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Archive for June, 2009

Over a black screen, a deep male voice begins to speak.

NARRATOR

When we last saw our intrepid travelers, they were in sweltering Mumbai, living in

roach and gecko infested apartments that occasionally had air conditioning.

Now they reside in a beautiful, deliciously cold hotel in the Hottest Place on Earth:

unstruck-by-monsoons Delhi in mid-June. How did they come to be here?

Let us start at the beginning…

 

This morning (although it does not seem like the same day, it is still, in fact, Monday) we arose with the sun. Actually, about an hour ahead of the sun, which does not come up until 5 am or so. Having packed the day before (most of us, anyway), all that was needed was to take our luggage downstairs and load it onto the bus. In an moment oddly unsuited for the feel of the rest of our trip, the elevators actually WORKED and we did not have to walk our suitcases down 20 flights of stairs. I think we made up for this blessing later. We drove to the airport (the international one first, then the domestic one; this was more like the India we knew) and checked in for our flight. We walked outside the terminal, got on a bus and drove from here to ————— there – a distance  which would have taken less time to walk than it did to ride, and boarded the plane just as the rain started. I had joked, in the days previously when rain seemed more and more eminent, that it would not rain until we left Mumbai, just out of spite. This, however, was far too literal. After getting a good laugh at the timeliness of the precipitation, we were seated. This is the sight that greeted us:

Smoking Plane to Delhi

Can you see the smoke? I hope so, cause we sure could. After the smoke, or fog, or whatever it was cleared, we had a fairly uneventful flight (except for the crazy old mad sitting behind Jill, Andrea and I who did not understand the concept of “Turn off your damn cellphone!”) We landed in Delhi and walked into the most intense heat I have ever experienced. We took our luggage across the street to the awaiting bus, and found this:

The Bus

The bus was too small. The bus was too small by a lot. After much arguing (TG with the driver), negotiating (TG with the rental service), and extreme creepiness (the helpers to the left in the photo, who offered to have sex with me for $20 – “Please, Madam-ji, four men, $20”), the larger suitcases were tied to the roof of the bus with a very un-sturdy-looking piece of rope and the rest were piled in the aisles, with us squeezed in around them. It was a long, hot, bumpy ride to Agra, and I am not a skilled enough writer to be able to fully describe how uncomfortable it was. Suffice it to say, we were all grateful for the cooling rush of adrenaline when we almost had the head-on collision with the truck. And the water buffalo. 

On the way to Agra, where we are spending the night, we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri – a capital city built by Emperor Akbar. It was very beautiful (see below) and the tour guide was amazing.

Fatehpur Sikri

We finally arrived at our hotel in Agra as the sun was beginning to set, and discovered what appears to be heaven on Earth. There is air conditioning (which is freezing – I have not had goose-bumps in a month and its awesome!), no cockroaches, geckos or creepy-crawlies of any kind, complementary dinner (which was delicious) and best of all, a pool. After a wonderful hot shower with powerful water pressure (ahhh, luxury!), I lie in bed, anticipating the Taj Mahal tomorrow, slightly dreading the ride back to Delhi, and (mentally) bouncing off the walls in my excitement to go home.

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While driving to Agra I think the culmination of everything I had seen and learned in Mumbai finally hit me. Looking out the window of the hot and stuffy van was a world so far from my own that it was almost too surreal to even believe. People were sitting in concrete huts, walking with water above their heads, and guiding packs of cows down the road. Village after village of crumbling structures surrounded by peacock inhabited fields whizzed by, making it hard for me to picture one of the world’s seven wonders sitting at the end of our journey. It was hard for me to imagine living in the same conditions that these people were living in, and I immediately had the desire to help them and to make their life more like my own, somehow more “comfortable.” However, I also realized, and although this might sound cliché, just how little they needed to survive and find happiness. People in the villages as well as in Mumbai often sit on the side of the road, outside their store, or in the doorway of their home and just watch the day go by. The world is their entertainment and the community around them at any given time is their automatic social network. I feel like someone living in New York City would feel more alienated in their bustling surroundings than a Mumbaikar or a simple village farmer in the middle of “nowhere” India. Although the Taj Mahal was the dream of Emperor Shah Jahan, it was through the community of the builders that it was finally accomplished, becoming a tribute to the bonds of the people. While this lavish display of wealth and royalty is a beautiful sight, the crowded villages and the colorful surroundings were just as inspiring as the pristine white structure of the Taj. I think I came away from this experience with a better appreciation of people. I focus so much on where I want to go, what I want to become, and how I am going to get there, I think this made me think about what life means to other people and the beauty in observing someone else’s path.

