INDIA REPORTS Christopher and Ellen 2003-2004
1 - Nov 15 Chris
2 - Nov 23 Ellen
3 - Dec 7 Ellen
4 - Dec 12 Chris
5- Jan 4 Ellen
6- Feb 8 Ellen
1 - (November 15, 2003) Christopher Friedrichs
As you know I am currently in India, and I certainly have been having an interesting time. I am sending this report to
members of the family as well as some friends who indicated that they would like to know a bit about my experiences.
I was in India once before, but only as a tourist. This time I am here on business, having received a grant from the
Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute to spend three months in India in connection with my new project of comparing the
political systems of cities in Europe and Asia from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Of course I cannot do the
same kind of detailed research in India that I do in Germany -- among other reasons, I would have to read Persian,
since that was the language of administration in early modern India. But I am here to meet historians, to discuss with
them how they do urban history, and to visit libraries to study the published books and articles on this topic.
Fortunately almost all serious historical writing in India is published in English, which certainly makes that aspect of my
work very easy.
So far I have been mostly in Delhi, but I also spent a few days in Aligarh, which is a small town south of Delhi with a
major university. I have spent much of my time at the University of Delhi, my official base while in India, and it has
been very interesting to get some sense of the academic culture here. The biggest surprise is that people do not visit
professors in their offices one by one, as in North America. If a professor is in, the door is open and people constantly
go in and out; conversations get started, interrupted, deflected or resumed, and every now and then someone turns up
with a round of tea for whoever is in the office just then. Not a bad system, once you get used to it.
I have given one talk at the University of Delhi and I have attended some other presentations. I am tremendously
impressed with the intellectual level not just of the faculty, as one would expect, but also of the graduate students.
Most of the students are working on the history of India but they are also very knowledgeable about non-Indian history
and about the debates and controversies that are current among historians in Europe and North America. This is all
the more impressive because the infrastructure of Indian universities does not compare to what we are used to. Most
of the university buildings are very poorly maintained, with classrooms sorely in need of paint and dusty piles of broken
furniture piled up in the dimly lit corridors. The libraries are often dark, dusty and poorly catalogued. Yet none of this
seems to get in the way of a top-notch intellectual atmosphere.
Most of the students are obviously members of the prosperous Indian middle class. To say that they are fluent in
English would be an understatement. They get their entire schooling in English and they are truly bilingual in a way that
even the most fluent English speakers in Europe can rarely match.
But of course India also has a large underclass and it is certainly visible right on the campus. The bicycle-rickshaw
drivers, food vendors, sweepers and so on whom you see everywhere in India are all over the university district, as are
lots of construction workers. Although the university seems to be very short of funds for maintaining existing buildings
there is evidently a lot of money for constructing new buildings -- mostly three- or four-story brick and concrete
structures of the kind which already cover the campus. Both men and women work on these projects, so the campus
is full of sari-clad women moving bricks or carrying loads of wood on their heads. While working on these projects,
the workers and their families live right next to the building site in little shanties or tents. So there are lots of their kids
around as well.
In addition to spending time at the university and at various libraries in Delhi I have also spent a good bit of time just
seeing the city. As you know I have a passion for walking in cities and Delhi is certainly worth seeing on foot. There
are lots of densely crowded slum neighborhoods ("slum" is an official designation, right on the signage) but there are
also lots of wide, almost empty streets, especially in New Delhi. The British designed New Delhi with its pattern of
traffic circles and long radiating avenues in the 1920s and 1930s to be the center of their government, but of course
they did not get to enjoy it for long. Now this vast district is occupied by the Indian political and military elite. Their
one-story white houses are arrayed half-hidden behind high walls with security guards in little guardposts next to the
gated driveways. Few pedestrians linger on these unwelcoming streets. Even the cows which you see everywhere
else seem to avoid these neighborhoods.
But those streets are a bit of an exception. Most of Delhi is choked with traffic and the main health hazard I have
faced so far has been trying to cross streets during rush hour. But it is fascinating to observe a busy intersection in
which cars, trucks, buses, three-wheeled autorickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, handcarts, pedestrians and sometimes
even monkeys all compete with each other to reach their destinations. (Only the cows don't seem to be in a hurry as
they amble slowly and safely through the chaos.) Yet despite all this, I have not yet witnessed an accident or seen the
aftermath of one. Somehow the system seems to work.
