Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Anyway, the real point of this post is to open a poll. In other words, tell me what to do. The question:
Should I pay a lot of money for a driver to go to Chandigarh for a long weekend in January, or should I be economical and take the train?
The plus side of driving is that the driver would be mine for the entire weekend--wherever I wanted to go, including Pinjore, would be included in the driving price. Also, if I wanted to stop somewhere (Kurukshetra, Ambala, anywhere else?) on the way to Chandigarh, I could. Also, I could go through Sirhind for kicks on the way back. Also, I wouldn't have to carry any luggage around the train station or worry about it getting stolen. I probably would have a daypack, my camera bag, and maybe a courier bag to deal with, and I get tired of carrying that stuff around.
The plus side of taking the train is, of course, the price. Train fare isn't expensive, even for first class, and it probably takes as long (maybe longer) to drive to Chandigarh from Delhi as it does to take the train. The Shatabdi express is easy and comfortable, and I've done this same route before. So, my bank account is telling me to take the train.
The negative cost of the driver is only the money, that and having to share the road with all the other drivers for a day full of honking horns.
The negative of the train is that I would have to take an autorickshaw/taxi from the station into town, and then negotiate with autorickshaws all weekend while I'm out photographing architecture. And I'm not sure I would be able to arrange a lift to Pinjore once I'm in Chandigarh.
Money vs. convenience, that's what it boils down to. What should I do?
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
I managed to get myself to the archives without too much hassle this morning. The first rickshaw I flagged down offered a reasonable price (ie, only Rs. 20 above the meter fare), so I took it and felt grateful after yesterday's transportation fiasco.
I'm not sure what I did wrong the first day at the NAI security booth. Other Americans walk right by me, sign the entrance book, and get security passes handed to them with no comment. I, on the other hand, have to wait while the security guard calls someone to ask if the person who has the letter from the U. S. Embassy is still allowed inside the building. So far, I am eventually allowed inside, so I'll just call that good enough for now. I'm not really using the archives at this point. Another historian recommended starting with the library collection, just to get used to the place, so that is what I am doing. I have a stack of half a dozen books that weren't available to me in the U.S., and although it feels like a slight waste of time (why read secondary sources when you are sitting just feet away from primary sources?), it's all I can really handle right now. I know how to check out a book, so that is what I am going to do for the next few days.
So, although the dust irritates my throat, and there is one huge--and hugely persistent--fly that annoys me, I can call that part of my day a success because at least my computer wasn't plugged into the wall during the power loss/surge on, and the battery held out in my headphones so I could listen to music while I scoured the bibliographies of the books in front of me.
Amazingly, the first rickshaw I flagged down after I left the archives agreed to take me to Green Park (sometimes they refuse to drive south of the tourist area) and offered me exactly the meter price to take me there. I was so stunned I almost forgot to get inside the rickshaw. So, that was also one success today.
I discovered that there is a Costa Coffee in the Main Market of Green Park. This makes me happy for several reasons:
- Since they are ubiquitous in London, they look familiar and welcoming. The coffee shop closest to my house in Southgate was a Costa, so I spent many evenings there drinking hot chocolate and reading while watching the traffic pass by on the high street.
- It reminds me home, because Catherine and I stopped in at a Costa so I could introduce her to Hot Chocolate with Marshmallow the night we went to Covent Garden for Christmas shopping.
- It is quiet. Although my favorite coffee drink, the Cold Sparkle, can be found at CCD, neither CCD nor Barista are good for studying. The tables at CCD are horrible, and they are always playing Shania Twain (I kid you not, this is my third visit to India, and all three times--Shania Twain on repeat). Big tables at Costa, and a quiet atmosphere.
- The menu is limited, so I have to order a cappuccino. Drinking a cappuccino out of a mug with sugar stuck to the rim always reminds me of my friend, Dana, because I had to take up drinking coffee when we started meeting to discuss books and things. The coffee shops on the UIUC campus don't carry Diet Coke, and they also don't know how to make decent Italian sodas or iced mochas, so I had to switch to hot coffee.
