13 November 2009

taste the rainbow

There was a story on NPR the other day about skin-lightening cream in India, and how they’re starting to market it to men after years of selling it to women here. Heather and I have seen the commercials for them, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe. I’m settling on cringe.
there are all kinds of products, skin lotions for men and women that contain moisturizers and sunblock and some kind of lightener like lemon juice or enzymes that break down the melanin in the skin.
i guess from the cosmetics industry’s point of view, there’s 500 million more potential customers, but the idea freaks me out. with both genders. i love india so much, the people, the culture, i hate to see them be influenced by the west, but anyway it’s much more complicated than that.
is it just to stand out, to look different? in the West, (white) people go to tanning salons and buy creams to get their skin darker, is that so that they stand out? is it the same thing with skin-lightening? since most people here are some shade of brown, is it just to stand out?
are they trying to look more Western? the trend is very popular in show business, from actors and actresses to models of both genders, almost everyone you see on TV, movies and magazines has light skin, and they’re always trying to get lighter. is that the trend because they’re copying Western media? I hope not.
For there are a few indigenous reasons, too.
There is the north-south rivalry, for one. people from south India are generally much darker than those from the north, and there’s a rivalry between the two that you see a lot. Even in the language; for years the north has wanted Hindi to be the official language of India, but in the south they don’t speak Hindi, they speak Tamil or Kannada or Mayalayam or Telugu, the languages of the states down there, and they are very different from Hindi. That’s why English is so important here; it is spoken all over the country, unlike any of the regional or state languages.
the north-south difference is also very much related to history. throughout India’s history, it’s been invaded multiple times, and the vast majority of those have come from the north, through pakistan and afghanistan, and down into the subcontinent. all of those invaders, the persians, the mughals, and the most important one, the so-called aryan invasion, were all lighter skinned people.
(the aryan invasion is the theory that lighter skinned people entered india about 1500 BCE, bringing with them a language that was the mother language of both Hindi and Latin/European languages. while sometimes disputed, the theory is widely accepted and the Indian culture we know in the north is descended from these people, while the earlier Dravidian people are the ancestors of south Indians, because the aryans didn’t make it that far south. and yes, hitler was enamored with indian culture and stole the term aryan and the symbol of the swastika from the story of those invading people.)
anyway, all those invading peoples had lighter skin than the indigenous people, so light skin is also associated with power and success.
and dark skin is still associated with some of the lower castes, with light skin associated with brahmins or other higher castes.
for all these reasons, it seems that indians are trying to lighten their skin. in newspaper ads by families looking for mates for their children, a light skin color is often mentioned as a desired trait. that’s been going on for a while, but this marketing of skin-lightening cream to Indian men is new.
i guess it’s easy for me to say as a light-skinned outsider, but i have the same reaction as when i see young indian women in jeans or falling for other western trappings. i think, your culture is so rich and so beautiful, your clothing and food and everything, please don’t lose it.
but with the entire history of india, outside influences are absorbed and somehow become wholly indian, the indian culture just absorbing, redefining, and integrating them until everything becomes Indian again. India is strong and only getting stronger, so i guess it’ll just roll with this trend as well, and come out the other side still as Indian as ever, even as the culture changes and grows.

11 November 2009

it’s been a long time since i rock and rolled

i think i’m in a band now! i answered an ad for some europeans that were playing in a classic rock band and needed a drummer. it’s not my first instrument, but i played for a couple years with Bandworks back home so i can hang in there. it turns out they also need a singer so i volunteered for that too. it’s crazy doing both at the same time but it’s a fun challenge.
there a guitarist and bassist from england, and also a 2nd guitarist from germany i think (he wasn’t there last night but will be at the next rehearsal). they’re all about my age (read old), but that means we like the same kind of music, pink floyd, rolling stones, dire straits (sultans of swing), david bowie, etc.
they rent out a studio which appeared to be in someone’s house, a room they turned into a rehearsal studio, with microphones plugged into amps, and drums set up. they brought their own guitar and bass. they’re not the greatest players in the world, it’s no Funky Little Shack, but then again i can’t really play drums for the shack. besides the fact that they would never let me get anywhere close to that drum kit! it was really really fun to be playing again, it looks like we’re going to rehearse once a week, and at some point even play at parties or bars. it’s nice to have that, and the frisbee and swimming on sundays, to keep me active and out of the house. i also still want to take hindi lessons (i have a couple leads for teachers) and maybe indian music lessons. i’m speaking some hindi in the shops, and with rickshaw drivers, but before too long i’ll try to fold lessons into my activities as well. things do move slowly here but i’m starting to realize i won’t be here forever so i’m going to get everything out of the experience that i possibly can.

