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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Conundrum

As I look back on it, I was not mentally prepared (or financially really, but that is another matter) for a field study. The wise thing to do, would have been to stay in Provo and just work. Not take classes, just work as much as I could to save money and prepare for the fall semester. I was not ready to just show up somewhere, establish my life, learn how to conduct research and then conduct it, as well as balancing an intense load of academic course work. Just going to India essentially randomly and trying to establish a life in and of itself was a titanic project. Because I was not ready, because I did not really know what I was doing, all in all, I would have to say that mostly I failed in the explicit goals of my project. That isn't to say that the summer was a failure, per se, or that I did not learn anything. It was incredibly difficult and a very stretching situation. But as to balancing course work and figuring out how to conduct research, success was elusive.

So really, it would have been better in many ways that I had not gone. I am not going to have some amazing paper to show off to future employers or grad schools. In fact trying to describe exactly what I did and why it was worth while itself is a difficult task. Trying to do this semester with the extra things I did not quite finish in the field and trying to pull together a summer that was so full and so empty emotionally, psychologically, and academically is something that is still beyond me (even as due dates sprint at me). Had I not gone I would not feel so unbalanced now. Had I not gone, I would not have been so distracted and so busy this semester. Had I not gone, I would not have near the stress I have had to deal with this past semester trying to work through and conceive of my coursework and my project.

But I promised a conundrum and here it is: had I not gone, I would not be ready to go again. Arguably there are better ways to receive this introduction. I could have waited for a program in which I would be someone's assistant. I could have looked for a program that was an already established project with established contacts and I just had to show up. I do not discount these things. Looking back, much of what I did was foolish and in many ways suffering as the result of being lazy in my preparation. However, the thing that I struggle with most in trying to communicate my failure is that I know now how to do my project. I know how to establish myself on my own in India. I know how to begin a project. I know how to structure it. I know the correct time of year to go. I even have a few contacts that could lead to other contacts. I do not suggest that I have created the foundation to just go next summer and create some field-changing study, but I know now how to start.

So what do I do in this case? How do I create a narrative that makes sense out of this experience? I have suffered much for this field study and most of what I suffered will not yield anything productive. I have no contacts in higher education. This is not my "in" to a prestigious program somewhere. In fact I honestly believe putting myself into a program I was not prepared for and thus being overwhelmed, taking on more than I should have will most likely result in lower marks which will probably hurt my chances of getting into a decent graduate program. But I would not be able to do what I know feel so much more capable of without this experience. Do I regret the problems I have created for myself or do I rejoice in my gained experience? Is it a case of x steps forward, y steps back? Is it better to say I am stable and dependable, send me on a stable and dependable program even though I am inexperienced? Or is it better to say I have no proof, but you can drop me off anywhere and I will try?

I don't know. I don't know. I don't know what the correct answer is. What is done is done. I cannot take back this crazy summer and get back the time I spent this semester worrying over it and working on it. I cannot squeeze back in a productive summer of quiet work and preparatory reading.

Because the thing is there really isn't a way to prepare for international experience. It is international. The point is it is a different culture. If you do it by careful installation, if you try to maintain as much of your previous life as before, you will never succeed. You will always be met with petty irritations and annoyances. There will always be days when the air conditioner/heater doesn't work like the one in America even though you paid extra for it and it would be so easy for the natives to make it work. There will always be days when the people are acting completely irrational in the face of your carefully explained, science-backed rational ideas, explanations, and implorings.

But I guess you just have to be aware that the cost of jumping in with both feet can be incredibly high.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A fragment is not a fraction but a whole piece.

Brilliant line from Lyn Hejinian. I've been thinking of it a lot lately.

Anyhow, so here I am back again. I kind of intentionally let this lie fallow to wean people from reading this blog. What I am doing next will be completely undirected and I don't want to fool anyone into thinking I have any idea what I am doing. Why don't you make it private you ask? Because leaving this public makes me accountable to do something. If it is private then if I never follow up on these thoughts. If it is private it isn't embarrassing when people randomly stop by your blog and see some grand post about how you are going to write the constitution developing country X should have written and also provide a philosophical proof for how to tell if you exist or not and then have your last post be from some time in 2010. Also, having this public means it is possible that someone will read it, keeping my thoughts in check so I don't post something really out there.

I don't really think of this as "publishing" nor do I believe in publishing. Click on the manifesto button to get a general idea on my feelings about publishing. At least for those who can't/don't really have anything to write. So this is just selfish space, generally.

In the near future after I finally turn in everything left over from this summer I will start breaking down vaguely what happened. I don't know that I want to really share everything that happened this summer. It was really difficult in many ways. It wasn't what I expected. I am still processing much of what occurred. But I want to work through some of it, especially with regards to my project. It has given me a lot of ideas and with what I am learning, I have put together many more. Mostly I have just learned that there is so much I need to learn/read. Especially read. I am so embarrassingly underread. Anyhow, that is the plan for the near future. Go through some of the things that happened with my project and to continue to muse about the Indian literature I am reading and have read. I think I may post some of my thoughts about some of these books specifically, not exactly a review, because I am no one to have the authority to review a book, but just a record of what I thought.

And this is rambling. Anyhow, I am not gone. And this blog is far from abandoned. I am just too dang busy to work with it at this exact moment. Just give me three weeks. Dag blast. Three weeks. I have about two or three months worth of work to do and I only have three weeks. Okay, maybe four weeks. Three weeks to finish out the semester, and one week to recover/pull myself together after the breakdown that I will probably have in two and a half weeks.

Also, I am thinking about/looking for a way to get back to India again.

Monday, August 13, 2012

On the Exotic

Note, I started working on this ages ago and never got around to posting it, so here it is finally. And by started working on it I mean I wrote the first paragraph and then stopped.

Oh my, it has been far too long since I updated. But I am back. I have been thinking about this idea of the "exotic" for a while now. Not intensely, per se, but it has frequently been brought to my mind as I have been doing my course reading and interacting with people. The idea first struck me when I sat down with the book Kim by Rudyard Kipling. My copy is a cheap, Bantam Classics paperback. The back descriptive text describes the adventure and the history and all that, but the thing that caught my eye was a line near the top that read "a farewell look brimming with all the color and sound, squalor and splendor of that exotic land."

Okay, now in the present, soon to be the past, it has been far too long since I last worked on this post. So I have been thinking about this idea of the exotic especially how it relates to India. There are countries who match it, but when you think of exotic as an American, India I think readily comes to the mind. I never really thought about it before, but that phrase "as an American" is incredibly critical. Forgive me a Mormon talk moment, but according to the dictionary, exotic means things like "origination in or characteristic of a distant foreign country" and "attractive or striking because colorful or out of the ordinary."

This may not be eye opening to you, but I had never thought about it in these terms. It is probably a human thing, but I can attest that I personally pick up most my word definitions by context and repetition. So to me, the word exotic has always meant that, it also had the implied meaning of not Western, as if people from Africa or China never thought of something as foreign or exotic. It was not until I was looking at the back of my copy of Kim that I really started thinking about this concept of exotic.

Another event that really made me think was one morning when I was reading the back of my cereal box. There aren't really that many awesome flavors of cereal here. They are all Kellogg's and most of them are good, but for some reason I get tired of them much quicker than in the U.S. Anyhow, so I had played out all the cereal options until the only thing left was Muesli. I left it for last because I don't really like fruit (long story short, it is a problem with texture, not flavor), so I generally avoid Muesli whenever possible. I find that if I just close my eyes and tell myself it's just fruit leather I can get by okay. Why is eating fruit leather palatable to me while eating raisins and dried dates disgusting to me? I have no idea. So anyhow, while I was trying to distract myself from the frickmassive (it's totally a legit scientific measurement, science just hasn't discovered it yet) dates in my cereal, I was reading the back of my Kellogg's brand Nuts Delight Muesli (I have yet to discover why Indian English pluralizes stuff like that, e.g. we would say potato soup, here they would say potatoes soup (that is if they had potato soup)). So as I was reading the description of how luxurious and amazing the cereal I was eating I first encountered the obligatory reference to California almonds. This is par for the course. Almost all almonds I have seen here advertise themselves as from California, maybe to justify how expensive the dang things are.

The next part was the shocker to me. After describing the decadent and nutritious almonds, the box then claimed that it contained "succulent Canadian dates." It was there that I stopped. Canadian dates. Like that is a good thing. When I think of dates, I think of Bedouins riding camels with baskets of fruit through the deserts of Saudi Arabia to hawk at a bazaar. If pressed I can imagine Israel or maybe some of the Balkan states if I have to. But Canada? Why would you be excited to eat dates from Canada? That's like being excited to eat a made-to-long-ago and let-sit-too-long-in-a-wrapper-under-a-heating-lamp Chicago dog from the local grocery store deli.

