Monday, March 30, 2009

New Home.

So, here I am at the edge of the Thar desert. While the city itself seems to be surrounded by sand and scrub, you can see from the picture above that I am living in a fairly typical suburban neighborhood in Rajasthan. It’s going to be uncomfortable on those days when the weather forecast is for “blowing sand,” but otherwise, it reminds me a lot of Jaipur (also unpleasant in sandstorms). The hotel (the Shri Ram, if any of you feel like sending me mail in the next 10-12 weeks) seems pretty comfortable. In fact, the only complaint I have so far is that I can’t figure out how to turn off the AC.

I stayed last night in Mandawa, and while you’d think the architectural historian part of me would have wanted to see all the havelis I could before nightfall, the freakazoid part of me voted for staying in my hotel room. I had low level anxiety attacks all day during the drive from Delhi to Mandawa, alternating with periods of intense sleepiness, and by the time I got to Mandawa, all I wanted was for no one to talk to me EVER AGAIN. Sadly, I messed that plan up right away by all-but-deliberately locking myself out of my cell phone. I swear, I thought, “If I do this, I’m going to disable my cell phone, and I don’t want to do that because today is the day I am scheduled to call my parents.” But I did it anyway, and sure enough, I rendered my mobile useless. In my panic to get out of my hotel room and find someone to unlock it for me—on a Sunday evening on a festival weekend, good luck with that—I caught my finger in the lock mechanism of my hotel room door. I stopped at the front desk to explain that I needed to find someone to unlock an Airtel phone, and when I looked at my phone, I thought, “Huh. It’s covered with sticky stuff. Why is that?” and tried to wipe it off. Really sticky, though. Then I realized my fingers were also sticky, and when I tried to wipe them off, I realized, no, not sticky, bloody. I had pinched my finger so thoroughly that I had torn the skin, and I had blood dripping from one finger all over the place. I was so focused on the fact that I needed to call my parents so they wouldn't needlessly worry that I didn’t even really notice that wow, my finger really hurts!

Anyway, for 50 rupees, the guys at the front desk not only fixed my cell phone, but bandaged my finger.

The drive from Mandawa to Bikaner only took a few hours, and it was pretty easy to settle in here. I think this is mostly a backpackers hotel, so they are used to freakazoid foreigners. It’s the off season for backpacking, though, so I seem to be here pretty much by myself. Just by asking I got a discount on my room, so I am paying considerably less for this place than I was paying in Delhi. Not sure about the food or laundry situation yet, but it will all work out.

Tomorrow my goal is just to find the archives, and maybe darken the door with my presence. No one has been able to give me an address for the place, so it could take all day just to get from here to there, wherever there is. By Wednesday, hopefully I will be fully registered, and by Thursday, hopefully I will be working. I don’t want to be too ambitious and invite disaster (although I checked my forehead this morning and it seems I will live to see another day), but I am optimistic.


Yesterday, we stopped at a Mid-Way for lunch. Predictably, a little boy materialized out of the bushes and tried to talk me into giving him some food or money or anything I had in my pockets. He was really funny, and really determined. After 20 minutes, I would have broken down and given him something, but I had nothing, no small bills, no candy, nothing. Finally, I opened up the Astronomy magazine I was reading and showed him the star chart in the middle. I tried to explain what it was, and I'm not sure he really got it, but when I asked him if he understood, he said, "Yes, stars, in the sky at night." I asked him if he wanted the star chart, and he said yes, so I tore it out of my magazine. It's difficult to learn to use a star chart on your own, but I like to think of him outside sitting outside his hut after dark, comparing the sky with the chart. I hope eventually he deciphers the puzzle and carries it with him the rest of his life.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

24 weeks, max.

Depending on how you manipulate the calendar, I either have 5-1/2 months to go before I go home, or I have 24 weeks left. 5-1/2 months sounds better right now, even if it includes the same number of days as 24 weeks.

I took two weeks of vacation while Catherine was in town, and we did a lot sightseeing, both within Delhi as well as in Agra and Jaipur (photos on Flickr). Catherine says she had a good time here, and I have no reason to think she's making that up. It was nice having someone to explore with. I was pretty careful to keep her out of danger, but on the other hand, I also took advantage of having someone else around to go look at places I normally wouldn't view by myself. Not sketchy places, but the more isolated parts of monuments, unknown corridors, things like that. I explore those places by myself, but it makes me anxious. When there are two people exploring, the anxiety is lessened.

