight.
I thought that the clerk had lost his marbles, but looking back, I now realize his brilliance.  I did not buy the mixer/grinder (partially out of fear that it was now damaged… and because it had feet on it) but I did end up buying the more expensive product.  What a trickster. 
From the grocery store (yes, the grocery store), I purchased a set of “fine quality Indian razors” that looked an awful lot like disposable razors to my untrained eye.  Upon taking them home and testing one out, I can confirm that they are, indeed, regular disposable razors.  I have many blades here, but forgot my actual razor at home!  There will need to be a care package in my near future. 
But anyway,
While in the bazaar today, the three of us stopped at Madras, a South Indian restaurant specializing in dosas.  I ordered an onion/tomato/coconut masala dosa and it was fantastic.  Interestingly enough, the entire menu was vegetarian.  It didn’t even advertise this fact on the outside of the restaurant or on the menu, that’s how common veg food is here.  Sometimes all the lunch options at school are veg, too!  Interesting fact:  while "vegetarian" in the United States generally means that you can eat eggs and dairy, "vegetarian" in India means you can eat dairy but no eggs.

On my way back from the bazaar, I met a couple of senior school boys on the road.  They don’t even have me as a teacher, but they quickly offered to help me carry my bags.  Isn’t that sweet?  Once I got home, I crashed.  Going into the bazaar is tiring.  Plus, the rain had started back up again.  It’s still going strong.  I hope it lets up by tomorrow morning!  I want to go on a run.
(So much for planning today!)


  1. I am intrigued by the monkeys. Do they raid the waste receptacles (AKA garbage cans) like raccoons? Do they try to gain entry to housing? How numerous are they?
    I would never get anything accomplished if I were to travel-I would be too interested in diverse flora and fauna.
    Love the blogs - Pam S

  2. Hi, Pam! I haven't heard of or experienced monkeys getting into trash yet, but another staff member reported that they took down all of her laundry that was out to dry and threw it everywhere. No house entries yet that I know of :) They're all pretty well screened-in. I wasn't expecting the monkeys to be so numerous (thought I'd just see a few in a tree every so often), but they're pretty much everywhere. I don't think I've ever walked to school without having at least a few cross my path. Sometimes there are large families (?), like 20 monkeys grouped pretty closely along one stretch of road.