Miranda’s Writing

Hi! I’m Miranda. I am a co-founder, dancer, and program coordinator at Shakti Caravan and I believe fiercely in things like education reform, magical thinking, and using the arts to effect social change. I write about these things here.

It is important to note that these posts are personal reflections and do not represent Shakti Caravan as a whole. However; these essays and stories often come from conversations and experiences that have taken place during Shakti Caravan.

When I first came to India in 2012, I started a blog called “Musings from India” as a way to make sense of my experiences in this incredible place. Since then, I’ve simplified the title, as “Musings from India” implies that I must be IN India in order to, well, muse. Shakti Caravan, as an entity, is not confined to one specific place or medium, so why should I be? This blog has evolved over the years but, whoever you are, sweet reader, I hope you find some snippet in these pages that sparks something for you.

Some thoughts on this weekend's goddesses

We woke up at the crack of dawn yesterday morning and piled into our rickshaws, bleary-eyed and chilly. After picking up Laksme at his house in the old city, we caravaned out of the city to the temple of the local deity…. I can’t remember her name off hand, but I know she is a goddess of happiness. We got up out of curiosity and because we had promised Lakshme that we would go with him. Rita had told us that the priest of the this temple would summon the spirit of the goddess into his body as the sun rose and move in an unearthly dance. We arrived at the temple as the prayers were starting. Loud bells clanged around us, accompanied by the frenzied, tribal beat of drums played by little temple children.

The old temple priest had slept in that morning so it was another, younger priest, who led the prayer. He stood, holding a palm full of candles in the little sanctuary where the goddess statue stood. She was beautiful and scary at the same time. Golden-faced and misshapen. All around her were flowers, candles, and intricately colored tiles and mirrors, golden trinkets, bowls of  ash, and burning incense. The priest swayed slightly, but did not summon the goddess into him. To be honest, I was a little bit relieved. The air around us was already static with a sort of magical, powerful energy and I’m not sure if I could have handled seeing a being possessed by a spirit in real life that early in the morning.  

In front of the shrine, there was a … well, actually, it was a womb. Or the representation of a womb. It was a small carved archway, just high enough for you to crawl through. Lakshme happily scooted his way through, Gustavo and Ramona followed. I hung back for a few moments, worried that going through would somehow be disrespectful to a goddess I never prayed to. I am not religious, I don’t believe in God, but somehow, these Hindu gods shake me a little. There are over two million gods in Hinduism, each with a different, very specific story and purpose. Somehow, it’s not very hard to sort of just believe in these deities. It’s like believing in fairies or ghosts or spirits. And, naturally, I do believe in fairies. And I know, from fairy lore that you’ve got to be careful not to upset anything magical and otherworldly. I didn’t want to just crawl through this representational womb for kicks.  

As I deliberated, I remembered something Madhu told me about Hinduism. She said that while there are many, many gods and goddesses, they are all really just various representations of one entity–that they exist to portray the countless aspects of humankind. I crawled through. And I thanked the goddess for all the happiness I have been surrounded by and filled with throughout my life. 

When Lakshme contracted polio at age three–after receiving a faulty polio vaccine–his parents brought him to this temple everyday. They slept there, and prayed there. The priest, who was young then and now is old, rickety and toothless and sleeps in late, told them that the goddess was watching over Lakshme and that he would survive and go on to be one of the happiest people. He would make many friends and live a long life. 

And he did just that. We sipped our chai around the sacred fire in open-air the temple and Lakshme beamed, telling us his story. “Life is so beautiful, isn’t it so? Mama Mia.” (Lakshme always says Mama Mia–it is his favorite phrase of all the languages in the world.) 

Yep, Lakshme. It is so.

Yesterday, we banded together with a group of 5 Indian dancers that we’ve been training over the past few weeks. They revved their engines and we jumped on the backs of their motorcycles and flew. We flew through the winding roads, out into the country, zipping past monkeys and peacocks, skirting around cows and buffaloes, herds of tiny goats and ridiculous donkeys, waving at village children, beeping past trucks, stretching our arms out and screaming into the mountains, hills, and ravines. We rode up around a winding mountain, towards a temple at the top of a mountain.

As we reached the bottom of the mountain, we came across a group of about fifty college-age students, dancing to bollywood hip-hop in an ancient glade. Gustavo had been itching to “crush a party” so, off we went, into the throng of the party. Doing back-flips, and hip hop and afro-brazilian capoeira choreography. The crowd lost it. They swarmed us, taking pictures, surrounding us as if we were high class celebrities. I guess, when eleven dancers show up randomly on motorcycles at your giant college picnic and start immediately performing perfectly synchronized choreography to the music that you happen to be playing, it makes sense that you’d lose it. Still, it was surreal.

Eventually, we peeled ourselves away from the partiers and headed, on foot, up the mountain. It’s not that the view from the top of this mountain is indescribable…it’s just really, really hard to describe. It’s that type of natural, powerful beauty that you only find when you’re standing on the top of a mountain looking down at the rest of the world. This goddess temple is carved into the top of the mountain. You walk through a shallow pool of ice cold water and enter into a pitch black, tiny, narrow tunnel, just big enough for you to fit one-by-one. In the center of the mountain, there is a shrine. We sat and prayed to the goddess and the priest with the flashlight gave us each little goddess sashes, which we wore the entire way back. Tossing them back and forth on the zooming motorcycles. Holding each other’s hands as we flew down the mountain, zigzag-zigzag. I think I can say, in all fairness, that I have never felt more alive. 

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I seem to be moving backwards here. On Saturday we went to the old city, to our favorite lake-view patio. Gustavo had it in his mind to play his Birimbao (a brazilian instrument) with the old man who plays the the ravanhatta (see video below). Here we stumbled upon the two little goddesses I’d met earlier, along with a gaggle of cows, and a smattering of other adorable little urchins. RJ, our photographer, immediately befriended the children. As he sat on the ground and they crawled all over him, giggling and squeaking, Rita told me and Ramona the story of those two little goddesses. Their parents died. One of them is actually a boy and they dress up every day to make money off of tourists. Like many of the homeless children in the city, they have been sexually harassed countless times and will likely end up as prostitutes like the young girl with the baby standing over RJ’s shoulder, fascinated by his iPhone, begging for just a few rupees to feed her and her baby.

What do you do with that?

How do you grasp the gravity that sort of reality? Truths like this have a weight to them that I don’t understand. None of us do. We stood there and discussed this soberly, and none of us knew where to go with the information. I gave them each ten rupees and told them, in Hindi, that they were very beautiful. The young goddesses scampered off again and the young girl with her baby gave me a smile with so much relief in it, it hurt.

