Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gotcha, bitch!

Ok, so Dave was right.

^ us immediately pre-proposal
As soon as I got off the plane from India, Dave proposed, so I'm now ENGAGED!!! At some point this morning, I, being the practical joker that I am, put as my Facebook status that "Allison no longer has a boyfriend", thinking my friends and family intelligent enough to get it. Especially since Dave asked my parents if he could propose a month ago. Clearly, I over-estimated them.

Jocelyn finally got a hold of me a few hours ago, saying that my mother had called her 6 times, in tears, asking if she knew what had gone wrong. *facepalm*

So yes, dear David, you were right, I should not have put that on Facebook, and I should also apparently introduce myself to my mother, since after 22 years, she still doesn't get my sense of humor.

Flying Home

I am actually on the plane home, and the feeling is just as surreal as landing in Mumbai a month ago was. Kate is asleep on my left, and Aamir on my right – each occasionally nodding against my shoulders. I tried for a while to sleep – I even watched the first 45 minutes of the Phantom of the Opera to try to send myself into dreamland – but to no avail. I am simply too excited, the butterflies in my stomach have turned into fruit bats, and so I write.

India, in my mind, will always be like a section of the Twilight Zone. It seems like we left the US years ago, but it does not seem like we have been in India for more than a few days. The time has gone by very fast and very slow at the same time, a concept I have never before experienced.

My thoughts are not terribly organized at the moment, hopefully that will come later. So, inspired by Madeline’s lists, here are mine.

Stuff I Miss About the US
Drinkable tap water
Less pollution
Non-Indian food
no one asking for money
my roommates
my bed
my closet
my external harddrive
going to the movies
my own room
a shower with good water pressure

Stuff I Will Miss From India
Cheap food
Cheap transportation
Creepers buying us balloons
My internship
jasmine flowers on a string
elephants at midnight
seeing AAMIR KHAN!!!
the food
the other SU people!

Stuff I Will Not Miss From India
Cockroaches in the bathroom
Geckos in my bed
leaky bathroom ceilings
the heat
the humidity
rickshaw drivers who don’t speak Hindi
the poop smell
henna that scars my arm
getting stared at by everyone
getting overcharged
the 9.5 hour time difference
the shitty internet

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Taj Freakin’ Mahal

I think this speaks for itself:

The only thing that tops that, for me anyway, was Stonehenge. The Taj was without a doubt the most beautiful building I have ever seen, and it was only made more so by knowledge of the amount of work put into it: 22 years and 20,000 artisans. It is covered in inlaid flowers and passages of the Koran, in tiny pieces of semi-precious stone. Oh, and did I mention that we saw it at sunrise? It literally takes your breath away – I don’t really know how to describe it.

And yet, despite being one of the new wonders of the world, the Taj is still in India, which means it is still surrounded by poverty-stricken children asking for pocket change in return for a trinket. And, for some reason, camels.

After we saw the Taj we saw a demonstration on the inlay work used on the building. The artisans who work there today are the descendants of the original artisans, and they still use the same tools that their ancestors did. There is a type of glue they use to fix the semiprecious stones to the marble which is made of 17 types of tree resin, and the formula is a secret as guarded as that of Coca Cola.

And just like that, we were done with Agra, and on the bus headed back to Delhi. The trip was just as hot as the one yesterday, although marginally less crowded, as we were given a car to carry some of the luggage. Back in Delhi we toured briefly, and we got to see the India Gate.

We had dinner (an amazing dinner) at TG’s parent’s house, and some of us took a much needed nap. We are leaving soon for the airport, and from there to home!

From Delhi to Agra; Or, The Hottest I Have Ever Been

Over a black screen, a deep male voice begins to speak.

When we last saw our intrepid travelers, they were in
sweltering Mumbai, living in roach and gecko infested
apartments that occasionally had air conditioning. Now they
reside in a beautiful, deliciously cold hotel in the Hottest
Place on Earth: unstruck-by-monsoons Delhi in mid-June.
How did they come to be here? Let us start at the beginning…

This morning (although it does not seem like the same day, it is still, in fact, Monday) we arose with the sun. Actually, about an hour ahead of the sun, which does not come up until 5 am or so. Having packed the day before (most of us, anyway), all that was needed was to take our luggage downstairs and load it onto the bus. In a moment oddly unsuited for the feel of the rest of our trip, the elevators actually WORKED and we did not have to walk our suitcases down 20 flights of stairs. I think we made up for this blessing later.

