Virgins! Virgins! Virgins!

30
Apr
2007

Call me a geek, but I use weblog analysis software to look at some of the traffic on my website. This includes information about keyword searches in google that lead to my site and (interestingly) geographic information about my various readers.

Since my post of a few days ago entitled “Virgins” I have noticed traffic to my blog has shot up from a number of new places that have never before seemed very interested in me or my travels. Among the curious new locations are Ahvaz and Mashhad in Iran, Baku in Azerbaijan, Lima in Peru, Catania in Italy and a few others in Canada, South Africa and Malaysia. Could some of these be related to other posts? Is it just a coincidence that these have come since writing about virginity? Are the Iranian people just getting hip to a blog written by a so-called (take your pick: American, Gay, Jewish, Atheist, Socialist, etc) guy on a spiritual quest?

1 degree

29
Apr
2007

There is one thing I find increasingly interesting (or weird, take your pick) in my travels in India. People I meet independently of each other know each other. And while some of the connections may be somewhat expected (the gay community in Mumbai is somewhat small for example), other connections are just plain out of left field. How strange would it be for example that Xerxes, (who I met through Nikhil and Rittu) should know Dirk from Pondicherry who he met on a project site and who I met through Dipen (who is Rahul’s friend) while I was in the south? How odd is it that a few years ago Troy met a bunch of the same people I have met here independently of him? Is it not weird that Shankar who I met on a train to Mumbai should know Meeta (Rittu’s sister) and Digraj and that Vivek who I met through Shumona (who I met at vipassana) should know him?

In a country of a billion people, is this normal? What does this say about the social, economic, or class circles we tend to run in? I have prided myself on being much more open to meeting many more kinds of people here than in the states, getting to know almost anyone who cares to strike up a conversation. That said, clearly the places I go (trains I take, places I eat, etc) are frequented by a much smaller circle than I imagine. It is true that I am only remarking here on the connections, and there have been many people I have met (in ashrams and on trains, for instance) who don’t fall into the connection web, but I still find it striking.

There are many other connections and I will be graphing them in a modified L-word style over the coming months. Enjoy.

Frankie goes to Bollywood

27
Apr
2007

I have just discovered an amazing street food here in Mumbai courtesy of Rittu, who took me to have one today. It is called the Frankie, and it is super delish. The Frankie is essentially a chapati or paratha wrap with veg, chicken or mutton inside. The masala spicing is what makes the Frankie so damn good, and each local stand has their own secret mix.

Where I’ve been recently

26
Apr
2007

I have finally figured out how to embed a Google My Map and so here it is:

Note: Or so I thought. I am getting mixed feedback from people. The map above SHOULD have blue pinpoints on it. If they are not showing up, go here.

Kinda cool, huh?

Zoom in, zoom out using the controls. Click and drag map to pan (or use the pan arrow controls). Click on the pinpoints to see info about that point.

I will be updating this over the coming months and trying to add more info to each pinpoint and link back to the blog or photos.

Many of you may have noticed that I have added a permanent link to this map in the sidebar ( “Where’s Stephen?“).

Mr and Mrs Iyer

25
Apr
2007

Film quality in my life is definitely improving as of late. Just saw the fantastic “Mr and Mrs Iyer”.  This film deals beautifully with the touchy subject of ethnic tensions in India. As you might have guessed, the subject matter doesn’t lend itself particularly well to the Bollywood formula, so there weren’t any showy upbeat dance numbers and the film was quite short by normal standards (about 2 instead of the usual 3 hours).  Rittu tells me that although she thinks it a great film, and despite its critical acclaim, it only did well in the more urban areas of India.

Virgins

25
Apr
2007

I have been having some interesting discussions with various Indian friends recently about sex before marriage. There are several aspects to this conversation. Paraphrasing friends I have spoken with:

“Most Indians are virgins at the time of marriage.”

“Sex isn’t as important as it is in the west. You get used to not having it.”

“Most Indian women are virgins at the time of marriage.”

“In love marriages [as opposed to arranged marriages], the couple may or may not have had sex before marriage, but it is not socially accepted and should never be admitted as it brings shame.”

There are a ton of circumstances that make sex before marriage (and even after in some cases) very difficult.