Life is as profoundly sad as it is beautiful and happy, Lakshme. Mama Mia.  

Let me say something about Sufi Singing.

It’s funny how often cliched phrases, big words, and common metaphors have so often suddenly made sense to me on this journey. The other day, Marina and I were trying to describe how the sunlight is different here than it is back home. Marina said “…It’s like–it’s like a golden kiss.” I know I’ve heard the sunlight described this way before by ancient poets and so on, but now it just makes sense. That is exactly how the sunlight is here. The light tints everything gold (not yellow, but gold–with a hint of pinkish saffron, to be precise) and when the light touches you, it’s a soft sort of warmth that makes your skin tingle, like a kiss.  The sun is the sun wherever I go, so why is it just now that I feel so sentimental about the sunlight? Maybe it’s just that I’m more aware here because it’s so beautiful and I want to soak it all in. Come to think of it “soak it all in” is another common phrase that makes more sense in India. We have so little time here so all we can do is absorb absorb absorb. 

The word “guttural” is another one that makes sense now. I think my issue was that I always assumed that “guttural” was synonymous with "gravelly.“ Whenever I read a phrase in my fantasy novels like, "and thus the old wizard spoke in his guttural drawl” I would imagine a toad-like scratchy voice speaking. 

But then I heard sufi-singing and discovered that guttural is actually a word better used to describe a deep sensation that happens in the center of your stomach area when a group of well-trained voices dip so low that your soul actually vibrates. Like odissi dance, sufi singing is an art form that is so intoxicating you can’t help but question whether or not the voices singing are human, or something else that really shouldn’t exist in real life. You actually feel the vibrations in your gut (hence, guttural), then the voices rise in perfect harmony, in sync with the harmonium (my new favorite instrument), and in rhythm with the thrum of the tabla drum (which also makes a guttural sound). You clap along and sway and remind your jaw every so often to join the rest of your face so that you can smile. 

We ended a long and fulfilling week of teaching with a weekend of endless movement, music, and motorcycles. Friday night we met Rita’s friend, Lakshme. He is a friend of the maharajah of Udaipur and thus, was able to have the maharajah’s cook cook us our dinner. Need I say that it was good? It was. It was very good.

When he was little, Lakshme had polio. He survived the sickness and now walks on his hands, and dances on his knees. He is one of those incredible people who you just want to be around all the time. His smile lights up the room around him and he knows everyone (Although, in this city, it’s pretty easy to know everyone. I already know almost everyone and I’ve been here only two weeks). Lakshme informed us, as we sat eating our five-star dal, that a surprise was coming. Moments later Asif Khan and his group of fancy-haired singers walked through the door. They are apparently something of a sensation around the country. Asif won X-factor India (kind of like American Idol? Maybe?) and I really am not surprised. That voice! “Owe mye gohtt!” (that’s the Indian pronunciation for “oh my god”). They sang, we danced. We laughed. We had deep rum-punchy conversations about the meaning of life and the future of the world.  

My eyes are closing. I’ll write again tomorrow because there’s so much more. Sufis are still singing from across the lake, although they are so loud it sounds like they are outside my door. Tablas going drum, thumb, didididididi dum. 

Dance Dance Dance

The rest of the guys (Marina, Ramona, and Gustavo) arrived on Monday and we have spent the past two days rushing from school to school, demonstrating Capoeira, Swing dance, and Flamenco and Canadian step dance. The students performed what they have learned from me and I swelled with pride at how good they are.

I’ve never had students like this.  

At the beginning of a dance residency with the Vanaver’s we always ask the students the same question: Why do people dance?

In the U.S. hands would always fly into the air with answers like, “to exercise!”, “to make money”, “to perform”, “to compete” … after a little prompting, they usually come up with the deeper, more profound, reasons; “to learn about other cultures”, “to build community”, “to tell a story” and “to express yourselves.” 

Here, I asked the question and—unlike my U.S. kids who would keep talking for hours if they had the chance—the Indian students were silent at first. Then after a few dragging seconds, one hand would go up and a student would cautiously ask, “for enjoyment?”

It happened just like this at each school.

“Why do people dance?”   

“… For enjoyment?”

They are so excited to dance. And their joy is intoxicating. I watched Marina, Ramona, and Gustavo beam like I did when they met the students for the first time.

And you know what the most exciting thing about this world dance residency is for me? It will continue after we leave. We are creating a truly sustainable program that uses dance as a tool for teaching. A tool for teaching about culture, about history, a tool which teaches rhythm and leadership and peer mentoring. The students who are learning these dances will teach the younger children after we leave. The teachers are learning our dances and our teaching styles with an avid concentration.

A few of these students have never left Udaipur. Some of them never leave their school property. Some of them have lived at their school since they were abandoned by their parents on a railroad track.

Weekend Snippets

This weekend has been dance and music and culture and more dance and more music and more culture. My body feels like it has turned into a bunch of heavy rocks and bags of sand tied together with twine. I’m pretty sure that the only thing keeping me moving at all is a burning curiosity to see and do everything that I can before this trip is over. It’s a great thing, curiosity. Thank goodness we were born with it because I think we’d be pretty damn boring without it. I know, without it, I certainly wouldn’t have made it to India.

Speaking of India, this place is incredible. That is actually the slogan of India: “Incredible India” (put out by the Indian Embassy) and it really couldn’t be a more appropriate slogan. Even in the slummiest slum, there is a rich sense of art and creativity. And in the wonderfully chaotic traffic (which has really grown on me. It’s like riding a roller-coaster every day) there is a sense of community. A sense of harmony that is unique to this country. In America, we follow the lines on the road and if someone breaks the rules—runs a stoplight, swerves into the other lane, honks 5 times in a row, nearly hits an old lady carrying her groceries—it ends up very bad for them most of the time. That sort of behavior isn’t permitted where I learned how to drive. But I feel safer with Yusef or Javed or Sheru (my rickshaw go to guys) driving headlong into an oncoming bus and then swerving right at the last minute, than I ever have in anyone’s car back in the U.S. Here, they are alert and alive and in sync with the rich, colorful, overflowing world around them at all times.

I saw another elephant on the street yesterday. He was painted with pastel colors and tromping elegantly alongside a herd of donkeys outside the temple.