We drove to the airport (the international one first because the driver hadn’t been given proper instructions, then the domestic one; this was more like the India we knew) and checked in for our flight. We walked outside the terminal, got on a bus and drove from here to ————— there – a distance which would have taken less time to walk than it did to ride, and boarded the plane just as the rain started. I had joked, in the days previously when rain seemed more and more eminent, that it would not rain until we left Mumbai, just out of spite. This, however, was far too literal. After getting a good laugh at the timeliness of the precipitation, we were seated. This is the sight that greeted us:

Can you see the smoke? I hope so, cause we sure could. After the smoke, or fog, or whatever it was cleared, we had a fairly uneventful flight (except for the crazy old mad sitting behind Jill, Andrea and I who did not understand the concept of “Turn off your damn cellphone!”) We landed in Delhi and walked into the most intense heat I have ever experienced. We took our luggage across the street to the awaiting bus, and found this:

The bus was too small. The bus was too small by a lot. After much arguing (TG with the driver), negotiating (TG with the rental service), and extreme creepiness (the helpers to the left in the photo, who offered to have sex with me for $20 – “Please, Madam-ji, four men, $20”), the larger suitcases were tied to the roof of the bus with a very un-sturdy-looking piece of rope and the rest were piled in the aisles, with us squeezed in around them. It was a long, hot, bumpy ride to Agra, and I am not a skilled enough writer to be able to fully describe how uncomfortable it was. Suffice it to say, we were all grateful for the cooling rush of adrenaline when we almost had the head-on collision with the truck. And the water buffalo.

On the way to Agra, where we are spending the night, we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri – a capital city built by Emperor Akbar. It was very beautiful (see below) and the tour guide was amazing.

We finally arrived at our hotel in Agra as the sun was beginning to set, and discovered what appears to be heaven on Earth. There is air conditioning (which is freezing – I have not had goose-bumps in a month and its awesome!), no cockroaches, geckos or creepy-crawlies of any kind, complementary dinner (which was delicious) and best of all, a pool. After a wonderful hot shower with powerful water pressure (ahhh, luxury!), I lie in bed, anticipating the Taj Mahal tomorrow, slightly dreading the ride back to Delhi, and (mentally) bouncing off the walls in my excitement to go home.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

In Conclusion, My Internship Was Awesome. So was Pune.

Thursday the 11th marked the last day of our internships, and I was truly sad to leave. The past three weeks have not only been fun, they have been an incredible learning experience. I got to be part of a small team writing and editing two feature length screenplays, which both look as though they will become films in the next few years. The work was fun and interesting in and of itself, but I am also very fond of the stories, and am really excited to see how they turn out. Apart from the writing, I became very attached to Shubhra, my boss, and I will miss her.

Shubhra and I

The following day, our last Friday in India, we took a day trip to the film archives and film institute in Pune. The archives made me want to cry – film cases stacked on the floor in no particular order and with no particular care; posters and photographs, some of them decades old and probably one-of-a-kind, shoved into corners, and everything covered in a nice, think layer of Indian Dust – a substance which appears to be one part dirt, one part fine sand and one part glue. Seriously, it sticks to everything. It appears that an attempt is being made to improve the state of the archives, as shown by the amusingly worded sign below:

The Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) made me want to cry too, but for very different reasons. Actually, first it almost gave me a heart attack – I was minding my own business, staying out of the way while Nya took a picture of a tree or something else equally interesting, when something touched my hand. A wet something. A TONGUE something. After leaping into the air and screaming like Ross Geller (DANGER!), I discovered a dog looking at me as though I was the crazy one. How would he have reacted if I had licked his paw, hu? Probably would have given me the same look.

Stupid dog


The facilities were unbelievable – sound studios with state-of-the-art equipment, camera to die for, and huge warehouses where students can build their own sets. Oh, did I mention that the tuition for a foreign student is 225,000 rupees per year? Does that sound like a lot? Convert it. That makes a grand total of $4,500. Not $45,000, $4,500. Like, a tenth of what we pay to go to Newhouse. Actually, an eleventh, considering the recent hike in tuition prices. When I told one of the tour guides that our tuition translates to 2.5 million rupees per year, he almost peed himself laughing.

*SIGH* On the other hand, there are only two spots open for foreign students every year, so the competition is fierce. One would also have to put up with the Indian heat, and as much as Syracuse winters get old by the time April rolls around, I would take the snow over the heat.

Now to pack, then Delhi and Agra, then HOME!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On Aamir Khan and the Punctuality of Indian Men

First of all, so that it is out of the way and does not disrupt the flow of the narrative later on: I freaking saw AAMIR KHAN!