There is obviously much more one could say about Delhi, but this will give you the general idea. This weekend I am
leaving for a three-week trip to visit universities in Kolkata (nee Calcutta), Hyderabad and Mumbai (nee Bombay). In
Mumbai I will get to see Ellen who, as many of you will know, is being sent there for two months by an international
Jewish service organization to be part of a team working with HIV-infected adolescents. I will return to Delhi in early
December and later that month Rhoda will join me here for two weeks. I'll be back in Vancouver in mid-January but
only for two weeks before Rhoda and I depart for our spring term in Princeton. Meanwhile I am certainly finding my
time in India to be rewarding and enriching.
Chris Friedrichs November 15, 2003
2 - Ellen Nov 23
Subject: That's Bombaby to you!
Well, at least according to Anglophiles at the daily newspaper, "The Times
I have arrived in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and am currently staying at the
home of my boss, a woman named Sarah who lives right on the not swimmable
but quite beautiful, beach. I have been utterly wined and dined but am
suffering from annoying jet lag and have yet to sleep more than 2 or 3 hours
at night (it is ten hours ahead here). Sarah has two maids, Lalit and
Samare, and a driver and I have not lifted a finger and shocked everyone
when I insisted on walking to the internet cafe where I am now. It is maybe
a ten minute walk along the beach and very easy to get to (well that is if
you are willing to battle the very busy street traffic--I think I am more
likely to get run over by a rickshaw or taxi than anything else while I am
here). I had thought I would spend half my time worrying about what I eat
as but, every time I turn around one of the maids (both teenage girls from
Northern Indian tribes) are there with a glass of juice or water (bottled)
for me. They have also prepared a food routine for me to ensure that i do
not get ill as many westeners do upon first arriving in India. So far it
seems to be working (keeping my fingers crossed). They cook all the meals
and I harldy have even seen inside the kitchen. In fact, though both girls
live in the apartment, after 4 days here, I don't even know where they
sleep! Sarah does not even carry her own house key as Lalit or Samare is
always there to answer the door day or night. I am still trying to adjut to
this treatment--I don't think i have even opened a car door for myself yet!
As India is a country of the six day work week, yesterday I went to visit
the organization where I will be working and then one of their homes for
children with AIDS. It was quite amazing. It is a three room building. The
boys sleep in one room and the girls in the other. In the morning they roll
up their beds and use the rooms for school and play and meals. 56 children
live there (and six women who have left the sex trade). All are HIV positive
or living with AIDS. It a a very cheerful place and when I came the kids
were all imersed in snacks and soccer. Of course some are ill. One little
girl looked to be about one but I was told she was three and a half and
suffering from both HIV and malnutrision. She followed me everywhere and
sat on my lap and dribbled snot on me (in a nice way). Another fat little
boy had just recovered from a year of menangitis and was left with lesions
on his brain. However, he was very outgoing and told me a lengthy story in
Hindi about the tortise and the hare. He was thrilled when i understood his
snoring to be an indication of the sleeping hare (ah, the wonders of bunny
ears and two hands clasped under one's cocked head). Later that day I
wrote brochures ("Anyone can get AIDS", "Women and AIDS" and "Pregnancy and
AIDS") and created some posters. All the materials will be translated into
Hindi as well as a few other languages. There was quite a rush as they
needed to be ready for world AIDS day which is on Dec. 1. We are setting up
a booth at one of the commuter train stations to hand out materials. One
major difference here is that in the Western world we are trying to convince
pregnant women who are HIV positive not to breast feed as HIV can be
transmitted in breast milk. However this is just not done in India as
without breast milk many babies would starve. So it is considered necessary
to take the HIV risk and not prevent women from nursing.
I also went and saw my apartment. It is in a very ritzy neighborhood on the
beach (also a no swim beach, but CROWDED with people and vendors and
preformers and cows). The apartment has a nice cool porch, two beds (come
visit!) a servicable bathroom and a large kitchen. It is right around the
corner from the market and bus depot and i am told hipster dance clubs.
