Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lacking Charisma

This previous weekend, I visited my friend Arjun in Gurgaon, a 4 and a half hour drive from Jaipur. While National Highway 8, the Jaipur-Delhi road, is certainly well-paved for an Indian highway, the journey down there took much longer than the three and a half hours I'd allotted for travel time. In any case, the trip was certainly a success. I had a lovely time in Gurgaon with Arjun, his wife Preeti and his son Raghav. Since I am an alumnus (of sorts) of the College Source program, Arjun brought me along to meet some of the students and I succeeded in scaring them to death about the harshness of North American winters. In any case, they'll adjust karenge. I know Nikhil managed to. I had a great time going to landmark bookstore, where I got a ton of DVDs. The best part about the piracy fighting initiatives here is that legit DVDs are dirt cheap now. Arjun's son is hilarious, he loves to "play videogames," which means hang on my arm and watch me play C&C3. It was pretty funny. It was also a great treat to have some fantastic whiskey, chinese food and red meat, a huge change from yellow daal (yellow lentils) and chaval (rice) for every meal. Speaking of food, I've been having some really strange food related dreams as of late, especially relating to chicagoan foods that I miss and even some I certainly don't. About a week ago, I had a dream about a chicago style hotdog, with all of the assorted trimmings, including sport peppers. I don't even like full chicago-style dogs, because sport peppers aren't really my thing, yet it somehow made an appearance. I had an entire dream about a Manny's deli pastrami sandwich with potato pancake. The whole forced vegetarianism thing is really doing weird things to me. My guess are these dreams are my body's way of telling me that I am a carnivore pure and simple. When Neil, my roommate this year, went vegetarian, he told me that he felt really good when it happened and he had more energy. I'm eating right, a lot of vegetables, fruits, proteins and carbs and yet I feel really lethargic without meat. Pretty much the only place I've gotten meat was at McDonalds, which is not the way to go. I felt so much better this weekend that it solidified in my mind that I'm just doomed to be a carnivore.

On a completely different note, someone from the program mentioned me in a not really positive light on her travel blog. I can't say that she's not entitled to her own opinion, but I don't like the fact that she completely made shit up about me. We'll call her Marsha (she says her fake names to protect the innocent always start with M, she called me Marshall below), although her name here is Gurveen (also not her real name, but she spent a bunch of time in Gujarat and that's the name she picked there. Dunno why, it's a weird and particularly ugly name, and not really Gujarati). My comments are in bold following each paragraph.

Marshall is a man of the times. He bears a striking resemblance,

mostly in manner, vocal stylings and hairdo, to the verbose,

phallically graphomaniacal high schooler in Superbad. He hails from

the University of Chicago, a cold bleak place that seems to suck out

the joy of many of its students. There are many theories about why

this is, but personally I think there are spirits in the lake who take

tiny bites of the souls around them, to keep warm under the water. The

locals are immune, but those who come for higher education grow wearied

by this quiet siphoning of the spirit, which no amount of scarves can

ward off during the endless winter. I frankly have no idea what she's talking about in the second half of this paragraph. Is she trying to suggest that I have no soul because it's been sucked out by lake spirits? All I know is someone fancies themself a writer. I don't think she's got it. Everyone makes the comparison with Jonah Hill from Superbad, although I don't compulsively draw pictures of dicks.

Marshall studies economics. Marshall has never read or heard of

Amartya Sen, but this ignorance belies an extremely smart young man

whose hobbies are more complex than the average American's career

path. Marshall is not here for the food. Its novelty wore off

sometime earlier this week, and now his dreams are peppered with

fantasies of caprese salads and other fine western delicacies. Like

many of his countrymen, including me, he has been spoiled by the

plethora of culinary options offered by city living. In Chicago one

may travel around the world and never leave the zip code. Here in

Jaipur, there is no denying that one is in India, even at McDonald's. I have heard of Amartya Sen and told her so in the context of the conversation which sparked this blog post. I do find it amusing that she pulls out some random western delicacy that I do like, but didn't mention in my rants on food. I made it absolutely clear that I want a steak. What I also find odd is that it's certainly not that difficult to do some foreign cuisines here, and yet she fails to get this. I guess she's never been to a friend's house for a few days. Or Prab and Arjun and Mittz are anomalies. I dunno.

Marshall's story reads like that of a chick lit romantic interest.

I expect a beautiful Indian woman to teach him some big lesson, steal

his heart and sing a song in the rain. Isn't that what happens to all

wealthy eligible bachelors who seek to teach something of the west to

India? I still am confused about this passage. Am I suddenly a gallant hero, or some rich western punk that needs to be taught a lesson about capitalism?

Marshall's family builds malls, but has its fingers in various real

estate pies. Following this lead, he does not focus his studies upon

the impact of rising rice costs or similar development phenomena.