For those of you who know me less well, my three favorite actors are Christian Bale, Tim Roth, and Aamir Khan. So that’s kind of a big thing. Now, to start from the beginning…

Sunday morning (and by morning, I mean about 1:30pm) Nya, Andrea, Hannah and I decided to go to South Bombay for the day. We had been the day before as well, to shop and explore, but with little else to do, we decided to go back. Upon walking down to what I shall refer to as the rickshaw station, we discovered an unprecedented lack of rickshaws. There was exactly one, when there are normally between seven and ten. And that one was already taken. Not to be deterred, we waited. And waited. Eventually the man sitting in the sole rickshaw asked where we were going, and said that since we were going the same way as he (he was going to Bandra), two of us could ride part of the way with him. At this point another rickshaw rattled up and Nya and I hopped into that, while Andrea and Hannah joined the man, later known to be Praffle.

At a certain point along the highway rickshaws must stop and trade their passengers into taxis, as the unsightly rickshaws are not allowed within the posh South Bombay. As I stepped out of our little death-trap I noticed Andrea nearly exploding with excitement. Apparently, in talking with Praffle, they discovered that later that day he would be filming a commercial starring none other than Aamir Khan, and he had invited us to the set! He told us where to go, and we swapped numbers so that we could keep in touch.

When we arrived in South Bombay we decided to get lunch before heading to the shoot, as it was about three in the afternoon and none of us had eaten. I, for one, am terribly unpleasant when very hungry. We went to, get this, a pizzeria where I ate an actual Hawaiian pizza – ham and everything – and listened to Barbie Girl.

A quick side note on the music I have heard in this country: Our first day while grocery shopping we heard what appeared to be the karaoke back up music for the Beegees, ABBA and Queen. We occasionally hear thumping rap coming from passing cars, and I have heard Linda Ronstadt and Brian Adams on the radio more than any other artists. Meanwhile, on my iPod, I have the soundtracks to Fanaa, Rang De Basanti and Dhoom 2. Go figure.

Shortly after hearing Barbie Girl I finished my lunch. Everyone else was still eating and not talking, so I became bored, staring out the window absent-mindedly. In doing so, my eye was caught by the profile of a man in the car across the street. He looked oddly familiar. My mind momentarily not working, it was not until he turned and looked at me that I realized why I recognized him. I was staring, at this point literally openmouthed, at Aamir Khan. According to the other girls, my first reaction was to laugh, point him out, and give him a thumbs up – this last part makes sense, since I did a similarly dorky thing to Lewis Black a few months ago.

All four of us waved energetically and here’s the best part: he smiled and WAVED BACK! We were loud enough that the rest of the establishment caught on to who we were looking at and patrons and waiters alike crowded the windows waving. He kept smiling and waving back until the car drove off, but not before I got a photo.

As TG would say, it was destiny.
Later we did in fact make it to the set, along with over a thousand other people, and were allowed to sit off to the side and observe the shoot. While there, Mr. Khan spotted us again and, probably thinking he was being stalked by four crazy American girls, smiled and waved at us again. We watched the filming for around an hour – look for the commercial later on YouTube, it’s for something called Smart Chips – until Mr. Khan was herded away by a posse of bodyguards.

Yea, that's us behind him :)
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, although I did at one point get to exercise my Spanish language skills when asking for directions. A very European (he kissed all of our hands as he left) Indian man who owns restaurants in Madrid, Barcelona and the Canary Islands attempted to show us where a sari shop was. He couldn’t, but he did compliment my Spanish, making me feel less like an ignorant American than I have in the past month. Communicating with people by pointing and repeating English words in a steadily louder voice does make one feel like an asshole. Nothing else of import happened until the following night.


In thanks for allowing us on the set, Andrea and I agreed to go to dinner with Praffle on Monday night. He said he would pick us up between 9 and 10, and we would figure out where to go then. We got dressed and waited. And waited. And waited. We listened to some of the music from Dev D (a very odd combination of hip hop and Disney princess theme music) and waited. We watched The Making of Aamir Khan’s Body on the special features of Ghajini (I recommend that EVERYONE do this) and drooled and waited. Feeling as though we might actually starve, we ate some McVities digestives and waited.

At midnight, Praffle called and said he was on the way. We went downstairs to wait for him outside. Liz, Madeline and Kate returned from their dinner, which they had left for as we were getting ready for ours. We waited outside. We watched a large gecko climb along a wall, a creepy stray dog came to say hi, and as I was making a joke about tigers in the area, the bushes across the street began to rustle ominously. We ran inside, laughing with borderline hysterics. As I was saying that I would give Praffle until 12:30 to get there before going to bed, I watched a large rat scuttle across the street. My point here? The reason we have not gone to a zoo in Mumbai is because we don’t need to.