After doing my Urdu homework at the coffee shop, I walked for an hour in the park next to our house. It is a very small park, but it is closely watched by our watchman, so I can feel secure walking there even after dark. Catherine gave me a Zune for Christmas, so I can download podcasts and listen to them while I am zipping around in little circles. The pollution is so horrible you can hardly see across the park,* but I did see Jupiter while I was walking. I listened to the December episodes of News from Lake Wobegon, and started crying twice, once during "Gesu Bambino" and once during "Silent Night." That doesn't feel like much of a victory, but I've been wanting to cry for days and have been forcing myself not to do so. Music is a good excuse to let go.
Finally, I also watched "Deewangi Deewangi" from Om Shanti Om twice while I was sitting in Costa. I almost didn't buy this DVD because judging from Beth's two reviews, I figured I wouldn't like it. I have no love for movies that are about the movie industry (ask Catherine how many times she's heard me complain about The Player). And, sure enough, I liked the second half of the movie better than the first--I'm probably the only person in the world who will say that. Don't get me wrong, I like some inside movie jokes. I am always up for a good Gabbar Singh reference, for instance.** But that's about where I draw the line--one inside joke, fine. Forty two hundred, well, that's not a movie I want to see.
However, I really like "Deewangi Deewangi," probably because of all the beautiful women. I have to say, I know she gets help from her stylist and whatever, but Rani Mukherji must be the most beautiful woman in the world. Kajol comes in a close second, or maybe Priyanka Chopra comes in second. All quite beautiful. There are many loveable things about this picturization, but the thing I liked the most about it, and the movie in general is that THERE ARE NO WHITE PEOPLE DANCING BADLY IN THE BACKGROUND. Thank you, Farah. If I want to see white people dancing badly, I can just look in the mirror while I'm cleaning house. Also, the other thing that I liked about this is that it just shows that SAK isn't that...hm...bright. Don't you think he would know by now that dancing next to SRK is a bad idea? It just makes him look all loose and sloppy. OTOH, although the disco pain song demonstrates that SRK is not scrawny, he sure looks like he is when compared to SAK, Salmaan and Mr. Munna Bhai, MBBS.
Also, from Beth's description, I expected Rekha to look truly frightful, but she just looked normal to me. A bit of dramatic makeup, but actually more light-hearted than she is often depicted.
Okay, that's enough. I think I should stop writing and go to bed before something goes wrong and makes this into a bad day instead of a good one. I haven't decided how I'm going to spend the day tomorrow, but hopefully somewhere with clean air and few people. If only.
*I exaggerate not on the pollution. It was better for a day or two, but now has worsened. It is so bad that when I was standing on Jan Path, half way between Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate, I could just make out India Gate, and only see a shadow of Rashtrapati Bhavan. They are about 1/4 mile apart.
**Thinking about this, the Gabbar Singh scence was the best part of Amu. Also, the Gabbar Singh joke was the only funny thing about Dostana.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
First, let me say that the place I am staying is quite nice, and the owners have been very kind to me. Last night, Vandanaji made me a special waffle dinner for Christmas Eve, and Kush, the son, brought me a bowl of incredibly good popcorn. They also gave me a present, which I haven't opened yet, but from the familar size and shape, I'd say was a Cadbury bar of some variety. So, I recognize that everything is not completely horrible, and life could be much worse. In fact, right now, I'm sitting on the balcony outside my room, alternately watching Om Shanti Om and the cricket match going on in the park across the street. That's not a bad way to spend an afternoon in Delhi, that's for sure. I could be sleeping in the A.I.I.M.S. park with those whacked out stainless steel alien sculptures, but I'm in a comfortable chair enjoying the winter sun, instead.
Still, I wonder--if I stay here for nine months, how bitter will I be in the end? Will I hate the choices that I've made so much that I'll refuse to finish my dissertation? Or, if I finish it, will I refuse to do any work related to India or even architecture? This is a real possibility I think.
