flora: Stylized Indian national flag (india)
We now have Indian clothing.  We went shopping in our town, Visnagar. We're both much more comfortable in Indian dress.

We first went to a salwar kameez shop. The salwar kameez is a very common outfit worn by South Asian women. It has three parts. The salwar is a loose-fitting gathered pants. The kameez is a short tunic that has a solid shirt-like body to the waist, then the panels divide at the hips to allow free movement. It's normally topped with a dupatta, a long scarf draped around the neck. Salwar Kameez outfits are more common than saris for northern Indian everyday wear, but they're common throughout India and Pakistan. The female faculty at the engineering school wear salwar kameezes, and so do the female students when they're not in jeans and T-shirts. I frequently see girls in salwar kameez school uniforms too.

Indian women love decoration and bling; my tastes are simpler. The salwar kameezes in the shop were all super-fancy by American standards. They were all spangled with sequins and/or heavily embroidered. I asked repeatedly and finally they found a few that weren't too gaudy for my tastes. One is turquoise with embroidered fabric. Another is a light peach-pink with white embroidery all over ("chikan work"). A third is a simple weave, possibly handloom. It has a dark pink over blue, embroidered with gold and blue accents of stylized flowers.

The salwar kameez tailor took my measurements. The end result was disappointing. I bought mine made-to-order instead of ready-made. They were cut too small in the bust, especially after they were washed once and shrank in the hospital laundry's heat. (Laundry here is piled together in a tub and boiled, then hung on a clothesline.) Chandrika and I found another tailor a week later and we got them altered. I wanted some saris too, but it was getting late and Michael also wanted some Indian attire.

Michael first tried a dhoti. My sweetie sweats, and he's had a lot of trouble with restless legs here. He's been literally itching to get out of his standard khaki pants, which are much too hot for him in this heat. He first wanted to try the dhoti, the traditional, wrapped white loincloth/toga-like garment Gandhi made famous. Nowadays in North Gujarat, dhotis are mainly worn by retirement-age people; the younger generation wears jeans or trousers. The tailor, who was our age, called in an expert who was walking down the street in a dhoti. He tried to teach Michael how to wrap it. Turns out it's a complicated wrap, going between the legs. Michael said later the shape made him feel like he was wearing a big diaper. So the dhoti wasn't good.

Michael had much better luck with a lungi. Lungis are long sarongs, like a long, plain wraparound skirt. Unlike a skirt, they're straight tubes of fabric, not shaped. Lungis are extremely common in south India. Despite their non-bifurcated shape, they're a manly garment (much more masculine than a Scottish kilt). They're often just tied, but the faculty member with us thought adding a drawstring would be a good idea--especially for a novice at lungi-tying. In the professor's words, it would help avoid a "wardrobe malfunction." My modest sweetie quickly agreed. He ordered several kurta lungi and kurta pajama sets. Kurtas are a tunic like an extended button-down shirt; they can reach to the knees, or lower for some more traditional styles. Pajamas have more fabric than pants, but they still give his legs the ventilation and "breathing room" he needs for comfort. He still will wear his khaki pants/trousers for teaching, but like me, he prefers to wear Indian clothing.

Now we're wearing Indian clothes every day. It's so much more comfortable and suitable to the hot climate here. I might pack away my Western clothes until we go back.
flora: Photo of a baby penguin chick (Default)
Our first event was full of strange prayers, speeches, and us in funny clothes.  This covers the fun parts.

The MBA program held its annual welcome/awards/festival event, "Blossoms 2009", on Sunday.  Michael was the Chief Guest of Honor. I was also one of the other Guests of Honor; five total, also including the university's Principal, the Director of the MBA school, and an older gentleman.  They had asked us to dress in our Indian wear.  Turns out, Michael was the only man there in a traditional Indian kurta pajama; the elder men were in button-down shirts and slacks.  At least several of the female faculty were dressed like me in salwar kameeze.

The time was "Indian Stretchable Time".  It was planned to start at eleven; they picked us up at 11:20 and we were drinking tea beforehand with the honored guests for probably half an hour.  Then we all went out as a group.

They started with a prayer - a ten-minute song, chanting in either Hindi or Gujarati (I still can't tell the difference in speech). Then they immediately read from Genesis 1:1-4 ("let there be light"), and all five of us honored guests lit an oil lamp to symbolize the light illumination provided by knowledge.  Then came the speeches, at least one in incomprehensible-to-us Gujarati.  We honored guests handed out the awards for the previous semester. The academic awards were almost all won by girls; a few boys won awards for extracurricular sports.  Michael gave the official launch of their new Web site and their brand-new English Language curriculum, "Learn English with Fun and Joy".

Michael's speech was excellent. His theme was that India today is the right place and right time to be a student entering the work force. He spoke of the increasingly close ties between the US and India, and how his personal view of India changed over time. In childhood, he had visions of India as a magical land of Maharajas and elephants. Then in graduate school, his advisor and all his lab-mates came from India, and he learned more about its real culture. Michael talked about technology and its importance, and the value of tinkering and invention.  He told the MBA students to seek out the nerds and get to know them and the technology.

They asked me to speak too. My speech was hastily thrown together, and it didn't help that I somehow missed a page of it and had to ad-lib. I greeted them as a fellow student for a master's degree in [Information] Management, and tried to tell them a bit about my background in information/systems engineering and IT project management. I was nervous and over-caffeinated, and probably came off as rambling a bit. Between the echo in the microphone and the language barrier, I'm not sure anybody understood much anyway, since English is a third or fourth language for most of the students.

As presents, they gave us "Gurpa dress" - fancy special-occasion attire for Indian festivals and weddings.  Mine is a fringed turquoise dupatta (sash/scarf) worn over a heavy, spangled two-piece choli (short top), and a skirt in purple/gold/turquoise, all covered in silver beads and sequins. Michael's outfit is much plainer, a simpler gold-colored kurta-pajama with a long red-and-gold silk stole. He looks very handsome in it.  The female faculty also helped me dress and do my hair, and one of the alumnae there (Ishita) made a present of an elaborate metal necklace and forehead-bob.

The student talent show was fantastic.  There were several phenomenal dancers and singers, and a couple group skits/dances to Bollywood tunes complete with choreography and elaborate costumes.  We need to make sure to see more live entertainment and dancing while we're here.  Only the stand-up comedy parts were lost on us, since we don't know Gujarati.

The dance was the capstone to the event.  This is India; dancing is a Very Big Deal here. The female faculty attempted to teach me how to dance a very simple, three-step Gujarati circle-dance. Now, I do not dance. Ever. (I need that icon, "Overly Caucasian--do not place on dance floor.") I told them I don't know my right from my left; they didn't quite believe me until they saw me.  Indian children grow up with Bollywood movies, memorizing all the choreography and dance moves. Dance is tied to religion here; many girls have dance lessons from a young age.  Michael and I were already the center of attention and it was kind of expected.  So I got in the circle and tried to dance. I failed miserably; I have neither rhythm nor coordination.  Professor Hiren Patel's wife, Chandtra(sp?), jumped in next to me and helped show me what to do, despite her four-year-old clinging to her. I tried to mimic her and did marginally better.  At least I tried to take advantage of the opportunity; no regrets.  Michael also hobbled along one lap around the dance circle, but I couldn't see him due to the press of people.

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