Monday, July 30, 2007

Well, why do you suppose I'm so tired? There seems to be no explanation, maybe I am just missing some essential vitamin that I usually get in the States but isn't in my food here. Combine some sort of general physical malaise with a brain full of only half-formed Hindi words and phrases, and you have a recipe for academic disaster. I did fine on my last exam, but I have a feeling the scoring erred on the side of generosity.

I am working on my final paper now, so that is where most of my writing energy is going. In order to get permission to miss class, I had to agree that my trip to Varanasi was part of my final project, so now my paper will have four full parts, one for each jantar mantar. My Hindi isn't this good. Seriously. Plus I need to make up my 200 word vocabularly list for my profession--I really need a Hindi architecture dictionary, most of the words I need are not in the regular dictionary, and my teachers are not architects, so they don't know many of the words I need. Anyway, the silence here is due to the fact that I'm working, and counting the days until I get to sleep in a bed with springs.

Everyone will be glad to know that they planed the door to my room this afternoon, so I no longer have to slam my body against it to open it. My neighbors will be happiest about this, I think.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I think I should be wearing a trilingual sign (Hindi, English, Marwari) that says, "EIGHT WEEKS. DON'T FUCK WITH ME." It's dangerous right now to annoy me, that's all I can say. Hopefully, now that I only have three weeks left, I'll chill out a little bit. If not, you might want to be careful about what you say to me. I only have so much patience left right now, and you can't be sure that I didn't just waste it all on the last guy that got on my nerves.

Monday, July 23, 2007

I have to say, the roads in Madhya Pradesh are pretty damn bad. One hour driving outside of Ujjain demonstrated how sleek and solid the Jaipur infrastructure is--five hours driving outside of Ujjain (one way!) is enough to make you convert to some nearby religion and start chanting. At least I wasn't driving. I feel like we underpaid our driver--the truth is, we were too tired by the end of the day to figure out what a proper tip would look like, so we just gave him what was in our hands (not enough). The night trip back was especially frightening, and we got to see some pretty horrific roadkill (should I describe it? Probably not, let's just leave it general and say it involved dogs and water buffalo).

Okay, so that was the bad part of the day, but it seems like even with the carnage, the trip to Sanchi was worth the trouble. One, just south of Sanchi runs the Tropic of Cancer, so I had the lovely experience of leaving the tropics for an afternoon. At least, that amuses me. Two, we had a solid afternoon in Sanchi hanging out with the Buddhist topes on top of a hill above the village. "The Great Stupa at Sanchi" has always been an icon of sorts for students of South Asian art and architecture, and I think my companions were interested in the Buddhist history of the site. I, on the other hand, am intensely interested in the colonial use of Sanchi, and how ASI policy developed from early colonial interactions with Buddhist sites.

Aside from the intellectual/cultural part of the trip, the heritage park is just in a lovely spot. The sun was shining, but there were nice clouds in the sky, and the wind was blowing through the trees the entire day. I spent some time just sitting in the shade near Stupa 2, enjoying being outside with no one bothering me, no one staring at me. There were only about 30 people at the park all day; say, 12 foreigners at any given time, and 15-20 Indians. I think the guards were bored.

I'm not sure our driver thought the visit was worth ten hours of driving across the worst roads in India (indeed, in the paper the next morning, there were articles about the state gov't promising to fix the roads, and about student protests over the road conditions [the students dressed up like frogs]), but I did. Sanchi wasn't on my original itinerary, but I figure, hey, you never know. I may drop out of school, change my research focus, fall seriously ill, whatever, and never come back to India. Better see things when I can.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I meant to be out of this place by now, but it's pouring down rain and I have no umbrella, not that an umbrella really helps much when monsoon is happening. The rains have been lovely (Madhya Pradesh was so beautifully green), but I need to get some money added to my cellphone, so I want to be on the way to the Reliance store right now.

Just to interrupt this post for a moment: this week I discovered that Julia and Crystal also sleep with their cellphones here in India. None of us know why.

We got back to Jaipur around 7:00 this morning--took a 3tier AC car from Ujjain. I had a pretty nice nap on the way here, but I guess my companions did not. At any rate, I think we're all a bit tired from our week away. 3 days in Pushkar and Ajmer for Hindi camp, followed up by 4 days in Ujjain for vacation and research. Crystal started out the week sick, seemed to rally for awhile, then succumbed again. I've been fighting a cold, but feel a lot better these past two days.

