November 13- 26
The past two weeks have consisted of going with the flow, and having a lot of fun while doing so.
Children’s Day is celebrated on November 14, the birthday of independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was known for being especially affectionate with children and is sometimes referred to as Chacha Nehru, or Uncle Nehru. On his birthday, the kids of Emerald Heights go on picnic. We got to join the sixth through twelfth graders at Nakhrali Dhani, an amusement park modeled after a Rajasthani village. We watched traditional Rajasthani dance, which involves dancing over lit coals and broken glass- very impressive!
Not long after our arrival at Nakhrali Dhani, our Hindi teacher informed us that we would be making a surprise visit to the younger kids’ celebration. Alongside the group of super short term South African exchange students, we headed to a small pop-up carnival. At Megan’s sister’s request, we all hurried to try a circus-style ride called “break dance,” which is similar to spinning tea cups in the United States. It is always fun interacting with other exchange students, and it is especially enjoyable surrounded by a crowd of small, cute children.
Geeta Phogat, a famous Indian freestyle wrestler (and subject of the movie Dangal- on Netflix!) planned to visit school as part of a wrestling competition opening ceremony. I was especially excited for her arrival! On the day of the event, I hung out backstage with three girls who were working to write short profiles for the chief guests. Unfortunately, Geeta Phogat and the other guests couldn’t make it because of problems with their flight. The cultural program still continued, and I appreciated the chance to announce the dance and chorus performances. Speaking in front of the school felt like a big accomplishment- even if it was just a few lines in English, I really felt like an Emerald Heights student.
The annual NSLI-Y webinar was a part of what made me so excited about the Hindi program, so I have been excitedly awaiting for the five of us to have our chance. Our topic was community service and volunteerism. We got creative and ended up with a broad take on service, and I am very proud of our decision and the job we did! Coordinating internet connection and a practice date and place proved a bit challenging. We had to switch dates at the last second because of Children’s Day and then had some last minute microphone malfunction, but we were all relaxed and everything ended up running smoothly. Since the webinar was done on US time, we got to stay after school and experience the boarding schedule. One day at boarders’ snack time, we even had samosa with green chutney and papaya– two of my favorites! It definitely made me more excited for my time in the hostel, which starts in January. Here is the link to the webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9QYBg25V9w
Since arriving in India, I have been enthusiastic about hoping to attend a wedding here.This time of year is considered to be an auspicious time to get married. While driving through the city at night, it is hard not to come across the drum beat or bright lights of a marriage garden. Lucky for me, our Principal & President Sirs’ family decided to a hold a family wedding at the school bungalow! The family is Rajput, or hails from Rajasthan’s royal family. The first night, we were lent traditional Rajputi poshak (dress) to wear. The dress consists of four different parts: a blouse, overshirt, long skirt, and dupatta. The poshak is meant to cover your entire body, and married women cover their head with their dupatta. We stayed in boarding again and laughed in our attempts to figure out the outfits together.
Since we stayed after school, we were among the first guests to arrive. The first night consisted of lots of shiny poshaks, dancing, and a huge array of delicious food. There was a stage where women from both families took turns performing dances to beautiful Rajasthani music. As they danced, older women in the family would come and bless the performer with money. The five of us even got to revive our Odissi dance from August. We didn’t quite remember every step, but no one seemed to mind!
Soon after, a DJ started, and then everyone danced so late that we ended up staying the night in our school’s hostel. Sleeping in my uniform with my blazer as the pillow wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but definitely worth being able to enjoy the wedding! All of the girls we encountered during our middle of the night entrance (and 5am exit) were super sweet, especially considering our untimely intrusion!
The day of the actual ceremony, we did a complicated maneuver that required us taking our morning busses home, and we ended up with us arriving back at school, all dressed by 9am. My host mom was accommodating and sweet as she hurried to wrap my sari and pull out the appropriate adornments (bindi, bangles, etc.) The bungalow was decorated beautifully, with rangoli (sand art) and lots of flowers. We joined the bride’s side waiting at the bungalow and taking lots of photos. Baraat, the groom’s procession, began with a small band and the loud beat of the dhol drum. We waited to greet the wedding party as the groom came in on a white horse, with his entire side of the wedding dancing behind him.
The bride dressed in a beautiful red poshak and the groom wore a red wedding turban. They sat on a raised platform in front of the fire deity Agni. Led by the Pandit (religious official), the blessings, rounds around the sacred fire and vows lasted about two hours. The ceremony was very relaxed in the sense that you could have lunch, chat with friends, watch the ceremony from chairs, or go join in on the mandap (wedding platform)! It felt special when we could understand parts of the Panditji’s ceremony, especially when he compared life to dahi (yogurt). I loved taking in my first wedding here, and I am hoping to attend another in this auspicious period.
The five NSLI-Y girls had our classic potluck celebration during tiffin time. My host mom made veggie pasta, and Megan even attempted a delicious apple pie, with crust made from butter cookies. After explaining the meaning of Thanksgiving to our school coordinator, we were generously offered the chance to volunteer after school. We headed to bring dry staples and distribute snacks at the Mother Teresa Center, which provides a home to men facing mental illness. I worked with a young boy to pass out chai and samosas to men in the hospital wing. It was meaningful to see the dedication of the sisters at the home and serve food. It definitely served as a moment of reflection and felt in the spirit of the holiday. At home, I was especially thankful to enjoy one of my favorite Indian dinners– bhindi (okra) and dal with paratha!
I’m excited to spend my last month with my host family and last couple weeks of our regular school schedule before exam season starts. Phir milenge – see you soon!