My day got off to an awkward and annoying start. I overslept, which seems to be happening every day to me. I just can't get myself out of bed, I don't want to do anything at all but sleep. Anyway, I got out of bed late, so I was still in my room when the maid came by to clean. While she was cleaning, she flat out asked me for baksheesh (money/bribe/"tip"). And I was thinking, you've got to be kidding me. I'm paying more than enough for this place to cover the cost of cleaning my floor. If you don't want to clean it, fine, but our first conversation shouldn't open with the word "baksheesh". At least say hello first. Anyway, I pretended I didn't speak Hindi, and left as quickly as I could, because honestly, it really isn't my place to be giving her money.
Yesterday, I thought I had ascertained that the NAI would be open today. It turns out that, yes, the NAI is open, but not the reading room or library. I should have been more specific with my question, I guess. So, I arrived for work today, only to find out the security hut closed and locked, a clear signal I wasn't going to get anything done today. So, fine, that's 60 rupees in rickshaw fare wasted, but I could find something else to do with my time. For instance, I could just go to a coffee shop in CP and work on my citations or something. I flagged down an autorickshaw and headed toward CP.
The rickshawalla approached CP such that we arrived right at one of the gates for the Palika Underground Bazaar. Well, it's a holiday, I thought, so why not pick up a DVD, sit in the coffee shop and watch it? But when I got out of the rickshaw, those complete jerkface scam artists surrounded me, trying to polish my shoes. I warded them off, but got stuck near the rickshaw too long because the rickshaw wallah had no change. No one around would give him change, so I did the nice thing: I walked to a vendor, bought a bottle of water, got change for the rickshaw wallah, gave him the bottle of water to boot, and sent him on his way. This stupidity kept me in the area just long enough for the shoe-shine jerks to step close again, throw wet monkey dung on my sandals and then tell me, "Oh, madam, your shoes are dirty, I can polish them!"
This made me furious, because for one, it was A LOT of dung, and they splattered it on my jeans which had just come back from the laundry. I told them to fuck off, grabbed a rag from one of them, and started wiping off my foot. You can imagine how the guy felt about me taking the rag out of his hand, but I figure, hey, you throw monkey dung on my sandals, you face my anger. I got off as much as I could, threw his rag on the ground, and walked away.
I was completely pissed--which means I was trying not to cry, because I cry when I get angry--but I didn't want them to think they had won (although they obviously had), so I went into Palika Market and bought a DVD with monkey dung residue on my foot. And then I went into a coffee shop, ordered coffee and a glass of water (and it took me three attempts to get the water), and used the water to rinse my foot. Still, there is no way to clean that stuff off without scrubbing, so I decided that my backup plan of watching a DVD and drinking coffee just wasn't going to happen.
Have I mentioned that I hate CP? No, I do NOT want to buy your stupid junk, so quit jumping in front of me and demanding that I look. I have eyes, and I have free will--if I want to look at your crap, I will. Otherwise, leave me alone. Seriously. Leave me alone.
So, I got a rickshaw back to SJE, and about half way here, the driver starts giving me the "I know a very good bazaar, we stop for only 5 minutes, then I take you home." At this point, I was feeling like I could punch him in the back of the head, but I took the peaceful route and just kept refusing. However, when you are in a moving vehicle, what are you going to do when the driver turns off the route? I thought about jumping out, but then what? Negotiating with my fourth rickshaw wallah of the day? So, in the end, we ended up at the bazaar. At first I refused to go in, but after sitting there in the rickshaw for awhile, it became clear that if I didn't go in, I was never getting home. I also thought, well, I could wait for another rickshaw here, but then there would be this long confrontation about how I hadn't paid him for the distance driven, etc. Fuck all that noise.
Into the bazaar, more people telling me to "Just look, Madam!" and they are all lucky I had no weapons to hand. I hovered for approximately three minutes, walked back out and demanded to be taken home. Luckily, the driver took me home this time, I don't know what I would have done had he ignored my wishes.
So, a lot of scrubbing of jeans, feet, sandals and hands with Dettol soap. Sometimes I feel like Dettol is my only friend here, I spend so much quality time with it.
