India- Beneath the Colorful Sights,Women’s Issues

I’m a stubborn optimist. But maybe I carry it too far. I wanted so badly to bring back home a lovely picture of India and dispel the dirty, dark shadows that label this country.

Three months later, a orange piece of twine remains on my wrist, tied there by a Hindu holy man as a reminder of his blessing. This simple gesture has allowed me to stay close to India. This winter on the other side of the earth, I am taking yoga, a mindfulness class, and breath and meditation classes in an effort to keep memories and feelings alive. India is here with me as I look through my pictures, write, and do research to understand more.

I have learned that behind the smiles I encountered on almost every feminine face I saw, there is a lot of pain. I have taken the time to read about the cultural injustice towards women in India and here, back at home, have found its extreme contrast with my life very disturbing.

India has gone from the fourth most dangerous country for women to number one with its high level of gender based violence and discrimination. Women fear gang rapes, sex trafficking, and forced servitude. They have been victims of acid attacks, female genital mutilation and stoning. Their devaluation has lead to the killing of girl babies, and feticide (the destruction of the female fetus in the womb), and grown women being murdured in a practice called “bride killing” in which victims are “accidently” burned to death.

Even a basic right is denied to females. One out of every three households have toilet facilities. It is the custom of men to relieve themselves on walls anywhere in cities and villages. I witnessed this many times during my tour. Women must sometimes walk long distances to find a secluded spot to maintain modesty while engaging in the simplest bodily functions. The Indian government is attempting to solve the problem by building more public bathrooms but progress is slow.

Women are over half the population but we still fall short in attaining equal rights and power in the world. The degree of injustice has a varied spectrum. Of course, some women, like those in India, are at the extreme end of discrimination. But the cultural story remains the same all over the world, that woman are just not quite on the level of men. I have experienced the subtle nuances; of not being listened to, being written off and not taken seriously. I have felt the pain of believing I was not good enough because of a perceived lack of intellect or because I have not been the perfect ideal of feminine physical beauty. And I have also experienced abuse.

But there is hope, women’s voices are being raised in India. We visited a family who had adopted four girls who had been abandoned by their families And I have since read about a protest on January 1st of 2019 in which thousands and thousands of India’s women stood shoulder to shoulder to form a human line 385 miles long. The government had lifted the ban that stated that women of menstruating age , 10 to 50, were not allowed in the Hindu Sabarimala Temple. Even though the law was passed in September 2018 it was not honored. This wonderful show of solitary named “The Women’s Wall” not only brought attention to this issue but also was a call for all women in the country to speak out about gender equality and social reform.

I believe in the power of positive acts, no matter how small. Each pinpoint of light dispels the darkness. I’m so thankful to the many, many women all through history all over the world who have, bit by bit, worked to raise the dignity of women. As they lifted their voices, they many times faced great danger and humiliation. But their examples as role models have strengthened all of us and we are graced today and will continue to be graced with their dedication. Our vast numbers, all of us, are a positive power in the world and we must continue to work to make sure all women and girls live lives that are never diminished.

Eye holes in one of the walls at the old residence of one of the powerful maharajas. One of his wives could look out on the world though these holes but it was very important that she be seen as little as possible.

India-Tigers, Oh My!!!

I was thrilled that my tour included a “safari” through The Ranthambore National Park, a refuge for tigers. My five year old grandson’s favorite color is orange and therefore, using little kid logic, his favorite animal is a tiger. I promised to bring him one back from India and a lot of pictures.

Ranthambore was once the hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur. Remains of many of its buildings still dot the area. In 1955, the land became a sanctuary and in 1980, a national park.

The preserve is mostly grassland and semi-desert with enough trees and waterways to sustain a lot of wildlife.

We went out with our naturalist two times the first day, really early in the morning and then before sundown.

No tigers but a lot of very interesting animals.

The next day we went out for a third time. My daughter-in-law had emailed to say that my grandson was asking when I was coming home with his tiger. The sun was setting and I started to think I was going to disappoint him without even a picture.

But suddenly the driver stopped the jeep and our guide signaled us to be quiet. He pointed down a dry riverbed. A tiger was leisurely walking toward us.

We were thrilled. It was Noor, one of the females known as a great hunter and good mother to her cubs.

Noor proceeded to saunter around our jeep allowing all of us to take great pictures.

,As Noor exited into the trees, another jeep filled with more tourists pulled up to us. This group’s guide talked to our guide. Another tiger had been sighted and our two jeeps sped down the trial.

Wow! We were rewarded with another tiger simply named Number 97. He was magnificence as he remained quiet and unafraid, lounging under a tree.