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Subhash Ghai

During our meeting with Subhash Ghai, the Steven Spielberg of Bollywood cinema, he explained that “films are like people” despite differences in cultures and backgrounds the stories and characters still come from a similar existence and resonate across classes, races, and countries. He described his experience at an international film festival where although many of the films were in different languages, he was able to look past the differences in delivery and recognize the beauty in the storylines and eccentricity of characters. Most things that I saw in India were a million times different from the place where I come from and yet people still share the same relationships, conflicts, and internal decisions that I do. Despite the exterior surroundings, we’re all human! I think this trip reinstituted what I love about films. We’re not all rock stars, super heroes, or lovers separated by time and space, and yet we continue to watch stories and characters who are. We continue to search for new things we have never seen before, or maybe things we have seen but want to see again and again because they bring comfort and resolution to our real world issues. Being in India was like being in a film of my own. Looking back on the experience now I can hardly believe I was actually there, and yet I can remember the stories, people, and the emotions I felt at certain moments. Subhash Ghai also explained that as a filmmaker you have to see all aspects of the story line, developing a love for all your characters whether their morals relate or differ from your own. I think that my trip definitely had its ups and downs, but from every experience I was able to find something to learn and appreciate.

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Thursday the 11th marked the last day of our internships, and I was truly sad to leave. The past three weeks have not only been fun, they have been an incredible learning experience. I got to be part of a small team writing and editing two feature length screenplays, which both look as though they will become films in the next few years. The work was fun and interesting in and of itself, but I am also very fond of the stories, and am really excited to see how they turn out. Apart from the writing, I became very attached to Shubhra, my boss, and I will miss her.

Shubhra and Me

The following day, our last Friday in India, we took a day trip to the film archives and film institute in Pune. The archives made me want to cry – film cases stacked on the floor in no particular order and with no particular care; posters and photographs, some of them decades old and probably one-of-a-kind, shoved into corners, and everything covered in a nice, think layer of Indian Dust – a substance which appears to be one part dirt, one part fine sand and  one part glue. Seriously, it sticks to everything. It appears that an attempt is being made to improve the state of the archives, as shown by the amusingly worded sign below:

Funny Sign at the Archives

The Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) made me want to cry too, but for very different reasons. Actually, first it almost gave me a heart attack – I was minding my own business, staying out of the way while Nya took a picture of a tree or something else equally interesting, when something touched my hand.

 

The dog that almost gave me a heart attack.

The dog that almost gave me a heart attack.

A wet something. A TONGUE something. After leaping into the air and screaming like Ross Geller (DANGER!), I discovered a dog looking at me as though I was the crazy one. How would he have reacted if I had licked his paw, hu? Probably would have given me the same look. Anyway…

 

 

The facilities were unbelievable – sound studios with state-of-the-art equipment, camera to die for, and huge warehouses where students can build their own sets. Oh, did I mention that the tuition for a foreign student is 225,000 rupees per year? Does that sound like a lot? Convert it. That makes a grand total of $4,500. Not $45,000, $4,500. Like, a tenth of what we pay to go to Newhouse. Actually, an eleventh, considering the recent hike in tuition prices. When I told one of the tour guides that our tuition translates to 2.5 million rupees per year, he almost peed himself laughing.

*SIGH* On the other hand, there are only two spots open for foreign students every year, so the competition is fierce. One would also have to put up with the Indian heat, and as much as Syracuse winters get old by the time April rolls around, I would take the snow over the heat. 

Us in front of the Wisdom Tree at the FTII:

In Front of the Wisdom Tree

Now to pack, then Delhi and Agra, then HOME!!!