Anyway...Pushkar was Pushkar, Ajmer was Ajmer. A reprise of last year, only better. I enjoyed Hindi camp a lot more, partly because it was better organized, partly because my Hindi is better. Still, I think I'm over Pushkar at this point. It can be a really peaceful and beautiful town away from the main drag, but even in the off-season, it's a bit over-run by backpackers getting stoned. Also, every year we go, all the students get sick. It's a dirty town, quite frankly, much dirtier than Jaipur, and impossible to stay away from contamination, I think. It's worth one trip to see the ghats, but probably not worth two.

Ajmer was a mixed bag. It may have been even more crowded this year than last since we went a week before Urs festival (last year, we went the day after Urs ended), so some people enjoyed the durga much less. Some people really got a charge out of the intensity of the crowds, but some had experiences similar to mine last year--in a tight room choked with people, mens' hands (and other parts, apparently) wander.

Anyway, this all seems like a very long time ago. We've since traveled to Ujjain, which has kind of pushed Hindi camp out of my mind. Ujjain, like Pushkar, is a Hindu holy city. It's also a Hindu political city, in that it seems to be a Shiv Sena town. At least, Shiv Sena rents the billboard right outside the railway station. We spent a bit of time looking at Hindu temples here and there, and also went up north of town and went into some ancient Buddhist caves. Crystal did better at this than Julia or I. I tried to force myself to go all the way into the deepest room of the first cave, but started to feel like the world was squashing me. I had just started to say to Julia, "I don't think I can go any further," when she said "I have to get out of here!" and raced for the exit. So, claustrophobia issues.

We saw some other Hindu temples, but my primary objective was to see the jantar mantar there. I haven't processed everything through yet, but I'm going to try and start writing my paper this week and just see what happens. I only have one more observatory to visit (in Varanasi), then I will have seen them all at least once. Hoping to go to Delhi to see Claire in two weekends, so I'll take another look at the Delhi site then. Claire was in Jaipur today for one hour only, so I got in a nice but much too quick chat before putting her on the bus to Delhi. ("Claire, I feel like I'm putting my daughter on the bus to college!" "I know!")

Well, the Ujjain observatory is so different from Jaipur, which is so different from Delhi--this is not the impression you get from colonial documents, so that's kind of interesting. Also, I made friends with the technical staff, one of them even turned out to be a civil engineer who had also written a book on vaastu, so that was the world's happiest coincidence. I have a copy of his book now, and his contact information. A contact in Ujjain--that puts me ahead of where I stand in Jaipur (although I think I might be making progress in that area, too).

I haven't gotten to the most exciting part of my vacation yet, but I don't want to type it here until I talk to Catherine, I want to tell her about it first. So, tomorrow or the next day, I'll talk about my Friday in detail, unless I get bogged down working on my final project. If that, you'll have to wait until the weekend.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Yesterday, our community visitor at the Institute was a snake charmer. Scared the hell out of me. I don't care if the cobra doesn't have any venom. It's still a snake capable of biting. It kept trying to bite the guy, so I think I'm not all that crazy for not wanting to get close it.

Swamiji's father is ill, so my personal tutorial for this week was postponed (twice). I finally ended up with Vidhuji this afternoon, going over relative-corelative clauses. He said he was impressed that I seem to understand them, it usually takes students much longer to catch on, but I pointed out that Russian is pretty much one big subclause, so I've had a lot of practice. He also said something else really nice to me about my Hindi. He sat down and asked me if I was going to do the year-long program. I said, no, I'm supposed to be writing my dissertation, and he said that's really too bad, because if I spent an academic year in Jaipur, my Hindi would be indistinguishable from a native speaker's. He said I'm a very methodical learner, and it's serving me well. So, go me, I guess. That's two compliments on my Hindi in two days.

We're off to Pushkar for Hindi camp until Monday, then I'm off to Ujjain until next Sunady. It's possible I'll find some internet access between now and then, but not likely. Still, that's not an excuse to stop sending me e-mail. It's true that I'm not keeping up with anyone's blogs, and also true that I have a hard time finding more than ten minutes of time to type as fast as I can at this during the day, but e-mail is still nice (I'm just saying.). Wish me luck at Hindi camp. There is already a lot of tension in our small group, who knows what mandatory socializing will do for us.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I'm sure you're all waiting to hear about my visit with Bhabhiji. Yes, I finally gathered up my courage, bought some milk sweets at Gopi, and got myself up to Jawahar Nagar 4 Bh 5 to visit her. It went pretty well, I thought. At least, she seemed happy to see me, and didn't scold me for living elsewhere. And, she made me watermelon juice, so it seems like she's not so put out with me anymore. The progress I've made in Hindi was really evident during our conversation, and she, too, noticed it. I had to ask her to repeat a couple of things, but generally, it was pretty seamless chatting--a huge advance over last year, when I sat at the dinner table and willed Andyji and Andrewji to shut up so I could go to my room where no one was speaking Hindi.