Anyway, Merry Christmas. The weather's nice, the cricket game is interesting, the movie is a reasonable time pass, but that's really not enough pleasantness to erase the smell of monkey dung from my memory banks.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
One of my former Hindi professors from Jaipur is doing his Ph.D. at JNU (which, btw, has the most beautiful campus in the world). We've arranged for him to give me Urdu lessons, something I hope will help me with both my Hindi and my Persian. Anyway, he's coming over this evening, we'll have some chai-wai, he'll teach me some alefs, and hopefully I'll feel better afterward.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
This is somewhat true here, of course. Pradeepji told me that even someone who only makes Rs. 2000/month will invest in a b/w cell phone, say for maybe Rs. 500. They will never recharge it (or "top it up" for those of you from the UK), or use it to make outgoing calls, because that costs money. Incoming calls are free, however. As long as they have the capacity to receive incoming calls, they have an identity and a location.
Some Americans use their phones the same way here in India--never paying to make outgoing calls. Instead, they call and hang up as quickly as possible, creating a "Missed Call" message at the other end of the line. That way, the other person has to go to the expense of making the call back. I'm not quite sure why Americans suddenly become reluctant to pay for phone calls here, but it seems to be a common behavior. Common enough that I can't get upset about it, anyway. Rest assured, if you are my friend, and you send me a missed call, I will always call you back. I love you THAT much. I will gladly pay Rs. 10 to talk to you for ten minutes.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
आज का कार्यक्रम ऐसा था--डीर पार्क गयी। यही बहुत हरिण रहते हैं। कई चिड़ियाँ भी हैं। मैंने मोरों, हंसों, तोतों, वगैरह देखा। पार्क में इमारतें लोदी वंश (1451-1526) से भी हैं। काली गुमती, बाग-ई-अलम गुमबाद (मस्जिद के पास), और तैफैवाला (Tefewala) गुमबाद देखा। सबसे अच्छा इस पार्क में एकान्तता थी। मतलब किसने नहीं मुझ से बात करना कोशिश किया!
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
That brings me to the fourth phone. I won't tell the whole story of me visiting FIVE different mobile phone stores yesterday, but let's just say that arranging for a cell phone provider in India can be a super headache. I didn't need a new handset, only a SIM card--both my first India phone and the London phone will work here--but in the end, my need to call my parents was greater than my need to get exactly what I wanted. India can be a very complicated place, and it tends to make you go for the compromise more often than you would otherwise. [Sidenote: Mark, you were in the Airtel store, dressed in all white. You made your own verification call, during which you told your friends that Airtel wanted to "verify if you were human"--thanks, you made me laugh. Also, your Hindi is brilliant.]
My journey through five stores probably wouldn't have been so exhausting if I hadn't stood in line at the FRRO (office for registering foreign visitors, necessary if you are going to stay longer than six months in India) for approximately 4.5 hours beforehand. Well, I stood in line for two hours to get the green form, on which I wrote my name, address, passport and visa numbers, and incoming flight information. This might look exactly like the information one has to write on the landing card before going through immigration and customs at the airport. Well, it is. I'm not sure why they need it a second time. Filling out the green form took approx. 2 minutes, then I had to leave the office, go outside, down the street, and get two copies made of the green form. Then I had to paste passport photographs on these three forms and in the visitor's booklet, then get back in line. That all took about 15 minutes. Then I stood line to get my forms stamped. After approx. 1 hour, the entire office went to lunch, leaving all in the office. After lunch, which took approx. 45 minutes, I waited approx. 20 minutes. My forms were stamped, and then I went to In Charge, where it took approx. 15 seconds to deposit my forms in a wire basket.
So, you can see that was approximately 4.5 hours well spent.
Actually, my friend Rebecca did her registration today, and she showed up at 8 a.m., an hour before the office officially opens. She was 3rd in the queue, and was done by 10 a.m. So, there you go.
I've done all my tasks. I am waiting now for my letter from the U.S. Embassy, necessary for access to the National Archives. All I can do is wait now, the request has been made. Claire says that I can keep trying to be the first person ever to get into the archives within two weeks of her or his arrival date, but I will just end up exhausted and frustrated. After yesterday, I suspect she's right. I'm going to take this time to try and write up some of my London research more formally, even though I'm not quite sure where it's all headed yet.