At 12:29 (I looked at my watch, so I know) Praffle pulled up, or rather, his driver did; Praffle was in the passenger’s seat. The commercial shoot he had been working on ran far longer than anticipated, explaining the tardiness. A valid excuse. Quite loopy from lack of sleep and food, Andrea and I didn’t care very much – we were just happy that we were finally going to be fed. We acted like normal, intelligent human beings until we turned a corner on the road we always take to go to Whistling Woods and were faced with what appeared to be a very large posterior, backing up towards the car with great speed.

We swerved around the first elephant, only to encounter another. As soon as we had successfully avoided being trampled, I completely lost it, laughing hysterically until I cried. I am pretty sure that both Praffle and his non-English speaking driver thought I had lost my mind. We finally made it to dinner, where I had an admittedly delicious spinach and cheddar panini and were home after 2 am, but absolutely nothing could top almost being squashed by an elephant at 12:45 at night. Except maybe the fact that I am writing this in the office I work in and a man just walked by carrying a sword. Maybe that.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bikers in Mumbai buy you Balloons

As it was Saturday, and as none of us had our internships to go to, and as we all wanted to get out of our apartments, we all headed out for South Bombay. Now, I say all, but I really mean everyone who actually got along. The seven of us wandered Colaba (the tourist district) for hours, buying souvenirs and trying to find a store where we could buy saris. By evening we were all starving and headed to a hookah bar that the students from last year had recommended.

A word on street vendor: the ones who have actual stands stay by them, shouting at us in broken English (for we are very obviously American) and trying to flatter their way into a sale. Those who carry their wares on their person are more persistent. In this part of the city we encountered the drum sellers – young men who drape themselves with small drums and pursue you around the streets, banging them in your ear until you give in just for the silence. This is a failed attempt however, as upon purchasing a drum, you continue to be followed, in the hopes that you will suddenly want to buy another drum. Lizz, Nya and Madeline bought drums, and so we were followed for close to a mile with repeated calls of “pretty lady, buy a drum! *bang*”.

We finally arrived at the hookah bar, after having walked past in three times, not knowing that we should be looking at the tops of buildings for the sign. We took the rickety elevator up to the roof of what may very well have been a hotel, and stepped into Koyla.

The ambiance was stunning. The establishment covers the entire roof of the building and is quite large, with at least a dozen brightly colored tents. The walls of the tents are open so you can vaguely see the people around you, but everything is lit by candle light, so it is all thrown into shadow. Wisps of smoke sail through the air, coupled with the most delicious cooking smells. Under the tents were low tables and couches, allowing the patrons to recline and smoke or sit and eat at their leisure.

Being allergic to tobacco, I had no interest in the hookah, so I busied myself with the menu. We each ended up ordering a dish or two and ate family style – passing plates around and eating a little of everything. It was, undoubtedly, one of the best meals I have ever eaten. The food was fresh and cooked to perfection, an interesting mix of Indian, English and American. The palak paneer (creamed spinach with Indian cheese), always one of my favorite dishes, was the best I have ever had, and I could have eaten a pound of the American sweet corn. We were there for hours, eating more and more food, the rest of the girls smoking, and all of us contemplating the impending end to our trip.

At about 11:30 we decided it was time to head home, as it would take about an hour to make the trip. Andrea, Kate and I got a taxi, and the others followed in various other taxis and rickshaws. We soon lost the others, and were rushing through late night Mumbai traffic. We were all dressed nicely, hanging our heads out the windows (to keep cool), and suddenly two me on a motorcycle were next to the taxi, smiling and waving and asking for our phone numbers.

We all laughed and drove on, and they followed. And followed. For miles. Another note on street vendors: the traffic in Mumbai is very odd – there do not seem to be lanes or speed limits, or at least not ones that get paid attention to, and the lights last for about 5 minutes at a time. In these long pauses in traffic, young men and women walk among the cars, selling strings of jasmine flowers, books, rubber balls, mangoes, feather dusters, umbrellas, toys and balloons.

As we stopped at a light, a teenage boy ran around with a bunch of balloons so large, we were surprised he was not levitating. These were not normal balloons either – they were the size of beach balls, with four or five smaller, multicolored balloons inside. I turned to the other girls to say how funny it would be if our followers bought us balloons, and turned back to the window in time to get hit in the face with one. Paralyzed with laughter, holding a balloon the size of a toddler in front of me, we began driving again.

