Another Lens

Thoughts and Observations in India

Displaced Identities December 29, 2008

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The View

A View on the way to Hyderabad

On my flight from Seattle to London, London to Hyderabad I began reading Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, which was a Christmas gift from my friend and fellow blogger Jake Paikai. Roy, an Indian essayist and novelist who explores “The Indian Experience” (using the term generally) through her characters, won the Booker Prize in 1997 for the novel, which follows an Indian family’s descent and, similarly, India’s struggles as a whole, through the eyes of the two youngest children, Esthma and Rahel.

I haven’t finished it yet. But I’m getting so much out of it, and there are a few passages that I feel are pertinent to my observations and what I’m trying to learn in my experiences here.

In this excerpt, Uncle Chacko compares personal history to an “old house at night” with ancestors whispering inside. He says that to understand history, “we have to go inside and listen to what they’re saying. And look at the books and the pictures on the wall. And smell the smells… But we can’t go in, because we’ve been locked out. And when we look in through the windows, all we see are shadows. And when we try and listen, all we hear is a whispering. And we cannot understand the whispering, because our minds have been invaded by war. A war that we have won and lost. The very worst sort of war. A war that captures dreams and re-dreams them…” (52)

In essence, Indian identity was a glorious, ornate sword that a conquering country took, smelted, and made into something foreign and unidentifiable. They can’t see that sword anymore. They’ve been locked out of their own past. In coming to India, I have already been confronted with this wound. I try to make links in a city with billboards oozing with sex and real women who can’t show their knees. A city blossoming with trade and investment, but with tarp tents between vendors and at the feet of corporations. There is still rock—large and unhewn, like tractors—between buildings and yet there’s construction everywhere. Infrastructure grows and the city develops while stray (sometimes rabid) dogs meander the streets and bats hang from electric wires. While I believe that English colonization did some good (modern medicine, change and growth for women, more and better education for children, etc.) you see everywhere the struggle between their traditions and history and the history that has been made for them.

Coming to India, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it wasn’t as black and white as my family was seeing it: it isn’t a land of abject poverty and lepers. Those things exist here, but they aren’t everything this country is. However, despite my intentions to not create any expectations, I did subconsciously. Hyderabad is sometimes called Cyberabad by its citizens because of the influx of technology-related jobs from the U.S. In tourist manuals, you see Western-influenced architecture and cleanliness. You see beautiful gardens and green grass. No slums. Nothing that might hurt Hyderabad’s rising tourist industry or offend the delicate sensibilities of the white people. On my way to the campus from the airport, we didn’t enter the city. We circled it. We saw its slums and its trash. Men brushed their teeth on the sides of the road and spit into metal pails. Children walked barefoot in the morning mist. love they had for each other only through each other’s eyes. People stared at the bus full of white people. Women in burqas greeted each other at the airport, knowing who they were and what and I felt guilty for being able to afford a ride on this white people bus (even though, technically, the university provided the transportation, they couldn’t know that).

In the thirty minutes that I took to get home from the airport, I saw something vastly different from my unintended image of Hyderabad and even more different from what I’m used to at home. I’ve gotten used to the smell (the hardest part because it took me furthest from home). And now I can finally focus on understanding. Here’s to hearing those ancestors shout.

 

I’m Here/ a note on content… December 27, 2008

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Hey! I’m here in Hyderabad and didn’t crash over the Atlantic (always an irrational fear of mine). So, ideally, my blogging will begin soon. Right now I’m still in that “Oh my God, I’m really here” and complete culture shock phase. I’m actually writing this while simultaneously trying to keep it together while I miss a certain someone tremendously.

So I thought now would be a good time to talk about content, since I have a bunch of different people reading this and some of them reading for vastly different reasons. My family has this URL and will expect to hear how classes are going, what my dorm looks like, the club I went to, and other such random made-up scenarios. And those blog posts will exist. However, that’s not really my main purpose in creating this blog.

I’m here in Hyderabad because I know it’s going to be an experience completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced. I know it will challenge my conceptions about the world, make me think a lot about life in general, and change me as a person. I created this blog primarily as an outlet for my observations through my academic lens as a student and a young, liberal (and various other describers that make me who I am) woman abroad. It’s not just going to be “I went to see the tigers and the reservation today” (though I would like to do that), and I don’t want anyone to assume that’s the case and get angry that there aren’t more light-hearted musings.

Phew.

On that note, I believe my next blog will (per Nick’s guess) tackle the EXTREME culture shock I’m undergoing. Everything and I mean everything is like a massive assault on my senses. Nothing’s similar in any way. And all of this would probably have slightly less of an effect on me, except that I’ve only slept like 4 hours out of the past 48 that I’ve spent travelling/ preparing for travel. Anywho… off to experience the world.

 

My Pre-India Glow December 24, 2008

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That is to say: my pre-India state of anxiety and panic.

 

Today I finally paid my owing balance on my fall 2008 college tuition: $5,777.86. Today is the last day before everyone in the University goes home for some time away from procrastinating head-case students who don’t pay their tuition until the last possible second. Up until today, my account was on hold and I was not going to be able to register for classes at Hyderabad University until–best case scenario–the day classes start. Worst case scenario would be: “you’re a dumbass that should have paid tuition months ago so that you wouldn’t have to worry about this and, too bad, you don’t get to go to India.” I would have gone anyway. I just wouldn’t have been staying for five months, because I have a student visa that requires that I be studying at a university to be there. The point is, it would have sucked.

 

Also, my plane departs Dec. 26 at 6 p.m. from Seatac airport. My visa (and my passport with it) is expected to arrive on my doorstep Dec. 26 before noon (provided that this shitty winter weather does not delay the postman). So, the whole looking forward to my trip thing will not be happening until I am on my plane because I cannot relax and won’t relax until that passport/visa is in my dry, cracked little hands. There’s no relaxation or giddiness or eager anticipation. There’s sheer panic. SO, the moral of the story is that your procrastinatory tendencies are not endearing or just a part of who you are and things may not always work themselves out (which is what I, as a die-hard procrastinator, bank on). Make sure your passport photos are in your visa application package before you send it off like an idiot. Make sure the visa processing agency you are going through has a contact number where people answer the phone (a sarcastic “thank you” to my mother), and, if you have to take out another loan to pay your tuition, count on them being extremely slow: apply for the loan AT LEAST a month in advance to the last day your financial aid offices will be open. Also, tell someone who has the ability to help you financially (be that a spouse or parental unit) about your dire financial situation before the last possible date. Take care of your prescription medication months in advance in case your health insurance hates female reproductive health and only pays for one month at a time.

 

Learn from my mistakes.

 

Here’s hoping that my next blog post will be in a “post-arrival glow” that is serene and calm with substantial things to talk about instead of incessant (albeit cathartic) griping.

 

Hello! December 20, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 7:16 am

This is my test post. Just a friendly “yes this is Jessica,” “Yes this is the right blog,” and so on. Plus I didn’t want it to be the cookie-cutter post that they initially do.

Anywho… feedback on the title is welcome (since I’m still not sure if I’m as in love with it as I should be), and I hope you all enjoy the blog/comment a lot.

Bye!