Monday, December 15, 2008
I had to take several deep breaths today (thanks for the advice, Claire) and tell myself everything was OK, really, it was. Just because I was in the archive working two days after my arrival in London doesn't mean the same thing will or has to happen here. If I'm in the archive by next week, that will mean I'm very lucky. I know this is the way it works--I do have to get fifteen thousand pieces of paper signed by fifteen thousand different people, all of whom sit at desks next to each other, but for some reason can only communicate through signed pieces of paper. In nine months, I will probably have accomplished about as much as I accomplished in London in three months. Now, I just have to convince my dissertation committee of this basic truth. I hope they understand I'm NOT MAKING THIS UP.
This evening, my "facilitator" is coming over to the guest house to help me fill out foreign visitor registration forms. I hope this goes okay, I'm not sure my hosts think my registration with FRO is necessary, but it is. It's particularly important that I do everything by the book now, because I will need to extend my visa before I leave, and I don't want to have any mistakes in my paper work before that time. If all goes well tonight, the facilitator will go with me and another American (coincidentally, a former classmate from my AIIS Jaipur program) to the FRO so we can register our presence as foreigners in India. I was advised today to take a book because although it is a matter only 3-4 signatures, it takes all day. This will be particuarly true now, because of Mumbai.
Speaking of Mumbai. Although I am complete agreement with Arundhati Roy when she writes that Mumbai is not "India's 9/11," still, the city's name is said the same way. You can articulate a lot by slightly shrugging your shoulder and saying, "Well, you know. 9/11." The same communicative potential is here, only you say, "After Mumbai..." and wobble your head slightly more slowly than you would normally. Anyway, after Mumbai, I definitely won't be able to sweet talk my way into a cell phone without a certificate of residency.
Am I worried about being blown up? Well, yes, more than I am worried about being shot, unless Chachaji down the street drops that rifle when he falls asleep in the shade and accidentally wounds someone. In two days, I have stepped into the space hit by four of the bomb blasts in September 2008--I walked right through the two spots in GK1 on Sunday, and today, along with hundreds of other people, I crossed paths with two bomb sites in CP. This is the type of assault that worries me. This is much like Jaipur blasts, all seven of which occured in places I had stood not just once, but many times. So, yes, I do worry, not about those places, but where the new places will be, since nowhere seems to be hit twice (knock on wood? not sure).
I read an article today that said because of Mumbai (slow head wobble), American and European tourist numbers are down by 50%. I can't really verify that, but I can say that I only saw 5-6 white people at CP today. This is a place that should be swarming with foreign tourists, so I suspect the news report is right.
Other than this, I am settling in as well as can be expected. I've developed a sore throat and nasal drip from the INCREDIBLE pollution levels (I'll let you do your own Google search for details, but here's a summary) in just two days, and am thinkingly longingly of the relatively clean air of Jaipur. Delhi is about >this much< more intense than Jaipur, and I hope Catherine doesn't freak out when she visits. But hopefully she will find it all amusing. I was riding to GK1 yesterday, thinking, "Oh, Delhi, you're such a noisy city," when spontaneously, all horns around me sounded off just in case someone didn't realize it was time to move forward, and I had to laugh--how can you not be charmed by such a pointless gesture? Make as much noise as you can, especially when you can't even see whether the light has turned green or not, because why not? You have a horn, after all. Use it.
And now, I have two hours to work before my facilitator arrives. Well, work, and eat the spicy chaat my host, Vandanaji, handed me a few minutes ago. Today's snack is puffed rice sprinkled with green chili--hot, but crunchy.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Perhaps later I will go back and add a post or two about Paris, but for now, I think I'm just going to leave that part blank. A few of the tourism highlights are covered in the photostream, anyway, and I don't suppose adding photos of my research would be very exciting.
Also, proving that what I said about myself earlier is true, I am now reading Hugo's Hunchback of Notre-Dame.