Also, she gave me a ride home (or, rather, her driver did). I'd forgotten how lovely it was to have a car. So easy! I discovered today that you should never lie to rickshaw wallahs. One rickshaw wallah gave me a ride to MI Road today, and when he asked if he should wait, I said no, I'd be a few hours. And he said, Oh, you're going to see Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, and it just seemed easier to say yes rather than explain that I was going to buy something to read, get a cup of coffee, get some lunch, do some homework. On my way to this cyberspot, I ran into the same driver, and he was all "Aren't you supposed to be at the movies?" I had to quick come up with another lie (I couldn't meet with a ticket), and the rickshaw wallahs all started giving me advice, most of which was "you have to get there an hour ahead of time." The rickshaw wallahs in Rajapark all know our habits, and its very difficult to make them go somewhere new. No! Don't turn there, I want to go to Goving Marg! Govind Marg! and then they take you to your house, anyway.
Yesterday, Arvind asked me a really surprising but rewarding question. I was quizzing him (or interrogating him, depending on your point of view) about the Outward Bound trip he once took in the Pacific Northwest, trying to figure out exactly where he'd gone kayaking and backpacking. After a few minutes, he asked "Do you have a spatial memory?" I had no idea what he meant--a spaital memory as opposed to what? I thought he was making a joke about his attempt to memorize words through "emotional memory" rather than verbal memory--a couple of weeks ago he drew a stick horse on one of his vocab flash cards, thinking he'd remember "parampara" better as the sound of a pony rather than as the Hindi word for "tradition." But that wasn't what he meant by his question. He said, "I've noticed you seem to organize information very spatially, do you think you do?" Interesting question, I thought. I definitely think my work is more spatial than visual, and that puts me in a certain camp of architectural historians (as Svetlana Alpers knows all too well). But I hadn't thought too deeply about whether I mentally organize information in a spatial or relational manner. Everyone in the room seemed to think Arvind was right, so I guess they can hear something that I can't when I speak.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Well, that worked for a little while at least.

We were feeling a bit low yesterday, so Julia, Crystal and I went to the Raj Mandir to see Jhoom Barabar Jhoom again. Julia didn't like the movie the first time around, but this time she was more relaxed (her assessment), and so enjoyed it more. I am amazed at how much more of the dialogue I understood, and even when I couldn't get the entire sentence, I was picking up on grammar structure. There are some really nice relative-corelative phrases in that movie. My favorite came from Alvida, when she's trying to tell off Laila: "Itna lipstick that you wear, jitna cheap your joke." Only the "lipstick" and the "cheap" were in English, the rest in Hindi, and altogether, it made a brilliant itna-jitna sentence. In general, I laughed a lot more this time. I'm still not a big Abishek fan, but I'm trying to just live with that.

Anyway, we were in pretty good spirits afterward, and we went back to my hotel and blasted through the sound track trying to recreate Mr. Bachchan's (limited) dance moves. We also listened to the new version of Mehbooba from Aap Kaa Surroor, which I refuse to see because of the horrible spelling in the subtitle (The Moviee - The Real Luv Story), astrology be damned. The new version isn't as good as the original Sholay version, and it isn't as good as the Kronos Quartet instrumental, which is sweet!, but it's not bad. When the heck is the new Sholay going to be released?

Today, a classmate annoyed me, a rickshaw wallah annoyed me, and my research is going poorly, so my good mood is once again disappeared. Wow. That sentence made sense in Hindi, but it sure doesn't work in English.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

This seems to be my week for getting beat up. Yesterday, I suffered my first real, physical "eve-teasing" (what an incredibly stupid phrase). Before yesterday, I've had the odd guy hiss or whistle or yell at me, or even make truly inappropriate motions toward me. This happened a lot a lot last year, in fact. However, this is the first time a man has actually touched me. When we were walking in the neighborhood of the Tal Katora yesterday afternoon, two boys grabbed me as they were passing by me in a car, by the wrist and the hip. The guy who had my wrist didn't let go until the forward motion of the car made him let go. Yesterday, I was pissed off at them for violating my personal space, and for touching my body without permission. Today, I'm pissed off because they actually hurt me. What a dangerous thing, grabbing someone through the window of a moving vehicle. I wrenched my back and my wrist--or, I should say, they wrenched my back and wrist. It's not serious, but it's enough to constantly remind me that I'm angry at them. It ruined my good mood yesterday, and I scowled at or scolded every boy who came near me the rest of the day. I'm over that today, but there's still some residual anger lingering somewhere in the vicinity of my lower back.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

First, I just want to say that the letter "t" does not work on this keyboard. I have to paste it in whenever I want to use it (which seems to be frequently), so if a word is missing a letter...add a "t".