This is what really got me thinking about what it means to be exotic. I realized that Canadian dates, in this context were incredibly exotic. What is more out of the ordinary and strange to someone sleeping in the crazy honeycomb of stores and apartments strewn with cables that is the neighborhoods in Old Delhi? The snickers bars I sometimes eat after eating a plate of rice and rajma and stir-fried vegetables is the exotic part of the meal. It isn't the random mystery vegetable balls that my pg sometimes serves (you would think that something like mystery meat would only exist in the U.S., but there are actually times when I am served some sort of ball or patty of who knows what vegetables in who knows what condition and you just take it and eat it without questions. It is probably better that way).

I am still working through this. So if you were expecting some profound, concise truth about the exotic or something, I am going to disappoint you. I don't know quite how to apply it or what it means yet. But I am realizing that this idea of foreign and native, near and far, exotic and banal, it is all much more complex than I had assumed it to be growing up. In my cultural exploration on this trip I have been really trying to see beneath the surface not at the differences, but how things are similar. There are so many things that seem "exotic", but really I am convinced more an more that everyone is basically the same, even across the East/West divide. All the different expressions of culture are serving the same basic needs. I can't think of a really cool, intelligent sounding, philosophical way to end this so I am just going to stop abruptly now.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Last real week

I'm not quite down to my last seven days yet, but today begins the last full week of my Field Study. I have this week, then Monday and Tuesday, and then it's home again, home again, jiggity-jig. I've got a pretty coherent plan for my last week, but gosh it is difficult to decide what would e the best possible thing to do with just one week. I mean, at this point it kind of does not matter. I have the bulk of my material. More would always be awesome because I really do not have as much confirmation of my sources as I would like. I think the most challenging thing about my research right now is the realization that the information I really need is scattered pretty well over the population. How do I saw what I mean. I mean, it is simple. I've said this before, but India is a lot like America in many ways. Most people I talk to here do not really read. It is as simple as that. They either do not like it or do not have time for it. But there are people who do read and now those are the people I really need to talk to. But they could be anyone. There is probably some good way to figure out who they are, but until I figure that out (which also requires more time) finding these people is slow extraction largely based on chance.

The other night I went to some sort of academic conference. I found out about it through one of my clubs. They were presenting a few books on the brain that had recently been written. Basically it was a bunch of really old Indians and some advocates for special education. One of the books was about working with the brain to help children succeed and overcome things like ADD and ADHD without medication. This started a huge argument about how to approach special education in India. Basically twenty minutes in the agenda of presenting the books in academic conference fashion was abandoned and it turned into an argument/discussion about special education. There wasn't much book discussion, but it was interesting to say the least. At least I learned that a lot of serious sciency-books seem to be mostly read by older Indian doctors and that ilk.

They had a Canadian woman speak over skype. Except I don't think anyone in the room could understand a word she was saying. The connection was kind of bad. It really was kind of a surreal experience and so very Indian in its way. There were so many brilliant, super-qualified, official people in the room. And yet people got up and sat down as they pleased. "Questions" were usually more statements than questions, although perhaps with high level science this is the case. I have never been to a comparable paper conference in the U.S. I've mostly just been to English or religious research conferences and, well, especially in the English ones, people do not tend to really have questions or opinions. Also, at the end the woman running the panel who had been fielding and answering questions at the end said that she was just a housewife and didn't have a job. I was kind of like "whaaa?" She spoke well and seemed very intelligent, so I assume she has some advanced degrees. It was just kind of random to have listened to someone talk about some science subject and then have them describe themselves to you as "just a housewife." Perhaps it is just part of the evolving definition of womanhood and gender equality. Housewives conversant on the cutting edge of brain science and psychology. It sounds good to me.

Anyhow, today I am going to try to see if I can get in touch with the owner of Fact & Fiction. It is this awesome book store with pound for pound the best selection of books I have seen in India. The store is about the size of a small bedroom, but my goodness there are so many quality books in there. I haven't purchased a book there and I kind of would like to grease the wheels with a purchase, but I am running out of money (it is the last week) and I am pretty sure that I have more books than I have suitcase space, so I will have to look for something small. I bought the Penguin Hindi-English dictionary because it is spectacular and it is so much cheaper here. Except it is huge. But really, it is the best Hindi dictionary I have ever seen. Okay, uh, I also bought the entire Harry Potter series in Hindi. But it was cheap! It was less than forty dollars for the entire series! Don't judge me. These two things are my problem. Because seven books are not small. I had extra weight coming over, so here's to hoping I can slim things down enough. I've set aside money for baggage fees, if it comes to that. Hopefully it won't so that money can go towards September rent instead, but it will be fine either way.

You know, I haven't really posted anything about what I have been reading. Why haven't I been doing that? I have no idea. Maybe I will write some posts about that this week and after I get back. Oh, I have to start thinking about what will become of this blog after this is all over. I kind of feel bad about just tossing it aside once this is over. That seems kind of disingenuous. Maybe I will expand/continue to work on what I have been with this project until I connect it in with something else.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Today makes rem feel : \. Yesterday was more productive and exciting than today. I actually didn't get out again today. I feel a lot better. I have not relapsed into fever (at least not yet) and the headaches have gone. I think the diarrhea is starting to go too. Except I had some spicy Indian for lunch. It was probably too early to start on Indian again. Whoops. Oh well. Anyhow, this whatever I have is the most frustrating thing ever. It just keeps changing. I don't know if I just happen to get three different things in succession or what, but today I have been dealing with nausea more than the last few days. But more frustrating than that is the exhaustion. I just have no energy. I guess I just need to spend a few days taking it easy even though I feel better. I went out this morning to get milk and by the time I got back I was huffing and puffing at the top of the stairs. So I did not go out today and it is frustrating.

Instead I tried to contact some people. I wasn't terribly successful, but we will see if I hear back from some people. Dealing with people is like that. For reals.

Last night was both exciting and dur at the same time (does anyone remember when people used to say the exclamation "doi," pronounced something like doy? it was often accompanied by a stupid face). I went to one of my club/meet up things and I was chatting with this lady and then suddenly she was like "hey, I did my degree in English." And I'm like ":o" And then she is like "yeah, and I got my masters in English." And I'm like ":O" And the she says "then I taught English in a university here." And I can't think of an emoticon to express even greater surprise. And then she reveals "until I had children, then I was too busy so I started teaching English in high school." And then she says she has been looking for someone to discuss books with. I tend not to show facial expressions, so my face wasn't changing, but go look up omg cat on youtube for the basic idea of how I was feeling inside this whole time.

Why does she pop up now like a week before I have to leave? Where have people like this been the whole time? She gave me her phone number and offered to give me whatever help I needed. She also expressed an interest in joining in on my research. I mean, she is not a current university professor, but you know, if I actually had time this would have been wonderful. I am still super excited to make the connection though. I definitely plan on trying to stay in contact. I may be doing something similar to this again in the future. And even if I don't, having someone who loves discussing books is always an awesome thing to have around.

So tomorrow...I don't know. It depends on how I am feeling. I still have a bunch of writing to do, so I guess I could work on that.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The hardest part about studying reading in India

is that I cannot say what I really think about Chetan Bhagat because so many people I talk to love his books. So let me rant here. He is a miserable author. His writing is remedial. His plots suck. He is racist. His opinions of the West are not empowering to India, they are engendering nationalist sentiment that are only going to hold normal Indians back while allowing the rich Indian elite, (e.g. investment bankers like Chetan Bhag) to continue sell out India to the West (zing!). His books are big cartloads of do as I say not as I do kind of stuff. They are written as movies and Bhagat spends all his time now trying to get his books made into movies and delivering speeches to support his affluent Mumbai lifestyle. Let's be honest, he writes crappy movie scripts. Like high school level stuff. It's high school level scripts except instead of emo drama, they are full of platitudes about how you can be whoever you want to be. Note that there have a been a string of murders related to labor riots in Haryana over the last month or so, with some speculating that the violence started after some castist remarks. Okay, I am stopping now. I just wish Bhagat would too.

Okay that is not the hardest part, but every time I see someone reading Bhagat or someone gushes about how much they like Bhagat...I have to almost literally bite my tongue.

I think the most surprising thing to me, which in retrospect should not have been, that I have concluded from my research is that Indians, with regards to reading, are really not that much different than Americans. I have never studied American reading, but from remembering what I have observed from talking to friends and acquaintances in the U.S., reading reports about books and e-books, and from inspecting people's bookshelves or lack of them in their homes (disclaimer: if you let me in your house I have thoroughly inspected any book collections I could find. This isn't probably, I have. I am a shameless book snoop) it is basically the same thing.

There are some differences. Americans do read more overall, but the quality of the literature is the same. Chetan Bhagat is on par with Stephanie Meyers and any cheap romance or mystery writer. Dan Brown, Michael Chrichton, Stephen King, and Sue Grafton are perhaps of slightly better quality than the big writers of cheap fiction that Indians read in English at least, they are formulaic, over-hyped, and while perhaps important parts of English literature to study and remember, their books individually are fairly forgettable. Why am I talking about this. Oh, Americans may read more due to the wider availability of books, literacy, and the cheapness of books, but the reading and the purpose of the reading is essentially the same.

