We have a fabulous problem here at Tagore…we all like each other!! This is awesome because we all enjoy exploring with one another, but it makes it very difficult to travel. Our intensions always begin great. Small groups of people want to travel to the same place so we split up to get there but we inevitable become one large mob of people. This not only makes it hard to move around, but it attracts lots of attention. For some reason we keep making this mistake over and over!
Yesterday, Emily and I wanted to check out Shilparamam, a craft fair here in Hyderabad. We began with a group of four (perfect for a rickshaw) knowing that another group of people was also going that day. It turned out that we were all on the same bus to get to the main gate of campus before splitting up into three rickshaws to get to the craft fair.
Shilparamam is a year-long craft fair set up permanently in Hi-Tech City. It was established in 1992 and showcases arts and craftsmen from all parts of India. As its website states: “…the lush rustic ambience of Shilparamam has captured the imagination of every visitor who has stepped through its elaborately sculpted portals. Set amidst gardens, majestic natural rock formations and cascading waterfalls are huts of thatch and baked clay, where artisans from across India showcase their individual skills in a variety of arts and crafts.”
For a small entrance fee, one is able to roam around the grounds filled with vendors and gardens. There is even a stage where nighttime performances occur and a lake to go paddle boating. However, I spent most of my time roaming the grounds looking at the beautiful crafts and clothes. Vibrant colors jump out from each direction; sparking kurtas and soft Kashmir scarves all pull for your attention. Some vendors call out “Madam, take a look.” Others leave you alone. I appreciated the ones that let me “window-shop” and then move along. After all, you have to check everything out before making a purchase 🙂 Then you have to find the shop owners that care about their craft and are willing to bargain with you. For example I bought a kurta from one shop in which a teenage boy was tending and a scarf from another vendor from a family business. The boy was not interested in me or my comfort but I was still able to bargain for a good price. The family business, however, “invited” me into their space by offering me a seat on the rug to show me their craft. In looking at the items we began chatting about where I was from and why I was here. The sellers name was Zee. It turns out he works in Atlanta, GA with a tech company, but during his vacation (Jan-June) he helps is brother sell scarves. I liked being able to get to know the seller rather than just buying items, it makes the experience more complete! Now, not every seller is truthful in this way, and one must be cautious as well. Every vendor on the street is going to say his items are handmade and that you are his first customer of the day so he will give you a deal. Shilparamam was filled with both but many craftsmen themselves. I enjoyed looked at the painting and woodcarvings. I’m definitely getting some ideas for travel gifts to bring back 🙂
Here were some other “artists” of sorts: Women giving henna tattoos, men drawing self portraits, and a hand reader.
I appreciated being to spend a long afternoon walking the grounds, no worries about time or being in an “unsafe” place by myself. Eventually we all met up once more to continue our day. Emily and I had planned on making it to a Kuchipudi dance performance that evening and were, therefore, going to take the bus straight there. Again, we planned on a group of 4 or 5….and ended up with double that amount. I felt like the “mom” of the group with the directions….even though I had no idea what we were doing!
The bus was packed but we squeezed in and made it to a section of Hyderabad called Lakdi ka pool. The thing about buses here is that the routes and stops are not posted clearly. So once you find out which bus you need to take, you then have to rely on other people on the bus to figure out where to get off! When I asked one man where we needed to get off he responded, “6 o clock.” Ok! We waited until about that time and then asked another person about the stop and helped us get off at the right time.
Once we were off the bus it was more uncertainty. Our dance professor told us what the auditorium was called but gave us no direction of how to get there. Again, I asked a kind man for assistance. He knew exactly where it was located and offered to lead us there. Great, I thought to myself. Emily and I set off with this man (who’s name is escaping me!). Before we know it we are crossing busy streets and dodging traffic. I look behind me, and the rest of the group is streets behind us. Standing in the middle of a busy intersection there is no way we could wait for them, so we trekked on. I felt bad for moving on but at the same time I can not be responsible for all these people especially if they are not going to keep up.
We made it to the auditorium (thanks to our helpful Indian friend) and about ten minutes later, the rest of the group walked in, thank goodness.
The Kuchipudi performance was so neat! It was the first time I had seen the dance form live! It turns out that it was a dance recital of sorts. There were about 5 or 6 performances from different classes, therefore we saw various ages and levels of students. It was hard to get good pictures and videos with the bright stage lights, but I encourage you to YouTube Kuchipudi dance and check it out. The costumes are colorfully elaborate with gold trim and the make up makes the women look like porcelain dolls. Use of facial expression is essential to the storytelling. I can’t wait to delve into the practice and theory in class!
After the performance we were tired, hungry, and dehydrated. We found a hotel restaurant well known for good and reasonably priced food–Kamat Hotel. Emily and I split Thali. Thali dishes vary from region to region in India and are usually served in small bowls on a round tray, like this:
Though we don’t know exactly what we ate it was delicious. This one came with bhatura bread. Then, (going counterclockwise) yogurt, raita, a broth with green peppers, a curried broth, two types of marsala, and daal.
Then we had to get home. I decided to take the back seat for the rest of the night and let someone else direct us to the train station. We eventually made it there, crawling the streets of India as a Caucasian mob. I was happy to see that the train was mostly bare of other people since the group was getting loud and loopy at this point (as if we didn’t attract enough attention).
However, there were aspects of the train ride that really caught my soul. I stood by the open doorway for a while, feeling the cold breeze pour over me and taking in the landscape passing by. It is a holiday weekend here and families are coming together. We speed past multiple ramshackle homes filled with the warm glow of light and a family sitting together in a circle sharing a meal or keeping warm. I couldn’t help but feel a longing for my own family and for the comfort that family brings.
Taking a seat on the hard, blue seats of the train, I found myself watching those few passengers around me. Two women sat directly across the aisle from me. From their sarees I could tell they were maids or cleaners (as this is what the staff in Tagore wear). They were old in age and curled up in the folds of the cloth to stay warm. As I watched one of the women leave at her stop I realized that these women were more than just coworkers, they shared a bond of true friendship. I don’t know what words they exchanged but it was simple with only the smallest but most heartfelt smile. Their body language showed care and loyalty. I found myself wondering, how long had they been working together, how did their friendship start, and what memorable moments have they shared?
These are moments that will stick with me, taking time to experience India through its the people.