It’s a good thing I got to Udaipur when I did. We didn’t know it, but there is a big arts festival going on this weekend so I was able to see some really incredible (there’s that word again) classical Indian dance shows. Classical Indian dance often re-tells mythic stories reenacted through dance. They are tales of Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha, etc. which usually involve either their mother or their girlfriends or some poor lovesick young lady who is just head-over-heels about one of them. On Friday, we saw Dr. Sonal Mansingh, the world famous Odissi dancer, who is now in her 70’s. Boy is she’s a hoot. Yelling at the musicians on stage whenever she didn’t like their beat on the tablas and whatnot. In her prime, she had been the number one Odissi dancer in the world. Her movements are a bit brittle now, but that doesn’t stop her expression or ability to tell stories through movement. Her young group of dancers made me morn the fact that I had not been born and raised to become an Odissi dancer. Odissi dance is a style which, when done correctly, turns the body into a series of isolated, fluid, snakelike movements which are so inhumanly, impossibly beautiful that all you can do (aside from regret the fact that you are not one of them) is wonder where the creatures on stage have come from. It’s not likely that they exist on earth. My theory is that Dr. Sonal Mansingh must have plucked them from some ethereal garden.

It’s probably a good thing I decided not to stay after the show and join the Odissi dancers because, man, am I out of shape. Dr. Sonal would never have plucked me from a magic garden. I took two yoga classes and probably died somewhere during both of them. Princess Bride style, almost dead. That yoga teacher was not kidding around. After yoga, I walked back behind the house to study with the gypsies. Now, there are two easily distinguishable kinds of gypsies around Rita’s house in Udaipur. There are the gypsies who live down the road on the way to the Old City in tents who build things out of metal and send their scraggly and adorable toddlers out to fetch money and treats from the passersby… and then there are the dancing, musical gypsies, who live in the suburban neighborhood behind Rita’s, in a large and vibrantly decorate marble house, who have held on strongly to the artistic traditions passed down from their gypsy roots and built a thriving world class dance company out of those traditions. They too have little toddlers who run around, but these ones sing and dance and throw their toys down the stairs and ride around on their plastic scooters on the roof.

They are a wholesome, musical family. Their house, much like Rita’s house, reminds me of my life in upstate New York. I am learning a kalpelia style snake charmer’s dance, which is about as authentic gypsy style as it gets. How cool is that? It has a similar quality of disjointed snakiness, but it’s human. It’s a dance for humans and for community. Not for gods. I grew up with the Vanaver Caravan and, well we are actually gypsies, so, even though this kalpelia dance is new and challenging, the gypsy-style dancing feels natural in my body. We laugh and flick our wrists and shake our hips and, even though Rekha and I speak very little of each others’ languages, we teach each other what we know and it feels right.  

thoughts and tidbits, in no particular order

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Indian Schools have shut down for an indefinite (hopefully very short) amount of time due to the cold. The temperature today was sunny and in the mid-sixties—chilly in the morning, sure, but really, Indian Government? Shutting down the schools because it’s a little chilly? I’ve got a program to run here and we’re on a tight schedule, dash it all!

The story around town (from Madhu, of course) is that the parents (from the 300 some-odd schools in Udaipur) just banded together and refused to send their children in. Word is, the kids have been getting sick left and right and it’s just not worth subjecting them to the germs and the cold when they can just stay home. Oh, blast! I just had one of those realizations again and now, uggh, I can’t even be justifiably annoyed that the schools are shut down from a slight chill. Of course it’s not worth risking sickness in the home when there isn’t any medicine—or very little access to medicine for many of the families. It is a known universal fact that children’s schools everywhere are the cesspits of germ-breading. Over the years, my hand-washing habits have gone Lady Macbeth status (although I’m just washing baby boogers not blood off my hands. Promise). But it’s not easy to wash your hands a million times a day when you don’t have water. Keep the kids home, bundle them up, and keep your family from sickness and all the potential, very very bad outcomes of what sickness means here. School can wait. 

You know how this issue would be dealt with in an NYC school? Yeah, you do: Drugs. Parents are working. Have the babysitter pick up meds from the doctor. Feed them to the kid, send him to school and tell him to wash his hands and stay inside in the heated classrooms and drink his organic juice box. I’m sorry, of course, that’s not an entirely fair assessment, I know. It’s just, these two worlds I’m experiencing are so different. I can’t see New York shutting down all of their schools to avoid spreading the common cold. It seems so silly. But then, you know, things get put in perspective again and I just don’t know how to … reconcile? I suppose?

Down the road there is a group of gypsies who live under tarps. The children playing in the dirt look like they have never had a bath or a full meal in their lives. The two little goddess girls I took a picture of smiled for the camera and then reached out with little silver tins they had been hiding behind their backs. I gave them my pocket change and they scampered off. Our rickshaw nearly hit a cow today. I mean, usually we skirt around the animals by at least a foot, but I think we might have grazed this guy. Cows gotta move out of the way—so do elephants, so do camels, so do toddlers, so do bikes, trucks, cars.

Oh, my new mode of transportation? MOTORCYCLES. That’s right, without a helmet (we don’t wear helmets here, mom–and all my other worried moms. Just stop already. I’m not going to wear a helmet, and I’m going to ride three to a two-person motorcycle through the winding city streets of Udaipur. Can you stop me? No. But you may say a silent prayer or meditate that we don’t crash into a wild dog or get trampled by an elephant. There are worse things that could happen, really).

I moved into Rita’s. She is one of the trustees of the NGO we’re working for—Big Medicine Charitable Trust. Madhu, I love, but it’s nice with Rita. Her house is outside the city a little bit and it’s so … calming and picturesque. It reminds me of home, but in India. Like the Cottingham’s farm and the Vanaver’s house in Rosendale with some of the antiques and quirkiness of my home. The internet is pretty shoddy here, and the electric goes out for most of the day, but I took a warm shower (a luxury I have learned to not expect to have anymore) and it was great.

Not only that, I did laundry by hand today! It was great too. I think the maintenance guy, Narain, was laughing at me because I was out there for, probably, two or three hours and I’m sure I was doing everything wrong. Mixing the soapy water with the rinse water and spending like five minutes wringing all that water out–per clothing item. He probably would have been done in twenty minutes and he kept offering to help and then shaking his head and chuckling when I said no, thanks. But you know what? I really liked doing the laundry. I watched the mongoose run around the yard and I listened to the sufi singers chanting in the mosque down the street.

Ok, one more thought before bed time. Food. Dad will be proud to hear that my tongue is now well adapted to the spiciest of spicy hot foods. Although my nose isn’t. When I eat, people laugh at me because my nose just does not stop running (at least I think that’s why they’re laughing but who knows, I could also just be a hilarious eater) but anyway, my goal is to eat all the curries and garlic chutneys and spiced veggies with a dry nose by the time I leave. The food here is so good. It’s so good. I’m going to be taking a cooking class and I. Can’t. Wait.

Outside there is a pack of wild dogs howling up a storm. Sufi singers are still at it. The moon is red and reflects in the giant lake. It is pretty chilly out there now. That’s for sure.   

