India

First Six Months in Pune

I left for India at the end of August and started working pretty soon after reaching. To say it’s been a whirlwind would be an understatement. Sunday, September 2nd got me to Bombay and already on Monday I was headed to Pune. I met with my boss Mrs. Rakhi Singh that day itself and I knew I’d be right at home. She speaks really fast like me and is managing a million things at once all the time. I described her after my first phone call as a cool mom and I was going to be just fine in this new city. Off I went to the Kalyani Nagar location and just entering the school put me at instant ease, I found a school I truly believed in and it almost validated my choice to move half way across the world to a new city I had never been to before. The next day I was headed back to Bombay to meet with the CEO and chairman. I got hired for one job, got kinda trained for another, and within a short few months got a promotion to working in the regional and head office. Currently I don’t know what my exact title is, but I am setting up the environments for the new schools and quality assurance. 

So, India definitely does not make it easy for someone who was not born on their land to enter or settle down. I honestly don’t know how I figured it all out on my own. 

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Finding an apartment was another challenge. No one would rent to me as a single female from America. My aunt forced me to come visit and we got an airbnb. She ended up finding something within one day and I am absolutely in love with my flat. The warm sunshine wakes me up every morning and that morning glow every single day is gorgeous. It’s a two and a half bedroom flat with two terraces on the eighth floor. The half bedroom I use as my studio and I have one guest bedroom as well. It was really hard for me to accept help at first, but honestly if you don’t want to adapt then you shouldn’t even live in India. I feel as though I am still adjusting to life in India, but I have come a long way. The journey has been one that I think I needed to prove to myself. 

One of the harder aspects of life in India was all the unwanted attention I was receiving and still do. At first it really did bother me, but I guess I did get used to it or just stopped letting it bother me. That intense male gaze is something no one should have to endure every single time one steps foot outside of their house. But you know what? Even females stare. 

Making friends has been another obstacle to overcome. The way I would make friends elsewhere is really really different. I also came to the realization a few months ago that I put up a wall and don’t let people in which is why people may not approach me. Still the friends I have made are quality ones. The kind of friends who will bring you vada pav at work first thing in the morning after needing to soak up the alcohol from the night before. India is one of the warmest most welcoming places you will ever visit. Now, Pune is a little less welcoming to outsiders - that is true. The only people’s houses I have been to here are Gujarati’s, but I guess India as a whole is the kind of place where people will go out of their way to help. 

Work is a combination is spontaneity, stress, crazy, and a whole lot of fun! My job recently has been building and creating things for the environment anyway I want! How cool is that!? I go shopping in old Pune every now and then and come back pretty inspired. India has always been my biggest inspiration. It has evolved into retelling a story through a moment or experience through my travels. But, something about being in India has always been a huge source of inspiration for me. Something about the energy and colors leaves me with endless ideas to create. Now, my job in in India is actually making things and that to WITH help is like a dream come true. I am often counting my blessings and eternally grateful. I have said this in the past, but when you put that good energy out in the universe I believe the universe has got your back. It has been true for me time and time again. 

Getting Caught in the Monsoon

So, you’re a teacher and the only time it makes sense to go to India is during the summer which is during monsoon season there - you grab a crew of five people and say YES to vacation. But since it is the monsoon, you pick places that are worth visiting during that season. Places that are even more lush and just hope not to fall sick. 

After our first time getting caught in the monsoon at Sanjay Ghandi National Park, we learned that our shoe wear was no good. We headed into Bata and left with power sandals. Now we were sufficiently ready to take on the rest of the trip and with of course my snack bag. 

This was the route: JFK - Bombay - Kholapur - Amboli - Goa - Munnar - Alleppy - Kochin - Bombay - JFK

An overnight train is a must during a trip to India so there we were, music playing, cards being delt, and AC flowing. Until the rest of the train car came and we all had to disperse into the top bunk. We woke up in Kholapur. I hadn’t visited since I was a kid, but I have always loved this little city. We spent the day visiting a fort called Panhala. Visited some shoe shops and ended the day with the most amazing homemade Misal. I crave spicy soupy things in the rainy cold weather. Dishes like chili or ramen. Well, in India you get Misal its soupy, oily, and spicy.

The next day we were en route to arguable one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Amboli. The mist and fog came in and out and left us in complete awe. Once again we got caught in the monsoon, but I made sure we got chai and bhajia (fried potatoes and onions in chickpea batter) right after in a little shak. 

Next up was Goa which is known for its beaches, party scene, and Portuguese influence.

An early flight took us down to lush and clean Kerela. We started off in Munnar which is a hill station nestled in tea plantations. As we continued to climb the steep mountain the views just became more and more breathtaking. 

We got oil massages, ate the most amazing bbq at Club Mahendra (twice!), went off roading in a jeep to visit the highest tea plantations, and saw a kathakali show. 

I can still taste the tea up high in that plantation and the smell those leaves.

Next we got a day to just slow down. We drove all the way down the mountain and to Alleppy where there was a house boat waiting for us. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. We just hung out and played cards for hours on end while indulging in the most fresh and tasty food. 

Off to Kochin for a night to end our trip within a trip in Kerela. 