I woke up with a rather piercing headache this morning. Or, not a headache exactly, but a sharp pain on the right side of the head, behind the eye, stinging down to my molars. Last night we (Julia, Crystal, Silas, Arvind, me) went out to dinner to celebrate the end of week 4. On the way, one of my favorite rickshaw wallahs (he has some side business going on, but I can't figure out just what), hit a pothole. My head hit the metal bar on the side of the rickshaw. It probably would've have been merely a bump, but there was a screw sticking out. Luckily, it was a flat tap, not a sharp, self-tapping screw, otherwise it would have left a good puncture. As it was, it took a bit of time to recover (and, no, I didn't cry, even though I wanted to). I thought my teeth had been knocked out, and the vision in my right eye was a bit off all night, and still a little off this a.m. It was a little better during the day today, but in the evening, we drove down a road full of potholes, and every bump reminded my head that it hurt. Anyway, tomorrow I will avoid all potholes.

Today we went to Am(b)er as a class, also visiting Jaigarh and Nahagarh forts. I've been all three places, but still had fun. Well, the guide at Amer was a bit odd, and he kept asking my why I wasn't listening (which I was, but I was also taking photographs). When we were at Nahagarh, a fort from which you can see the entire city of Jaipur, a storm arrived. That was a lot of fun because not only did we get wet, the teachers stood under the eaves and played Antakshari, male teachers against female. In general, I think the teachers really enjoy the field trips, so even if it was tiring (a ten-hour day!), I'm glad we did it.

Notables: we watched a family of monkeys eat bananas at the petrol station. Ashlee cut open her foot on a stack of rebar. Arvind cannot pronounce Rotem's name properly in Hebrew. Sayedji only likes to hold babies when they are not crying. The storm approaching while we were at Jaigarh was pretty nice. I saw the jantar mantar jaisa watchtower on the road to Jaigarh. One by one, our Reliance Classic cellphones ran out of batteries, which means there was a never-ending chorus of the Reliance shut off music, also known as the theme to Harry Potter. A ton of elephants on the road.

So, as a large group field trip, it was pretty fun. But we also had fun earlier this week when we went on a small group field trip (five people). We were assigned destinations to visit, and we hit two of the three possibilities. First, we went into the old city to Sahitygar, a Hindi bookstore on Dhamani Road off Chaura Rasta. Took us forever to find it. I remember it from last year, but had no real idea where it was in the city. Then we went to the Govind Devji Temple, but it was closed, so we wandered in Jai Niwas gardens. We went out a gate I've never used before, and suddenly we were in the barnyard of India. It's too bad Arvind wasn't with us, because he's been sad that there aren't as many animals around these days in Jaipur--he remembers a lot from his childhood. We wandered through a lot of animal pens, cows, goats, chickens, dogs. We ended up on "Vegetable Street" (Subzi Marg). I can't remember the name of the neighborhood, but it was the Panjabi word for vegetable. A new part of town for me.

Today is an ausipicious day for weddings, so I think a lot of the elephants we saw on the Amer road were coming to Jaipur to carry grooms to the wedding. For the past two days (really, the past two weeks), we've been hearing non-stop wedding marching bands, seeing the light towers paraded down the street, seeing a lot of white horses all dressed up to carry grooms. At the religious center between my house and the Institute, workers have for three days been building a wedding reception structure. Tonight is the night, so it is all dressed up in lights and flowers. I imagine I'll see or hear the marching band go by soon.

Tomorrow my plan is to go to the jantar mantar and talk to some of the workers for my final project. However, if it's raining, I think I'll just go to Cafe Coffee Day and do homework. One more week until Hindi Camp in Pushkar, then we're off to Ujjain.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I consider myself fairly averse to risk-taking. If the category had existed in my senior high school yearbook, I'm pretty sure I would have been voted "Most Likely to Err on the Side of Caution." Every once in awhile, though, I tend to do something stupid and ill-advised. After I think, "Hmm....not a good idea," I sometimes follow up the thought with, "but I think I'll do it anyway." Where does this tendency come from? I don't know, but it seems to make its appearance in India more often than in the States. Example: what was I thinking last summer when I rode from Nehru Bazaar in the old city to Jawahar Nagar side-saddle on the back of a strange man's motorcycle with no helmet? Couldn't tell you, other than "Not a good idea, but I think I'll do it anyway."