Part III: My reason for existing

It’s hard to find the right adjective for the feeling you get when the entire purpose of your life just kinda arrives in an instant, carrying smiling children and warm sunlight with it.

Yesterday, in the flurry of Madhu motion, We visited her school, Mahila Mandal’s Indigenous Girl’s School, where I will begin teaching tomorrow.

As the girls began to flock around me in the old, stone schoolyard, my entire life clicked into place and I woke up from the daze I had been in for nearly a week. I have never felt more validated in my life. Everything that I have done came together in that one moment, with these girls around me, pointing, waving, beaming and giggling. All of their eyes were bright and their bodies lifted high, bouncing with excitement. I stood there, overwhelmed, smiling just as wide as they were, with the same elation lifting me. What hit me, right then, was the understanding that I am fulfilling the dream I’ve had since I first started teaching for the Vanaver Caravan. When I first started learning about education at the New School. When I first wrote my Big Dream to do lists.

Here I am 7,000 miles around the world, about to start teaching dance to children who do not have the privilege or opportunity that I was blessed to have as a child. The guilt I have felt has detached itself from the pit of my stomach. I’m giving the wealth that I have in the best way I know how to give it. And that feels pretty good. 

Part II: Udaipur and the Morning Madhu Mix-Up

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The guilt ebbed as I rolled my suite case away. I walked into Udaipur on Saturday morning to a bright, clean yellow sun, a calm atmosphere, and the smell of roses. I knew immediately that I liked this place. I called the number I’d been given for Madhu–that kind stranger I mentioned. The Madhu who answered was a man, which was odd because, through all the emails we’d exchanged over the last few days, I had come to think Madhu was a woman. He sounded a bit confused as to who I was but told me I should take a rickshaw to where he was.

The friendliest rickshaw driver, Javed, drove me through the small city, up around narrow, winding streets, past meandering cows, flower-sellers, bright fountains. Different smells wafted through–roses, spices, the mild farm animal smell. Everything in the city is bright and fresh. So vastly different from Delhi and from that train ride.  

When I arrived at the place that Madhu had said to go to, I immediately realized that something was amiss. For starters, it was a bed & breakfast. And the other thing is that Madhu had absolutely no idea who I was. He had simply thought that I had wanted to rent a room. It didn’t help that he spoke very broken English–which was another strange thing because his email’s had been so eloquent. After a few failed attempts, I mentioned Rita, the woman who orchestrated this whole residency. He knew her and said that he was a painter and that she had asked him to teach a painting class for someone. 

Oh. Madhu the Painter, not Madhu the Principal. The very moment I realized my mistake, Madhu the Painter’s cellphone rang and, who was on the other line? None other than a very worried Madhu the Principal! Who had gone to the station and, after waiting and waiting, had begun calling everyone she knew (and she knows everyone in Udaipur, so it was pretty convenient). 

One rickshaw ride later, I found myself outside Madhu the Principal’s house, who , let me tell you, is definitely a woman. Not only is Madhu a woman, she is a powerful, very, very popular woman. She is also a mother, and a really good one at that. I haven’t stopped eating for three days–if I refuse, food is simply stuffed into my mouth. It’s awesome.

Madhu’s husband is a kindly children’s Doctor and his practice is attached to their grand, three story, entirely marble house. She only calls him by the name, “Doctor Sareen." 

Let’s go back to when I arrived. Out came Madhu, long black hair, black and gold sari, kind smile, fussing already about how tired I must be and welcoming me graciously. When I went for my suite case, Madhu stopped me. "No, no. I’ll have our servant get it, Miranda. Don’t you worry.” I moment later a tiny girl, dressed from head to toe in barbie-doll pink, came out of the house. I was about to tell Madhu she had a beautiful daughter when the girl started to struggle with my suite case. My suite case is appallingly heavy and my efforts to help only seemed to make things uncomfortable. It’s her job, not mine, to carry that thing. She is the servant. 

Later that day Madhu explained to me that she took in sweet little Hema (who is actually 15, but looks more like she is eleven), whose family doesn’t have anything. Madhu wants to enroll her in school as soon as she can. I feel a little bit strange being doted on so much. Hema cooks for me and cleans constantly and brings me tea. When Madhu is out and it’s just the two of us, she giggles at me, and rolls her eyes at my terrible pronunciation of the two or three Hindi words I know how to say. I like her.

Life with Madhu is in constant motion. I found myself, a few hours after I arrived, sandwiched between nine women in a car, sari’s draped everywhere, as we drove around laughing and gossiping. Madhu does things for tens minutes, and then it’s on to the next thing. They had to make an appearance at a funeral. Ten minutes. Go to the temple. Ten minutes. Have a meeting with another principal. Ten minutes. Drink chai. Ten minutes. 

In the evening, she showed me how to put on a sari, layer after layer of golden and white and pink silk, folded back and forth and around. And off we went to the Sakhi woman’s club on the other side of the giant lake. Did I mention that Udaipur is the City of Lakes? Everyone at the club looked like a magical princess from my childhood dreams. Each wore a sparkling, vibrant sari. Intricate patterns, bangles, dazzling earrings, bindis, hair pieces. I felt like a peasant in my plain old green dress. But I wasn’t treated that way. Madhu showed me off to everyone. The women performed dances, laughing and laughing whenever they messed up.

Oh, to be around women again. Another thing I have learned never to take for granted is the company of females. I have missed being around women so much in the last week. Other than my professor and her girls, I really, really didn’t interact with another woman. I tried to smile, make eye contact with the women in Delhi but they would only stare, almost coldly, for a second and walk away. But I went from one extreme (stuck on a train surrounded by men) to the other (smushed into a car, surrounded by women) in a manner of hours, so all was well.

Today, Madhu has already taken me to four temples. In Hinduism, you pray to different gods every day. Each god has a different temple and a different ritual. Incense is lit, certain steps and statues are touched, bells are rung a specific number of times, flowers are strung and placed at different points. Madhu has told me the stories of a few different gods. As she finished telling me the story of Lord Ganesh, the god whose head is an elephant (who is worshipped on sundays), an elephant crossed our path. Madhu honked at the rider so she could pass it. 

My jaw must have been hanging near my collar bones because Madhu laughed and laughed at me as I stared at the giant, graceful creature. “What? You haven’t seen an elephant in the road before?" I didn’t have to wrack my brains for very long. I have a vague, toddlerish memory of seeing an elephant, or riding an elephant? But I think that may have been a dream. "No, never." 

India. I am in India, guys. Although I still feel like I am living in some strange dream, I’ve got to say, I am pretty glad to be awake for it.  