Anyway, other than just enjoying each other's company, it was good to have her visit so she understands a little better what I mean when I say, "It is too hard to walk to the ATM today" or "I couldn't bear to get an autorickshaw today." I think she saw how much work my everyday life can take, how much frustration and unpredictability there is on my daily agenda. She also heard everyone tell me how horrible Bikaner is going to be, so I think (hope) she will be predisposed to sympathy when I start whining next week.

She also saw the good things--the flowers and the birds, for instance--so we can talk about that, too, when I feel like it.

Anyway, only 5-1/2 months to go. I'm ready to leave Delhi, much like I was ready to leave London. Three weeks from now, I'll be saying, "Damn, why did I want to leave Delhi?" the same way I said (continue saying) about London.

Enemy of Reason (TM)

Peter F. Dubuque
March 24, 2009

Peter F. Dubuque passed away by accident on March 24, 2009. He was 39 years old.

Born in Springfield, VT, Peter was raised in Billerica and attended Billerica Schools. He was a Malden resident for the past 10 years and worked at Harvard University as a Data Base Architect. Peter was also an avid photographer and loved the outdoors.

Peter was the devoted husband of Steven Kleinedler. He was the son of Harriet (Desmond) Dubuque and the late Gilbert Dubuque. Peter was the dear brother of Kimberly Campbell and her husband Al of Dracut. He is also survived by several aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be held from the A. J. Spadafora Funeral Home, 865 Main Street, Malden on Sunday, March 29th from 12:00 - 4:00 p.m. Relatives and friends are respectfully invited to attend. Interment private.

In lieu of flowers donations in Peter’s memory may be made to Point

Steve's beautiful essay about his marriage to Peter.

John Scalzi's tribute.

Obituary from Bay Windows.

Steve's essay on "The Semantics of Marriage Equality"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Strange and Empty.

The room doesn't look right without Catherine's suitcases standing in front of the bookcase. And even my stuff is looking a little thin on the ground, as I sent all my winter/London clothing back to the U.S. in said suitcases. I keep looking around, thinking that I am missing something, but I guess it is only that I am missing Catherine. Five and a half months doesn't seem very long when you are trying to get a lot of research done in an inefficient country, but it is an eternity when you are waiting for it to come to an end so you can finally go home.

This morning, when I logged on the computer to see if Catherine's flight was still scheduled to land in Chicago on time, I found an e-mail telling me that Peter died yesterday. [Erasure.] What a nightmare this is. I've been sitting here trying to find some words to write to Steve, not that anything I say could possibly help, but find myself overwhelmed with anxiety that something like this is going to happen to Catherine while I'm gone.

I told Catherine I wasn't going to be a wuss when she left, but I may have to take some time out to cry and feel sorry for the world myself after all. We had a really good time while she was here, and I'm sure one day soon these weeks will all be just hazy, happy memories, but for now, I'm doing my best to empty my mind completely. Think about nothing, feel nothing, be nothing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Daily Life.

Well, I admit it. I'm not a very good bloggist. You'd think I'd come home every day just bubbling over with things to tell, but that's just not the way my personality works. Not only do I want silence in the evenings in my room, I want it in my head. Sitting down and processing through my entire day isn't a relaxing pasttime for me. In addition to the limits of my own personality, I think it's true that daily life is pretty much the same no matter where you are in the world. You get into a routine, and stop noticing things around you on your way to work. Or, at least during this third stay in India, I've lost the ability to recognize what's different about my life here. Every once in awhile I look up and think, "Holy crap, I can't believe that!" but mostly it is all just so normal now that I don't even see it.

Catherine arrives tomorrow, and I will become a tourist again, so maybe this blog will gain some life spirit. As I was briefly reminded in Calcutta, being a tourist in India is a lot different than living in India. Touts are a lot more aggressive towards tourists than they are toward local white people, especially if you let yourself arrive in their own territory, in front of tourist monuments/sites. So, I think these next two weeks will have a different feel to them, and I will probably be yelling at a lot of people in Hindi to knock it the fuck off, because NO I DON'T WANT TO BUY ANY PUPPETS AND I HATE ELEPHANTS AND NO I AM NOT GIVING YOU JUST ONE RUPEE OR ONE CHAPATI OR ANYTHING AT ALL SO GO AWAY. Something to look forward to, I'm sure.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Stay off the streets!