The thing that surprises me is the lack of correlation between why people read and what they choose to read. Even in the field of English books, there is a general preference for Indian authors. In fact, outside of those who legitimately read (not that everyone else does not really read; what I mean by that is people who actually do enjoy reading for a hobby and devote at least some time to for sheer pleasure), I do not think anyone mentioned a preference for Western authors. It makes sense in my mind that if you are going to favor your own nation's authors that you would then also choose books with strong messages or try to read the "classics" (whatever that might mean). I guess this is really not that surprising. I don't imagine that the "'merica" kind of people would really be capable of digesting or understanding much more than twilight or fifty shades (oh I so went there). Except the difference is the Indians do not take pride in stupidity or ignorance like the American set do. They hold traditional ideas and opinions sometimes, but they do not knowingly seek after ignorance like some Americans do.

I guess I expected that if there were a preference for Indian authors, the reading would also be to some degree political as well. But mostly I haven't really noticed it to be.

Another interesting trend is that the other popular genre for reading, motivational/business lit, it is all about the ideas. It doesn't matter if you are Rajan Tata or Bill Gates. If you have good ideas and people feel that they work, the book is popular. The most popular, or at least the most frequently mentioned seem to be Indians, or else Indians living abroad, however no one seems to discriminate against books written by Westerners in the slightest. The seven habits are frequently mentioned as good books. It seems like with literature, Indians are conscious of preserving a native tradition, but when it comes to business and success, it is a free-for-all.

I am still developing these ideas. Over the next two weeks I am setting things up to get some hopefully really good more one on one kind of stuff. Since I have generally lacked (and still lack) a target population that I could focus on getting access too, I have just been working with what comes up in conversation, what I observe, and what I overhear. Finally college is back in session, so I am going to take advantage of that. Also I have gotten much more comfortable with the people in my PG and also I have made headway in some of the clubs I have been attending. It is to the point where it isn't exactly the societal penetration I was imagining, but it will work for my project.

Ah! And I still have a draft of that entry I never finished. I need more time! I need more time for reflection and observation. I cannot draw conclusions of any kind after one short and crazy summer. Field Studies are not near long enough. I need at least a year to confidently say anything. This is crazy!..."I just met you. And this is crazy. But I've only been here three months and I'm analyzing your culture and drawing sweeping, misinformed, possibly racist and insulting conclusions, maybe." Aiyo. And I bet that (I was thinking SWEARS!) Dr. Nuckolls will just love how things turned out. Next time. You have not heard the last of me, Dr. Nuckolls, you hear that? *shakes fist* This isn't the end!

Monday, July 30, 2012

What's been going on

Okay, sorry, it has been forever. Circumstances...have not been ideal. Since my last post things have just been a little more difficult than I would like. Shortly after I posted last the internet here started going crazy. For like two and a half weeks I could not load any pages related to blogger. I couldn't see anyone's blog and I couldn't post anything. It was kind of super frustrating. Around the same time (sorry this is about to get a little frank) I started having diarrhea problems. I mean, eating spicy, essentially liquid based food, you are always a little soft in Delhi at least. The food here does not agree with me for some reason. I had no problem in Himachal Pradesh. Literally no health problems whatsoever and there I was drinking the water and eating all the food including homemade yogurt and milk and there was no refrigeration. So they are doing something right. Delhi however, the "modern city" is where I have had all my problems.

Anyhow, so I have always been a little soft here, but it was not really a hassle, it was normal. About a week and a half ago things started to get serious to the point where I could not really leave my flat because things were a little unpredictable and there are not really public bathrooms in Delhi. Even at stores and restaurants. Unless you are in a super posh area, there are no toilets in stores and stuff like the U.S. So really, you can't go out. Then I started getting a headache and a cough. Ergo ibuprofen and some generic imodium. The local tablet called brufen works wonders. The generic imodium...not so much.

You all are probably thinking I should have gone to a doctor, and you might be right, but it's diarrhea. It is a constant reality of life in India, so I didn't really take it seriously. I bought some yogurt, held off on the spicy food and just waited it out. Except it didn't really go away. The cough/headache turned into a fever. That was a fun five days. That faded two or three days ago to be replaced by a near constant pounding headache. Oh, and the ever constant diarrhea. Actually yesterday I remembered that I have some sort of cipiroflaxin tablet series thing, so I started that. Two days in, nothing has really changed, but we will see.

Part of the reason I haven't gone to the doctor is it hasn't been one constant set of symptoms. I have been dealing with diarrhea, fever, headache, cough, sinus problems, and aches, but not all at the same time. So I don't know if I just got lucky and got like five things at once or if this is some weird disease with a bunch of different changing symptoms. Another part of the reason I haven't gone to the doctor yet is because this is India. Every time I get some sort of fever or something, but it's usually just a week max and then it goes. This has been about a week and a half two weeks, so if it continues longer I will make myself go out to the doctor, I guess.

But let me be honest, not trying to bash here, but the real reason I have not been to the doctor is because there are only Indian doctors. Quite frankly, I don't trust any of them. I am not trying to fear monger here, because they are definitely very talented, but I've never been to one who didn't lie to me to get me to come to extra appointments and buy extra medications. That isn't the end of the world, but I am someone who does not like medication at all to begin with and I especially don't like someone giving me extra medication for no reason at all. Especially because this has been so varied, I have the feeling they are going to tell me it's something awful and I have to do tests and buy lotions and pills and spend thousands of rupees to cure a moderate case of influenza. No thank you. Also, the other issue is hospitals in Delhi are weird. They don't just have general hospitals. Everything I've seen is super specialized into specific departments. When you go online to request an appointment you have to know the exact kind of doctor you need before you can request an appointment. I'm not even sure what kind of doctor I am looking for. Usually I just, you know, go to the doctor, not the urologist or the endocrinologist or whatever.

The monsoon and the mosquito population picked up right around the same time, so I feel like it is probably related to that. I have three or four days to go on the cipiroflaxin. If things haven't changed by then, I will go to the doctor, maybe. Just, I have exactly two weeks left. Two weeks from American doctors who I can sue for millions if they try to lie to me to get me to take extra tests and medications I don't need. I have to be honest, if it does not become a serious problem, I may just try to stick it out until I can get back to medical help I can trust.

Anyhow, the most frustrating thing about all of this is it has wasted a good two weeks of time when I actually know what I am doing. I mean, it did not take very long to get the information I needed and now that I have some connections, as long as I have one good week, I will be able to get some pretty solid specific conversations/interviews about reading to see if I can't fill out more about the people who actually read. Blah! I am so mad that I lost all this time at the end! Why couldn't this have happened a month ago when I wasn't accomplishing anything?

So nothing has really been happening on the project front to report on. But I have decided to make sure that these last two weeks (exactly two weeks starting tomorrow) I am going to post something on here every day to report what has happened. And I have to catch up on my field notes. Blah on field notes. Let me be honest, field notes proper have been a complete waste of time for me. I am not writing an ethnography. I am looking at the idea of what people read and comparing it to post colonial theory. Things like where they get the books and where they read the books matter, perhaps, but that is like one entry. Their clothing, their marriage rituals, what they look like, what they sound like, how they eat, etc. etc. while fascinating is completely separate to my project. Blah!

Oh, and I have a post I started that I completely forgot about when I got fevered. I should go finish that now. Hold on.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Where do we go from here?

So as I was saying, one of the frustrating things about my project is the perspective it has given me.

I have realized so many ways I could be more successful and more legitimate in my project. If I had another two or three months I would be so happy. I could accomplish so much. I am finally finding the contacts I need and realizing where the best place to focus my efforts is. This project would have been much more successful if I did it in the fall so I could hit up some colleges. I have acquaintances going to college now and if I could get into that scene, I could probably have book club quality conversations about any time I wanted. Somehow getting connections at local paying guests would also be very helpful.

I finally have contacts to start accessing a network, but they take time to build. Really they will not be ready for me to really utilize. One month is not enough time in Delhi! I need more time to become more familiar with the book club members to get them to trust me enough to introduce me to their other friends and things like that.

Another thing I have learned is how important living conditions are. I am not staying in a bad place. I do not want you to imagine that I am living in some awful, dirty, destitute shack or something. Just...the paying guest I am staying in, while affordable, is miserable for getting work done. It is so much harder to work here than I anticipated. I would punch babies for access to a desk. There also are not very many public spaces where you can go and work on stuff. I guess I am so used to being around BYU campus that I did not take into account that there would not always be that available. Doing this again I would plan extra money and pay for more expensive, but better equipped housing. With so much reading and writing to do, it really would be nice to stay in a place at least marginally designed to accommodate studying.

I think the biggest thing I am realizing is how nice it would be to have extra time or another summer to do another version of this project. This experience has taught me so much about how to properly structure and carry out a research project. I just wish that would show up somehow in my final product. Because of what I have learned, I feel like my field study has been a smashing success. I just also feel like that will not be reflected in what I produce and people will wonder what the heck I was doing out here all summer. Which is fine, I just wish I could find a way to include it all. Maybe I will.