Plus my organization will lend me a computer so I will have internet at
home. I move in on Wednesday and my father arrives from Kolcata on Thursday
which I am very much looking forward to.
I would love to hear from everyone lots and lots!!
Please let me know if you are not in the mood for group emails. I will not
Ellen Kate Nov 23rd 2003
3 Ellen Dec 7, 2003
Still waiting to see a monkey . . . (Dec. 7, 2003)
So, I was on my way to my first day of work in the red light district and had driven past what seemed like miles and
miles of shockingly colorful slum shanty dwellings when I saw an elephant ambling down the street amidst a completely
disinterested crowd. I of course was not disinterested and fumbled for my camera, but by the time I got it out and
batteries in (um, the camera half broke my first day here and batteries slip out unannounced), the elephant was gone.
The kids at the shelter where I was headed were there however and hung around long enough for me to snap a couple
The Kishori Vatika shelter runs two programs. A day care for young kids and a night shelter for (adolescent) daughters
of prostitutes. (Adolescent should be taken with a grain of salt -some of these girls are as young as 6, but come to the
shelter, because their mothers fear they will get pushed into prostitution if they are out on the streets at night - more on
that in a sec.) The night shelter is really unique. The girls come at 6pm and leave at 7am. They get tutoring and dinner, a
safe place to sleep, movie nights and after I finish the curriculum, sex ed. If not at the night shelter, most of these kids
would stay in the room or sleep on the streets when their mother's have clients. The goal of the shelter is to allow the
girls to stay with their mothers (other NGOs send kid's of sex workers to far off institutions) and help them develop
their self esteem and plan for their futures. These girls face a lot of challenges. Everyone knows whose mothers are
prostitutes and the general assumption is that if your mother is a prostitute then you are "fair game." Basically these
girls are at a really high risk for sexual assault and for prostitution, both now and in the future, as it is assumed that the
daughters of prostitutes will also do sex work. This assumption is held by the girls, their mothers and the community.
As a result many of the girls are pushed into sex work really young. This happens for a variety of reasons but one of
the most disturbing is that there is a prevalent belief that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS.
Of course I haven't just been hanging out in the red light district, which I should mentions does have a real name,
Kamathipura, and is also known for having really good second hand shops (anyone in the market for a worn sari?). I
have also managed to slip into the consulate/diplomat scene. I think it amuses them that I came here despite the fact
that I would not be "treated like a rock star" as they all are and do things like clean my own house (the maid fell
through), wash my own clothes (I have yet to see a washing machine in India) and use public transport and rickshaws.
It seems all the English speakers hang out together at this snazzy country club in
South Bombay where they swim and drink and play volley ball and get waited on hand and foot. I got myself invited
today. So, like them I swam and ate yummy food and drank yummy drinks and lounged and felt very decadent. I also
made a friend at work, who it turns out used to be a big Hindi pop star (come on, no one's heard of Amrita?). She quit
pop star life to become a social worker and is taking me to see my first Bollywood film in Hindi on Tuesday. She
promises to translate throughout. I am sure the rest of the movie goers will love that.
I spent last week hanging out with my father who has been kicking around Delhi for the past few months and my mom
comes in less than three weeks which I am also really excited about. The only bad thing here (besides the obvious huge
social problems) has been the cockroach, mosquito infestation in my otherwise cute little apartment. I have turned into
a big baby, and keep scaring my Hare Krishna neighbors by screaming when I see a nasty roach scurry by. I cannot
bring myself to stomp on the critters (they are huge! the size of small children, or at least mice, I swear). Instead I have
been covering them with cups and hoping they die. Terrible and gross I know, but everyone has their limits.I hope
everyone is healthy and safe and having lots of fun.
Write lots, I love mail.
