Firsts in India

Written by Raina Langevin, (University of Rochester) Student Correspondent UW in India, Spring 2016

  1. Taking a Bucket Shower

Spring 2016 - My First bucket shower at Sahi Guest House when we first arrived in Varanasi_Raina LangevinI took my first bucket shower when we stayed at a guest house upon our arrival in Varanasi. I think people also call them bucket baths, but I tend to hear people say shower more. They are super efficient and speedy! So much water is saved in comparison to my 20 minute long showers in America. Initially I awkwardly tried to figure out how to pour the water on myself, but I think I’ve gotten the hang of it now.

  1. Riding a Rickshaw

I love riding in auto rickshaws! The first few times that I had taken them I felt like I was in a video game as we zoomed around obstacles on the streets and through the alleyways. Auto and bicycle rickshaws are an easy and cheap way to get around Varanasi. The ever undetermined question is “how many people can you fit inside a rickshaw?” If you want to be in the rickshaw alone, you can tell the rickshaw-wala you want a “private auto,” otherwise he might want to fit more people inside and will pick up others along the way. Seat belts are not a thing in Varanasi and only the driver will wear one in vehicles that have them. I think it’s more strictly enforced for th

Maria and Katie on a bicycle rickshaw returning from one of our Friday walks in the city.

Maria and Katie on a bicycle rickshaw returning from one of our Friday walks in the city.

e drivers. It wasn’t until I had been in Varanasi for a while that I realized rickshaws couldn’t reverse! For some reason I had it in my mind that they could. But when we went down an alley and there wasn’t enough room for both rickshaws to pass, our driver ended up getting out and pulling the rickshaw back out of it. I kept wanting to get out and help him pull it, but alas I did not.

  1. Celebrating Holi in India
Spring 2016 - The Holi aftermath and I_Raina Langevin

The Holi aftermath and I.

It is not recommended for women to go outside on Holi, especially in the morning, so I ended up staying home and playing Holi with my family on our roof. Men tend to get drunk and drink bhang lassis, which contains marijuana. During Holi, boundaries tend to disappear and you can touch people that you normally wouldn’t in your daily life. When I woke up in the morning, Yash smeared my face with color and then I went up to the roof to play using wet colors. It was fun pouring buckets of water on people, as well as on people walking through the alley below. Neighbors on other roofs would throw water balloons at us and we would try to get them. Whenever a guy would show up on the roof and everyone would cover them in color and the women would promptly rip off their shirts. One guy nearly had his jeans taken off. It was quite crazy. After everyone showered and took naps in the afternoon, we got into nicer clothes and had lots and lots of sweets. We placed dry colors on each others faces and had a big dinner. I was introduced to a Holi sweet called gujiya which is now one of my favorites.

  1. Attending an Indian Wedding

I went to my fourth, and last wedding this past March with Katie, Autumn and my host family. The end of an era. They were all fun, but definitely not what I had expected an Indian wedding to be like (read: Bollywood style dance party). Of course I was only attending the garland exchange, which does not constitute the whole wedding. My experiences mainly consisted of eating a ton of the buffet food, taking advantage of all the free ice cream and trying to look like I didn’t notice everyone staring at me. After I had eaten at the second wedding, my host dad asked me if I was ready for dinner and I said “didn’t we just eat dinner?” It was essentially a massive dinner party with everyone standing around and talking. Once the groom arrived, the bride was brought out to sit with him. After everyone had taken photos of them, their family gathered around and the couple placed flower garlands around the neck of the other. We always left soon after this happened, but the parties kept going all night.

 Autumn, a student at the Alliance program in Varnasi, our host mom, and I attending her relative's wedding.

Autumn, a student at the Alliance program in Varnasi, our host mom, and I attending her relative’s wedding.

All of them were arranged marriages, but some of the couples had a chance to talk for a little before hand. The first wedding I went to was between a 25 year old barber and an 18 year old girl who did some sort of work for Seema ji, I think she cuts her hair, but I wasn’t exactly sure. It was very close by in Assi ghat on open plot of land. Usually if there is an open lawn in Varanasi it’s because it’s used for wedding parties. I ended up getting really sick from the food at that wedding despite my avoidance of water and vegetables. The latter weddings I went to were a bit more lavish, since they had more money, and all the grooms were related to my host dad. Since we were from the groom’s side, at each one we would meet up late at night with the groom’s family members walking down the street to the wedding venue. Some of the groom’s close family and friends would dance behind the band as we moved along. The groom would follow behind in car decorated in marigolds. It was at this last wedding that they had a small dance floor with a DJ. It was filled with small children and Seema ji was insisting that we go dance. It was fun, but soon after we started dancing everyone gathered around to take pictures of us and the DJ began playing ‘Barbie Girl’ and other American songs. Gone was ‘Disco Wale Khisko’ sadly.