I had my pictures for my grandson and was able to buy him a realistic stuffed animal tiger. He loves it. Grandma came through again. Thank goodness!

India-A True Visit

I have received some comments from Facebook friends about the seamy side of India; the unsanitary conditions, the aggressive monkeys, the germs, bare feet in public areas. Yes, India is not like the places many of us live in. All of us, have a distinct set of mental filters that color the way we see and accept certain standards of reality.

Personally, I try not to look away from those things that are different or don’t make sense to me. Maybe I do this because I’m very visual and I don’t want to miss any of the colorful patterns and puzzles the world constantly puts before me. Or maybe its because I’m a curious geek (someone called me a “seeker”) who wants to understand all the reasons behind almost everything. I went to India with an open mind, doing very little reading and keeping expectations and preconceived constructs to a minimum. I enthusiastically welcomed this country’s joy and beauty as much as I willingly took in the rawness of its culture.

I received some clarity about the mystery of my travel attitude this weekend when I went to a film festival and saw a Danish movie called “A Polar Year” made in 2018 (available for streaming on It was skillfully directed by Samuel Collardey, a French filmmaker.

The movies takes place in Greenland, a self-governing constituent of Denmark. A 28 year old Dane, Anders, decides to leave his county for a year and teach indigenous Inuit children Danish because, as the program director says, the people will have no life at all unless they can speak the language of their colonizers. Anders, comes from a small farm community and so he picks Tiniteqilaaq, a small village of 80 people with no running water.

Anders instantly hates Greenland. His students are unruly. He has to drag water through the snow to his little cabin. His furnace breaks and he has to wait for weeks to get a new part to fix it. He questions some of social issues of the Intuits and is angrily told that he his thinking is messed up because he is thinking with a Danish brain.

But one of his students, an 8 year old boy, Asser, helps him open his eyes. Anders starts talking to people and really listening. He recognizes the pride the citizens have in their lifestyles, homes, and village. He participates in their customs and joins them for evening card games where laughter, good natured teasing, and acceptance are shared. He comes to understand that the most important thing to Asser is learning hunting from his grandfather. Anders gets a sled and learns how to handle a dog team. He masters fishing and hunting with a spear. And finally, opening up his heart and mind to the experience, he comes to understand and love the beauty of Greenland and its people.

I loved this movie. Tears rolled down my face as I realized I did understand traveling. It’s not just about seeing the material things, the structures and landscapes. It’s about witnessing people’s lives, appreciating and understanding the meaning and significance of their particular way of being. I hope I’ll always be able to put aside judgement and appreciate each present moment. I hope that no matter what, I will always remember to travel with a caring visitor’s heart.

India-Celebrating Indian Style-Part 3-Blowing Up Evil

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The Hindu holiday, Dussehra, symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Rama, a major deity, kills Ravana who has kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita. Sita is a revered goddess for her virtues of good character, good fortune, success and happiness. Rama’s skill as an archer brings down not only Ravana but his brother, Kumbhkarna and his son, Meghnad

I was able to see this story dramatically reenacted with 75 foot tall effigies made of paper and bamboo and filled with fireworks.

The crowds waited for the symbolic arrows to be shot by someone dressed like Rama. First the brother and son statues burst into flames, completely destroying them.

And then with the loud crackles and bangs of fireworks, Ravana explored from within and burst into flames. The crowd of thousands cheered.

Evil was destroyed and goodness and justice were restored! Spectacular!

India-Celebrating Indian Style-Part 2-Meeting a Maharaja (Maharao)

Before the parade, we had the privilege of meeting 84 year old, Maharao (Hindu for Maharaja) Brijraj Singh. His family ruled the princedom of Kota from the 17th century to 1949 when India was granted independence from Britain. He is still revered and has served as great influence in his community and government affairs.

Maharao Brijraj Singh

On this special occasion of Dussehra, turbans and finery were the dress of the evening at a reception to pay homage to Maharao Singh and his lineage.

Late arrival getting help with his turban.
Notice the pile of shoes. In India, shoes are not allowed in temples and many other buildings.

We, American tourists, were ushered ahead to greet The Maharao. He was kind and gracious and seemed genuinely glad to meet us. Our tour guide had arranged this special moment and it was yet another great memory of the trip.

India-Celebrating, Indian Style, Part 1-Getting Ready for the Parade

I loved India, I think it rates as one of my favorite trips. My senses had to work overtime to take it all in because nothing about the country is ordinary. I was captivated by its intensity and since, I am very visual, I enjoyed feasting on continuous rainbows of color and textures at every turn. Every thing was a surprise and my points of reference expanded as I took in a new ways of seeing life and the world.

