In personal news, Satya successfully defended his PhD thesis last week! We are so happy. Now that is done, our attention has turned to India. There are seven more weeks to go until our trip to India. It will be my first trip to India and Satya’s first since he left in 2000. Most or all of the trip will be in Karnataka.
So far, here is what we’ve done to prepare:
Bought some travel guides. We bought Lonely Planet South India and Rough Guide South India. Our favorite is Rough Guide South India because of all the great background information it has, like reviewers on Amazon have also noted. We have a huge list of places to see, but I don’t know how we’ll divide our time between staying with his parents and visiting and going off for little sight seeing trips. Some of our must sees are Hampi, Gokarna, Pattadakal, Badami, and Jog Falls. Everyone also keeps recommending Mysore to us. We got a good laugh at how his cousin’s village was referred to as “deep, rural Karnataka”. Soon I’ll find out what exactly that means.
Restarting my Kannada lessons. I’m following a course provided through Mysore University’s Central Institute of Indian Languages. So far, I’ve been impressed with the exercises that follow each lesson. Some exercises are relatively easy, like find this letter in this word which is a matter of simply matching letters. Others are more difficult, for example, make 10 words out of these letters. It also shows how each letter is supposed to be drawn. I expect I’ll be able to read some simple words, know the alphabet, and say some simple sentences IF I continue studying.
Researched health hazards and consulted with family. Satya’s sister was trained as a doctor and his uncle still practices medicine as a village doctor. The strong recommendation is to get a typhoid vaccine. We haven’t done this yet, but time is getting short. Satya has decided we will only eat what his mom prepares for us, but I don’t think that will work in reality.
Clothes. This is a sticking point a bit with us. Satya thinks I should just wear my regular clothes, but my belief is more one of, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” I think I’ve channeled some of my trip anxiety into “What do I wear?” I’ve also ordered a cotton handloom saree from sarisafari.com. They have a great website about traditional sarees and the saree arrived very quickly after I ordered it. I went online to utsavsarees.com and purchased two sarees and two salwar kameez outfits. I wanted to have a saree to practice with before I go so I can drape it competently and know how to move in one. The salwar kameezs are for sightseeing. Temperatures are going to be around 80 so I thought they would be easier to move around in than jeans. Unfortunately, ordering online is a bit tricky when one does not have a good idea of clothes and measurements. They are too small. I also bought two salwar kameez suits yesterday at an Indian clothing shop nearby, but I have a strong suspicion they are too big. Still have yet to get bindis, bangles, and mangalsutra.
Bathroom changes. I’ve used some Indian products before like Sandalwood soap at my sister in laws or most recently Shikakai for hair. Those things are all good and I love how clean Shikakai feels and how easily it rinses out. I’ve researched bathroom procedures in the book “Going Abroad: The Bathroom Survival Guide”, but I have not practiced. Satya’s parents have a squat toilet and use water instead of toilet paper. Getting used to that will be one of the biggest challenges, I think. Satya said that when he got to the US, toilet paper struck him as disgusting as was how the shower/tub is usually in the same room as the toilet. Now it will be my turn to adapt and logically he is right that the Indian way is probably cleaner and is better for the environment.
Gifts. We don’t know what to do about this. I want to get some simple gifts for close relatives because that is what my mom has always told me is correct guest behavior-always get something for the people who are letting you stay with them. I also really want to get gifts for his cousin’s kids, mostly because I like buying toys. Satya is not keen on this though. He says he does not want the kids or any other family members to associate us with gifts. Also, his sister and her husband, who married into a more status oriented family, must always go to India carrying suitcases filled with gifts according to a list dictated by her mother in law.
Cultural differences. Here are some from my sister in law and from Satya: lots of noise, lots of wildlife (his parents have a group of monkeys living in their yard and lizards are common in the house), lots of people visiting and dropping in and out, people being much more open about their opinions and with advice.
I don’t know why I’m freaked out so much. Satya keeps telling me that I just have to be myself and relax. I think part of it is that we’ll be seeing his extended family and lots of his old friends. We’ll also be probably meeting a cousin Satya might have married if he had stayed in India and wanted an arranged marriage. So the stakes are higher than if we were just going as tourists. I want to make a good impression and not look like or be “the ugly American”.