This last month will be good. With the contacts I have I will be able to get the information I need for my project. Maybe nobody will even pick up on the fact that the first two and a half months I was in India I accomplished almost nothing. Well, nothing besides establishing the reading stereotype. It just sucks that from the way things look know I am going to leave the country and end my project feeling like I just barely got started.

Book Club

This past Saturday I finally was able to go to a meeting for the book club I signed up for. It went really well, actually. We met at Costa Coffee in Connaught Place. I suppose as a little background, Connaught Place was designed as the centerpiece of New Delhi when the British rebuilt it after they, uh, ahem, leveled the previous city to punish India for the 1857 rebellion. Basically it is a business/shopping district thing. Anyhow, on the back end of L block, we met in a coffee shop to discuss books. Four people besides myself came. I was hoping for a few more people, but still, it was really one of the best research moments I have had thus far directly concerning my project.

I was actually kind of surprised who came. I was expecting the club to be some former liberal arts majors, maybe some sort of professor, or house wives or something like that. The four people who came were all unmarried men in their twenty and thirties. One was an IT professional. There was a business man, someone who worked for some sort of contractor, and an engineer. I was not expecting them to be the ones expressing interest in books. Also, the kinds of books they are interested in was somewhat surprising.

I think I have mentioned it before, but my findings so far have been that Indians generally speaking do not read. If they do almost universally they read quick easy reads like Chetan Bhagat, spiritual material, and self-help books. I have kind of been discouraged by the seemingly complete hegemony of these three things. I keep hoping I will randomly run into someone who reads something else or mentions a preference for classics or literary fiction or something other than, well, to be blunt, trashy novels and flavorless inspirational literature.

The people I met with actually expressed different ideas. One of them specifically noted that they really only like books written by Indians set in India. They mentioned that they liked the Catcher in the Rye, one of the first western novels they ever read, but after that never really found anything else they liked.

It seemed like there was a general preference for Indian novels with a mix of history and what they called "fantasy." From what I gathered, I think what they mean by fantasy is what we in the West would more commonly call magical realism. They kept talking about the fantasy elements of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and there are not really very many elves or dragons in that. The other thing that they seemed to like were again the self-help books, although their taste in them was much more refined. They differentiated them into two types: those that focus on doing and those that focus on just giving inspirational messages. One of them called these those that work and those that do not.

It was so awesome to talk to people about books like this. It was so great just to talk to people in general on a level like this. It was not perfect. I consciously restricted how much I expressed my opinion. It was a titanic effort, but I had to keep reminding myself that I was not here to argue about truth or correct their misconceptions. There were so many times when I knew they were completely off base or at least had an extremely limited perspective that may have been accurate, but did not factor in so many different perspectives and ideas. They specifically panned Japanese authors for being ridiculous, which is sad, because I am passionately in love with Japanese literature.

The issue of translation also came up. They made some good points, but concluded that translation was always a bad idea. Again, so much I wanted to say, but I just let it lie. I learned a lot though. If I could just have a few more meetings like that with people my project would be amazingly rounded out. I wish I had the ability to talk to people like that on a regular basis. Every day would be freaking amazing and it would only require an hour or two each day. I would have more material than I know what to do with.

Also, they discussed and shared the best ways to get around India's bit torrent firewalls to download e-books illegally. I was so torn. On the one hand, it is piracy and it definitely negatively affects the publishing world and the future availability of books, but on the other hand, it is so important for people to read and for these ideas to get out there. Books here are prohibitively expensive. I have actually been surprised. Until prices drop or incomes rise, books are definitely a luxury good here in India. Which has tremendous implications and opens up a huge discussion on reading and literature and ideas and stuff. I just found it all quite funny and kept my mouth shut.

Not to get into it too much now, but it may be that in India books, like internet and telephones, will skip the hard phase and go straight to the mobile, wireless route through e-books. That makes me so sad to some degree, but it makes sense. The developing world may actually play a bigger role in the demise of the physical book in favor of the e-book than the book addicted west when a mind-blowingly enormous reader market opens up as China, India, and other places as they develop enough to where they have the disposable income and the free time to make reading as a pastime feasible.

I think that is one of the most frustrating things about this project. It has been an amazing experience, but the biggest things I am learning are how to set up a project better in the future. Not just in project structure. I am actually fairly happy with my project as I outlined it. Rather I am learning so much about how to properly plan a project for actual implementation. I know so much more about the necessity of contacts and what kind of contacts to have, timing, location. Actually I am just going to make this another post. Screw academic professionalism. I am an English major. I declare this stream of consciousness writing. It is now legitimate and cannot be criticized.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Some new leads

And that is about how I feel about that.

Anyhow, things are good in general. I have a few new leads for my project. It honestly feels like I am not accomplishing what I want, but everything will be okay in the end. The problem is I just need to remember what I designed in my project. Because this is so much harder than I was anticipating, I sometimes freak out that often my days do not result in much as far as my project goes. But in my actual project proposal, I put down that I intended to get around twenty to thirty good interviews/conversations. So really things are going fine. I have already talked to a good ten or twenty people about the issues I am really interested in and I recently had a few good ideas/connections.

I have not given up on Hard Rock Cafe. So far it is the best place to crossover social boundaries. Just...the stupid hard rock is kind of throwing me off. I have also begun experimenting with coffee shops. I am still looking for the right time to go. During the afternoon they are more manageable and quiet, but then there are less people. One concern with coffee shops is they are more like fishing than other methods. I need to balance attracting people's interest with just straight up asking people stuff so I don't scare them away.

The other day while I was experimenting with establishing rapport with bookshops by purchasing something small I had a genius idea. Thus far I have kind of struggled with talking to people in book stores. I tend to come off as awkward or weird if I try to act normal and people are not really that interested in research projects. But I realized I could be covertly more successful if I just hung out in the Indian authors section and then asked people what books they recommended. This would then automatically start some sort of conversation on reading. Voila! We will see how it goes. Also, so far, I think purchasing things at bookstores really does help in working with them. Not necessarily in getting them to talk, although it helps that, but also in sort of unofficially asking permission to loiter. At least they always have that hope that I will purchase again.

One cool thing is that the people at my PG have expressed interest in my project. They are all around my age-ish, so it makes it easier to talk to them since we are all in the same boat, essentially. So if worse comes to worse, I should be able to get ten or so good conversations out of where I am staying. I wasn't sure if that was going to work out or not. My initial observations suggest that none of them really read, but then that is what I am here to find out.

My last really good lead is the book club I joined. I found them on the internet. They just restarted apparently and so far only meet once a month. I couldn't go to the last meeting because of the temple trip, but come hell or high water, I am going to be at that meeting this Saturday. There should hopefully be around eight people there. And they haven't decided on an agenda. Holla! I am hoping that I can have some conversations with these people. Maybe even over the internet or in person later? We will see. I want to see what they read as well as talk to them about their perspective about reading in India. I hope they have deeper opinions than just looking down on other Indians for not reading. We will see. However it goes, I hope I an make it to at least one more book club in late July or early August, depending on when/if they hold it.

I just wish I was not so dang shy. This would be so much easier if I did not have so many feelings about randomly assaulting people with my project. I just don't want to do that, both because I do not like randomly talking to strangers, but also because I do not think that will really help me talk to people who actually do read to get at the heart of the matter. I hope this comes together.

Friday, June 29, 2012

I still haven't posted on any of the things I said I was going to post on

But I will! I promise so hardcore that I will.

Today I would like to post on some sort of failurish attempts at working on my project. This isn't like, one of those things that is going to talk about failure and me failing and my resistance to failing before accepting it and having an epiphany that really failure, while painful can be good and I learned a bunch of stuff and blah blah blah.

No, nothing so tired as that. I mean failurish because it didn't quite work, but it has potential. So I have been discussing how I am having difficulties in finding a good population to work with. I tried something new, and you are probably going to say I am kind of dumb for thinking this would work, but it still could. I have started attending Hard Rock Cafe's live music nights. I know, Hard Rock Cafe. With all the loud music and not being able to hear yourself think. The thing is, the live music format creates this stage/dance area that breaks down the impenetrable fortresses of tables that usually exist in restaurants and creates this space where it is possible to approach people. The problem of course is my own introvertedness and the loud music. But it has so much potential. The alcohol and the friendly atmosphere provide the best meeting place I have yet discovered to get in contact with the more likely to read upper echelons of Indian society. If I were actually anything remotely close to outgoing I could make it work. But alas, I am not.

I am not sure exactly how to work with this experience in the context of my postcolonial studies and all that. What I attended last night was clearly an essentially western experience. The idea of the rock concert, the consumption of beers, the conspicuously western food, even the band. They were all Indians, but they sang in English. It was composed of a drummer, three lead singers, a guitarist, and two bassists (I think). They sang a couple covers in addition to their own songs and also did a downtempo mashup of Lady Gaga's Poker Face and Paparazzi. I'm not sure if they know what lg is singing about in poker face, but oh well. We will let them enjoy their west aping innocence.