I was fortunate to be in Kota, India to celebrate Dussehra, one of Hinduism’s major celebrations. Before the final spectacular fireworks display, I was able to witness the preparations for a parade and meet Brijraj Singh, the 85 year old descendent of a once ruling maharaja.

In a large courtyard, various group gathered.

There were the boys dressed as langurs. I wondered if they were imitating humans who were hired dressed like these primates to scare the aggressive rhesus macaques. These boys really got into the part.

Woman in beautiful native costumes danced.

This was only part one. The Dussehra Festival was unforgettable.

India-History Speaking through Art

As part of my tour, I was taken to the Qutub Complex in Delhi which was built by Muslims in 1192 who conquered and then occupied Hindu Delhi. During this time they constructed a mosque and a tower, The Qutub Minar.

Picture by

The tower is 220 feet tall and made out of variegated and detailed layers of sandstone and marble. The garlands and lotus are characteristic of Indo-Iranian design.

I love art and art history and was thrilled to see, close at hand, the intricate carvings in stone. I am always amazed at the skill and patience of crafts people of long ago.

The site is part of history, a reminder of one of the many times India was under the rule of a group outside its borders. It will be forever an UNESCO World Heritage Site, always protected for all of us to experience and learn from.

India-A Muslim Friend

Travel opens us to new worlds. I have lived my whole life in rural areas in New York State, quiet places that have little diversity. I have really never known a Muslim even though there is a mosque in my area. Like many Americans, I know very little about Islam. Unfortunately in my country there is a lot of suspicion about the people of this religion and almost a taboo about wanting to know more about them

I found out our guide was Muslim as he took great pride in telling us about the Mughals, Muslims who came from Persia (present day Iran ) and ruled India from 1556-1707. They ran a consolidated government that used local people to collect taxes in cash from agricultural sources and trade. The arts flourished especially in the form in architecture. Forts, mosques, and mausoleums, notability the Taj Mahal, were build under their reign. Tolerance was encouraged as Hindus were integrated into the governing process. But as time went on, systems broke down and the Mughals lost their hold on India.

Our tour guide, Rashid, was the first person of the Muslim faith I ever had an opportunity to really talk to. He was kind and very patient with me as I tried to sort out all the sights and sounds of India and relate them to what I knew and hoped to learn. On one of our last days, I mention to him that I wanted to buy a terracotta cup that is meant to absorb the excess water from the yogurt. I really thought this was clever and I wanted to show people back home. Near the Ganges River on the way back to our bus, Rashid stopped our group at a stand and asked us if we wanted a chai tea. A few of us, including myself, said we would. Our guide paid for them all and then he handed me a larger cup, a yogurt cup, that he had some how gotten from the vendor. I was thrilled by this kind gesture. This little cup is my most precious souvenir of the trip. Its meaning goes beyond its efficiency. It represents a new knowing and a change of heart and mind that will always remain with me.

In America, as part of my country’s culture, I was programed to suspect and fear anything to do with the words “Muslim” or “Islam”. It is so much easier, as a human beings, to label people with broad brush strokes and dismissing them, sometimes forgetting they exist or, even worse, hating them. We don’t take times to listen to stories and really look at reality and gather facts. I’m now spending some time learning about Islam and I will no longer feel uncomfortable doing it.

I have my first Muslim friend. It is sad that it took almost a lifetime to find one but I feel so fortunate that it was him.

India-The Huge Monkey Problem

There are two types of monkeys in India and they are protected by law since a great majority of the country’s population is Hindu and believe in the interconnectedness of all life.

There are the Langurs, the bigger monkey of the two. They have grey white bodies and black faces and seem to be the gentler group. Although, I approached one and he bared his teeth at me. But when you think about it, a rare and strange American tourist might be a little unnerving to a poor creature that had never seen one before.

Some Indians workshop Hanuman, the half man, half monkey god and feel that it is good karma to feed the monkeys. This really adds to the proliferation of these primates.

The real villains of this story are the Rhesus Macaques, smaller creatures with brown fur.

Don’t be taken in by their cuteness. They break into houses, steal food, bathe in water supplies, terrorize the natives and tourists, and the braver ones bite. They are capable of transmitting rabies and a fatal type of herpes but this is very rare. However, a bite wound from a Rhesus almost always becomes infected. And in 2007, the Deputy Major of Delhi fell off the balcony of his home and died when a gang of monkeys attacked him.

Over the years, many attempts have been made to stop the monkey problem. Langurs were used by monkey chasers to scare the Rhesus away but a animal rights group stopped this saying it was cruel to use the gray monkeys in this way. Now the monkey chasers use slingshots to ineffectively pursue offenders. The government is looking into some kind of contraceptive program but right now the monkeys of India seem to rule.

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