Nihar has some family history in the south and still has a few family friends who live there in the spice industry. So, we had a very knowledgable tour guide show us around Kochin for a day. The sights included, feeding pigeons at the Jain temple, Jew Town, Chinese fishing nets, the pepper factory, a traditional banana leaf lunch, and my least favorite - the hyper mart. 

And just like that we were back in Bombay for the last days. Some last minute shopping and dividing time between family and we had to say bye to India. 

The inspiration that resulted from this trip was definitely from all the lush green we encountered. I’ve noticed some of the landscapes creep into my prints and definitely some of that green color. It has also brought some Indian inspired lessons to life back at school and led me to start the school year with a theme - a year of culture.

 

A Little Bit About Process

Up until this trip I never really planned out my work. I would start with a layer and just kind of take off from there. I used to have limited time for my art so this process worked for me. I enjoyed the experimental process and where it led me. Every time I took the paper off the press it was like Christmas, I never knew what was going to happen. I had a studio visit with a friend and after he left he told me to find the balance between intention and intuition. That resonated with me a great deal and I still think about it.

After coming to Chhaap, I had time to slow down the entire process and really think about it. I started with the paintings and they took a huge step forward in the first week. It was my first time really giving any kind of dedicated time to creating acrylic paintings. Someone gave me the advice to try sticking to two colors and try a limited palette. That idea really panned out and was quite successful. I did little thumbnail sketches and some of the main structure stemmed from those. After each mark I knew how to react with the next thing. I came into a routine and was able to grow with each painting.

The monotypes kept the same process. However this time, there was no time restraint. I think that gave me the opportunity to let the ideas just flow organically. I wasn’t sure how the Akua Inks were going to react to the climate of India. It has worked out really well so far. The inks dry faster on the paper. About twelve hours is sufficient. In America it would take a good two weeks to fully dry. If I leave residual ink on the plate, I can come back after two days and still print a nice ghost print which is amazing. I have taken some old ideas and combined them with some new ones.

The prints communicate my experience with the culture. This set of prints talks about my life in India as an American born Indian.  I have found that Baroda is good-sized city for me. It’s pretty clean, not too big. The traffic isn’t completely out of control. I can get around no problem. I haven’t really been ripped off. I know enough to haggle with the rickshaw driver about prices. I wasn’t sure if I would get homesick or really what was going to happen. I had no transition for this trip. I stopped teaching on Friday and was on a plane headed to India on Saturday morning. The thing about India is the hospitality is incomparable to anywhere else. Before I headed to India, I began to tell people about my trip. Just about every Indian person told me they knew someone in Baroda and not to hesitate to reach out. Everyone I have met has had my best interest at heart and has been really helpful. People go out of their way to make you feel at home and there is nothing quite like it anywhere else. I am trying to not take anything for granted while I am here. I am forever grateful to have my Indian heritage. It gives me something to be proud of and something to visually portray every day. 

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Radio Mirchi Makes Me Want To Groooove

I have fallen into a nice and peaceful routine here. There is plenty of time for me to accomplish everything that I want to each day. I wake up around 7am and start my day. Around 9am I am done with getting ready, eating breakfast, and catching up on all the missed messages. Then usually the bhaji guy comes right to my doorstep. For less than 100 rupees, I have enough fruits and veggies for the entire week. It’s so amazing! Sometimes while waiting for the bhaji guy I start my prints. I am most productive from about 7am- 1pm. Then sometimes around 4pm I start working again. I usually finish everything I want to by 7pm and then relax or go out. I have enough time to apply to shows and look up opportunities. I can be as busy as I would like to be. The next two weeks are going to get a little busier because I have two workshops coming up that I will be teaching. During my last week in India, I will have a show at Kanoria Art Centre Gallery and one here at Chhaap. I am really excited for both of those.

In the mean time, there are two shows I have been chosen for in North America. The first one is from Alberta Printmakers in Calgary, Canada. I am participating in a print exchange. The second is from the New England Monotype Guild in Attleboro, MA. That one is a juried exhibition. I have included postcards to both below. 

Arrived at Chhaap!

Baroda has the best art school in the entire nation of India. This means that Baroda has a thriving art scene. Two thousand artists live here. It’s really not THAT big of place! I went to two openings yesterday and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. The first one was at a gallery called Nazar in Lal Bangalow (red mansion).  There was a nice flow to the space and a few interesting pieces. Outside there was a full spread of all kinds of foods and drinks. Since Gujarat is a dry state, there was no alcohol like in the states. The next opening we went to was put together for women’s day. We got there and it was elaborate, a little crazy in my opinion. There was so much to look at and the first thing I said was: “where’s the art?” All these ladies were dressed to the nines and I was still in my studio clothes. Most weddings in America aren’t even that fancy.

The thing you have to understand about artists in India is that there is little creativity. I am almost more impressed by the traditional crafts and designs you find. There is real technique behind all that work. The main person in charge at Chhaap was explaining to me that if you tell students to come up with their own idea they have literally no idea what to do. She said if you tell them make a 4X4 drawing with a flower here and a leaf there, they would be able to do that. I did not think that would be the case at all.

While I am at Chhaap, I am going to conduct a lecture, workshop and have a show of my own at the end. I am so excited to get working. I started making some small paintings yesterday. I decided that they look a little too happy for my taste. Since when is that a bad thing? Ha! 

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