There were some variations though. For instance, the band had three lead singers, which is almost unheard of in the standard American band. Also, one of the lead singers was a flautist...which was kind of random. The girls were dressed in modern Indian woman casual, which is basically western except with an Indian flare. It is mostly visible in the different cuts of shirts and dresses. I think the most interesting thing about it is that it doesn't look funny or out of place or anything. I actually looks surprisingly fashionable. It could easily pass as a trend in the U.S. The men dress more overtly western. A few wore t-shirts or dark colored or striped button up shirts. However a lot of them wore white button up shirts tucked into belted jeans. They look like they had just come from office and taken off their ties. It looked a little humorously geeky to me actually. The way the men dressed, more than the girls actually, seemed to represent how this concert idea has either been appropriated or poorly imitated in India. I don't really know which it is at this point, to be honest.

The weirdest moment of the night and actually one of the most surreal moments I have ever had in India happened just before the band went on. If you have been to a Hard Rock, you know that they blast music the whole time. It's not my favorite part. You guys can read sarcastic understatements, right? Anyhow, so I was txting someone and I suddenly hear someone yell "YMCA!!!!" and suddenly everyone gets really excited. Two people sitting on the couch nearest me start sort of doing the YMCA dances and I am just sitting there thinking "wait, what?" And suddenly the YMCA song comes blasting over the stereo and all the waiters get on stage and I am surrounded by Indians singing along robustly to the YMCA song and doing the dance. There were even a couple of people standing on the bar. Everyone was so excited. It was so bizarre. And then it ended and everyone went back to what they were doing like nothing had happened. I wish I had had a camera with me. It kind of has to be seen to be believed. So now I am trying to find a context to place this experience in. This Indian concert thing was so quintessentially western. The idea of Hard Rock Cafe and the live music in English in a very western style and format could have easily occurred anywhere in the U.S. But there were so many things about it that were so very, very undeniably Indian about it.

Now I am left puzzling over it. Is it a sign of continued western colonization through ideology and business? Is it a sign of India's cultural robustness that it is absorbing the culture of other  countries and making them its own? One summer is not enough time for this. Even after a few years here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Okay, I am posting about stuff I have been thinking about, namely bathing and toilet use in India and I see no reason to not be frank, but if you are a sissy lala and cannot handle conversation like normal adults, I have put everything after the jump. But if you skip this entry, stop for a minute and think about that.

This won't be long, just there are two things I have been meaning to talk about.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Postmodern Research in a Prepostmodern Country

Honestly, I think this has been one of the most draining aspects of my research project so far. Having done a lot of the upper level theory courses for my degree in addition to growing up in the to varying degrees obsessed with political correctness American society, I have been repeatedly grilled on being open minded and tolerant. In the prep course and in studying postmodernism, again and again I have worked with topics of understand difference and otherness and how that impacts everyday life. I find my thought process annoyingly reflexive. I can't encounter anything anymore without subconsciously beginning to take it apart and examining its context. I am in a perpetual search for the source of meaning and the purpose of everything that happens and its relation to everything else.

I'm not trying to blow my own horn here, this is just what I have observed about how I have operated here. I suppose I have been thinking like this for a while, I just never realized the degree to which I have been doing it until I came to India where honestly, no one else does it. I am sure it is the same in the same in the U.S., I have just been sheltered in college, so I have not had to face the daily reality of people who do not tend to think about the role of religion and personal mythology in the formulation of self identity and stupid stuff like that.

Anyhow, thinking like that is fine because it is just thought. You do not need anyone else to engage in it or agree with you. Just after about a month or two now, it just feels weird feeling like the only person who thinks this way. It has kind of begun to become mentally painful not being able to share these thoughts. It is just a complete failure of communication. It is not even a language gap. To everyone I have talked to so far, they just do not really care.

To a degree Indians are not capable of thinking in this mode. Now to clarify such a potentially controversial statement, I do not mean that genetically Indians cannot do this or that they are stupid or lazy or culturally inferior or anything, I just mean from what I have observed where they are culturally and developmentally, the role that religion plays in society is not really an important or meaningful question. With so many people just struggling to get by, it makes sense. There is no cultural impetus for them to approach things from a postmodern perspective.

It is just a bizarre experience to be so focused on being understanding and accommodating with people who have no training or education on cultural difference and so seem incapable of really understanding difference. This ranges from the humorous (like trying to explain what Americans eat to someone who cannot imagine anything other than rice and roti due to life experience) to the almost belligerent (such as people who cannot understand why Americans might have a problem with the local water).

I think it is so startling to me because I have never really experienced India consciously looking at cultural difference specifically.

What am I even trying to say here? I guess I am just starved for intellectual engagement. I feel like I have so many observations and things I want to share and stuff, but there is no one around me capable of interacting with me on that level. I know I can post here and e-mail people and even phone call, but it is not quite the same as being able to talk to whoever I am with when the thought strikes me about the fascinating way Hinduism interacts with faith and miracles. I want to be able to discuss with people what it means that people just accept miracles like the idea that there is still a floating rock bridge to Sri Lanka because Lord Ram built it and the Ramayan is absolutely true or that there is a field that is red with dried blood from the battle fought in the Mahabharat. These are both definitely false, but even if I meet someone who also agrees that they are false, they still do not really see the value in discussing what the cultural implications of this is in the everyday life of Indians and reality as perceived by many Hindus.

This is such a surreal experience in essence. This is all very rough. I am not expressing myself properly. I do not know why I feel like I am at the very edge of my language trying to put these ideas into words. I will continue to work on this idea and hopefully come to a more firm/rational conclusion. I will work on coming to some sort of final encapsulation of these ideas towards the end to see if I can actually logically and clearly state what I mean/feel.

I feel like it has to be a language thing. I bet in Hindi there is a lot of this stuff that goes on. I just wish everything I have seen thus far did not confirm my feeling like no one thinks about these things.

Kamru Nag and Shikari Devi

These two temples are the reason I returned to Himchal Pradesh. Well, I mean, it is more complicated than that, but for clarity, simplicity, and length, I will leave this post at that.

Anyhow, so after much begging and pleading by a few different people, I agreed to return to Himachal Pradesh for a local yearly festival that occurs at the Kamru Nag temple there. Who is Kamru Nag? Honestly I am not quite sure. My friend from Himachal Pradesh places him in the Mahabharat or something. There was some story about him destroying leaves but being outwitted by Krishna. Other things I have read online suggest he is a local rain god. Some place him as a local representation of a different god. So I am not exactly sure. Either way leaves and snakes seem to be important to him. I can't really find much on him, to be honest. And I am not even certain it is a him. The other temple is also relatively obscure. The Shikari Devi temple is more famous than the Kamru Nag temple, it seems, but there is almost no information on it either. I do know that it is dedicated to a local version of Durga and that local tradition holds that it was founded by the Pandavs when they were in exile. (The Pandavs are the main characters of the Mahabharat)

Anyhow, so what went down? Well first our trip was delayed because someone in the local village died. It was not like a funeral observance thing where Indians sometimes do not cook or travel or something. Just, some people were out of town and were going to be late that we were supposed to go with and then the person died, so the trip got pushed back a few days. A little late we set off. The group that went was myself and my friend and his cousin, his friends, and some local village boys. We went in three or four rented cars and started around nine or ten at night. I forgot to check the actual time leaving.

I guess I should first clarify that in all these exploits, my friend from Himachal Pradesh never really explains very well what we are going to be doing and what is going to be involved. I had it in my mind that we were going to some sort of midnight vigil thing or something. We would leave at eight, get there, do our thing and be back by midnight or one. Not so. Oh not so at all.

We left at around nine or ten and did not arrive at the temple mountain until about two in the morning. This whole five hour ish drive was winding around mountain slopes the entire time on what would have barely been one lane highways in the U.S. Except this was used as a two lane high way for big buses and lorries. (the Indian version of a semi, except they are much smaller) So at the temple everyone just parked on the highway. The hiking (yes, hiking) started on the main road far from the starting point because everyone parked wherever and so the road was clogged with cars and bikes and buses and lories. (apparently the less affluent pilgrims just hire trucks to ride in the back of) After some careful navigating and a standoff with a flock of men on motorcycles willing to sit in traffic for forever to drive as absolutely close to the starting point as possible rather than walk for a few minutes we reached the base.

This is where one of the most madcap hikes I have ever been on began. There was no trail. It was a free-for-all. Anything goes, just get up the mountain. And this isn't just the boy scouts and the young men leaders doing this. Everyone and their mom was there. I am dead serious. It was literally everyone and the mom. We were hiking in the pitch dark climbing up the side of a mountain, often very steep, often involving climbing up small cliff faces with grandmothers and small children and fat middle aged women and men and old men and basically anyone you can imagine. It was kind of surreal. I was using the flashlight on the end of my mobile to light my way, but many people, including a lot of old people were attempting the climb in the dark.

Now I have a small confession to make. On this hike I sort of left my FS student hair down and asserted my individuality a little bit. The people here in Himachal Pradesh, at least my friends, call themselves "Pahari's." In the local languages, Pahari means mountain. So they are mountain people, very basic essentially. Which means they assume, rightly so, that they are super good at climbing mountains and walking long distances. True Pahari's really are incredible in this sense. They can literally cross entire mountains with tough hiking in a day like it was nothing.