Part I: The Train

Photo by R.J. Partington III

Photo by R.J. Partington III

Ok, I’m back. Briefly. I want to get everything down–although that, I know, will never really happen, because there is just SO much. I’ve broken the past few days up into parts. The first part, starts on Friday, going on that train I was so excited about. 

I have to admit something I am more than a little bit embarrassed about. I have always assumed that all trains in India are like the ones from Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited or any other picturesque Hollywood depiction of magical Indian sleeper trains from the 1900s–I hadn’t even thought about the fact that it is no longer 1905, but 2012. I thought, naturally, that I would be riding on a sort of Indian-themed Hogwarts Express. Now, I’m sure that there are those trains out there (they probably cost more than $6 though. And, just for the record, I am not a muggle; my Hogwarts letter simple got lost in the OWL post years ago), but I am quite the fool for assuming that ALL trains in India were like that. Let me tell you something–in case you haven’t put this together: the train I was on was nothing at all like the Hogwarts Express. It felt, in all honesty, sort of like a jail or a hospital. The entire thing painted that nauseating robin’s-egg blue, one teeny window with bars on it in each row. And rows, upon rows of metal bunks with thin plastic pinstriped mats. People, so many people–mostly young rowdy men–hung out of the bunks, playing cards, laughing, staring, unblinkingly and unabashedly, for hours on end at the quiet white girl reading in the corner. Every so often, I would peek out from the little scarf-tent that I had created and find a new set of eyes just looking. I’ve never been a minority before–not like that–and I didn’t like it.  

In the dark of night, those eyes seemed mighty menacing, cruel, hungry. So many horrible what-if scenarios tromped around my body they left me shivering. (It may also have been the cold.) The sounds of hacking, wet, bronchial coughing and wheezing hit me from all directions. Despite my anxiety and discomfort, I survived the night and as the morning light started to shine through that tiny, dirty window, and the train began to empty, a guilty feeling replaced the fear. The unfairness of the situation became clearer to me. How many people in this world have had countless nights of discomfort, have never had a mat to sleep on? Have never had medicine to cure their hacking coughs? Have been the minority their entire lives?

The guilt grew worse because those eyes were kind and helpful in the light of day. As the boys helped me with my giant, unwieldy suite case, they were curious:

“Hey, USA, what’s that funny thing you had in your hand all night? A book?”

“My e-reader…” Oh. No wondering they were staring. I had my shiny new NOOK latched in my shiverin’ hands all night. “It’s got books in it…Here look.”

“Ohhh,” They all look. “Wow. Like a big cell phone library.”

“More or less.”

The guilt settled. Most of those eyes were just curious. Not menacing. Not hungry. Curious. (Ah, maybe some were a little hungry, or sort of menacing, but put a bunch of dudes on a train with a girl. Looks will be exchanged.)

You know, there’s a really fine line between being totally paranoid and mistrusting , and being wary and having your wits about you. I’m pretty sure I fell on the wrong side that night. 

Computer Glitches

Sigh! As usual, my little computer seems to have crashed again. It boots to a black screen and then… Driving me insane… It stays there… And stays there. And stays there. I can’t say I’m surprised (and neither can anyone that knows me). Technology and I? We have a comically tragic relationship.

I managed to figure out how to use my phone for the time being but— lucky for any one who’s reading this—I won’t be writing a novel this morning.

I will say this: yesterday (thursday) was a good day. I put on my big girl shoes and went into the city. I had a semi-religious experience at the lotus temple of the baha’i faith. I discovered the absurd and thrilling joy of riding in rickshaws (my new favorite mode of transportation). I wandered around magical gardens and markets, through giant ancient tombs and, for the first time since I arrived here, I let down my guard a little bit and allowed myself to feel comfortable and safe. So it looks different and smells different and there are a lot more people here, but it’s still a city and there’s no reason to go around feeling worried and distant ‘cause that won’t get me anywhere, will it?

It is my last morning at the habitat center. I will miss the calm and plushness of this place but I am ready to go out and get my hands dirty. After this, I don’t know much about internet access so this may be my last post for a little while. I think the computer crash was a sign anyway. “ok, Miranda dear, it’s time to unplug.” And so I will.

Goodbye, technology, my horrible friend. I’ll leave you alone for a while—I can take a hint.

Today! Off to Udaipur… ON A TRAIN! The Mewar Express. Not the original plan, actually. There were some logistical issues and, for a worrying moment, I thought I might be stranded in Delhi for 5 days, but instead I found myself internally quoting Blanch DuBois: “I depend upon the kindness of strangers.” Things always seem to work out better than they should with that attitude. Now, I get to take a TRAIN—a real Indian sleeper train—and stay with a kind sort-of-stranger (a teacher from one of the schools I’ll be teaching at) for a few days.

Here I go!

(Please excuse any typos yielded by my chubby thumbs on tiny touchscreen keys.)

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Day Two. Cushy Life.

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Apparently, the place I am staying at is a really important center for cultural affairs in Delhi. The India Habitat Center is super prestigious, and is located in the center of New Delhi near everything. It’s a giant brick complex with gardens and fountains throughout. There are restaurants, gyms, a pool, conference centers, art galleries, a research library, an auditorium (where I saw the dance performance from below. Beautiful, intricate, mesmerizing). I spent yesterday pampering myself–utilizing all the cushy resources that the Habitat Center has to offer. I have to admit (guiltily) that I ate at the All American Diner downstairs. Decked out like a 1950s style diner, playing classic Beatles Tunes. I got a chocolate milkshake, two pancakes, eggs, sausages, and bacon. I know, horrible right? But I hadn’t really eaten in two days and can you think of better comfort food?

I only ventured out of the complex for a little while–making it a few blocks here, and a few blocks there. As soon as I left the complex, the city came to life again. A father pushed his bone-thin children over to me, who followed me like little ducklings for a few minutes, palms out, eyes wide, waiting for me to give them something. I didn’t. I know it may seem callous or cold to not just give something. I want to give to everyone who asks, because I know that a few rupees is nickles and dimes to me and a meal for them, which could make a world of difference. But the thing is, I feel hundreds of eyes on me–waiting for me, the young white girl, to open my purse. If I give even one rupee to that little girl, I will be swarmed. Still, it must all seem so unfair. No, correction. It is so unfair.

Yet there I was, the well-dressed, well-fed, healthy white girl walking through poverty I have never seen in the US. And, when I felt ready to get away from it all, I could. Back to my safety bubble at the India Habitat Center, where a hot shower, room service, and high-def HBO awaited.  I think I needed that day of pampering though.