Last night, when Elliott called me to say that a bunch of students were setting off fireworks on the roof of the Institute at 8:30 in celebration of U.S. Independence Day, the first thing out of my mouth was, "Wow, that sounds dangerous." The second thing out of my mouth was, "Okay, I'll see you there." Let me just say: there's a reason that fireworks factories in India burn down a lot more frequently than they do in the U.S.: they're incredibly fucking dangerous. So, going to the roof a building while a bunch of undergraduates were playing with matches and unregulated fireworks was just a stupid idea all the way around. Somehow Julia and I thought, "Well, maybe it will be okay," so we went.

I really can't type out all the profanity I used last night, but lets say it was repeated loudly multiple times. There is no way any civilian should ever be playing around with that level of explosive, particularly young people who have no sense of danger. The first one that went off probably could have been heard up at Nagarh Fort, it was so loud, and if we'd been in the States, someone would have called the police. The second was slightly smaller, but the third one, which shot balls of green fire into the air, and then subdivided into more green balls of fire, was lit without warning the people standing around. No one got hurt, but I could see disaster coming when people started scrambling away from the firework. The fourth one exploded after it was done shooting sparks, sending flaming pieces in all directions.

Julia and I decided it would be a good time to leave.

I haven't heard of anyone getting hurt, and I'm really surprised. I know I'm old and cranky, but it really is stupid to allow college kids to play with such dangerous toys, particularly when it's no secret that the fireworks industry here is far from regulated. So, hopefully that's my stupid decision for the summer, and I won't have to flag down strangers to ask for rides to remote locations, or go mountain climbing in inclement to get my adrenalin fix.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

It occurs to me that my language learning goal should be something along the lines of learning the word "insomnia" in as many languages as possible.

Monday, July 02, 2007

I'm not feeling all that great today. In fact, I didn't even go into the Institute. I figure...I'm an adult, I can make my own decisions about what's best for me right now, and squeezing into a hot room with sweaty students to discuss joint families just isn't it. If I could have gone in just for grammar and film prep class, I would've have gone, but two hours of small group (4 people) discussion just wasn't going to happen. I'll go back tomorrow, and then I'll regret staying home today, because I'll have to answer the question, "Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick? Were you sick?" twenty five times before tea break.

So, perhaps you are all thinking that I spend most of my time riding around the city in rickshaws, looking for Hindi bolnewalle people to talk to. However, with the exception of today, I spend most of my time at the Institute, or in my room doing homework or my own work. I don't do any homework on Fridays, but on every other day, I do between 2-4 hours of Hindi, then try to get in an hour or so of my own stuff.

My schedule this week (as it was supposed to happen):

9-10:00 Magazine article discussion "joint families"
10-11:00 Grammar (-wala constructions, use of milna, conditional and contrary-to-fact constructions)
11-11:15 tea
11:15-12:00 Journal discussion
12-1:00 Film preparation
1:00-2:00 Lunch

9-10:00 Vocabulary development
10-11:00 Listening comprehension
11-11:15 tea
11:15-1:00 Film "Bombay"
1-2:00 Lunch
2-4:00 Film "Bombay"

9-10:00 Film Review
10-11:00 Conversation "At the Doctor"
11-11:15 tea
11:15-12:00 open
12-1:00 open
1:00-2:00 Lunch
2-3:00 Personal Tutorial

9-10:00 open
10-11:00 Literature story "Namaste"
11-11:15 tea
11:15-12:00 Discussion with community member "Housewife"
12-1:00 Oral presentation "My Dreams"
11-11:15 tea

9-10:00 Personal Tutorial
10-11:00 Weekly Exam
11-11:15 tea
11:15-12:00 Dictation
12-1:00 Listening Comprehension Doordarshan
1-2:00 Lunch
2-3:00 Group Discussion

Plus on Saturdays, we usually have a field trip (I think this Saturday we go to Sanganer), and this week after class some time, we have to go in a small group to Hawa Mahal, a Hindi bookshop, and Govind Devji Temple. We have a major writing project due at the end of the semester, I think I wrote about that before, though.

So, that's my week. As you can see, I spend comparatively little time in a rickshaw, but I guess since that can be the most frustrating part of the day, it gets a lot of play time in my journal.