The amusement of being followed lessoned as we drove and got farther and farther from what was bound to be the men’s’ original destination. At one point they asked our driver where he was taking us, and to our horror, he told them. We were at that point worried that they actually thought we wanted them to come home with us, which, for many reasons, we did not. We were close to panicking as we got to our apartment complex, where we realized why we should appreciate the gated community.

As one guard checked our taxi for stowaways, we asked the other to prevent the men from following us to our building. Seemingly delighted at an actual mission, our hero stood in the path of the motorcycle, arms akimbo, and channeled Gandalf in his refusal to let them pass.

We made it home unmolested, had a laugh with everyone else about the balloon incident, and now I’m going to bed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Is It Still Called Montezuma’s Revenge If You Are In India?

As to my internship, I have been working one-on-one with Shubhra Chatterji, a woman working on two scripts for Samar Khan. One script is due to Samar this weekend and my part in it is finished, as far as I can tell (that is the one I talked about in my last entry). I wrote a set of scenes for a character added between versions one and two of the script, and hopefully some of them will make it to the final draft. Again, I do not know how much I am allowed to say about the specifics of what I’m working on, so I will again simply leave it as reminding me of Joiux Noel.

The second script was written by Shubhra, and has essentially been given over to me to do with as I please. She has gotten to the point with which I am very familiar where you have looked at something for too long, far too many times, and you just can’t work on it anymore. So what I am doing now is going through a mostly formed script, editing where necessary and writing scenes that were only outlined. It’s a lot of fun working on someone else’s script, where the story is already formed, and I am merely editing it. It’s interesting getting into someone else’s writing style to create dialog that sounds like theirs. Not only is this internship giving me great experience, I think I am becoming a better writer because of it.

Finally, I have been sick for the past few days. I have, in fact, visited the bathroom one time for each cockroach that Hannah has smashed with a frying pan – that analogy will only be fully understood by the other people living in Emerald 2. I’m pretty sure that the water we were given at Farah Khan’s house was not, as I assumed, mineral water, but was in fact straight from the tap and therefore deadly to me. As a result, I have been working from the apartment for the last two days, writing, attempting to keep hydrated, and sleeping. Not so much with the fun. Hope to get better soon.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Farah Khan

Today Shubhra was not in the office (her mother was in Mumbai for the weekend), so Samar Khan (her boss) took me to a meeting. This meeting happened to be with Farah Khan at her house about the show I just went to yesterday! So awesome. Samar had me essentially be his assistant, so I sat there quietly and took notes while Samar, Farah and her assistant discussed who else they wanted on the show.

Apparently Aamir Khan is out because a) he is a perfectionist and does not do talk shows b) he is stuck up and thinks that it is beneath him and c) he and SRK hate each other, and will do nothing associated with the other. I don’t know about the middle reason, but he is notorious for not doing publicity and the two actors do hate each other, so it seems like a fairly valid assumption to say that Aamir Khan will not be on Tere Mere Beech Mein.

It was really cool to listen to people in the media industry talk about actors, and I actually surprised myself with how many names I recognized (people as high up as they are use first names only, so it was rather like hearing people talking about George, Brad, Leo, Denzel – that kind of thing). The show is not a straight up talk show like Ellen or the Tonight show – it has a set topic and then they pick an actor or two who fit the topic of the week. For instance, yesterday’s show was about ‘hen-pecked husbands’, which I assume SRK supposedly is. They are looking to get Salman Khan (I know, seriously, everyone in Bollywood has the last name Khan) and his mother to do a ‘mama’s boy’ episode, and stuff like that.

Just watching the working dynamic was really cool, as they threw ideas back and forth at each other. Something else that struck me, and I doubt that it was just for my benefit, was the fact that they spoke almost exclusively in English. It is obvious that, in India, the more educated the person, the better their English, but even at the shoot yesterday the majority of the interview was in Hindi. I really don’t know the reason for their using English, not that I minded, since it let me understand the conversation.

Also, her kids are freaking adorable. They are about one and a half now (I think they were born last February) and they all came toddling in at one point, each with their own nanny and Farah, who is normally quite a bear of a woman, pulled them all onto her lap and sang them Ringa, Ringa from Slumdog Millionaire.

After the meeting Samar and I went back to Whistling Woods and I sat in on his lecture (he teaches there in addition to about a million other things) about the start of the television Industry in India. I took notes on that, so I won’t bother to write them here, but suffice it to say he is a very good teacher, and I wish he taught at Newhouse.