You know, I am becoming more aware of my status in the world. I remember, years ago, asking my mom why we were so poor and she responded that we really weren’t poor. In america, we were middle class. In other places we would have been considered exorbitantly wealthy. I disagreed (I think I must have wanted to buy something at the moment–like another computer, or cell phone or something–and had been denied because we “couldn’t afford it.” I assumed that meant we were the poorest of the poor). When it comes to money, I think I would be considered low-income. I live check to check and teaching dance classes doesn’t actually pay that well. Who woulda thunk it? I’m only here because I got a grant and even that is just enough to get me through this month. After that, who knows? But that’s beside the point. The key thing I’m realizing is that wealth is not about money, not really anyway. In school, terms like social capital and human capital always confused me. Bourdieu’s “Knowledge is power” concept just got me annoyed. What the heck does that even mean?  But I get it now. Wealth is connections, it is where you are born, it is who you know and what you know and how you learned it all. 

Fact: I grew up in a world which provided me an abundance of health, food, and opportunity. I was provided with one of the best educations that exists out there. We weren’t rich and at times, on paper, we were certainly poor (sorry ma, have to say it). But living in Upstate New York, USA? Homeschooling? Taking dance classes? Having a math tutor? Private Violin Lessons? Eating health food store produce? Owning a house? Going to the 3rd most expensive private college in the country? Traveling through Europe, not once, but four times before I turned 21? Lord! I sound like a princess! I mean, to be fair, there was a good deal of bartering and struggling (I’ll be in debt until I am 80–if I’m lucky) and purse-pinching throughout, but putting it in perspective like that really… changes the way I think about my life.

And here, even at the Habitat Center in the wealthiest part of New Delhi, I ration out my Newark Airport Fiji water bottle supply so that I can brush my teeth without getting sick. I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, but it’s something about not taking it all for granted anymore.     

Anyway, today, I go out! To explore. Maybe take the metro (which has recently been redone and I hear is very modern. Women have their own cars in the front, so as not to be harassed). Enough pampering already, hello adventure! 

Taj Mahal Tuesday

First Day. Tuesday.

Sometimes things can’t be explained in words, or pictures, or anything really but experience. Up until I fell asleep last night, my mind had not been able to find anything familiar to compare the whirlwind of images, strange conversations, and range of emotions I’d gone through in a manner of–very jet-lagged–hours. Yet, in the three seconds of semi-conscious thought I had in my bed before I conked into the deepest sleep I’ve had in a while, I figured out a way for me to compare what I had experienced that day with something I could kind of understand: dreaming.

Yesterday was like one of those very long, nonsensical, fast-paced dreams which mostly takes place in an insane lurching, thrilling car ride, where wild images, colors, and symbols flash by and you only have time to grasp them for a second before they slip away. Every once in a while you find yourself free from the car, seeing things that are so exquisitely beautiful they knock the breath out of you or you are staring at a world that is so alien, devastating, and broken that the only way you can really make sense of it is to distance yourself. To think, well this is just a weird dream, none of it is real. 

And then, in this very strange dream, while you skid passed all the cows, mules, camels, pigs, monkeys, dogs, people, people, people, rickshaws, tiny children, giant colorfully painted trucks overflowing comically with bricks or paper or logs, cans, or grain and wheat, your car hits a child riding on a bike on his way to school and knocks him to the ground. He seems ok, so you drive on, swerving inches from an oil truck only to gently brush a yellow rickshaw loaded with easily 18 people where three teenage boys in school uniforms dangle out the back doing homework. You keep going, never slowing down until you stop for tea, or appear suddenly at the gate to the Taj Mahal following a strange, mild-mannered tour guide who calls you Birrandah. When you see the white palace, glistening in the distance, the world around you stops for an instant. Nothing, even in dreams has ever been that beautiful. And you have just enough time to think that maybe all of this is real–because you’re touching the marble and semi precious gems and they feel cool and solid–before you are back in that car, zipping around again. The only way you keep calm is by remembering that it’s just one of those crazy dreams you’ve been having for the past few months and everything will be alright. Right?

Oh, except that this one wasn’t actually a dream. 

When I woke up this morning, I actually wasn’t entirely sure that yesterday had happened until I turned on my camera and discovered the pictures. I think the dream aspect of the day was a coping mechanism my mind made up because it could not categorize everything that was going on into the reality I’ve lived my entire life. That, and I was tired as hell. 

From what I can remember, my day started at 4am, in a dark and eerily silent Delhi. My cab driver was overly cautious and slow (which, in this city, is actually WAY more terrifying than the speedy, non-stop cabs). As I began to worry that maybe we were lost, because we’d been driving in strange loops on dirt paths, passing closed-down, crumbling tin-and-mortar buildings, I saw in the distance The Hilton Hotel, rising up like a shining palace of light and grandeur around the rubble. Who ever thought I’d feel such a wonderful sense of relief at seeing a Hilton Hotel? 

The relief was momentary. I was not allowed up into the hotel and my professor was not answering her phone. Politely, the men at the security desk told me that I could wait in the lobby. I’m sure I only waited 5 minutes, but, in that state of anxiety 5 minutes is always hours. Had she and her daughters had already left? What would I do with myself then? I wasn’t worried about getting back to where I was staying, and it wasn’t that I even cared about the Taj Mahal at that point, I just really needed familiar company–specifically feminine company. I have had next to no contact with women so far on this trip except them. Well, obviously they showed up, bleary-eyed but excited to get going.

Our driver deserves an award. To be a driver in India, you must have the MOST incredible senses. You must have an innate understanding of other driver’s motives, and you must have THE quickest reflexes in the world. He drove us around from 5am to 8pm in the most harrowing ride I’ve ever been in. I know I’m being repetitive about driving, and I know I’m using a lot of hyperbole here but I’m not using them idly. 

First, the fog grew worse, and as the sun rose (pink, it’s a pink sun), so did the city. All manner of things jumped out in the milk-bottle fog (I’ve never seen fog like this). Also, my assumption about Car Horns was correct–trucks have “BLOW HORN” written in beautifully intricate and colorful letters on their backs. As the fog lifted, the traffic grew more dense. Dirty children pooped on the side of the highway, wiry men sat in circles playing games inches from the traffic. Rickety old women carried bushels of sticks and heavy sacks on their backs. Ten lane toll booths became a perfect place for commerce. Children walked around, tapping on the windows with news papers and trinkets. Men had painted, dressed up, sad monkeys on leashes doing tricks and bowing. My professor told me how to say a phrase in Punjabi which I know will come in handy: “nay, mein ne chaha do” - “no, I do not want it.” I repeated it over and over again. In the car, my professor and her girls shared so many insights about their journey. We laughed and talked about familiar things; Harry Potter and Lady Gaga, and we went silent for the chained up monkeys and homeless skinny children. 

