What do you see?

Image

Walid Siti

Seen at Taymour Grahne Gallery

Dialogue of Towers III, 2013, Acrylic on Canvas, 49.6h x 43.7w in/126h x 111wcm

I see the blue prints of a foundation. Millions of parallel lines. Intersections. Outlying ladders rising above the pyramid-like building. The bottom appears strong as it eventually becomes quite shaky at the top. It speaks of a future and a hope, with millions of intersections, yet it also speaks of separation from ones roots. Despite separation, I do feel the beams remain attached to the bottom foundation. What does this work speak to you?

NYC loves India

As much as I love being back at school, I do feel there is a part of me that is still in India. I don’t think I will ever forget wading in the Ganges river..listening to the sounds of the water, and hearing the incessant beeps of the horn. One day I will go back.

IMG_1190

Today I set aside some time to stroll the designer department stores on Madison. Little did I know as I was right outside of Hermès, a woman noticed my wallet and absolutely ADORED IT!! Little did she know that it was made Lakshya, an organization that helps shelter and educate abandoned street children near the Delhi train stations.Buying these handmade products, including beautifully designed bags and wallets can help will help save more children.

I am trying to think of how to sell these products, as I really do feel they have potential in NYC.

http://www.etsy.com/shop/AmaniFairTrade?ref=shopsection_shophome_leftnav

 

New Beginnings..

For one thing, starting off my new year by traveling to India has made me think in an entirely different way. I’ve decided that this year I will embrace my passion for culture by teaching people how to appreciate the beauty in life.

IMG_0471

I attribute my new years resolution to my experience at the Ganges River. This sacred festival is one of the most important pilgrimages in the Hindu traditions.

IMG_1253

If there is one thing I will always have on me, it is my Egyptian cartouche necklace. My mom bought this for me for Christmas one year, and I am absolutely obsessed with it. It is something that is so unique, with my name imprinted in Egyptian hieroglyphics. In ancient times, a cartouche was used as a nameplate imprinted on the coffins as a symbol of eternity, that is, your soul would last forever. So with my newly dipped cartouche in the Ganges River, I feel a certain sense of empowerment that good fortune will come my way.

Northern Indian Excursions..

It has been a few days since I’ve been able to update you guys because I left my phone and laptop back at Delhi. Over the course of 3 days, I’ve:

  1. Taken two of the most horrific overnight train rides, including bunking with 2 random Indian strangers
  2. Spent 5 hours total driving in a weed infested truck
  3. Ah finally…breath the fresh air of the Himalayan mountains
  4. Was attacked by a monkey trying to take a picture of it
  5. Rode a severely unsafe ferris wheel, maneuvered by a 10 year old
  6. Recited Hindu chants on the Ganges river; including flailing my arms and sporting the infamous red dot on my head

1. Overnight train to Dehradun: Where’s my room service?

IMG_1009IMG_1011

I am not sure if everyone’s mother is alike, but seriously, try picturing your mom in this situation. So you’re set to embark on a 6 hour train ride to Northern India. I guess I’d prefer traveling by day, just because I’m a natural sight see-er, but night seemed to work best. Pair up with 6 of your friends and plan to sleep 2 feet either above or next to them. If I were to describe this experience, it would involve: claustrophobia, smell of stinky feet, snoring, and the tossing and turning of the train, WHICH in fact, there was a massive explosion on the same train route the other day, killing around 10 people. Luckily, I got top bunk out of three beds stacked on top of each other. I try to think positive, but there’s a part of me that just doesn’t think the sheets and pillows were washed..And so I drugged myself with sleep meds. If you didn’t think this was worse, try at 3 pm when you have to go to the bathroom, waking up in complete darkness and going into a hallway, not much bigger than 3 feet wide, where I was able to see dangling feet pushing out of the curtains. If you’re okay with tolerating dangling feet, try going to the bathroom (as a woman) by going into a 3×3 foot room with just a hole leading into the tracks. Trains do not pamper their attendees with toilet paper and soap. Occasionally, as I had to go to the bathroom numerous times, I’d have to pass some man either smoking or just staring at me go into the bathroom, so it made me feel extremely comfortable as I opened the bathroom door to attend to my king sized, tempurpedic mattress. I slept with sneakers on and refused to clothe myself in the unwashed sheets. I waited until the wee hours of the night for room service, but they never came to take my order of crème brûlée.

**Just a side note, if you didn’t think it would get any worse, try picturing arriving in your six man suite with two Indian already sleeping in their beds. So yes, on the train ride back, I managed to have to bunk with two complete strangers, with one seemed to just stare at us, and another woman who’s old mother refused to have her daughter take the top bunk. After much heated debate in Hindi by our Indian friends and this defiant mother, she somehow won the battle, and her daughter was able to sleep in the bottom.

As much as I could complain, the train was an amazing experience. I’m not sure if I’d travel on it again, but it made me appreciate the simplicities of life.