Ellen Kate Dec 7, 2003
4 Chris December 12, 2003
Here as promised is the second half of my report on my stay in India. Last weekend I returned to Delhi from a very
rewarding trip to Kolkata (Calcutta), Hyderabad and Mumbai (Bombay). The highlight of this trip was certainly
Mumbai, where I spent a lot of time with Ellen who is in in India for two months volunteering with a social welfare
organization. But in fact the whole trip was full of interesting experiences. I gave lectures at universities in all three
cities, including one in German to the small but very active German Department at the University of Mumbai. I met
with various historians to discuss my project and of course I visited a lot of libraries. But I also had time to explore
these three cities and get some sense of their very different characters and textures.
Kolkata is certainly a poorer city than New Delhi, but in some ways it seems more "urban". Partly this is due to minor
things like an excellent subway line (Delhi's is still under costruction), more traffic lights, more taxis, fewer cows on the
roads and so on. But also, and more importantly, Calcutta has a real commercial center. New Delhi has lots of high-
rise office towers, but no real business distict. By contrast, Calcutta has block after block of solid masonry office
buildings dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when it was the commercial capital of British
India. Many of the buildings have clearly seen better days. But Calcutta is in its own way a gracious city, with an
exceptionally large number of parks in the city center.
Hyderabad is a prosperous boom town. It was the seat of the richest of the Indian princes, and this is still apparent
from various palatial buildings in the older part of the city. But it is now the center of a thriving hi-tech industry, and
while there are no real high-rises there are countless new office buildings with flashy tinted-glass facades. I was taken
past "Hi-Tec City" on the outskirts of town, which boasts a CyberTower that houses 250 software firms. Even more
interesting was the posh Banjara Hills district, where overbuilt homes are perched on ridges or hilltops in ways that
reminded me of parts of Los Angeles.
As for Mumbai, I spent some time in the downtown area with its combination of traditional Indian houses, Victorian
public buildings, art-deco apartments and modern office towers. But I spent most of my time in Bandra, which is 20
miles from the city center. My hosts at the university had booked me into a hotel there, since it is near the university
campus. When I arrived I was delighted to discover that the hotel was just ten minutes away from the office of the
Concerned Communities Development Trust where Ellen is working. Ellen is posted there under the auspices of the
international Jewish Volunteer Services organization, using her expertise as a sexual health educator to help them
develop programs to provide information or assistance for pregnant women with AIDS, slum children with HIV,
adolescent girls at risk of being drawn into prostitution and so on. Despite the intensity of her work she is also finding
time to get acquainted with the city and to make some friends. It was a certainly remarkable week for me, shuttling
between lecturing at the university, visiting with my hosts, and spending lots of time with Ellen, who even came to one
of my lectures.
In response to my first India report, one of my friends asked me to comment on two aspects of India which people
often wonder about: the politics and the poverty. Let me repeat what I wrote to him:
1. I am impressed with the Indian political system. There are certainly some problems of regional discontent, some
outbursts of communal violence, and many episodes of corruption in high places. But India is a true democracy with
authentic freedom of expression. The newspapers can say anything, and they relentlessly pursue and expose cases of
corruption and hypocrisy in public life. Since I arrived, the police chief of Mumbai has been arrested in a forgery
scandal and a federal cabinet minister had to resign after he was caught on a hidden camera in a hotel room accepting a
bribe. But such things also happen in Canada. (Of the last five premiers of British Columbia, two had to resign
because of corruption scandals, one resigned to take the rap for a scandal involving one of his colleagues, and one--
who is still in office--was arrested for drunk driving while on holiday in Hawaii. In fact the only one of the last five
premiers who was not involved, directly or indirectly, in any scandal was the one who was born in India.)
Last week there were legislative elections in four Indian states and it was interesting to note that the voter turnouts
ranged from 50 to 60 per cent of the eligible electors -- a much higher percentage than is usually the case in the U.S. or
Canada. Despite numerous problems, this country of a billion inhabitants really is the world's largest democracy.
2. India has a huge, prosperous middle class, but yes, I have also seen much evidence of poverty in the cities I have
visited--and Ellen is being exposed to even more. Many people live in the city streets, but they seem to make homes
for themselves by attaching little tents to some wall or creating little wood and tin lean-tos and they busy themselves
selling little items in improvised street stalls. In Calcutta many of the street-dwellers are apparently illegal immigrants
from Bangladesh, where India is considered a land of plenty. Since they speak the same language, Begali, they can slip
over the border easily and merge into the Calcutta underclass.