By the time we reached Agra, home city of the Taj Mahal, it seemed almost an accomplishment that we only hit one kid and that he was only slightly stunned. There were countless other near misses but that’s just how it is, I guess. It was so busy everywhere. We met up with Shabhir, our funny little tour guide, who rushed us through the magnificent gates, through the lawn, around the inside of the Taj Mahal, and back out the other end in less than an hour. Really, we could have spent the whole day there but our fast-paced walking tour paid off in the end because the wave tourists began to flock in as we were leaving. I suppose being able to see the palace quickly, thoroughly, and in peace is better than being herded, inch-by-inch in a thick mass of other tourists anyway. 

It’s funny when you suddenly come to actually understand the meaning of a phrase you often use. I’ve never put much thought into what “it took my breath away” really meant until my breath was sucked from lungs, momentarily, upon seeing the Taj Mahal. I’ve seen pictures and I knew it was one of the 7 wonders and all but, until it was right there, tangible, sitting in all its magnificence, looming in front of me, I wasn’t go to get it.

I have a lot more to say but I’ll pause here for now. I really don’t think I could have had a more perfect, all-encompassing first day experience in India if I had been paid to have it. 

On airports and taxi cabs

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So, taxi cabs. That is the first difference I noticed here.

The flight was a flight. I slept, watched bad movies, ate awful food, read the Hunger Games. No window seat, so nothing to look at. Indira Gandhi International Airport is like every other airport in the world. I could have been in Newark, JFK, Frankfurt, etc. All the signs are in English first and it’s all that same shiny, sharp-angled, architecture with lots of windows and ugly carpeting that all airports seem to have. The two things which distinguished Indira Gandhi Airport from all the others were that, in the immigration hall, above all the immigration officers’ desks, were a number of giant metal hands protruding from the wall. Each hand made a different prayer sign. I’ll have to investigate further because I don’t know what they meant. The other thing I noticed was that the thick fog from outside had managed to drift inside, filling the airport with a musty yellow haze.

Speaking of haze, let’s go back to that taxi ride. It’s a whole different world, driving over here. It takes only one cab ride to understand that the rules are very different on the roads of Delhi than they are in New York. White and yellow lines mean nothing. Cars swerve in and around one another like some sort of mesmerizing, fast-pace dance. If there is a line of stopped traffic up ahead do you stop? No, of course not! You just drive off the road and loop around it. Red light means stop? Ptsh. Only if you’re a bad driver. At first the non-stop honking from all around had me annoyed and anxious but then I realized that the honking here is for a purpose which is totally foreign to me. Honking a car horn here is a signal: “Hey big truck on my left and little rickshaw on my right: I’m coming through, so watch out!" The honking wasn’t just to express anger and annoyance, as I have always experienced with Cab Drivers in NYC. It’s almost like a salutation and less of a "HEY F*** YOU, SLOW MORON, I’M DRIVIN’ HERE!”

It took a few moments of fear and internal backseat driving before I realized that I most likely wasn’t going to die. After that, I watched. Through the yellow fog, I could barely make out anything–a looming building here, some construction sight over there, looping highway passes overhead or down below. I was honestly much more fascinated by the driving skills all around me. Especially impressed with my taxi driver’s bravado at the wheel. He got me here safe and I am grateful.

I still haven’t had a good look at the surroundings outside the India Habitat Center but I’m pretty thrilled to be inside, curled up in a bed, in a room, right now. With hot water and internet access. I wake up in 4 hours, at 4am, to go to Agra with my Professor and her two daughters, to see the Taj Mahal. I promise to take pictures.     


To Do List. Check. And Off I Go.

As I sat at a coffee shop at my computer, fretting over all the last minute details and logistics–writing up lesson plans and research proposals, emails upon emails–a man tapped me on the shoulder and, with a reassuring smile, handed me this picture. “It’s you!” he said, and walked away.

As I sat at a coffee shop at my computer, fretting over all the last minute details and logistics–writing up lesson plans and research proposals, emails upon emails–a man tapped me on the shoulder and, with a reassuring smile, handed me this picture. “It’s you!” he said, and walked away.

If I had to define myself as a type of person, I think I would definitely be the type of person who lives to make “To Do” Lists. On paper, my life seems mostly to be made up of checklists and schedules. I am always discovering old journals, diaries, school notebooks, and word documents filled with lists of things I need to do. As far as I can tell, I’ve been making lists for myself since I could write (and I started writing backwards … right to left … You can imagine how little those lists made sense: “OD OT – slamina deffuts htiw yalp. revoplees htiw asI dna yddam. esroh eibrab gniklaw a em evig lliw atnas taht os doog eb” cte, cte).  Later, I find the menial tasks are all written down as well—usually along with a schedule, written out in my trying-so-hard-to-be-grown-up 10-year-old scrawl: “9:30am - wake up, 9:35 - shower, 9:45 - brush teeth”, etc. (I got distracted easily). Then there are the bigger life-aspirations, written out in my idealistic fifteen-year-old scrawl. “1. Be more like Gandhi 2. Fall in love. 3. Be nicer to my mom (no seriously, it was really on there) 4. Take care of my dogs. 5. Save the World!" 

 With the discovery of Google tasks, I have finally mastered the art of making my lists. I have four separate, color-coded checklists, each of which have reminders that pop up on my smart phone whenever they are due. Household, Homework, General Life Upkeep (yes, that’s what it’s called), and, of course, India.

That hasn’t stopped me from filling up all my other notebooks with handwritten lists. I think I must have made over a dozen India To Do lists. All of them are similar but not quite the same. Each list contains ONE important thing that I’ve left off all the other lists–and having that many lists has not done anything to keep me organized. It’s been a maddening experience, getting ready. Yet somehow, miraculously, I’ve managed to check off all of the tasks…

And now, I’m off. My flight departs at 8:00 this evening. I leave for the airport in an hour. Suite case packed. Electronic devices charged. All the important to-and-fro’s figured out. Passport and Visa in hand. Neat little check marks telling me I’m done. I’ll keep in touch! 

New Year Today. Delhi Tomorrow. Taj Mahal Tuesday.  Check, Check, Check.

A Journey of Heritage, Dance, and Opportunity

Creating Global Movement; A Journey of Dance, Heritage, and Opportunity

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This is the statement of purpose essay I wrote to the India/China Institute at the New school. While some of the details for this trip have changed, it sums up the story, and the motivation I had in making this trip happen.  