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From Paint to Film

I’ve worn several different masks in the past 3 years. As a Freshman, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I was happy with my paints. Content with my canvases. Giddy about charcoal and watercolor. My fist week of my sophomore year was torture. I sat down at a table. Picked up my brush but couldn’t start my first surface pattern assignment. Questions interrupted my work. Was I going to sit at a desk for the rest of my life? Were flowers and seashells the rest of my existence? I called my parents that night. Color samples sprayed across my drafting table. Buckets of murky water sat still. Brushes crusted with dried paint. I left my desk like that for a week. I dropped out of my classes, sat on my bed and imitated my art supplies. Motionless.
The next week I had to make a decision. Fast. What was I going to do … with my LIFE? It’s such a big question for a 19 year old. Science? All three of my brothers are engineers. I didn’t want to take the same route. Writing? It seemed too vague at the time. Art? Oh no. What if I freeze again?
My dad works for Kodak. So did my Grandfather …AND a few of my uncles. One worked with Ansel Adams and another is a published photographer. I thought I’d take a swing at the family gene pool.
It worked. I fell in love with photography. However, I was still struggling with the question about how to make a living (another really big question for a 19 year old). I decided to look at the really big building with the fancy windows across the street – Newhouse School of Public Communications.
I decided to minor in Public Relations but waited for the spring to start. I was going to dive in … until I broke my back in two places. It slowed the process down a little bit. I was only able to take Com 107 – an introductory course to television, radio, film, journalism, and new media. My professor was Dr. Hollenback. I fell in love – again (not with her, though I respect and adore the woman, but with communications in general). I thrived on current events quizzes and loved watching public service announcements. During a mandatory meeting with the professor, I shared my interest in foreign films. It seemed like a side note at the time. In elementary school, I watched British films to escape my brother’s pubescent nonsense. In middle school, I watched Chinese and Korean Cinema. In high school, I absorbed Spanish and Italian films. In Rochester, it’s not unusual to frequently visit the George Eastman Museum or independent movie theaters. But film was always recreational. I never thought it could be a career.
Professor Hollenbeck asked me one question at the end of our meeting. “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
In my head – “Seriously? I’ve had two different majors in the past 2 years. I’m the last person to know what I want to do.”
Instinctively I answered. “Travel … (still thinking) while doing something creative. (Wow, Hannah, way to be vague).
She introduced me to Television, Radio, and Film and suggested that I consider it. I did.
Later, I returned to her office – a lot. I inquired more about the major and what I had to do to transfer into the big building across the street with the shiny new windows.
SOOOO. What does this have to do with India? (you probably started asking yourself that a couple paragraphs ago). Let me outline it out for you (my fingers are getting a little tired anyway).
1. During one of my many meetings with Dr. Hollenback, she told me about a Television, Radio and Film Professor who took a few of her students to India for a film internship.
2. I had always wanted to go to India (Hello, surface pattern design and photography).
3. The trip sounded like a microcosm of my future career objectives: travel and creativity.
4. I decided to change my major and college after hearing about the trip.
5. A year and a half later I travelled to India.
6. I got to work with innovative and enthusiastic individuals who live to tell stories.
7. I thrived on the color, tastes, textures, and smells (good and bad).
8. I formed friendships with established filmmakers and producers who travel for a living while watching actors jump off buildings or swim in bikinis. (Seriously, what is more fun than that?)

In conclusion, next year will be the first year of college that I begin WITHOUT changing my major. In India, I discovered people with passion, drive, and enthusiasm. O yeah, AND they’ve been to Italy, South Africa, Russia, Cambodia, Australia …

Welcome to filmmaking. It feels good to be home.

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Its been a little less then a week since we all returned from India and I believe I am finally getting over my jet lag. Even though I made myself stay up until a shocking 10pm the first day back, and sleeping for 15 hours that night, it still seemed like I was wanting to go to bed by 5 pm here.

As life would have it, the day after I returned from India I was invited by my boyfriend and his family to attend a celebration dinner at The Library of Congress in honor of Sikh Culture Week here in D.C. This year was the first year the culture week has been established in order to raise awareness about the 5th largest culture in the world. The event was held to honor the new installment a section of the library in the South Asian section that would dedicated just to Sikh literature. From informational books to fun reads by Sikh authors, the section will also include the book “The Empire of The Sikhs” written by Patwant Singh and Jyoti M Rai who were the honored guests of the night.

It felt very surreal being apart of this experience as I was right back in India. Seeing the classical Indian dancing performed on stage, tasting the butter chicken and paneer, and discussing my travels in India with NRIs made me confused as to whether i was really back in D.C. again or if i was going to wake up from a dream in the hostels (the jet lag didn’t help with my confusion either).

This event in D.C. was a really nice way for me to finish off my abroad experience. I got to discuss my travels with people who knew what I was talking about (like how when I said I was 10 feet away from SRK and my friends looked at me like “ok… great”). This time my stories and revealations about India were met with nodding and understanding heads.

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So when you first get back from a foreign country everyone always asks the same questions. How was it? Did you have fun? Did you miss home?

Luckily I made some rehearsed responses to each of these questions on the plane…

How was it?

Oh it was great but I got exhausted towards the end with all the traveling we were doing.

Did you have fun?

Yeah it was amazing. The food was amazing and cheap.

Did you miss home?

Just the air conditioning but I got used to it.

Now you may ask why I have rehearsed responses. Didn’t India mean more to you than a cliché response? It did. And that’s the problem. No one will ever understand how I feel about it. I can try to communicate it. But in the end, some things are better left unsaid.

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