Note: As a final goodbye present to me from India, I spent the last three hours writing this blog post, only to have it all deleted when I went to publish it when the internet went out. Seriously?
I just saw the sunset over my last full day in India. The sky was starting to turn dark blue, but just above the horizon, there was an orange, purple, and pink layer. The sunset looks like that in Colorado over the mountains, but in Illinois? Not so much. I've never seen sunsets like the ones in India before.
My flight leaves Hyderabad in 24 hours and 15 minutes, and I'm hitching a ride to the airport with Jess, Emma, and Elizabeth because they are leaving for Delhi, or maybe Kerala, tomorrow around the same time. I'm really glad I will have other people with me. I've always liked being around other people, and I'm especially glad Jess will be there. We can eat my last meal in India together. Today, we went to the Ista Hotel to get massages, and they were amazing. That was an amazing way to end my 5 months here. After the massage, we went to Prasads to see the new Hindi movie Rockstar, but it was sold out by the time we went there. We ate our traditional McDonald's movie lunch anyway, and then came back, tried to go to the Safrani School (the weavers) but they were closed. So I came to Tagore, and was exhausted. I took a nap for an hour, and now it's almost dinner time.
At least, on our failed afternoon excursions, I got to see many of the places I'd spent my time in Hyderabad from the open sides of the rickshaw, or through the window of the shared autos we took. I looked out at the Muslim women covered in black from head to toe, the men with the little caps (what are those called?) and white kurtas. The Hindu (or at least not traditional Muslim) women in saris. The women in nicer saris were getting out of cabs, or their personal cars. The women in cotton, functional saris were sitting on my lap in the shared auto. The families on the motorcycles, babies sleeping on their moms, even as they dangle precariously close to the pavement. I saw the dirt along the sides of the road, the trash burning, the goats, cows, and stray dogs. The men pulled over, peeing on the wall around someone's property, probably right below the painted notice not to urinate there. I saw the brightly painted, ornately carved temples scattered randomly through the city, as though everything else had been built around them. I saw the fruit vendors with flies buzzing around, the (probably) lower-caste women sweeping the streets (there was a study a while ago that found that even though Untouchability has been abolished, in many areas in India, street sweeping crews are made up entirely of the members of castes who were former Untouchables). I saw the fancy car dealers and international department stores with the huge nets over the windows to keep protesters with rocks away.
What happened to my days here? What have I done in India? I'm mostly confused that it's ending. I've been leading an entirely different life here. I don't have the extracurriculars, the meetings, the amount of reading for class, the sports (except cricket) or my friends from home. In being here, I learned a lot about India, myself, and the people around me. So I think the easiest way to order my thoughts is to make a list of the things I’ve learned, and some things I’ve done in India.
1. I learned yoga. This has helped to give me some flexibility (finally), and also to calm me down. I know this is something I will keep with me for the rest of my life, and I am so happy to have learned the basics in India, the home of it. Anyone who has learned yoga in the US thinks of yoga as increasing flexibility, maybe finding a calm center. But in learning it here, I got to learn some of the theory. The idea that the asanas are simply preparation for the pranayama (breathing/meditation) is something I will definitely keep with me. Additionally, learning about the founders of yoga and its many forms has been a really interesting addition to the actual practice of it.
2. I learned patience and flexibility not of the physical variety. India is so full of small challenges. Everything from not being able to speak to the people around you, to being pushed around in line at the ATM, to 100 Air India pilots going on sick leave without prior notice the week before I left India on an Air India flight, to spending hours at the FRRO to obtain a tiny stamp on the back of a piece of paper that will allow me to leave the country, to going to the tailor and discovering that your clothes which have been there for 17 days have not been touched. Being able to understand when people are late, classes are canceled with no prior notice, exams and class rescheduled for the weekends we had planned travel – all of these things are frustrating, but once I figured out that none of them are the end of the world, my life got a lot better in India. It helps that I have few obligations outside of class – if someone was late, it’s not like that made me late for the six things I had later that day. But still, I am proud of myself, and all of us, for adjusting to the much more laid back, much less timely lifestyle that people generally lead in India.
3. I learned about the kindness of strangers. The man who explained to Jess and I how to take the MMTS commuter train to Necklace Road from Lingampally, the woman who walked my parents across the street in Medhipatnam and helped us negotiate a rickshaw, all because she saw me turn down a picture, and was proud of me. The man with his daughter in a tie-dye shirt who gave me his business card at Domino’s in case I needed any help with anything in Hyderabad. The Australian man who paid for part of Jess and my Subway purchase at the airport in Gujarat that doesn’t have an ATM and doesn’t take credit cards. All of these people, and many more, have been integral parts of the Indian experience. Often, they appear out of nowhere in moments of great need, and then seem to disappear just as quickly. I hope they know how much I appreciate their help. These are the people I will remember when I look back and think of how there are so many good people still in the world. And though we might not even be able to speak to each other, they were willing to drop everything to help.
