Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Palace Life

 There is hot water but only for about the first 60 seconds of the shower.  The food is amazing.  For breakfast we have chai tea, hard boiled eggs, some type of spiced omelet or scrambled egg situation. There is also always cereal and milk and toast. Lunch and dinner usually consist of some type of rice (my favorite so far was the basmati rice with pomegranate seeds) two types of cooked vegetables, a soup type situation, and usually two different types of carbs.  One flat-bread that is used to eat the food with and one flat-bread that is crunchy like a cracker. There is also something sweet like this cinnamon brownie with nuts on top or milk with fruit in it.  Bananas are served with breakfast and apples with dinner.  We also had guava and mandarins the other day. We also have chai tea as often as possible and tea time usually comes with snacks like butter sandwiches or cookies.
The only person that lives full time at the palace is Jaybapa mom (Jaybapa is the Temple professor who works with my professor Dr. Greaves).  She was the queen of this palace at one time.  Now her oldest son is kind but he doesn’t like to live here.  He lives in a bigger city (Mumbai I think) and only comes here sometimes.  There are royal quarters for Jaybapa’s family but there are also guest quarters where we are staying.  The palace has a staff of people that cook and clean and keep the grounds.  The Jala family also has always kept stone workers on staff as well who do all the stone work for the palace.   At night the staff goes home and guards.  Jaybapa’s cousin manages the staff and teaches me Gujarati.  He also was a national track star in the 400 and 100 meter events. 
We have two interpreters that arrange for all of our interviews.  They speak Gujarati and Hindi and some English.  Pramiti (my friend from Temple who is also here) speaks Hindi, so she often translates from Hindi to English for us.  It reminds me of when I was learning Spanish.  She is exhausted at the end.  I am exhausted at the end of an interview in Gujarati and I don’t even understand any of it.  Maybe it’s because I am concentrated so much on the body language and trying to understand what they are conveying without understanding a word. This research study is extremely limited by selection bias since the women being brought to us are all women who have sought help with our interpreters.  Our two interviews with survivors were drastically different and very interesting.  One was friends with Jeyshrii and was loud and emotional.  The other didn’t trust us and was terrified and introverted. 
I feel confused here all the time.  The culture is so different, and I am always worried about offending people.  For example, today I asked about the elephant and had to be corrected several times that it wasn’t an elephant.  It was in fact Ganeshji, the son of a goddess who had his head cut off by her husband and was reincarnated when she replaced it with an elephants head.  “Not elephant” the translator said after I made the mistake the second time.  Then we got to hear from Pramiti about how Ganeshji’s mom called upon Kalima, the goddess that devours men and wears a necklace of cut off heads.  Kalima went and devoured the husband’s whole army.  Pretty gruesome stuff. 
It seems strange that there are these powerful female goddesses even though we are told over and over again that the son is everything and the daughter is nothing in India.  We’ve been talking a lot about not judging the place of women here.  As our yogi says, we are only witness.  However, it is difficult to see and hear how women are treated.  We must remember that we are in a rural area and women live very different lives in the cities where it is more of a given that they will be educated.  But they are so beautiful here.  They wear vibrant clothes with fantastic patterns.  They are adorned with gold jewelry, have strong beautiful faces, and great smiles.  The girls and women that work at the palace are so cute.  They become braver every day and even say good morning to us now and ask us to take their picture with ipads or cameras.  They seem to float around in their saris with long scarves enveloping them, brushing walkways and shelling Lima beans. 
We are also getting to know the palace.  It is a living breathing creature with its own eco-system.  Cats chase and eat the birds in the roof.  Bats fly around the entrance room eating mosquitoes, and bees lay dead on the stones in droves.  Dogs lie flat in the road in the sun, and peacocks flirt with one another and run away as we draw near.  It is never quiet.  Even with the siren from the nearby chemical plant and horns from vehicles are silent, the birds erupt in noise as they fly in and around the palace.  The quietest time is at dusk when the settle in to roost for the night.  Even then the call for prayer rises; twisting and turning through the dry air. 
Pramiti and I were just saying that we still can’t believe we are here.  I wonder if I will believe it before we leave. 

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