Yesterday as I was bartering, the salesman stopped his friend from translating what he's just said to English. Those offhand words "She knows Hindi" (which aren't entirely true) made me do a small victory dance once I'd stepped out of the market. Language has always been the missing part of my experience here. While all the other exchange students proudly came back fluent in their new languages, those of us who'd been in India had perfect Indian accents with authentic head wobbles and could only mumble through a bit of Hinglish. The main barrier to learning the language here is that there is no one language to learn. Hindi is most widely spoken across India, but the local language Marathi is far more common in conversations -unless you happen to live with a family who speaks Marwadi like I do. The three are decently similar in structure and some vocabulary (unlike many of the other Indian languages), so I am able to understand the gist of most of what is spoken, but prying the three apart has been tricky. At home I can nearly always understand what is being said. Common refrains about finishing your food and what happened in school that day sound completely normal. I am even starting to pick apart tenses and genders and parts of speech enough to string together sentences. I have plenty of excuses for not being fluent. I've had to teach myself everything from one Hindi book and people speak English anyway and there are three different languages (I like to play that one up), but the truth is I still feel like I've failed at something. Hopefully travel will make speaking a bit more of a necessity, and I'll have lots of train rides glancing at my phrases to learn.
Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival of Ganesha (the round bellied, elephant headed god with many different names) ended a few days ago to loud drumming and blasting music well into the night. Living with a Jain family means that I don't understand or experience some of the festivals as much of the population does, but I still was able to go to the neighborhood nightly aartis (ceremonies) and clap along in the same off beat way as everyone. At night we'd go by the mandals where giant statues of Ganesh are set up with flashing lights and blaring music. Christmas lights were all over the city, and shouts of "Ganpati Bappa! Morya!" could be heard everywhere. On the last day all of the idols were immersed in water. It is traditionally done in natural bodies of water, but the move from clay to synthetic idols has rightly caused a lot of environmental concern and alternate immersion methods. This is probably the only place in the world where elephant-statue based pollution is a real hazard.
I am itching to start travelling. It has been so very good for me to be back in Nasik with my family, but I am ready to begin adventures of a different sort. I have loved being able to have the time to rest here. After a summer of busing from house sitting jobs to work and back and taking care of random last minute logistics, it feels strange to be able to sleep in, read the newspaper (often twice), have chai, and realize that my only plans for the day are maybe seeing relatives or going around the city. Or maybe nothing at all. I am so lucky to be able to go out to lunch with my sister and play with a two year old and read. It's helping me get my thoughts together and start travelling from a nice, well rested state. Laura will join me in just a few weeks, and we'll be off by the end of this month.