A Series of India “Firsts”

After almost two weeks in India, I am happy to report that I am settling in, enjoying myself, and already have so many memories to treasure. I still don’t have an Indian phone number, but that’s another story for another day.

Following a rather tension-filled travel schedule to Delhi, a large group of fellows arrived to a muggy night, stuffed all our bags in a bus, and headed to our youth hostel-home for our first week. The highlight of the week was definitely getting to know the other fellows/AIF staff and experiencing an openness towards each other and the experiences to come. I felt some walls come down as I made new friends and learned about the resources available to me. From visits to tourist sites to interesting discussions, nights out on the town to bonding at the FRRO office, we had a very productive and fun week where we grew both personally and professionally. To top it all off, our last day included a session with a Bollywood choreographer and front seats to a dance performance by Ability Unlimited. Inspired, thankful, happy and thrilled just begin to scratch the surface of how I felt as I made my way to Gujarat–alone for the first time all week.

Ability Unlimited performing a part from the Bhagvad Gita. Note the wheelchairs…

My first impression of Bhuj was one of familiarity and intrigue. The town fits the stereotypical image of small town India…cows on the street, people everywhere, two-three-four wheelers competing for road space, multiple food stands on the side of the road, and a very relaxed nature in the business space. It is even very scenic and greener than I had imagined (due to its proximity to the desert).

In the last few days, I have attended my first (delayed) meeting, found some delicious, local places to eat, shopped in the “market” (aka main street), and shopped for new kurtis. I have (mostly) set up my apartment, enjoyed my work commute (half an hour in a shared van), and found a wonderful friend in my roommate, a brilliant textile designer that works at the same NGO, Khamir.

As an India newbie, I can’t help but start with a short series of my India “firsts” (yes, I’ve been keeping track):

First night: hoped to sleep all night but woke up starving at 3:00am…thank you jetlag. My mom’s theplas, half a chocolate glazed Dunkin donut and other fellows in the same predicament came to the rescue.

Lodi Garden

First day in Delhi: Several of the early risers took a trip to Khan Market (it was closed), Lodi Gardens (gorgeous) and India gate (in the rain). We had a local fellow as a guide, and honestly, the day couldn’t have started any better.

First “auto” ride: Brian and I (the newbies) had a blast! By the end of the week, I was negotiating auto prices (ok fine, just one auto, but I did it!).

First meal: All week long, we had paneer at almost every meal, chai at all times of day and gulag jamun multiple times…no complaints!

First shopping trip: I was introduced to Fab India, a chain that has stores in several cities. It was very difficult walking out of the store empty handed…

First day in Bhuj: I was greeted at the airport by my roommate and Khamir’s driver–both awesome people–and I moved in to my new apartment…much bigger and cleaner than I thought, but fear not, we received a lovely gift of an ant infestation (large ants called “makoras”) within a few days.

First meal in Bhuj: Yes, I couldn’t resist–I ate at a local establishment despite knowing better. My roommate and I shared super tasty pau bhaji and pulau, and it was worth every bite…including that lovely dab of butter swimming in the middle of the bhaji.

First Gujarati practice: Speaking to the bakery owner (naturally) as I bought a slice of blackforest cake and oat cookies (eggless)-yum!

First work meeting: I attended a meeting on Kala cotton, and learned so much about the history of organic cotton in the Kuchchh region along with the challenges it has faced over time. Khamir uses this organic cotton to make garments, so it was quite interesting to hear about the process of farmers growing the cotton, getting it ginned locally, then spun, dyed and weaved into the garments at Khamir. It truly gives you a whole new appreciation for where and how your clothes get to you.

That’s all for now! Slightly homesick but it’s all part of the challenge…

My roommate, Parul and Deepa ben…On our work commute to Kukma village.

Jilna spent the first half of her life in Nairobi, Kenya, and then moved to the suburbs of Washington DC for high school. New York City was home for five years as she worked towards fulfilling her dream to work in the entertainment business. A career in television led her back home to Maryland, and her involvement with South Asian organizations--both personal and professional--remained a constant through these transitions. Additionally, she spent her spare time volunteering with small organizations, and also joined the board of a local non profit for the chance to aid a group with a different mission. Despite having deep connections to her culture, Jilna has never visited India, and is thrilled with the opportunity to live and work in India supporting Khamir's initiatives for the coming year.

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19 thoughts on “A Series of India “Firsts”

  1. I will likely be commenting on all of your blog posts because I am living vicariously through you this year. We miss you a lot but I am so happy you are having a wonderful time in India. Fab India is fantastic but I’m sure you will find even more spectacular items through your work with Khamir. Good luck with the first few weeks of work and can’t wait to read your next blog post!

  2. An interesting two weeks! Glad that you are settling down. We miss you at home but blogs like this one will make us feel connected. I am sure there are interesting days ahead as you will always be learning and making friends.

  3. Jilna- Well done and like the writing and maybe a book coming up soon!
    “Makoras” is a Swahili word? If they are calling it in Khamir then that sounds interesting.
    What is the gujju alphabet on the first photo over the words Khamir?
    Ask them for tea made from goat milk. It is great.
    Any upvas so far!!!! JK
    Enjoy and treat yourself fully.

    1. just waiting on the right opportunity 🙂
      I’ve already shopped at Khamir, but am really looking forward to my village shopping trips!

  4. Jilu

    nice to read your 1st week experience and glad to know you are settling in with the new surroundings and friends and practising price negotiations “kasana” that you may have picked up in Kenya.
    enjoy…..enjoy…..enjoy and of course everytime you eat something unique and/or really tasty, eat one on our behalf.

  5. Jilna Ben, Bau Saras… Tamaro naseeb jor kare che.. Kala Kapaas, mane aa vishey vishe vadhu janavo.. I am really excited about your project and all he learnings you will make. Try to visit Aina Mahal and check out Prag Mahal. I believe there are some good textiles in the museum’s store unless they got destroyed or damaged! There is so much one could do in Bhuj and I am sure you have prepared a to do list already but I will send you some of my inputs (je tane vandha na hoi) as well. Here is a link to an interesting article. It is a littleconfusing as the author throws in a lot of scholar’s names but there are some interesting leads. Check the story of Maharao Lakhpat’s master craftsman going to Holland and learning all the crafts… adversity into an opportunity. Trust Gujaratis to do so. Ane moto kaalo ants maate haldar try karjo. Nane ants maate to great solution che. Write more.. look forward


    1. Oh, my list of things to do in Bhuj just keep growing, and I am happy to add to them–send me more! 🙂

      My main project is an exhibition on bandhani in January (you MUST time your visit around this exhibition). I’ll send you more info once it’s a bit organized.

      kaala ants no problem solve thai gayo chhe!!

  6. Jilu,
    Great to read the firsts! and all your blog.
    Great to talk to you yesterday.
    Great to hear that you are enjoying and adjusting well–homesickness, is inevitable-even we miss you a lot..
    Get yourself a subscription for some GOOD filmy magazine. Go see BARFI-heard it’s very good. and experience your first movie theater(take some earplugs,too)

    OK. enjoy and take care!

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