But now that I think about it, let me take a step back. In India hospitality, many times the comparison is drawn that guests should be treated like gods, which is actually kind of true. When you live with an Indian family they basically won't let you do anything. They want to buy everything for you. They bring you random snacks. They give you their beds. They save the best for you. It drives me freaking crazy! I cannot stand it. You can not even pee without them holding your hand it feels like. So at the point of this hike I was starting to get to the end of my tolerance for Indian hospitality. Which is so great, except when you live through it for a while and get tired of being forced to drink soda after soda after soda and eat so much food you feel sick for the sake of hospitality.

Anyhow, so we reach the foot of the mountain and as I step up onto the first rock my friend puts his hand around my waste and his other hand on my right wrist to help me climb up onto the mountain. Not that this was very academic to begin with, but pardon me for letting my tousled academic hair down, I was like "oh hell no." I mean, I did not say that, but that is what I was thinking. Almost verbatim. I was not going to be helped up a mountain like a little boy. I have been hiking since forever. I can accept that I would be the slowest hiker, maybe even with the least experience, but I was not going to be treated like I was six on my first father and sons camping trip.

...So I did the slightly culturally insensitive thing of pushing on ahead, taking difficult shortcuts, jumping/running up difficult portions unnecessarily. And I found that actually I was much better at hiking than my Pahari companions. They were huffing and puffing and sweating and needed a break and I was rearing to go. Seeing this I opted to drive the point home that I could be independent and pushed my leash further and further until I finally broke away from the group and just met them at the temple site.

I am a little embarrassed to say how much I enjoyed essentially skipping up that mountain while my friends and companions struggled up the mountain behind me. I probably should not have enjoyed the experience of these people having their Pahari cred handed to them by a white boy. Oh snap!

Anyhow, so I got the temple site about four thirty or five in the morning. Everyone else started arriving twenty or thirty minutes later. I have no idea how far the hike was. It was almost entirely up hill over difficult terrain. I have to imagine that it would take some of those families a long time to get up the mountain.

Random cultural observation: Indians are the only people I have ever seen who will stop in the middle of a hike to have a cigarette break. I am mystified by this practice.

At the temple site there were a bunch of people lying around and tents for people to rest in as well as to serve food. We ate breakfast of dal and some sort of curry over rice at one of these tent things. Then we went to go see the temple. The temple is very small. It doesn't even have walls. It was mostly just a roof actually. It sits on a small lake. You can approach the temple from either side, although you have to walk around the pond/lake thing either way. We took our shoes off and went to go see the deity. Seeing the idol was not very enlightening as to what the god actually was, to be honest, but it was a cool experience non the less.

The special thing about this temple is the pond thing actually. At the temple site, people make wishes or requests to the god and then throw money and other things into the lake. This could be anything from a few rupees to thousand rupee bills to even gold jewelry and statutes. I do not know if the temple cleans out the lake and uses it for something or if it just builds up there. All i do know is that there was a lot of money in that pond.

From the temple after spending some time visiting it and wandering around we were going to go to the Shikari Devi temple. There are two options to accomplish this. You can drive there, or you can hike there. We opted to hike since it seemed more exciting. Although to be honest I did not sleep at all the previous night so I was a little apprehensive. I did not take any naps the day before because I thought it was going to be a short trip and sleeping in the car was impossible because it was overstuffed and they spent the entire five hours, yes, the entire five hours in the middle of the night with the stereo blasting at full volume singing along to Indian and Western songs, especially rap and pop.

I'm not exactly sure how long the hike was. Everyone gave me a different number. I cannot find anything online that lists a difference. From Google maps I kind of measured out the distance, but I am still not really sure. All I know is that it was somewhere between twenty-five and forty miles. It was all up and down mountains.

It was pretty amazing. The landscape was so beautiful. It was kind of a cross between the opening scene of The Sound of Music and the traveling scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring. I don't know if that helps. I have pictures. I will work on trying to get them posted somehow. Anyhow, so we are hiking along. I kept switching groups because everyone wanted to stop and rest and I wanted to just get there, so whenever a group would push ahead I would jump ship and tag along with the new lead group.

That worked well until the last group I was on took a wrong turn and we kind of got lost in the backwoods of the Shikari Devi mountains. I think they are called that. Anyhow, so we were wandering through these tiny trails occasionally running into these small cabin things in the middle of the woods where true Pahari's live. It is weird to see true Pahari's because they are often very fair and often have light colored eyes. In many cases they look eerily European. Which is not bad, just it is odd to see the juxtaposition of these people stuck back in time with basic technology, no running water, no electricity, no cars, no roads, just completely living in the woods, living off the land kind of a deal who look so much like South Europeans who are so metropolitan.

Generally everything was okay. I almost slipped off the mountains because we accidentally got split when a trail diverged radically up and down unexpectedly so some of us were climbing up the side of the mountain to get on the correct higher trail. I reached the trail almost when I stood up and ran into a giant spider web with a spider in it so while I was freaking out trying not to get a spider on me while also trying not to harm the spider...I ran into the giant spider web with a spider in it that was next door to the spider house I had just demolished. So while I was overwhelmed with this double spider dilemma I understandably was no longer paying attention to where I was stepping and kind of slipped off the trail and down the really steep mountain side. Luckily I had my camera strapped to my right hand and I kind of used it as a grip to stop myself from going very far. So when I mentally justified to myself spending more money on a camera to get the partially weatherproofed, more durable model a year or two ago, I made the correct decision apparently, because my camera was fine and I did not fall off the mountain.

The other slightly bad thing was when we ran into some junglee cows. (read: wild cows) Which you would think would not be that big a deal because they are cows and cows are docile and friendly. Not junglee cows. They are belligerent and very fast. There was a slightly tense show down where we had to climb up a part of the mountain that the cows almost certainly could not climb on, although to be honest they can practically climb like mountain goats it felt like. Anyhow, we got away and were on our exhausted way.

Eventually we reached the temple which was an open temple. It was just open to the sky. It sits on top of a big mountain with some pretty good views all around. It was a cool experience.

I got a pretty bad sunburn because I did not wear my sunscreen. If I had been told there was going to be a day long hike I might have brought it along. But oh well. Trying to explain a sunburn to Indians is nearly impossible. They just do not understand. My friends kept thinking I was just being prissy about my skin becoming dark. After several attempts at explaining how a sunburn and melanin works, and after they observed me spasming every time they slapped or grabbed me on the arm or neck I think they began to sort of understand.

Oh, other fun fact: we kind of ran out of food and we did not bring water with us. Basically we drank water wherever we found it: mountain streams, random taps, the hospitality of people living in random cabins we found in the middle of the forest. It seemed to work out okay. But please do not take this as evidence to support your own water drinking. If you ask me, my general advice is still do not ever drink the water if you can avoid it. Do I drink the water? Yes, all the time. Especially in Himachal Pradesh where there really is no other option. At my friends house there is electricity, but no running water and no refrigeration. You just take the water when you can get it, and generally they are careful about where their drinking water comes from and keeping it separate from other water. But do not, do not, do not drink the water.

It was a pretty awesome adventure. The temples were not really all that amazing. They were not really national geographic material. But the cultural aspect of it was so awesome. It was my favorite part. I would be lying if I said I was kind of hoping we would stumble across some massive super awesome monastery or fort or something, but then the whole place would probably be lousy with tourists and everything that made the hike so great probably would have been ruined.

Okay, for serious this time

Alright, sorry, I am back in Delhi for good, I think. I was off in Himachal Pradesh doing some cultural activity stuff. I made some promises to go to some festivals and see some temples, so I was sort of obligated to return. Plus I have a sort of adoptive family there and it is like cultural experience city out there, so I figured in the long run it would actually be more productive for my FS work. I have basically all the cultural experience stuff done. Not that I won't continue to do cultural experience stuff, but the official ones that I have to tick off the course list are mostly done now thanks to Himachal Pradesh.

Worry not about my blogging skills. I have regular access to internet and have been seriously pondering some blog entries, so I hope going forward I will be actually posting regularly for once.

As far as my project project goes, things are proving to be a little more difficult than I initially anticipated. My project in and of itself is not really the difficult part. Honestly it is almost too easy in what I am trying to do. All I need to do is talk to people and observe society here so I can analyze literature in a cultural context. Sounds super easy, right? I mean, it is, the difficulty I did not anticipate is that contrary to being an advantage, not having some specific community I am trying to access or a job to do, really interfacing with people is kind of difficult. Also, filling the days is also difficult. Honestly I haven't spent a day where I have really tried missionary style, walking around and talking to people, but from the limited random approaches I have done...that is not very effective at all. And I am not terribly surprised. Even though my topic is really not all that intimate or anything, I don't blame anyone from not really wanting to talk to the random foreigner who is only talking to them because they happen to be nearby.