India is clearly a richer society than it was when I was here seven years ago, yet--perhaps not coincidentally--I have
also observed more begging now. My preference is to give generous tips to people who do some service for me (cab
drivers, room cleaners, etc.), but of course one cannot completely ignore the street beggars. The problem is that Indian
beggars do not take yes for an answer: whatever you give, they will ask you for more. I have had awkward moments.
Despite all this evidence of distress, somehow there is a general sense of economic growth and social progress. You
can't help feeling that the children of the urban street-dwellers may rise up a bit in the world, getting service jobs or
opening little shops and leaving the street life to new immigrants from the countryside or from some country that is
worse off than India. Meanwhile we in rich Canada with our population of just 30 million also have people sleeping
So those are some of my impressions. I won't send a another report, but I am hoping to see many of you sometime in
the next few months so maybe you will hear more about India. In the meantime, I will end with one parting thought:
Though I have learned a lot in the last two months, not just about Indian history but also about India as a whole, it is
also clear to me that I can never hope to really understand this country until I can grasp the rules of two complex forms
of human interaction which pervade Indian life: the caste system and the game of cricket. Perhaps with years of
patient study and observation I might be able to understand one these important systems -- but as for the other one,
well, I'm afraid I will never grasp the rules of cricket! So I guess I can never hope to really understand India.
December 12, 2003
5 - From: Ellen Kate
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 4:54 AM
Subject: from the only girl at the movies who failed to stand up for the national anthem
I hope everyone had a super fun New Yearâ€™s, and if Christmas is your thing,
then a good one of those too! I saw in 2004 on a beautiful Bombay roof
overlooking the water listening to Hindi hip hop. Um, I still donâ€™t know
whose roof it actually was, but, they were kind enough not to ask me to
leave. I actually turned up at the roof after my work party which was a
slightly different sort of affair, complete with games galore. Many of these
had benign titles like, â€œballoon danceâ€� and â€œsing along.â€� They should have
been called â€œhumiliate the foreigner, then laugh.â€� For â€œballoon danceâ€� I
was forced to dance holding up a balloon between my stomach and the stomach
of a very shy guy who works with us, might be five feet tall and whose god
honest job title is â€˜peon.â€™ We were not allowed to use our hands and were
supposed to dance until the DJ stopped the music. So, in the spirit of
fostering cultural harmony, I wiggled awkwardly, towering over this poor guy
while everyone else laughed hysterically. Thankfully the bottled lassie
delivery guy showed up and we were allowed to abandon the balloon. I wonâ€™t
get into the game that should have been called â€œmake Ellen karaoke Hindi
songs for the benefit of our amusement.â€� I donâ€™t even karaoke in English.
Ever. But, I was touched that everyone was so intent on including me in the
festivities. Kind of.
For all those who have been on the edge of your seats since my last email, I
am pleased to report that, yes, I finally saw a monkey! I went up North to
Delhi to meet up with my parents and catch the Taj Mahal, and was delighted
to spot my first monkey while we were sightseeing around the parliament
buildings. I was trying to figure out how to use the new camera my mother
so kindly brought me, when all of a sudden I was shoed away by an irritated
gent in an official looking uniform who seemed to be displeased that I was
photographing the ministry of defense building.
The rest of the time with my parents was really wonderful, though touring
with my father is quite an experience. We packed two weeks worth of sights
into two days. (OK two weeks might be an exaggeration and to his credit, I
did get to see amazing sights that I would never have seen otherwise and I
really did appreciate the fact that he let my mother and I take cabs and
rickshaws instead of walking everywhere as he had been doing). After the Taj
Mahal, and tombâ€™s belonging to long dead dudes named Akbar and Homiyan and
Sajihan, and abandoned cities with bedrooms for 1500 harem girls, and the
thickest layers of fog known to human kind, we turned around and headed back
to Bombay. There we whirwinded through dinners and lunches and socializing
for two days before my parentâ€™s went back to Delhi.
In other exciting news, Joe is coming in two weeks (so feel free to hunt him
down in Brooklyn if you want to send me goodies or letters or treats :) ).