2. Hall of Fame: Indian bus driver

Out of the many people I have met here, I think my Indian bus driver may have been the most important people on my excursion to the Himalayas. In the US, flipping people off and screaming out of the window seems to be the norm of road rage. But when honking becomes the norm, and riding with 6 people to one motorcycle is considered normal, I don’t think there are many rules on the road except to man your own vehicle, and dodge people, monkeys, cows, and dogs. As I said, people make their own lanes. If you have the courage of passing two cars as a huge truck is coming your way, kudos to you, step on the peddle, and hope for the best. It was quite amusing sitting in the front. I tried making believe I was the driver, and every time, I would crash. Going from 50 to a dead stop in a matter of 3 seconds is the norm. I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride, except there was no guarantee that you would be safe. All of this was to the tune of heavy Hindi hip hop music. As much as I salute him, he seemed to be a heavy smoker, because he managed to infuse the car with the lovely smell of pot every time we stepped outside. I asked my Indian friend Anandhu if there were such things as road tests, and he basically said there wasn’t much of a thing.

IMG_1020

Another video of a boy effortlessly trying to catch our attention. Quite funny, and I respect his devotion:

3. And over the hills we go..

IMG_1070IMG_1080 IMG_1075  IMG_1124

One of the most breathtaking experiences of this trip was seeing the Himalayan mountains. As tired as I was when we traveled to Mussoorie, I kept on telling myself, who get’s to do go to the Himalayas? That was my impetus to continue instead of petering out in a sketchy hotel and pigging out on curry, daal, nan, and paneer. I don’t think pictures will be able to fully capture the depth of these mountains. Beautiful isn’t even enough to describe them. The Himalayas are majestic. The dense clouds that seem to wrap themselves around the peaks seemed to be asking me to explore the exotic— the unknown.

**I must get to packing, as I will be leaving India later tonight, but I will continue to elaborate on these 6 points over the course of the day..

IMG_1109IMG_1143IMG_1161

My Empire State of Mind

I feel at one with India. I used to cringe at the dirt paths, and flea infested dogs, but I don’t mind them anymore.

IMG_0930

I can’t wait to come back to India and drive in a car. Or take a taxi. I will see India from a new angle. I will experience beggars knocking on my car door. I will feel my mini Tata cars(which literally is every other car here..) hug the winding, muddy roads.

IMG_0743

One day I will come back.

IMG_0939  IMG_0936

I wouldn’t say I miss home. But being away from NYC has made me appreciate the sounds of the subways and Madison Avenue window shopping.

IMG_0246IMG_0082IMG_0081

As much as I feel Indian, I will always be an American. Playing Empire State of Mind made me feel so proud of my city. That’s New York. That’s my city…the BX. It truly is a beautiful place.

I must say I do have American food cravings. I’m craving tuna sandwich right now, or maybe a balsamic vinegrette salad. I’ve gone vegetarian since the plane ride. I might keep it up. I’m guessing crustless coleslaw sandwiches are pretty fly in India.  I bought a box of kashi cereal bars strictly for emergencies and so far I haven’t had any.

It’s insane to see slums maybe..a quarter of a mile away from mansions. I cannot get a feel for the rich Indians. They do not seem to be approachable. It’s funny to see a Mercedes interspersed with bicycles, three wheeled taxis, and whole families riding on motorcycles. I try to peer inside them. A man sits in the back while he has a driver in the front. He wears a traditional Indian hat and tunic, talking on his phone. I am not sure if he sees the India I am seeing.

IMG_0899

We went to a certified Fair Trade organization called Mesh; Fair Trade basically ensures that the artisans are given equal wages and working practices . Mesh specifically employs handicapped people who make products ranging from hand painted coasters and jewelry, to pashmina scarves. I met an English woman who expressed her concern for selling these absolutely stunning pashmina shawls. Not only are these shawls beautiful to wrap around at galas and events, but they are hand made by a handicapped family. In particular this woman expressed the boy (insert name) hopes to sell this scarf for 5500 rupees (roughly $90) because he hand stitched it with such fine detail. Believe me, I know style. I have an art for finding beautiful clothing, I find what looks good in the most eccentric ways. And this shawl was absolutely gorgeous. I will be taking this back with me and hope to be meeting with a high end luxury vendor in NYC. My cousin Billy who had worked at Dolce and Gabanna used to work in Barney’s New York, and I feel Barney’s might be perfect for promoting exotic products. Or even speaking with high end designers to partner with these organizations and create a stunning product line! Diane von Furstenberg? There might be something to this.

Me in my beautiful shawl:

IMG_1007

The one wish I hoped India would grant me was a direction towards my career. I think I might be onto something.

Indian Boys Sing Backstreet Boys and Taylor Swift

I have learned that there are some things that are just universal. A woman smiling. A laugh. Language doesn’t have to be a barrier. More so I feel that my love for this culture makes me want to learn Hindi.