The other problem with randomly approaching people besides the fact that it lacks even the possibility for establishing rapport, is the people who really speak English, who are more likely to read at all, whether in English or otherwise, don't really wander around the streets of Delhi. They are all at home in the posh, harder to access neighborhoods or in malls/recreation areas or at work. Basically, the people I need to work with are all cloistered away behind a wall of money. I don't know if I should just go out on a limb and start frequenting malls or bars or restaurants or something. I suppose I could afford buying some appetizer or cheap drink a few times each week, but that would be cutting it close. And I don't know how kosher that is really for BYU research. The problem is that still does not solve the rapport problem.

By explaining this I do not really mean to complain. Things are going well. Through the few friends I have, my random room mates here, and my Himachal Pradesh contacts, I have actually made some pretty interesting observations and had some admittedly brief, but informative conversations about reading. I just feel like my project would be much more successful if instead of giving myself the freedom to explore randomly, I had some organization I was volunteering with or a school I was taking classes at or anything like that. I mean, honestly, with what I am doing, I can do it even if I was just going out to tourist sites everyday. All I need is some people to talk to, and actually Indian tourists are some of the easiest to approach because they also exist in the foreigner space. (I need to post about that, actually) But it would be much easier if I was going to some boring office everyday so I could get to know coworkers or fellow commuters or just having a routine where I could become friendly with people just through repeated daily collisions. I have a few book clubs I am trying to meet with. That is my latest project. I am not really sure how that is going to go, but we will see.

This has been a great learning experience though. In trying to find housing, in formulating how to work with people, in rethinking my project and having to redefine it based on the reality that faces me in the field, this has been a great experience. What I worry about now is translating that into some worthy end product.

I think that has been my biggest concern lately. I know that over the next month and a half or so that I have left, I will be able to talk to plenty of people to accomplish my purpose of getting a rough sketch of the state or reading in India. But due to limitations in my experience, my resources, and just the amount of time I have, I will not be able to produce some iron clad, scholarly report with copious data and charts. Which isn't necessarily a problem, except I don't want to write some stupid personal reflection on reading in India or something that makes it look like I am just on vacation and as an after thought threw together a ten page paper for some credit.

In my discussions before I left with Professor Eastley, he brought up the excellent idea of relating the things I found with either an analysis of India's literary past or a commentary of sorts of India's current self perception. These ideas really helped the initial definition of my project and have been great for this sort of in-field identity crisis I have been having with my project.

From where I am now, I have been thinking about putting together some sort of essay (along the lines of essayists, not like, just writing an essay like a paper or something) or some sort of literary/cultural criticism piece. I just still struggle with how to present what I have observed. I do not doubt the veracity of what I have observed and concluded so far, but, how do you present such subjective information in a scholarly way? I could record some official interviews and have direct quotes of Raj Whoever saying he does not have time for books in his busy life. I could actually make detailed specific collections of data of everyone I meet and categorize their responses. But none of this is at all representative. I just happened to run into so and so and any collection of who I talk to is going to be small. I do not feel comfortable saying something about India in general and then backing it up with what I observed from a small handful of contacts that I slowly gained over one short summer. I feel like the result would be either disingenuous or juvenile.

But I do not want to pull back and rely too much on my course reading. I have a lot of great reading. It has helped me in rethinking my project and deciding how to go forward, but I worry about the analysis of the literature becoming the center of my project and displacing my experiences and findings in India, which is the whole point of going through the expense of coming here. I am sure I will find a happy balance in the end. They are not mutually exclusive, I just need to find the best way to blend them together.

I just wish filling the days with identifiable productivity wasn't proving so difficult.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Blah, okay, I am here

I finally got settled. After a month.  A little longer than I was anticipating, but it all worked out in the end. So now I should update at least somewhat regularly. At least weekly. I am hoping to do more than that, time and ideas permitting. I need to get a book to write down thoughts. I am always bursting with ideas when I am walking about or riding the bus or an auto or something and then I get back to wherever I am staying or the internet cafe and sit down to write a blog entry and...I can't think of anything I feel like writing. I think the problem is I talk throughout these awesome ideas and entries and stuff and it takes a long time and then when I have computer access I can just remember thinking awesome thoughts about something like "comparative food presentation in Indian families in the village and the city" and I just get exhausted thinking about going over it all again and putting it into writing. I am just too lazy, probably.

Anyhow, I have "wifi" here. I mean it works, but it seems like everyone who has a computer here, if they have internet access, they are downloading movies and music from bit torrent. It kind of crowds the network a lot. Indian Roomies, not that I have told any of you about this blog yet, but if you ever read this, I love you and your constant downloads.

I also took a Vodafone internet thingy, so I have back up internet, which is actually faster than any wifi I have used yet in India, which is kind depressing because it is not even 3G. Or maybe it is "3G." The terms get confused here. Remind me to update about buying an internet dongle in India sometime.

So what have I been up to...in a small nutshell...it is kind of difficult to process through all of it. I guess shortly, I got to India about a month ago at 12:30 am with no one expecting me, which actually was not as bad as I was afraid it would be. I chatted with a nice Indian couple from Punjab for an hour or two and then read until the metro opened. I took that to the New Delhi Railway station metro station and got lost and then shafted by an auto driver. That is okay, I knew I was getting shafted and I did not have the energy to fight for a decent price.

This is where I made my mistake. I listened to the dag blasted guide book. I am never using a guide book again. They lie horribly. Okay, I will use a guidebook if I happen to be a millionaire and can afford to stay at all the expensive places. But on a budget? Heck no. They don't even recommend good places. All the places they recommended were these overpriced tourist trap things. Anyhow, because of the stupid guide book (yes I am blaming it, because it is the stupid guidebooks fault) I found a hotel in Pahar Ganj (travel tip: if you ever go to India, never, never stay in Pahar Ganj. I would sleep on the streets first. It is safe, but if you want the worst part of the Indian tourist experience, go there. Everyone is trying to get your attention and your money and it is full of the worst kind of foreign tourist. They all have their dreadlocks and their hippie clothes and think they understand India and are having this "adventure" or this "spiritual" experience. Idiots all. Anyhow, Pahar Ganj is grasping, fake, and incredibly stressful. The real India is so much better than Pahar Ganj.) (Remind me to post an entry just on Pahar Ganj.)

Anyhow, hotel in Pahar Ganj. There are two hotels in Pahar Ganj with very similar names. One is very expensive, the other is very cheap. The guidebook, despite being updated, supposedly, only a few months ago rates everything by this code from LL to G. (Because that makes sense) Because of a quirk in how they laid out the maps in this book I thought I was at the cheap one, but I ended up at the expensive hotel. I just went with it because I was still kind of stressed out about being alone and having all my stupid luggage (two bags: worst idea ever. It is the first time in my life I even entertained the desire for an e-reader. It was short lived, but that is how stressful being in India on your own with two freaking bags, a limited budget, and no where planned to stay.) (For clarification, I have two bags because I have one for my books, essentially, and one for everything else. (yes, I have that many books to read (English major, duh))) I was really tired and stressed and was not really thinking straight and so I completely misconverted the nightly rate in my mind because I still thought I was at the cheaper hotel (that makes it sound like I was crazy delirious or something, what I mean is I was tired and had a minor brain slip) and so I ended up staying at a hotel that was forty dollars a night, instead of five or ten like I had planned. Also, because I checked in at like seven or eight, when I left at eleven the next day, an hour before the noon check out time posted at the desk, they charged me an extra half day at twenty dollars. So yeah, sixty dollars for the first night. In India. It sucked. But oh well, live and learn, book your hotel, or at least have a game plan next time. The next hotel I stayed in was only like eight dollars a night, so I repented.

I spent the first week in hotels while I was trying to find housing, which while you are in the field is actually way more difficult than I was expecting. Basically I could not find anything. Even among the members of the church, I came up empty for a place to stay permanently. Anyhow, after a week and having spent a significant portion of my budget and having waking nightmares of running out of money in a month and a half if I got stuck in hotels the whole time looking for housing, I decided to just go all in. I checked out of my hotel (which charged me a whole ton of extra fees they neglected to mention at the outset and tried to charge me three times the going rate for a taxi) and went to the Vasant Vihar church. That afternoon a friend of my begged me to go visit his family and village in Himachal Pradesh...so I went.

If you have a problem with that, office, I love you, but you can suck it. I was breaking my back, stressed out of my mind looking for housing and someone offered me a week of free housing and meals and the most awesome, immerse-yourself cultural experience available in India, so I took it. If you have any suggestions for housing, I'm all ears.

Anyhow, so Himachal Pradesh was amazing. I stayed in his village for four or five days. I slept with at least one other person in my bed at all times. Clean was a relative term. I showered outside with cold water in my underwear. Sometimes while chatting with whomever happened to be nearby. I hung out with the local youth/young adults in the village centers like they seem to do. I will just have to post a series of entries about the whole experience. It was awesome. I got by with hinglish, essentially. My friend essentially speaks English as long as we talk about basic things and I know a little Hindi, so with that I got by for the week. At the end we went up to visit Shimla. (which is cold. I was so surprised. It was actually really cold. In summer. While Delhi was over a hundred degrees. It was bizarre) Shimla is incredible. If you ever happen to be in India, it is one of the most relaxing places I have been in India.