I'm feeling unusually homesick today. It could be explained by the fact that I've been away from home for six months, but I think more likely it's due to the weather. The weather in Delhi has now caught up with the weather I left behind in the U.S. in September. Summer is arriving, with hot days and warm evenings, breezy but not cool. I feel as if I've done the whole weather cycle--had my fall and winter in London, then spring and (briefly) summer in Delhi, and now it's time to go home. Too bad about those remaining six months of fellowship work.

It is slightly dangerous to walk around outside right now--water balloons are being thrown at just about everyone on the streets. Kush has assured me that I can walk in the park across the street "aram se" (comfortably), he will not pelt me with a water balloon. Too bad I can't trust his school mates! Arjun Nagar is particularly bad, for two days now it has been a water balloon-based gauntlet. The narrow lanes and balconies are ideal for water sports. So, I guess I am mostly inside until after Holi (Wednesday). I don't mind water balloons, actually, but when they are filled with color, well, then I turn into a girl and think about how much damage is being done to my outfit.

Friday, March 06, 2009


Just back from a Fulbright conference in Kolkata (Calcutta). The plus side: the conference itself was really great. An unusual opportunity to spend time with 77 other Fulbrighters and listen to them talk about their work and life. A good mix of senior scholars, grad students, Ph.D. students, at-large researchers; fascinating to talk with those doing their research in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan right now. It would seem as if India is at the center of a burning ring of fire right now. The food was good, meals were a good opportunity to talk to new friends and old, the conference hotel was comfortable and served us well. The beds were *great*. The negative side: a lot of people seemed to be more focused on hooking up than they were on their work. Don't get me wrong, I think it's fine if they want to hook up. I just don't want to be part of that hooking up conversation, okay?

Most of my time was spent in the hotel, as they scheduled us quite tightly from Sunday eve-Wednesday afternoon. But on Wednesday, a few of us went out to do some touring (took a few photos, of course). It is in the 90s now in Kolkata, hot and bright and a bit humid. The heat felt particularly sharp as we wandered around the Victoria Memorial gardens. Somehow, we (accidentally) ended up down at a river dock. Since we were there, we went ahead and took a nice, breezy ferry ride on the Hooghly. We also spent a good chunk of time at the Park Street Cemetery, where we got a good feel for the colonial era (jungly, hot, dead at a young age), and wrapped it up with a trip to St. John's Church (not quite as successful as St. Martin's in the Field, is it?). A bit of a colonial-focused afternoon, but I didn't organize the tour. I feel like I've done enough organizing for one friendship, let the burden fall on the other person (people) for once. Next time (when??), I'll visit Tagore House. Plese count the parenthetical expressions for me.

Going to Calcutta was like going to the Punjab in the sense that in both places, I cannot speak the language most commonly associated with the area. The signs might as well have been in Panjabi for all I could read them. At one point, Claire and I thought we had deciphered a sign, but then the driver read it out loud for us. Turns out what we were taking for an I was actually an N. So much for our linguistical talents. Luckily, every single person I talked to spoke Hindi as well as Bangla. There is a large population from Bihar in Calcutta, so Hindi is the second language of the city.

Calcutta feels a lot more dense than Delhi. In terms of population, Greater Delhi and Greater Calcutta are almost equivalents: 14,000,000 for the first, 13,200,000 for the second. But Calcutta is a taller city, and although Delhi is full of what we might consider ancient monuments, popping up like happy surprises here and there, the urban fabric of Calcutta is quite a bit older than that of Delhi. Classicism was the architectural language of choice by the "Britishers," and even though many of the buildings have been heavily water damaged, or at least stripped of their colors, the columns and arches of streetside buildings make it clear that the base form is Neoclassical.

Arrived in Delhi to discover summer had beat me home by a day. Pradeepji is recommending I give the AC a try, but I think I can live without it for a few more days. It is going to be scorching hot in Bikaner--not looking forward to that. However, in Calcutta, I met another Fulbrighter who has been doing his research at the Camel Breeding Center outside of Bikaner, so hopefully he will be able to give me a few tips to make life in the desert more bearable.