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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.