10 November 2009

rising, like a phoenix, from arizona

i got the flu a couple weeks ago, but i'm feeling much better now.
2 sundays ago, i played ultimate frisbee for the first time in years. i heard about the game on a facebook group for expats living in Mumbai, people from the US, UK, australia, new zealand, and europe, mostly people in their 20’s, a good balance of men and women. they were a really nice group of people, some working at non-profits like i am, some working in the private sector as consultants or computer professionals or whatever. we met at the american school of bombay which has a great field. i taught everybody how to play ultimate, it went over really well, and we also played touch rugby, which was also really fun.

i hadn’t played any competitive sports in a long time, but i hung in there and did fine. panted a lot, but that’s to be expected. drank plenty of water, took lots of breaks, and had a great time. and after we were able to use their swimming pool which was fantastic.

the next day, monday, i was very sore all over, but i expected that. but as monday night came along, i started realizing that something was going on, something more than being sore from the game. i guess pushing myself like that was just enough to lower my defenses, because by tuesday morning, i knew i had the flu.

i hadn’t had the flu in years. my school gave us flu shots every year, and i had managed to avoid it. but this time it really hit me hard. headaches, body aches, fever, chills, sweats, the whole thing. sometimes when i’m sick here i tough it out, especially stomach stuff, but i knew i needed help.

i called my boss at the non-profit for advice, and she gave me the name and number of a local doctor she has used and trusted. Dr Hemang B Nanavati (love that name). I went to his office on tuesday around noon, waited a painful hour, and then got in. it’s a small office, with a waiting area that’s open to the outside (with a ceiling fan). you notice the order that you arrive and go in when it’s your turn; there’s no receptionist or anything.
i went in, told him my symptoms, told him i might have a fever. he felt my head and told me oh yes, you have a fever. he gave me medicine for 2 days (tylenol, antihistamines, and b-vitamins) and told me to come back thursday if i didn’t feel better.
i stayed in bed for those 2 days and didn’t eat much at all. wasn’t hungry in the slightest. tried to drink water and gatorade. the medicine helped; helped the aching and helped me sleep, and when thursday came along i almost panicked when i ran out of medicine. i went back to the good Dr Nanavati and he gave me medicine for one more day (he listened to my breathing and said you’ve got a cough now and he was right, so he gave me antibiotics too) and sent me to a local clinic for blood tests. it wasn't h1n1 (it's less common here than in the US, it was just a regular flu. ha, just. it really knocked me out).
they took my blood and tested it overnight for malaria, dengue fever, other infections, and they did a full panel of other blood and liver work.
on friday morning, it felt like i had turned a corner. i was still miserable, but i wasn’t getting any worse. i picked up the results, everything normal, and went back to see Dr Hemang B Nanavati. he gave me more medicine for the weekend and said i’d be fine by monday.
by monday, most of the flu symptoms were gone, but i was incredibly weak. i was sleeping most of the day and night, and when i did go out, i lasted an hour or so before having to come back and crash hard. i did that for the rest of the week, just sleeping, trying to eat a little, with some success, and sleeping.
yesterday was 2 weeks, and i finally went back to work. work was great about it, by the way, checking in with me every day but giving me the space i needed too. by yesterday, i was quite ready to go back, tired of being at home, even though i watched a lot of poker on youtube (caught up on the whole season of WSOP episodes) and otherwise kept myself busy.
and now, 2 weeks later, i feel my strength coming back, i can leave the house without falling apart, and i’m ready to go back to work. yesterday we actually designed an organizational chart for the non-profit, so i’m going to build it on my computer and we can include it in our business plan and other literature about the place. i’m looking forward to playing ultimate again and swimming again this weekend. and i think i actually found a band to play in, it looks like i’ll be playing drums and singing classic rock tunes. could be really fun.
oh, i started putting ads on this blog, so if you see anything you like, feel free to click on something!
be back soon, loyal readers.