Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chapati Humor

Note: The pun titles will usually be irrelevant to the post

           It has been a really busy past few weeks, as always.  Since my last post the biggest headline would probably be that Municipal elections were held in Maharastra on Thursday.  I’ve seen heavy campaigning since I got here so it was really fun to see the voting take place, especially in “the world’s largest democracy”.  The most fascinating part of the Indian political system is the amount of political parties they have here.  I can probably name six off the top of my head, but those are only the prominent ones and I haven’t really studied this too intensely.  But if a politician has a problem with his party for whatever reason, he can just break off and form his own party! That’s what happened with Uddhav Thackeray, who left the Shiv Sena party after a series of disagreements with them.  Now he heads up the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena party (MNS).  There are a lot of state-specific parties too, which is also new for me.  That’d be like if Michigan had their own unique batch of parties in Congress.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like more parties equals more variety.  The Indian people I spoke with in Pune are very cynical about their political leaders, no matter what party they belong to.  They say that everyone is out for money and favors, and that no one really cares about the people.  One person said that each politician is either 90% corrupt, 89% corrupt, or 88% corrupt, and it’s your job to vote for the man who is 88% corrupt.  There must be someone supporting these politicians, though, because Pune has been bustling with political activism for the past month.

"The Watchtower" on top of a hill behind Fergusson College.  It's as sturdy as it looks.
     Being an American abroad has had its ups and downs, but I definitely feel a certain responsibility to make my country look good while I’m over here.  Unfortunately, there have been one or two hiccups since my arrival.  Nothing major, but there’s one story that will definitely stick with me:
            There are a lot of international students studying at Fergusson College, so once a semester the college puts together an international talent show to give everyone a chance to represent their culture.  A girl from my program did an acoustic set with one original song and a cover of “Party in the U.S.A.”, and I’m happy to say that she made our country look awesome.  It was unbelievable to see the other students present talents from their cultures, though.  I saw songs and dances from Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and so many other places.  It was really incredible to see the separate pieces put together by Iran and Afghanistan, though, because I definitely haven’t gotten a good sense of their culture in the U.S.  Although a group of students from Iran are studying here, the performance was done by one Iranian student who played a type of guitar that I’ve never seen before.  It was amazing!  As cliché as it sounds, art really can unify people like nothing else.  I feel so lucky to have been exposed to so many different cultures here, no matter how brief.  It helps me put a human face to world news, especially in terms of American foreign policy.

Trash day at Fergusson!  I've learned to love the smell of burning garbage.
            After everyone did a presentation students from each country were asked to come on stage and sing their national anthem.  The countries were called in alphabetical order, so it was somewhere around Thailand that I started to wonder who would be representing the ol’ stars and stripes.  And that’s when my program leader asked me and 6 other students to step on stage and sing “The Star Spangled Banner”.  I was petrified.

A dramatic representation of what it's like to walk the city streets here
            As a liberal arts student, I can’t say I’ve been well educated in the way of nationalism.  The fact that I watch a sports game about once a year also works against me when it comes to knowing the National Anthem.  So when I heard the opening bars of our song, I couldn’t help but hope to find my lines somewhere on a teleprompter in the distance.  Unfortunately I had no such luck.  So there I was standing in line with 6 other Americans, our hands rested on our hearts, eager to prove just how much we loved our country in front of an audience of 100-200 students.  I started by singing the opening lines of “America the Beautiful”, but that didn’t sound right so I flapped my lips a little until I could catch up with the next verse.  I started singing on the second line, but after the fourth line I was toast.  In high school I used to have nightmares that it was the opening night of a play and I had never bothered to learned any of my lines.  This was just like that, except I was representing an entire country, and my country was not on good terms with a good portion of the audience.  I knew a few lines here and there (and belted every one of them), but for the moments in between I looked off into the distance and muttered what I could.  I don’t know why they didn’t just play the Whitney Houston version; it would have been a great tribute to her and a weight off my shoulders.

Taken at a beautiful Navayana Buddhist temple in a Dalit community
             I was really upset at myself for the rest of the day because of this.  It’s not that I was mad that I didn’t know the national anthem- it’d be good to know, but I don’t measure my patriotism by my knowledge of a song.  I felt bad because I’m unsure of how these people view my country, and I just wanted to leave them with a good impression.  I try to read the Indian newspapers every day here, and the stories always reflect the imposing presence that America has in international affairs.  Many of our policies make me uncomfortable when I’m at home, but now that I’m on the other side of the world I feel like it’s my job to pick up the PR pieces.  Judging by my performance of the national anthem, though, I’d say Obama would be better off on his own.

From a tribal village trip.  The man with the instrument followed a line of people around the fire like he was chasing a snake.  Everyone danced in the direction he moved.
On the way to "The Watchtower"
A waterfall outside the lodge we stayed at in the tribal village
The view from the top of the waterfall

1 comment:

  1. Great post Dan! I'm know exactly what you mean about wanting to be a good PR person for the US. Sometimes I've even found myself defending things I didn't really agree with just because I didn't like the person's tone. I wouldn't worry too much about the whole Star Spangled Banner thing--think of it as "My country is so free, I don't have to know our national anthem!" Plus it's a hilarious story.

    I liked the political analysis too, AND I just got the pun. Keep up the good work!