We are hoping to head south and see beaches and temples and caves and get
massages along the way.
I hope you are all happy and well and enjoying 2004. I would also love to
hear any and all news.
6 - India from Ellen Feb 8
Joe arrived 2 weeks ago, just as I was finally able to drag my sorry self
out of bed after being sick as a dog for days. I had run a seminar for
doctors who work in one of the largest slums in Bombay. The seminar was at
their clinic in the slum and some of the neighborhood women made me lunch.
I tried to decline, but then it seemed so rude so I ate a little. This is a
place with no running water, refrigeration or sewage system. I went from
the seminar to the massive and virulently anti-American World Social forum
and began to feel kind of bad (mainly due to the food, not the politicking,
though even for me it was a bit excessive). Then I felt really bad. Then I
went home and curled up in bed. Then it was a few days later and Joeâ€™s plane
was due to land. I managed to make it to the airport and began to feel
better as soon as I saw him, but then he promptly got sick himself. Being
sickies we were forced to cancel the planned cave/fort trip North and
instead hung around Bombay recovering in the luxurious home of my Canadian
consulate friend. But recover we did, and Joe got to see more of Bombay
than intended, including the dance performance by some of the kids I have
been working with, a jaunt to the country club, karaoke, an afternoon
Republic day party at the home of Italian Paulo and of course a visit to
Polyesters, a bad news disco club that people here inexplicably love. They
serve jello shots and play YMCA and maybe, maybe if you are lucky one Hindi
dance song a night.
Finally we managed to leave Bombay and took a night train south to Goa a
state famous for oily massages, strange local feni drinks, temples, cows,
goats, colonial Portuguese churches and absolutely wonderful beaches. We
stayed in my boss, Saraâ€™s house in a town called Candolim. Before I left
Sara told me that her â€˜boyâ€™ Raju who looked after the house in her absence
would be delighted to take care of us while we were there. Of course when
we arrived Raju, a man in his forties with a wife and three teenage kids,
had never heard of us, nor that we would be staying in his home for ten
days. But, he was unfailingly polite about our intrusion and we arrived
home every day to changed, though not altogether fresh sheets, and repairs
to damages we caused (yes, we broke both the toilet seat and the curtain
rods with in hours of arriving). The house was actually pretty interesting,
kind of dark and falling apart, with beautiful high ceilings and a lovely
porch perfect for beer drinking and game playing and laundry drying.
Goa, was a Portuguese colony until the sixties and is much more Christian
than the rest of India (whichg means it is 20 percent Christian and 80
percent Hindu). Interestingly the Chrisitan influence means that it is also
more liberal in regards to attitudes about dress and women and alcohol.
Because of this is became a popular spot for drop out hippies and travelers.
But, apparently for the past five years there has been an effort to attract
a classier clientele. However, I must say, there sure are a lot of white
people with dreadlocks here. Luckily for us though we are not staying at a
â€˜coolâ€™ beach, which in Goa means, one that attracts these types and the
tanned baby or two they all seem to be dragging along. It also means we are
not in situated right next to the full moon five day long rave parties that
Goa is famous for. This is not a bad thing.
In other news Joe and my fashion sense has really hit a high note here.
Joe has acquired a number of new t-shirts, the best being a fluorescent pink
one with a hot air balloon that the ever ardent vendors actually tried to
talk him out of, and a spanking new pair of sandals which he has managed to
pair with everything from a speedo to jeans. I on the other hand am faring
similarly, having worn the same filthy skirt every day. However, I got sick
of also wearing filthy shirts so I went out and bought my newest fashion
faux pas, the booberchief, which I so named due to the fact that this thing
is little more that an Indian handkerchief with strings. I now have three.
But despite the fact that we might look a little hippied out, my Goa goal is
to befriend one of the many middle aged British couples who drink beer and
cruise around in sleeveless â€œGoa-Game Of Adventureâ€� t-shirts. So far, I
have not been successful. Joe says itâ€™s the booberchiefs, but I blame the
accent and the fact that they can drink me under the table.
Hope everyone is well!
Lots of love, Ekate