Rather, Marshall studies numbers and markets and business, and embraces

the capitalism he rode in on. I ask him why India and he tells me

his plan. She completely misunderstood me here. The way she writes it, she makes it seem as if I am completely out of touch with reality here. I see the poverty and aim to do something about it. That is what I want to do with my money, help those less fortunate than me rise out of poverty.

He dreams of opening new doors for the upwardly mobile's consumption

habits. He is tired of the racism and such which lead to the fashion

industry's coerced scarcity of high end new releases which, if they make

it to India at all, often come two years late. He hopes to rescue India

from a fate of outlet mall status. He wants Indian malls to offer the

very latest Coach bags and Nautica clothes. He will bring Nike into the

everyday, and blow Liberty, the local knock-off brand, out of the

water. He will allow people the chance to spend money on items whose

ownership implies a higher economic class than that which they actually

belong to. Apparently, in this there is success. Once again, she doesn't quite get it. Although I don't believe that western outlets should sell clothes two years late, it's for entirely different reasons. She was the one who came up with the notion of racism, which seems somewhat irrelevant here. What she misses is my main point, when most western outlets come to India, they Indianize their catalogs. As one kid once told me, "We don't want to buy salwar kameez and kurta pajamas from the gap, we want to buy jeans and tee shirts from the gap." She also underestimates the potential market, which numbers in the tens of millions.

"Do you worry about how increased identity-based marketing of

Western goods will affect national character?" I inquire, genuinely

and without sarcasm. Contrived bullshit quote.

"No." He says. "India has a long relationship with the world, and

with international trade. Indians have a right to be globalized if

they want to, which the middle class does. I love this culture, I'm

interested in it, or I wouldn't have come here. I don't want to

destroy it, I want to cater to its needs and interests."She slightly misquotes me here, but that's largely ok.

Like in Superbad, Marshall has a sweet side, which enables a

charisma he is sometimes deeply in need of. He is earnest in his

devotion to being a student, versus a tourist or a colonizer, in this

desert capital. The program is hard, especially for an economist

without a strong background in language or cultural studies. This heir

to an empire (of concrete foundations and indoor fountains) is bathing

out of a bucket, eating daal three times a day and being price gouged

by his Dickensian landlord. As a testament to his affinity for human

connection and cultural immersion, he appeared near tears during our

sticky, cramped taxi ride around town during which we were matched with

host families. He was quite upset that other people might be spending

the near future bonding with their host families, while he awaited

placement, and in the end, as a male (most homes offered rooms for

girls only) he was stuck in a flat with four other students.This is where her blog starts getting fallacious. Starting from the beginning, she believes I lack charisma, which is probably the wrong word. I may offend people with acidic sarcasm or profanity, but I'm reasonably sure I don't lack charisma. Secondly, she claims I have a lack of background in languages. This is as bullshitty as things get. I have studied (in one form or another) English, Spanish, Hebrew, French, Latin, Japanese and Hindi in my life. Admittedly, I'm not too strong in Hebrew or Japanese, but I'm actually still reasonably proficient in French, Latin and Hindi. The bucket bath thing is not a big deal, I like bucket baths, although we do have a functional shower.The whole housing thing is a joke, I was more pissed off than sad because the program had fucked up and some of the well-accomodated girls were trying to pilfer the little bit of male housing that there was. I also ended up in the apartment by choice, which has its positives and negatives.

Luckily for Marshall his cleaning lady adores him. She gets his

jokes, she thinks he and his housemates' cultural oddities are

infinitely amusing, and she protects him, fighting the landlord on his

behalf like a good mother wolf. She is his favorite thing about India,

and she will never, never be able to buy herself anything he plans on

selling in his air conditioned designer shops.

This really confuses me. Suman, our cook, cannot understand my hindi and I rarely understand hers. She isn't really maternal, she just dislikes our landlord because he has been slow to pay her a few times. She laughs at us, not with us. That's not to say that we don't like her, I just don't get why "Marsha" thinks that Suman is my favorite part about India or why she thinks that she understands us.

In any case, what's most annoying about this sort of thing is that she's getting paid $7 an entry for this blog. I don't like when people talk shit, I hate when people talk shit about me, but I guess I really hate it when people talk shit about me and get paid for it.


AT said...

ummmm...why doesn't someone slap her?
and while they're at it, tell her to stick her sarcasm up her ass. that's what i say..

Jake said...

No kidding Ana. I think the deal is she's just a bit of a compulsive liar. She kind of believes her own lies too.

I think the thing that best summarizes it is that we were having a conversation in the apartment about how she tries to over analyze everything and I raised my middle finger and said, "What I really want to do is do this and say, 'Analyze this. Then sit and spin on it.'"

AT said...

you didn't really SAY that to her...right? cuz if you did, that would explain a lot about her tone ;)

Jake said...

She wasn't present. This was just a conversation among my roommates, who all pretty much despise her too.