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Friday, June 22, 2012

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.

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