4. Getting mail is the best thing ever. This has always been the case (I LOVE MAIL), so thank you so much to Mom, Kristen, Morgan, Perin, and the SESP Student Affairs Office for sending me packages and letters in India.
5. I went parasailing in Goa.
6. I learned how important food is. This has a couple of different angles. The first is that roughly 50% of Indians live at or below the poverty line. The one established many, many years ago (I think it was the 60s or 70s) had the line at 50 paise per day in rural areas, and 75 in urban areas. One paise is 1/100 of a Rupee. It takes 53 Rupees to make a dollar. The line hasn’t moved much, to my knowledge. This means that people are living off pennies a day. And India is the most populous country in the world. That makes a lot of people. It’s interesting, though, how invisible poverty can be, even when it’s right in front of our faces. It becomes a part of the fabric of life here, and it’s unheard of to go somewhere without encountering several people asking for money. So what do you do? Do you give the person a couple Rupees? Then when 14 people see you do that, do you give each of them a couple? Where does it end? It’s difficult to make a good decision here, because a couple Rupees to someone living with none is a good thing, but giving one person some money also doesn’t solve the problem. Tell that to someone grabbing your elbow, your bag, or whatever else they can reach, looking at you with sad eyes. The other side of the food thing is what my friend Ronil would call “first world problems.” Namely, I don’t particularly like Indian food. This isn’t in all-inclusive statement. But for the most part, eating in India is not an enjoyable activity for me. It is the act of putting nutrients (just enough to function) into my body. I cannot express how excited I am for a very long list of American foods, including, but certainly not limited to Kraft macaroni and cheese, anything my mother or grandmother cooks/bakes, steak, and salad. I haven’t eaten a salad, I don’t think, in 5 months. And I miss it so much. Perin has been sending me recipes of things we could make when I visit, and even the ones that have sweet potatoes (yuck) in them are starting to look really good.
7. Speaking of Perin… I could not have asked for a better boyfriend. He stayed up late when I was homesick, didn’t eat my favorite foods in front of me on Skype, paid attention to me even when he had his first set of med school exams and I was sick, and most of all, he stuck with me even though I spent almost 5 of the 6 months of our relationship in India, ten and a half hours ahead. Also, he may or may not have sent me flowers to welcome me home (although I can’t confirm that until I arrive in Evanston).
8. I have stayed in the nicest hotel I have probably ever been in (Delhi and Hyderabad with Mom and Dad) and also the grossest hotel I have ever been in (Gujarat with Jess). I think it’s safe to say that the college student travel budget does not equal the working adult travel budget in India.
9. Geckos and jumping spiders love to live in shower stalls.
10. Roommates are really important to, well, a happy life. This is something I definitely took for granted freshman and sophomore year, and not getting along with a roommate was new to me, and it was really hard at first. I'm glad we managed to work everything out by the end.
11. I have seen the Taj Mahal at sunrise.
12. I have learned to appreciate the fun little surprises that sometimes happen. Alikiah brought me balloons at my goodbye dinner. I got my exit permit without having to promise my firstborn child to the Indian government. I was better prepared for my final exam in Dalit Politics than I thought. Mom brought me a whole bag of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. All of these little things add up, and make every single day special, contrary to what the narrator says in the beginning of 500 Days of Summer.
13. I have learned how to be alone. And how to be lonely. See the roommate entry for the reasoning behind this feeling of loneliness, but I missed my friends, family, and Perin too. For the first time, I didn’t fit in right away, and it was very hard for me to find a group who liked me after a month of social isolation when I first got to India. Val, Karen, and especially Jess are some of the best friends I have anywhere in the world now, and I am so happy to have found them. My life took a much more positive turn when I started spending time with people who wanted me around.
14. I have learned that getting into cars with almost complete strangers is sometimes a really good idea. Ishan, Kishan, and Raj in Gujarat were far and away the coolest strangers we met in India. They took us all around Ahmedabad, and we rode our first and only roller coaster in India with them. They also took us to the airport, which was so nice because it was really out of their way. And they looked at us like people, like friends. Not like foreigners.
