Thursday, March 15, 2012

A CorpGoth's Passage to India

I knew I'd love this month's homework from Le Professeur Gothique: "India -- Your assignment this month, dear readers, is to come up with an outfit, art work, or anything else inspired by that fabulous country and its gorgeous people. Perhaps you're a great cook and want to feature an Indian meal. Or maybe you've been to India or are Indian -- show us your visit or home. Or, if you're anything like me, you have bits and pieces of Indian clothing and jewelry to feature. Or maybe your inspiration will come from Indian art forms and colors? Think beautifully deep and delicious red and sandalwood yellow. Whatever you feature it must be inspired by India! Good luck!!!"

Me, my husband, & elephant handler in Jaipur
See, I've been fascinated with India since I was a kid, in ways sacred & profane. Maybe it started with George Harrison, & it was definitely enhanced by a variety of '70s progressive art rockers with sitar riffs & proto-New-Agey lyrics. I had a National Geographic map of India on my bedroom wall & loved curries & thought the sound of Hare Krishnas chanting near the campus of my first-choice college, UC Berkeley, was dreamy. And finally, in 2001, my husband & I visited India, which was a huge culture shock & a fantastic life-changing experience.

There's a common joke these days about "first-world problems." But you don't truly understand how first-world-y your problems are until you visit the so-called third world. No matter how much you prepare yourself, the culture shock is intense for American & western European travelers to India. I'd read up on squat toilets & begging rings & lepers & rickshaws & baksheesh & the hard sell & everything-wallas & Delhi belly & all that. But looking it in the face is totally different, stunning, & humbling.

Me looking out over the River Ganges
Ironically, I had lost my job a month before the trip -- it was the first big dot-com bust, & the music start-up I worked for went out of business. But we had paid for much of the trip in advance, & it was non-refundable, so we decided to go ahead. I couldn't be more glad that I did because it gave me an amazing sense of perspective. Even without a job or prospects of one when I got home, I immediately knew, upon arriving in India, that I was wealthier than most of the people I saw. The cost of my plane ticket was more than an average annual wage in India.

Yet, despite poverty, I saw so much beauty everywhere. Women picked dusty fields while wearing brilliantly colored saris. Huge trucks belched smoke but were decked in ropes of saffron-colored flowers & painted with swirls & dots. Monkeys, camels, & elephants roamed the streets, even in the cities. Ancient temples stood, not as relics of times past, but as vibrant parts of the everyday community, continually in use.

Of course, we visited the obvious places -- the "golden triangle" of Delhi (the capital, old & new), Jaipur (the "pink city" where Indian couples go on their honeymoons), & Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) -- but also added Khajuraho for the erotic Krishna temples & Varanasi for the holy river Ganges ghats. We had local guides take us around big places & from city to city, & then wandered around markets & such by ourselves. It was a fascinating, exhausting, rich, challenging, & fulfilling experience.

Air pollution in Delhi
Random story: The inside of the Taj Mahal smells like feet! Everyone has to remove their shoes before stepping up to the huge marble platform where the domed tomb portion of the Taj resides. This is for both reasons of respect (you remove your shoes before entering any temple, mosque, & similar place) & practicality (the white marble wouldn't look so pristine after nearly 400 years if tons of shoes tromped all over it). Imagine going inside that mostly windowless space with a hundred bare- or stocking-foot people -- eww! It reeked.

Of course, the pollution all over India was terrible, not from smells, but from car exhaust & wood-burning fires on sidewalks in the city & fields in the country. I'm not usually sensitive to such things, but I was a sniffly wreak halfway through the trip. Ah well. At least I escaped from worse health problems :-)

Varanasi ghats
My husband & I did bring back some beautiful Indian crafts to decorate our home, as we are both very fond of the designs & meaning behind them. We have a hand-carved wood Ganesh on a shelf near the doorway to our home, because he is the remover of obstacles & good luck at entrances. Next to him is Saraswati, goddess of music, carved from sandstone. This was a personal choice of my husband, as he's a musician, but we both love various forms of Indian music, so this was appropriate to our house.

Indian hand-crafts
Pieced-quilt canopy
Perhaps my favorite piece is the purple & gold quilt that we bought & hung over our bed as a canopy. I even took colors from it to paint our bedroom walls with. The quilt/canopy is incredibly difficult to photograph, but nothing pleases me more than waking up to see it each morning & falling asleep under it each night. The materials are rich & divine, & it blocks light out to make our bed dark & cozy (& perfect for this migraineur).

Today, I didn't feel up to wearing a lot of Indian garb, so my travel & home dec photos will have to suffice. The cotton salwar kameezes I bought back in 2001 don't fit the way I'd like, plus I'm coming down with a cold today, so I just threw on this top & gathered up my favorite jewelry bought in India.

What I'm wearing:
Black embroidered tunic, thrifted but made in India | Black camisole, NY & Company | Black jeans, Levis | Black buckle ankle boots, Aldo | Black bead & silver skull bead necklace, DisneyLand | Onyx & silver earrings, bought in Delhi | Onyx & silver bracelet, bought in Jaipur | Garnet & silver ring, bought in Jaipur


  1. Oh Trystan! I knew you would come up with something wonderful and beautiful and marvelous. It's a very strange feeling when you walk into a place of utter poverty -- like you said, nothing can prepare you for it. I had the same sort of experience crossing the border into Mexico. We decided to go off the beaten path and ended up in a very off the path, deep in the middle of nowhere kind of town: a very run down, very broken sort of town.I have to say the residents were the most generous, most helpful, most colorfully wonderful people I ever met. Had the best tamales there too! Made by a grandma who looked about 90. It's humbling but it also teaches you a very valuable lesson. No matter how bad things are, no matter how little money you have, there's always room for one more at the table. There's always time for kindness and love. There's always a moment when you can and should roll up your sleeves to help out. I'm a firm believer of, "the only time you should look down at someone is to help them up."

    Thanks so much for participating! Your story and your experience is quite amazing and incredible! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I'm so jealous, I had a best friend in elementary school from India, and I fell in love with Indian culture, from the food to the music to the clothing. I have dreamed of owning a Sari my whole life. But have never had the money to make the trip (oh if I ever win the lottery). I have had to content myself with Indian weddings (the most fun weddings of all cultures especially if the family is punjabi). Doing hair in Silicon Valley means I have gotten to do a lot of Indian Weddings, and I am always in visual heaven looking at all the gorgeous sarees and salwar kameez. And yes, I finally splurged and bought myself a party saree. I love it, I feel so beautiful and graceful in it. It makes my apple shaped body look like i have a waistline again. I love it so much I don't just reserve it for Indian weddings, I have worn mine to theater events downtown (in lieu of my usual black cocktail dress.). And it's black, black schiffon with gold embroidery, sequins, and beading.
    Trystan, I can totally see you in a sari. Have you ever been to Taal Boutique on El Camino (near wolfe)? If you haven't, check it out. The owner Par Mundra is an absolute doll, very helpfull, and her shop is filled with so many goregeaous things I get a.d.d. trying to look at everything. It's on the pricey side, but worth it.

    Lynn Brooks

  3. Wow, what beautiful pictures and what a great story about your trip to India. It looks so lovely, and you write about it so well. And your outfit is so cute there-I love to coordination of tunic and jewelry!

  4. Wow, sounds like an amazing trip! We have an expat friend who was born in India and returned for a visit not too long ago. He said he didn't want to leave the hotel room (it was too depressing I guess).

    I too have an interest in the art,music, culture of India... I kind of wish we could take our children there to get a better perspective on things!