I came back to Delhi, tried to find housing for an afternoon. I had something that I set up while I was in Himachal Pradesh, but that fell through so I went to Hyderabad for the YSA conference. That was great and covered another week or so of housing, although more than half of that was on a train.

When I got back to Delhi again I used the Vasant Vihar church as a base of operations while I searched for a paying guest accommodation, essentially what students/single working people in India use. After three or four days I found one that was generally honest and met my basic requirements, so I took it and here I am. I have two room mates and there are two other people on the floor, although I think another three will be moving in. I have no A/C, but that is not really an issue. I do not mind the heat all that much and it will be monsoon before long. A/C was an extra sixty or so dollars a month. Not worth it.

Anyhow, I will update specifically about my accommodations. Oh, and my project. I should probably talk about my project, since it is kind of the whole reason I am even here and the reason for having this blog. But I tire of this exercise. Also I am tired. Also also, I should find a scale. I definitely have lost weight. I should figure out how much to see if it is kosher or if I should take steps.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I made it!

Okay, well, here we are. I made it. The trip was fairly uneventful. It doesn't even phase me anymore. I was so shocked when I realized there was only two hours left to Delhi. It felt like not much time had passed.

Anyhow. I am at a hotel thing. It is way more than I really wanted to pay, but considering the circumstances, I will accept it. Plus it has free wi-fi, so until I get situated, that will be great.

I still need to find housing. There is a cheaper more hostelish place somewhere nearby here, so I am going to go out to look for that and I am going to send out some requests on couch surfing and this other website a friend of mine showed me. I may go wander around Delhi University campus as well to see if I can find any leads on student contracted housing or something like that.

Bah. Okay, I don't know quite what else to say at this point. I have a lot to work out. Well, mostly just the housing. So far I have already been talking to a few people about my project. Nothing I can use per se because I need to go print out the participation things. I can already tell though, those dang things are really going to make this project awkward. I really wish I did not have to use them. I hope they don't mess this up for me.

I feel like I am not going to be very productive until I can relax about where I am leaving my stuff and costs and stuff. it is too bad this place is so dang expensive, haha. It would be so convenient. But it will work out. There was a semi-longterm kind of thing left out there on couch surfing. I am going to contact them and see if we can meet up or something. Dang this is so sketch, haha. I love it.

I had a minor panic attack this morning when I realized that I am in freaking India and I haven't arranged housing yet. So...everything should be fine. I don't really feel culture shock yet. It just feels normal. Getting from the airport to the metro and then finding an auto and being directed all over the place and ending up taking way to many stops and then being lead down this super sketch street where the hotel was and just taking it because it was the first thing I found so far and the other things weren't turning up...it was an adventure, but if felt super normal. Like this is India. I don't know. I will report more on culture shock. We will see how I do once I really start facing the heat.

Okay, I am off to find food, water, a map, and then maybe to go out to see Delhi University. Who knows.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mostly just housekeeping

Okay, I am not committed to posting everyday. I want to do it as often as I can, but the promise I have made myself is that I will not post unless I have something to say, otherwise this will kind of get stupid fast.

I deleted the sources tab and made the assignments tab only for in field assignments. I have all those posts tagged and everything, I just want this blog to now be focused on my actual project moving forward, not the patchy reporting of what I have done before. Basically I could not think of a good way to put it on here without being aesthetically and logically displeasing to me. The readings tab is for all my reading assignments. Maybe I will do something more with it like link some entries about responses or thoughts I have about the reading, but for now it is just another list, like my book tab.

I finally posted my proposal, although I omitted the intent/background part, sections A and B. I will be working on them, but I want them to be more focused and something I am actually satisfied with if I am going to be posting them on this blog going forward. I will update them probably soon.

Other than those things I have updated some blog lists. I am still playing with them. They may change.

Now I just wish all the people in the field would say something! I am so excited to read their first impressions but they are all so dang silent. I think only Roseanne has said anything and I am not even sure if she is in the field or not.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Reading is finally set

I met with Dr. Eastley today to make sure I have all the texts I will need to read. I think I will change one of my tabs into a reading list tab thing/center to record/report/respond to what I am reading or something. I will see what ends up being practical in the field, I suppose. Essentially I have everything. There are two books I do not currently own, but Dr. Eastley is getting me PDFs of them. I think I will probably end up purchasing them eventually, but for now I will go on this. Does planning on buying them in the future counteract any potential copyright issues? I think so. Actually the only reason I did not end up buying them is because I can't find them right now. I think that basically covers my bases, don't you think? If anyone questions me I will just clarify my stance on the restrictive and backwards state of academic literature currently.

I think books are going to take up a significant portion of my luggage to India. I can't bring myself to change over to e-books. The idea just sounds awful. Also, it is way way way too politicized right now. I can't support Amazon with their kind of brutal business practices. I am not ready to marry Apple. I have no idea if Barnes and Noble will be around much longer. I think I am just going to wait until physical books are no longer a possibility. Maybe by then e-books will be like MP3 files that you can play on anything that can play MP3s. Because it isn't like I need to sit in an Amazon branded chair or in a specific Penguin zone to read the books I have now. Why would I want to shift to a standard where I have some big corporation reading over my shoulder at all times? The other issue is that a lot of the academic texts I need are not available on any e-readers currently that I know of, so I am going to have to take some books either way.

I will update my tabs, I think, with my reading list. Also, I will publish my proposal soon, I just want to rewrite the background/significance/lit review part because it is so bad. I just did not have the energy with the disaster last semester was to make it what I want it to be. So more improvements pending. Perhaps I will have this blog where I want it to be by October.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Visa Vie

See what I did there?

My visa is finally here. I feel like I have suddenly accomplished so much even though I did not really do anything except throw money at a middle man to process documents for me. It took the visa processing company about two weeks to work with my paperwork. The Indian Consulate took less than six hours to get their stuff done. Oh well. A few polite phone calls and now all is well.

My flight is officially scheduled for May ninth at 10:35 AM.

I still do not have housing, but I am sure that will figure itself out eventually. I have sent out another round of contacts. Did I already say that in my last entry? I cannot remember. Anyhow, new round of pleas is out and we shall see. If worse comes to worse I will just be in a hostel for a while. I am concerned about my ability to approach people to see if I can stay with them, because that is incredibly far outside my comfort zone. But getting out of my comfort zone is the whole point of this endeavor, now isn't it? If I wanted to be comfortable I would have just stayed home, worked, and saved money rather than going out on this madcap adventure to India on money I don't really have to do something I am not exactly sure I even know how to do.

I am meeting with Dr. Eastley tomorrow to confirm I have all the reading material I will need. There is no required reading for IAS 397R or ENGL 490? 493? (I can't remember which one is the mentored research one). For ENGL 358, my Southeast Asian literature class I already have the required texts. It is just my ENGL 480?, the directed readings course, I think I have about half of the books I will be reading from, I just need to confirm if I am missing any, and then get the specific chapters I am supposed to read from Dr. Eastley.

Okay, you know what, I am just going to confirm everything for future reference so everything is clear when I talk about my classes. These are the classes I am taking:

IAS 397R Field Studies Field Course
ENGL 358R Southeast Asian Literature
ENGL 480R Directed Research in English
ENGL 490R Individual Readings in English

There we go. I had it backwards. Anyhow, I have all the readings except for I don't think I have them all for 490R, at least not the specifics. I am super excited for the news reading assignment for IAS 397R. I will probably just get either The Times of India or The Week (an Indian news magazine thing) or something like it. We will see how I am feeling. I think the only part about the FSFC that concerns me is the writing two or three pages everyday. I have had bad experiences with journaling. Maybe it will come easily. I hope so. Maybe if I do it on my compy it will be easier.

Other than that, everything should go smoothly. Before I leave I am definitely going to have to set up a reading schedule for my two reading courses because they are fairly rigorous. Well, exceptionally rigorous, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It is so exciting to finally have a semester in college that is specifically, completely geared entirely towards exactly what I want to study. I am curious how I will feel coming out of it. Will I discover things about it I don't actually like? Will I like it more? Will I like it less? It is so exciting and new. I wish all of college could be like this.

For now I am kind of in this limbo space. In less than a week I will have so much to do it will be crazy, but for now things are basically set. I just need to do a little preliminary planning and pack. Well, besides locate housing, but there is not much I can do about that except e-mail and/or call people and hope for the best. So for now I just work and then come home and read. Right now I am in the middle of Bombay Time by Thrity Umrigar. I actually started it a few months ago, but lost interest in it, yet suddenly it has become a page turner for me. It is so strange how that happens. One day I would like to know the psychology behind that. I mean, I know sometimes the story just gets better, but in this case I read the first ten pages and could not find the energy to keep going and then I started again the other day and I could not put it down. Maybe it is all in perspective or something or psychological state.