Saturday, February 07, 2009

Two Things Only.

I've just finished my first field report for SSRC, and I think it represents accurately my first two months in Delhi. The research process is incredibly slow and laborious, so the direction of my project hasn't changed dramatically; I'm still working on ideas I brought with me from the United States. Socially, I'm well-connected with local and American friends in the area, and other than transportation problems, which come and go unpredictably, I have absolutely nothing to complain about at the moment.

But that's never stop me from complaining before, and it's not going to stop me now.

Actually, not complaints. I just had two "interesting" experiences, and I'm not sure what I think about them.

The place I'm staying is full up this weekend, all three rooms rented. What this means for the two boys who work here is that when they have time for a break, there is no available television, as all the televisions are in the guest rooms. I was gone for a couple of hours today, and when I came home, Neeraj was taking a break, sitting on the floor outside my door, watching my television from a distance. Instantly realizing what was going on, I told him to stay put. I had planned on reading on the couch in the sitting room, anyway, so he might as well finish up the Amitabh Bachchan movie. But the young man of the house (I think he's fifteen), came over and gave him a "Come on, yaar!" speech and made him turn off the television. For all I care, he could have been sitting in my room enjoying the show from two, rather than ten, feet away from the television. Seriously, I'm gone so much that if he was going to snoop or steal or anything else, he would have have had 5 lakhs opportunities to do so by now. He can watch my television any time he wants to, especially since I NEVER watch it. Someone might as well enjoy it. But, no, he just moved off to sit in the dining room instead.

Just a few minutes later (and this is the second thing), another guest came out of her room to greet me. She was a PIO (Person of Indian Origin), but grew up in the U.S., now resides in Thailand. She asked me how I liked it here, and I said the usual (good winter chaat, nice weather, lousy transportation system). She seemed pretty distressed, and I had overheard a phone conversation in which she described the horrible experience she had had earlier in Delhi's over-crowded Metro. But it wasn't just that, as it turns out. She told me that she was here for a wedding, and that she thought it would be good to come "home," because in Thailand especially, she always feels like a foreigner. However, now that she's arrived, she feels like a part of her has died. For one thing, the upper middle class spending is out of control, and it seems as if everyone is flashing money right and left. I can see her point, as being in South Delhi is like watching the victory flags of neo-liberalism unfurl before your eyes. Multiple houses are going up on every block, flashy new SUVs are plying the streets, and everyone is staring blindly down at their Blackberries as they walk. But mostly I think she was trying to express how frustrating it is to always be marked as foreign, no matter where you go in the world.

So, the experience of the dislocated and the comparatively poor (Neeraj from Bihar, working in the kitchen and sleeping on the roof), and the dislocated and the comparatively affluent (PIO returning home only to find it's no longer, or maybe never was, home), all in the same five minutes. No clever wrap-up for this post, just the observation that maybe I shouldn't go out to the market on Saturdays, lest I open myself up to more complicated scenarios surrounding the process of coming home.

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