All girls love to feel beautiful. They adorn themselves in their “mothers clothes.” I would adorn myself in my mom’s Audrey Hepburn pearls and black dress. My Indian friend Pooja would embellish her hands in Katrina Kaif’s henna and wear shining bangles and saris.

audrey-hepburn-01     Katrina-Kaif-Bra-Size-wiki-Hot-Images

We met a woman’s organization, Abhyudaya in the slums of Delhi. I wonder if they are sad that they are this poor. I don’t pity them. But instead, I view them as just another person with hopes, dreams, hobbies, and bad habits.

I think they were more happy to see us. Not everyday, university students come to their home.

The best part of their life is the work. It is a time for them to get away from the humdrum of their home and laugh.

We are working to sell these beautifully handmade blankets seen below. The embroidery is absolutely stunning.

IMG_0869

I try to think if the teenaged workers were In the US. I try to picture them in jeans, the new backpack? and button downed shirt, speaking English, doing homework. Not worrying about a job, or at least not worried about being cast off on the street. Sleeping in a bed. But they don’t. This is their life and they know nothing else. I picture myself as one of them, looking at Americans. I picture myself living in the tiny room with 20 other woman. But then I wake up and stare down at my hunter boots and jeans and realize I’m the other.

IMG_0876

People love to dance, laugh, and sing. If we saw humanity as universal, we would learn a lot about the similarities.

I can classify myself as an Indian student. I feel Indian. I’m listening to Indian rap music. I’m playing jokes with them, shopping. It’s funny to see which American songs make their way here. My bus trips are filled with Indians boys belting out The Backstreet Boys and Taylor Swift lyrics. My friend Nair asked me what was wrong with singing the song “My Humps” from Black Eyed Peas.

If you’re wondering what’s the latest Indian hip/hop craze, Honey Singh is their Jay-Z:

I picture my family and friends living here. I wonder how India would change them:

We’d all become kick ass drivers. My closet would be filled with saris. My pet monkey would aggravate my mom while she cooked her paneer and curry. My grandpa would sit there and complain in his tunic about the rupee inflation, and my dad would be playing cards in the street with his friends from work. Trips to china, Thailand, and Bali would be the norm. My friends would sit around the tv and watch the latest Bollywood movie.

If you think about it, life would still feel the same. After all, it’s the friends you make that give life meaning.

IMG_0905

Video

The Face of India

I type with four beautiful designs on my hands. It cost only 100 rupees (less than $2), but henna truly looks beautiful on–representing Indian culture and a total fashion statement for both women and men.IMG_0862It’s incredible to see the volume of people here. I’ve seen whole families travel on motorcycles, yes babies included; hundreds of dogs, water buffalo, pigs, and cows bravely defying all traffic rules (if there are any..). There might be lane markings, but people seem to make them as they go.

For the first time, I am labeled as an alien..the foreigner. Traveling in a huge bus labeled as “TOURIST” on the front window wouldn’t even make a difference. Seeing 13 white students on a bus just doesn’t blend in. so we are used to the stares, the smiles, and the photographs. Stares make me feel uncomfortable. I have no ideas what is going on inside their heads, so it seems to be more powerful, or emotional than a smile. When my eyes lock with them, they tell me a story. I get different vibes from each person. Then we look away and go on with our lives, both knowing we will never see each other again.

It’s incredible to think of my routine at home, living right on the beach during the summers, and on campus during the school months. Then I look at the thousands of people I have seen, and they too, have their own routine. It is just very different. I saw a barber shop on the side of the road, fit with a hanging mirror propped up against a cement wall and a plastic chair.

IMG_0742     IMG_0765

I ask myself it I was a millionaire, what could I even do.. where would I start first to help the millions in poverty here.In the next 15-20 years, will this be the same India that invited me here now? That is why it is so important to just start somewhere. How can people just not..care? People do.. but of course the communication issues and restrictions make this path to progression as “stumbling forward.”

Yesterday I got to meet the face of India. We visited part of the slums of northern India in Fridabad, Hariyana. Lakshya is an organization started in 2004 by street children who wanted to give something back in return for the opportunities which had allowed then to escape desperate circumstances . These elder children, now married with children of their own, generate income by making newspaper bags and accessories such as wallets and bags. This allows them to take care of 13 street children they have saved from the street surrounding the Delhi train station. Support for this wonderful project means that these children can enjoy going to school rather than shoe polishing, rag picking and worse .So while we discussed our business plans, I was able to play with 13 beautiful children. I know I can sell these products to my friends at home. Seriously..it’s like Free People, but with purchases that can actually make a difference.

IMG_0789 IMG_0799IMG_0823IMG_0792

My new Indian friends are helping me see India through the eyes of an Indian. So, as much as I am labeled a “tourist,” I do feel I camouflage well.