Creating Global Movement;

A Journey of Dance, Heritage, and Opportunity

My grandmother was born in Basra, Iraq in 1930. During WWII her parents sent her and her sisters to St. Joseph’s convent school in Karachi, while it was still a part of colonial India. When Karachi was going to be bombed the nuns moved the girls to the Sacred Heart Convent in northern India. Every so often my grandmother recalls her childhood, and when she does, we listen. She remembers how the monkeys stole white linens from the clothesline and she remembers sneaking out of the convent at night with her sisters to dance with soldiers. Her greatest adventure brought her to New York. Here, in 1950’s NYC, she donned her high-heel dancing shoes and embraced American culture. She no longer resonates with the young girl who chased monkeys down the lane.

But I do.

I inherited my grandmother’s adventurous spirit. Yet my entire life has been an exploration of American culture—her coming here made that possible. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to experience India. It is one of those desires that manifested itself deep in the fibers of my body, shaping my being, waiting for an opportunity to burst forth and dance across the ocean. That opportunity has now presented itself with such deft and unequivocal perfection that I almost feel as if all the paths I have taken in my life have been guiding me, inevitably, towards this journey to India.

I spent my childhood in the luscious greenery of upstate New York where I received a highly alternative education. My family joined the Ulster Home Educators: a group of progressive and motivated parents who had decided to administer their children’s education. We students learned from a combination of curiosity, self-motivation, and real-world experience. Curricula were built around us with a great amount of care and thought. As a student of this hands-on, creative education model, I have found myself always looking for ways to incorporate my schooling experience into education systems which need innovative ideas, inspiration, and dedicated educators.

Dance was a huge part of my education. At age four, my mother enrolled me in lessons with a local dance institute called The Vanaver Caravan World Dance & Music Company. They are a family-like troupe with a mission to build a more globalized, nurturing, and peaceful world community by bringing people together through dance and music. The Vanaver Caravan (TVC) was founded in 1972 by Bill and Livia Vanaver, who together have traveled the globe, collecting folk traditions, and teaching world dance and music with the hope of fostering a common understanding between people regardless of their religious, national, or cultural mores. TVC has become an internationally acclaimed touring troupe and are official Ambassadors of Goodwill in multiple countries. I am now a principal dancer in their company, a member of their faculty, and a teaching artist for their school residencies. My lifelong experience with TVC is a the driving force behind my love of teaching children and my dream to nurture healthy, educated, and happy communities throughout the world.

Last winter, a women-run Indian NGO called Big Medicine Charitable Trust (BMCT) discovered The Vanaver Caravan. BMCT, which started the Greening India Project, is dedicated to creating sustainable education models, economic prosperity, and life enrichment opportunities to people within the developing heritage cities of India. BMCT has asked that The Vanaver Caravan fly to Udaipur, Rajasthan, India this winter to help build the Shakti Academy, a dance and healing-arts center for India’s gifted youth. The mission of this proposed dance academy is to provide a creative outlet for children and teens who cannot thrive in traditional school settings—seeking out and accepting students regardless of caste, sex, or means. Ultimately, this academy would aid in building sustainable job opportunities and education alternatives to the people in Udaipur. In addition to developing this academy, TVC would teach in local schools, and learn authentic Indian and gypsy dance styles in an ongoing cultural exchange. Many of us will stay on or return in the coming years. The groundwork for this partnership has been laid. Now all we need is the means to get there. Neither TVC nor BMCT have any of the funds necessary for this tour, so they have asked a small group of dedicated teachers and dancers to try and raise funds individually. In order to make it there I would need exactly $3,000. This is one of the reasons that I have come to ICI. Yet my reasons for connecting this trip with The New School extend far deeper than monetary requests.

I came to this University to enrich my understanding of the world, to become fulfilled within myself, and to discover opportunities for my future. When I arrived here, I immediately began looking for ways to link the New School with my extracurricular, dancing life. The development of this project in India has highlighted the fact that things in life connect rather miraculously. I have spoken to a number New School staff, expressing my interest in doing my senior fieldwork in India. So far, I have been met with nothing but support and excitement from the faculty and upper administration, who believe, as I do, that the development of the Shakti Academy would be a great connection to make for the New School—as each of these organizations harbor creative, progressive, civically engaged, and socially-just philosophies which align together beautifully.

When it comes to designing my research abroad, I will work with TVC, BMCT, and the Co-Chairs of the Education Studies department at Lang to create a senior project which focuses on the elements at Shakti Academy that tie into issues of social justice, human rights, intercultural education, and creative curriculum development. I would be staying on an additional two weeks, working exclusively with BMCT to develop a sustainable dance curriculum within Shakti Academy that can be replicated in other heritage cities.

I am often asked questions about the importance of dance. How can dance really make sustainable change? To this I answer confidently that dance is actually one of the strongest, most naturally sustainable forces in this world. It has evolved with people since the beginning of time, providing community enrichment, and often defining culture. The dances and songs that the Vanaver Caravan has learned have been passed down cross-culturally and cross-generationally for hundreds of years. This trip to India particularly highlights how sustainable and prosperous dance can be. We are not simply flying over there for few shows and a couple weeks of teaching; this is a long-term partnership with a mission to create a cycle of opportunity and creativity which draws upon the wealth of knowledge and pure joy that dance has to offer.

When it comes to this Fellowship, there are a few things which set me apart from other applicants in terms of requirements. I understand that many of the students applying will be doing their research over the summer and returning next fall. I graduate from The New School this May and my research would take place from the end of December ’11 through January ’12. However, I will continue to share my experiences in India with ICI and TNS far into the future. I would be thrilled to draw on the connections I make in India and be a resource for future students wishing to do this sort of work out in the world.

This is my project now, but it is really so much bigger than me. I know this journey will define my role in this world as a teacher and as an advocate for creative education and social justice. From the New School to Udaipur, I will carry all that I have learned about social research, civic engagement, and education reform and use my experience to build opportunities for children there, like my grandmother built for me here. 

The First Post

The point, anyway.

It is the coldest day of December yet and I leave for India in exactly two weeks. I’m told it will not be hot in Udaipur this time of year, but I know it won’t be this damn freezing. I guess I should start with some sort of explanation or declaration. I’ve been very hesitant to start a real blog. I don’t just want to vomit words onto an endless screen (well actually, I secretly do, but I’ve restrained myself). One day, while procrastinating, I started a blog  called Smatterings & Tidbits and, as proud as I felt about the quirky name … I never smattered or tibitted a thing. I realize that if I’m going to really start a blog, I need to write about something specific–or specific-ish. I need a focal point to pull my thoughts together. 

That focal point will be my imminent trip to India–the center of all my scattered thoughts! This blog will serve as a travel journal, a field note book for me to write up fieldnotes, a place to post up pictures, videos, stories, and insights, for me to ponder pedagogy and philosophy, to raise questions about educational institutions, to frame my senior thesis, to open up and express myself, and to check in with friends and family. That’s what this blog will be about.