Most people live with their families before marriage. They may or may not have their own rooms, but they certainly don’t have the freedom to come and go without the family knowing. They would never, could never, bring someone back to their place for a tryst. Interestingly, among my gay friends here one of the most valued attributes one can list in an online profile is having “place”. In the cities where more people might be in an apartment with non family members, I imagine the same attribute is valued in straight dating (although probably never talked about). For the most part, young singles just don’t have the opportunity and privacy to have sex.

There is (as in the west, although much more marked here) a double standard that applies to women getting married. With a “wink, wink” it is accepted and even slightly admired if a man has had sex as a bachelor (but for god’s sake never admit it to the parents or in polite company). The woman, however must be a virgin at the time of marriage, and her reputation is sullied if this should not be the case. There have been many cases of Indian men seeking annulment soon after a wedding, claiming their new wife not a virgin.

Although attitudes are changing a little, a brief survey among my progressive Indian friends still finds great discomfort where the parents are concerned. I ask if, as progressive parents, they would not rather imagine that their children about to be married to their longtime boyfriend or girlfriend had known each other intimately or not. Mostly, they are slightly bothered to think their children (especially girls) would have had sexual relations. I think that in the west people would be rather concerned if a couple about to be married had not had sex, as this would figure as an important part of their compatibility with each other.

As an aside: I spoke with a guy a few months ago who runs a marriage website here in India. When I referred to it as a “dating” site, he corrected me: “It is a marriage site, not a dating site.” I asked what the difference was. He told me that here the goal is always marriage, as opposed to many of the sites in the States, where that may not be the end goal. Here, it is always the desired outcome and so people from the very beginning pick potential spouses and are much more selective before the first encounter, because they see so much more riding on it. In addition, the family is often involved in setting up the profile and selecting mates for their children.

Pune too

24
Apr
2007

Had a wonderful brief stay in Pune. Lyla, Dhanajay (and their friends Tara and Shweta) and I hung out, watched Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (a Bollywood film I had never seen), ate well and generally played silly. The movie, although so sweet I think I may have a cavity, was great fun. But (playing a minor role in the film) Salman Khan has to be the most annoying actor ever to grace (and I am using the term very loosely) a Bollywood screen. He seems always unnatural, especially in the odd way he bounces around everywhere instead of walking, as if he were some struggling high school thespian unsure of his stage direction. The only talent I can surmise he genuinely has is for taking off his shirt.


From Pune too

Chillin’ still in Mumbai

21
Apr
2007

The last few days have been pretty low key. I seem to be seeing more than my fair share of mediocre or just plain bad movies. But at least the seats are nice. The other day, I dusted off my credentials and went to Nikhil‘s office to perform a small technical audit of his systems. At the end of the day I watched a new piece of welding equipment get inaugurated. Over the last few days I have been variously hanging out, meeting people, noticing Indo-Saracenic architecture, practicing yoga, going out for drinks, getting my Chinese visa, eating out at nice places, reading, and contemplating my 40th birthday in Thailand.

Today I am headed to Pune for a few days to hang out with Dhananjay and Lyla, then back to Mumbai for a day or two, then (if I muster the courage to face the heat) Shumona and I will head back to Igatpuri for a three day refresher vipassana meditation.

Dhobi is Different

18
Apr
2007

Laundry tip from Stephen.

In India, most laundry is sent out to the Dhobis to take care of. The process that the laundry goes through is quite different than in the west. Here each piece is subjected to a brutal beating, as opposed to being put into a machine. Because of this beating (followed by hang-drying) completely different physical forces act on one’s clothes. In the west, I would notice that things (t-shirts in particular) would get smaller after several wash/dry cycles. Here the opposite is true. I just bought a couple of t-shirts, and after two washings, they are rather large on me. So instead of buying larger items expecting them to shrink, one should buy smaller items expecting them to grow.

Siddhartha

16
Apr
2007

Just picked up (and finished 3 hours later) SIDDHARTHA by Herman Hesse. Sweet and simple. So many signs in my life these days point in the very same direction or refer directly or indirectly to each other. Nothing earth-shattering, just making more connections between things that were previously separate.