September 19, 2013

Ahmedabad Diaries

I have taken quite a hiatus!


I went to Ahmedabad recently for a brief work visit.

My first impressions: So clean! Most of the roads look spruced up, and well maintained. I even saw a Gaudi-imitation structure at a circle/roundabout, with stones of different colors perched in patterns. One divider was uneven, reminding me of Casa Mila's facade.

It was also incredibly hot. The Weather Channel app showed, unhelpfully, that the temperature was 37 degree Celsius, with a RealFeel of 47. So hot, that women cover their heads and upper arms in a huge bandini material scarf, allowing only their eyes to be exposed. I quickly adopted this approach, but my scarf wasn't big enough to cover arms. In addition, they wore hand gloves a-la Hepburn did along with that famous LBD in Breakfast at Tiffany's. But not in black, of course. I even saw a man wear a similar thing on his legs, peeking out of his shorts and covering his knees. Looked quite awful, but given how hot it was, I reserved all judgement.

The dhokla at Bikaner's was delicious, easily better than any dhokla I have ever eaten. I didn't get to eat much other local fare, unfortunately.

Somewhere during the course of my first day I saw a fairly young woman, maybe in her 30s, ride a two-wheeler, covered completely in white. It took me a few seconds to realize she was a widow, so uncommon that sight is in my part of the world. I spotted more later. It looks like Gujarat is fairly conservative, and widows are expected to wear only white, and whatever else might go along with that.

Someone I met as part of work, asked me what my impressions of the city were. I mentioned the cleanliness bit, and he said, did you know, most women can walk about at 1AM quite safely? I doubt this can happen in any other part of India. He also said you will find eateries open through the night, again, a rare sight in my city! I wish I could have asked some women if they did indeed feel safe late at night, but didn't get the chance to.

I did however, meet one of the most bigoted people I have ever met! He is a customer, so I guess I was part of an audience that couldn't really offend him, which took quite a bit of restraint. The conversation started innocuously enough, and this person was perhaps in his early thirties, and was mentioning something about women falling into two categories - affluent that are aware of health risks and the poor, who simply can't afford to care.

The conversation moved on to how the percentage of women smoking appears to have gone up, and proportion of women drinking as well. He also went off on a tangent about kids not receiving enough discipline from parents or their teachers, so they end up growing up with a lot of love and no discipline, and one day, they are in college and drinking. At this point, a colleague of mine, also Gujarati, says "That is true, we should not give women too much liberties".

I might have looked at him with my jaw open - WTF! As if a council of men can sit and decide how much liberties women can get. As I typed that, I remembered the Taliban.

Anyway, I tried my best to keep a sympathetic smile on my face while this man rattled off in Gujarati, either because he couldn't talk continuously in Hindi/English despite attempting to, or simply didn't want to. There were pauses where he tried speaking a line so I could follow along.

He then proceeded to add that women are the ones that are getting raped, not men. So it is OK for men to drink because no one is trying to rape them, but women shouldn't. I do not understand how the woman always gets the blame for getting raped. As if the act wasn't horrible enough. Of course, I would have loved to explain 'causation' to this guy but I do not think his brain would have processed logic.

He then spoke of an educated, engineer female friend of his wife telling her that she should go get eye-drops from a baba to ensure that her five month old fetus is born male. He then might have added that it doesn't matter whether it is a boy or a girl - which might have been a positive note, except he went on to give his brother who lived in the US as an example, so far away that it doesn't matter whether the expat brother is dead or alive as he cannot take care of his parents anyway.

And he meandered on to the topic of my city. Where apparently, anyone who is not local to the city will be stopped by any city dweller and robbed.

Again, WTF.

He quoted the example of the infamous auto-drivers in the city asking for Rs 30 or 50 over the meter.

I couldn't take it anymore. I said, "Do you know, most of the people in the city are not local to the city. And the auto drivers ask for more money from me as well, I just tell them No and carry on".

No one can accuse these auto drivers of discrimination, they are equally rude with EVERYBODY!

I wonder, do most people here think like this? Shouldn't we be worried then that a future PM candidate is from here?

On the way back to the airport, I saw Ganpati Visarjan in full swing. The locals were walking around/traveling in motorized vehicles or small bi-cycles, playing with pink holi colors and spraying water once in a while, presumably to keep cool.

Ganpati came in all sizes and shapes. It was great to see dancing Ganpathis, blue ones and in different poses. Some were small enough to be clutched in one hand on a bike, and others big enough to require tractors.

Ganpathi, is for everyone. 

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