15. I have had candid conversations with Indian women my age who are in the process of being set up into an arranged marriage. Some of them are happy, some don’t mind, but some (like my peer tutor) are heartbreakingly resistant to the idea. Some people have certainly had love marriages that I’ve talked to, but many, many of them are still arranged. And sometimes I wonder if that is doing more harm than good, especially to the people who don’t want that, or for the people (mostly women) who have to give up their dreams, careers, and education when they marry.
16. I have jumped on and off of both a moving bus and a moving train. This is a lot less exciting and a lot more scary than it sounds, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing it.
17. I have yelled at Indian men for taking my picture without permission, and I have said no to those at least polite enough to ask. It’s a small thing, but this made me angrier than anything else. It’s a constant reminder that you don’t belong, it’s intrusive, and it’s especially inappropriate in Indian culture. Men taking pictures of women they don’t know is rude and I hate it. Especially in an around Hyderabad. It made it very difficult to feel at home, even when I was comfortable getting around and doing everything myself in Hyderabad, someone taking my picture was a subtle message that I would never fit in.
18. I have ridden on the back of my Arabic speaking Libyan friend’s motorcycle.
19. I have eaten more Domino’s Pizza in 5 months than most people eat in their whole lives.
20. I have learned to communicate with people when no one speaks the same language. There are 30 languages in India spoken by more than 1 million people each. Gestures, and “Hinglish” go a really long way here, and I have probably had whole conversations with autorickshaw drivers using only the movement of my head, and hand gestures. I’ve learned pretty much no Telugu (I can say “thank you”), but I’ve been able to pick up a LOT of Hindi in my time here. I can understand a lot, and put together relatively acceptable sentences in a conversation, and the Bollywood movies have helped a lot.
21. Speaking of Bollywood movies, I have purchased upwards of 30 in India. It’s going to be really fun to explain that to Customs in the US in a few hours.
22. I have learned a ton about Indian politics and government. The classes I’ve taken, one in particular, has been amazing. My professor was very much about class discussion and debates, and the conversations we had about some of the most controversial issues in India have been an invaluable part of my experience here. Reservations, sex-selection (many more female fetuses are aborted here, and it’s now illegal for doctors to reveal the sex of the baby to the parents before it’s born), language, and Center-State relations, in addition to a great deal of background history has all been a part of my experience here. I feel well-informed, and I am so happy that I was able to learn as much as I did in the classroom here about India. Thank you to Professor Devare for being absolutely incredible.
23. I have learned that the Indian police are the scariest police force on the planet. They carry the largest guns I hope I ever have to see in person. And they leer at you out of the windows of their big, unmarked vehicles. When I needed the phone number for the Gujarat police department for my travel form, Bapuji misunderstood and became really agitated when he thought I was in Indian police custody.
24. I have listened to Northwestern beat Nebraska in football on the radio. In fact, I listened to all the games on the radio whenever I wasn’t traveling. I actually really liked listening – kudos to the WGN guys. They are really entertaining.
25. I have learned that inefficiency and fragmentation short of total self-destruction are pretty much hallmarks of any sort of organization in India.
26. The Norwegian girls in Tagore are the most beautiful people I have ever met, and are also the friendliest. I will miss Harriet, Anne Marte, Marlene, Marielle, Lena, and Miriam so much. Harriet and Anne Marte both cried today when I left for the airport, and they were some of the last to see me off. They’ve all assured me that I have a standing invitation to come visit them in Norway.
27. I hate the Delhi airport. They confiscated my cute little Swiss army knife that I had forgotten to put in my checked bags, but they let me through with not one, not two, not three, but FOUR bottles of various liquids, all over the “ounce limit.” All the signs that say this is the “Number One Airport in the World” are false. And the more I have to stare at them, the angrier I get.
28. I just met two really nice people on my flight from Hyderabad. We chatted the whole two hour flight.
29. I have learned that banging drums loudly in academic building are a really effective way to halt classes. Jai Telangana.
30. Now that I look back on it, pretty much most of the questionable decisions I made were with Jess. Go figure.
31. I saw India play England in Cricket. (Also, what the heck is Kabaddi? And why are all the players on Team India Sikh and Punjabi?)
32. I have learned that power and internet are not necessary for happiness, contrary to popular belief. Although they do make some things a heck of a lot easier.
33. I have been in several Indian states, and seen some of the greatest monuments in India. Goa, Karnataka, Agra, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Mahableshwar, Gujarat… I want to come back for Kerala and Amritsar and Kashmir.
I am about to get on the flight from Delhi to Chicago in 2 hours, and I am so excited. I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive, but for now, I am sleepy, and I am hungry. So I’m going to get some food, and then watch The West Wing.