Another Lens

Thoughts and Observations in India

Life at the University of Hyderabad January 9, 2009

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So this one’s for the fam and friends who want to see the everyday life. Apologies to everyone else.

The first four days of my time here were spent at the “old” international hostel. I confess that, upon entering, I wondered at what I had gotten myself into. However, after getting a power converter, discovering wifi, learning the names of the 20-something people who are in my group with me, and developing a routine, the place was like home. In spite of showers in the same room as the toilet, very small rooms and a tiny communal room that could barely keep us all, it had its homey touches. I grew to love it.

The old abode

The old abode

The new place is fancy (someone on the trip remarked that it looked like a “pink palace”), almost too fancy. A few of us felt uncomfortable with the obviously preferential treatment, when compared with the Indian student dorms. There’s plenty of space (almost too much. We fought for awhile to find a communal meeting place.), balconies, showers separate from the toilets, really nice bedding… the list goes on. We did fight for warm water (still are) and wifi (success) for awhile, as the place is still technically under construction. But it’s homey. One major obstacle: it’s one mile from anything on campus, including the library, classes, the shopping center, the health center, EVERYTHING. We have bicycles, but it’s not uncommon for me to bike 5+ miles per day, including to my yoga class.

The Pink Palace

The Pink Palace

A couple of notes about life in general: There are cows everywhere. I’ve actually woken up to the sound of cows mooing. Price of transportation operates in exactly the opposite way than I would assume (trains least expensive, auto rickshaws most expensive, cabs and trains in the middle). Things move at a slower pace here. There’s tea-time for 30 minutes at a time at least 3 times a day. That could never happen in the U.S. with its “time is money” culture. You’d be fired. The working lunch is our way of life. Here, things happen as they happen. This is amazing. But it also means that if you’re in a hurry to do anything, you’ve got another thing coming (queue Judas Priest). It also means that occasionally things are very inefficient. Go with the flow. I’ve seen two monkeys. The first one I saw stood up and scratched its balls almost the second I looked at it. How very monkey-like. I also think I saw a mongoose.

As far as the previous requests for observations on Muslim architecture/culture in India go, I really have nothing to compare it to, as this is the only city I’ve been to so far. But I can say that it’s beautiful, that the juxtaposition of British, Hindu, and Muslim is striking and gorgeous, and that the call to prayer is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever heard. The hot boys, I haven’t met any so far. I LOVE Samosas (deep fried bread stuffed with potato and spices and deliciousness), Maaza (a mango juice drink made by Coca Cola)… basically anything deep-fried in India is freakin’ delicious. As far as smell… it’s the most unique thing I’ve ever experienced. It just smells normal now, but when I first got here, it’s all I could smell. It’s not a bad smell, it just permeates. There’s nothing I can compare it to: it’s just India. I would suggest maybe some spices, some wildlife, some dust for sure (everything here is coated with dust), but ultimately it’s just India.

Men pee on the side of the road here, against walls. I totally saw a guys penis the other day. But I can’t show my knees without getting cat calls or an ass slap. Where’s the justice in that? So occasionally, if you hit the wrong road, it smells like stale urine and feces. Don’t trust any liquid you see on the road, basically. Beggars are aggressive, so if you give one money, you’ll have a swarm. The poverty is extreme. I saw a blind man poke a man who was sleeping on the sidewalk with his cane. I’ve also seen one leper and 2-3 polio victims. If I spend too much time in the city on any one day, I develop a cough and a stinging in my nose and my eyes dry out. It’s all the pollution. You can’t not have as much pollution as India when you have as many people as India. They also don’t have a trash system. There’s just heaps of trash on the sides of the roads. At the same time, it’s absolutely beautiful. The nature, the culture, the spirituality… I think I could live here my entire life and still never lose things to look at. I went to a Hindu temple and a Buddhist shrine yesterday (pictures later), and felt a calm and serenity I hadn’t yet felt since being here, or at any time in my life in the U.S. There’s just something different here that I still haven’t put a finger on. More later.

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Catching Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 2:06 am

Hello everyone! The dorm officially has wifi, which means I’m free to screw around with video and photos and post them for your viewing pleasure on a regular basis. Yay! So, this first day is going to be catch up session, with multiple entries in one day!

So here’s the first, only first because it happened first chronologically. It was one of our first nights here, back when we were still in the old dorm, and this group, Unity, which is apparently renowned throughout India, even playing on film soundtracks and the like, performed for us in the SIP (Study India Program) Folk Culture Centre. It was amazing. I was, at this point, still reeling from a bit of sensory overload, and it seemed, when they performed, that everything sort of calmed down and I knew that India was going to be great. So, this video is kind of long, and I won’t blame you for browsing other pages while it’s in the background. But come back every once in awhile. Indian music isn’t written. It’s all freestyle, and you can see, when you watch them perform, how much they communicate through glances and sometimes gestures. One of the coolest things about this performance had to be watching them communicate, having their own conversations, unknown to us.

 

Absence January 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — anotherlens @ 4:44 am

Hey all!

Sorry about the extreme absence. The truth is that time moves differently in India. When they say that the new hostel will be finished in September, they evidently mean Spring term, and when it’s “done” in Spring term, they mean that it’s inhabitable, but without any amenities like hot water, soap, wifi, or television. And so, here I am in the library, unable to edit video, upload video, post pictures, or anything like that.

Please keep checking. They claimed about a week ago that wifi would be up within a week. That means we’ll have wifi within a week or two from today. Keep your fingers crossed.

In the mean time, things are going great. The culture shock has waned, but there are still the occasional moments that absolutely blow my mind (I was forced to refuse to give anything to an impoverished boy with polio the other day. If you give any beggar anything, you’ll find yourself in a mob. I mean it sincerely when I say that a piece of my heart broke. However, I don’t want anyone to get the impression that this is all India is. More on that when I have consistent internet.) And now, life is returning to a slight sense of normalcy and routine, and my mind is becoming a bit more peaceful.

Here’s hoping you’ll hear more from me, and me you, soon.

 

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!